Thursday, 26 April 2012

Wait a Minute: That's Not the Wallet Inspector!

The night before last I fell for a phishing scam after a lifetime secretly thinking 'How could anyone, ever be stupid enough to fall for a phishing scam?' Well I fell for it: 1. Because I'd had a couple more glasses than I'd meant to of this really delicious Riesling; 2. The debit card attached to my iTunes account really is going to expire in three days time and by sheer smiling, damn-ed coincidence this was exactly what the scam-email told me; 3. The scam-email was, according to experts, "well designed"; 4. I opened the e-mail on my phone where the reduced email server didn't highlight it as suspicious and presented it in such a way as to be totally indistinguishable from an actual email from Apple (when I checked on the PC it was clearly, visibly a fake); 5. There's not really any other excuse - I know very well that no company ever, ever sends you an unsolicited email with a link that prompts you to enter your username and password, especially when that username and password are attached to your bank details, and it took me exactly 0.6 of a second to recall this, which happens to be exactly as long as it takes me to type my username and password. So I guess all I'm saying is if you're in the Balkans and you meet someone claiming to be me, tell him to give me my money back. And, if he's well turned out, ask him if he wouldn't mind selling a few poetry books. Yet to achieve much market penetration on that part of the globe.

Mean time, before flooding the market with new projects I thought I'd mention a couple of books I've enjoyed recently. It's kind of like doing the penance before committing the sin. The first two very recently. I've been hesitating to talk about other books (there are other books?) here because I don't want this to turn into a book reviewing blog. Mainly because I usually get paid for writing reviews and you can go whistle if you think I'm going to start undermining my own livelihood by giving it away. I need that money to pay for my evening class in How To Come Across Less Arrogant On-line. And also because I blurb a lot of books and once you've blurbed something ever speaking of it again is frowned upon. Like, you know, if someone you're in love with is going for a job interview and you're on the panel and you're like, I think we should give it to him/her because I'm in love with him/her, and your colleagues are all like, sharp-intake-of-breath. (I have, I'm proud to say, in seven years of blurbing, never used any bullshit formulations like "X is the only poet writing today you should bother with" or "Y is the defining poet of her generation" and if I ever do may I be hit by the taxi I'm hailing. I have, now that I think of it, used plenty of other bullshit formulations like "simultaneously BLANK and ANTI-BLANK", but what are you gonna do? Try to actually physically stop me from writing ever again by breaking my fingers? I'd like to see that! I don't think you'd even have the guts to be sarcastic to me face-to-face).

And also because, you know, where do you stop? Before you know it you're having to write about every book in the world or else risk looking disastrously narrow. I've seen it happen to better blogs than this. But yesterday I woke up thinking I'd really like to write some mini-reviews of things that I've enjoyed and maybe even make it into a regular feature of this blog. Once every fort-month, say.

When I was at primary school and had roughly six "friends" (as a child I was too solipsistic to even be that aware of other people's existence, let alone be friends with them) we were totally obsessed with ghosts. We used to sit on a particular bench in the playground and take turns trying to scare the hell out of each other. Every small town had at least eight video rental stores, VHS machines had just become affordable to the lower-middle classes, and if you were like me you spent a lot of your spare time in these stores, in my case renting The Naked Gun and Back to the Future movies over and over again for 50p a night. TNG films were 15-certificates, but my parents made a rare exception for them. You would also get to look at the covers of a hundred dodgy horror films (different in each shop, as if they had been made especially) and sometimes, at another kid's house, get to watch them and shore up some more material for the ghost story sessions. This possibly continued into secondary school, but by that point I had no friends whatsoever for about five years [violin] so I can't, with any accuracy, comment.

Bobby Parker's Comberton (knivesforksandspoons press, £7) is a bravura prose poem sequence exploring faith, sex, anti-faith, drugs and booze, love, mental disturbance, the supernatural and the face-down-on-the-pavement natural. I say "exploring", but that's one of those bullshit blurb formulations I reach for too often. What Parker does, with Dostoyevsky-level-darkness (and the same aching, face-in-hands laughter) is treat them as one and the same subject. Parker gets compared to Bukowski a lot and I think it's always well-meaning when people say that, but I think it's also because the interlocutor hasn't read an awful lot apart from Bukowski. If I had to pick something Comberton reminds me of on the surface it would be Joe Brainerd's I Remember... series, except with more of a narrative (and therefore more awesome). The recollections ("We went crazy for sticking crushed cans into the back wheels of our bicycles so they made a rasping sound close to a miniature motorbike as we rode them") have the same hallucinatory clarity.

But this is only half of it, and I don't have enough time to properly extend my thesis here (will do some day soon). In the flashbacks Parker's characters get beaten up by their siblings or parents, they punch each other in the stomach and drink beer, but the key thing is a total obsession (and a very familiar one) with transcendence. But transcendence via the nasty stuff, the Ouija boards and cruelty to animals, the ghost stories and strange rituals, the conviction that your room is haunted, the persistent nightmares that bleed into your daily life. Every page is beautifully crafted - every verset showcases how well this guy can write. The engagingly ugly stuff is undercut by the version-of-Parker-presented-to-us-in-the-poems's current life, with a wife and daughter. The attendant fierce protectivity, love and sadness depicted with unflinching intimacy. (E.g. the following middle-of-the-night breast-feeding scene: "'Don't tell me about your dreams,' my wife sighed sleepily, her head nodding forwards and backwards, in and out of the dark. 'Your dreams are messed up. They give me horrible nightmares.'")

I love Bobby Parker's writing. Ghost Towm Music was one of my favourite things of last year. He could easily have produced a second vol. in the projected trilogy which offered more of the same - an endlessly engaging mix-up of artifice, diary, fury, confessional, surrealism/cubism, art and photography. The post-it notes in Comberton are brilliantly funny, thought-provoking and sad ("WE WALKED AROUND AT NIGHT IN THE SUMMER LISTENING FOR COUPLES HAVING SEX WITH THEIR WINDOWS OPEN"), giving it something in common with the first. But it goes further. It's a collection of poems whose narrative outstrips most novels for depth, mystery and staying power.

Well, that wasn't really the half of what I wanted to say, nor one tenth as clear, but it'll do for now. And a giant tower of dissertations has just landed on my desk, so I'm going to have to write about the next two books later. Maybe about two weeks later, but here they are.

I read with Phil Brown last Saturday at Cheltenham. Il Avilit is his first full collection and it is beautiful. MORE TO FOLLOW.

Ameerah Arjanee was one of the winners of the 2010 Foyle Young Poets Prize when I judged it. She is an extraordinarily precocious talent and this is her first collection. I think at the moment it's only available in Mauritius. MORE TO FOLLOW.