Issue 3: March – April (and a bit of May) 2012 Contents.

Rochford Street Review

1 Comment

  1. Hi Mark, I have just found Rochford’s review of my poem Vanuatu Moon (issue 3) from a couple of months back. Thank you for giving the work a review and for the obvious consideration given to it; it’s a privilege to get a review of one’s work these days in among the welter of works being published and diminishing number of venues to review them.
    Your review raises some interesting points, particularly on the identity of the ‘prose poem’. I too was aware of the discrepancy of tone, line of attack, and ‘feel’ between some of my poems across the two small volumes, and agree with you that the first one-and-a-half pages (along with a few other areas of the work, i would argue) are different from other areas which may be deemed ‘flatter’, more ‘travel-style’ in their approach. It is an issue I considered at the time of writing and have considered further since publication. It has already struck me that after a sufficient distance from the poem I might readdress the total 64 pages and produce a single more ‘unified’ ‘prose poem’ of say 16 or 20 pages by recasting some of the more purely ‘travel’-style poems. I think the end stanzas of the poem work in a similar way to the opening ones, and in in between these two poles there is a leaner poem which might more truly be described as a ‘prose poem’. Maybe i will try that some day. And maybe I should remove the descriptor ‘prose poem’ for the work in its present state. That said, i stand by the whole two-volume as a genuine (and I hope largely effective and interesting) reportage of the Vanuatu experience from the point of view of a middle-class western Tourist attempting to communicate the sense of this place and this people on the open basis of a mere three-week (frequently ironic) ‘Touristic’ experience. I guess one of the elements via which I was seeking to make the work as a whole ‘prose poem’ was the attention I gave to the rhythm and tautness of each of the poems (repeatedly testing them by reading them aloud), though of course all good prose has tautness and rhythm; and also via the sustained revisiting and treatment of certain aspects of the imagery and motifs across the whole two volumes. With regard to your review, I am not sure however that I agree with your interpretation of the ‘Surplus Cargo’ poem. What I was trying to do there was more in line with Adam Aitken’s blog response to the review. I was interested in a sort of impressionistic reportage which was injected (heightened) at points with tension (’emotion’) and resonance in the meaning of the Touristic acts and situations themselves. I like Adam’s concept of the ‘non-romanticisation’ (‘non-lyrical’, ‘non-transcendental’ treatment) of the travel experience: that was exactly one of the things I was trying to do. I was also adamant about keeping the (romantic, centralising) ego of the poet right out of it. Whether or not this is judged to always succeed, it certainly was a basic part of my poetic intention. The whole work hangs together (hopefully!) by means of an incremental ‘investigation’ of the disparity between the two cultures, and of all the associated ironies, set within a vernacular (yet heightened) use of language and a malleable, imagistic and ‘reportage’ style. Perhaps I was more successful with this at some points than in others. In this sense I would also take issue with Adam’s follow-on comment about the ‘stern-faced’ Melanesian air hostess (with his implication that I was being ‘ideological, judgmental, stereotyping’). Adam, the descriptor ‘stern-faced’ was a deliberate wording, applied on a couple of counts and resonating with the tone and use of other words and phrases/images across the two volumes. Firstly, it reflects the simple physical reality that the impression here was of a ‘stern face’. The Melanesians quite simply do give a white Tourist a physical jolt in their ‘difference’ (just as Whites no doubt are capable of giving a jolt to Melanesians. Vive la difference!). I later play with this surface ‘heaviness’/’sternness’ of demeanour however when i refer to the constant breaking of the Melanesians’ external ‘hardness’ to a delightfully enchanting joy, openness and (‘non-stern’) friendliness upon closer personal contact: I comment that the faces break out in ‘frangipani-white smiles’. The difference between the initial, superficial ‘sternness’ of the ni-Vans and the amazingly rapid transition to friendliness and open smiling is a genuine and intoxicating aspect of being a Tourist in Vanuatu. (One of the great memories of the trip was of our riding out to the airport on the last day, with gaggles of schoolkids passed on the roadside catching sight of us and spontaneously erupting with smiles and waves to send us ‘Tourists’ on our way: it was humbling. The tourist brochures actually seek advantage from this, packaging Vanuatu as the ‘friendly isles’). The second reason for using ‘stern-faced’ is to contrast the hostess and the fledgling national airline of a struggling/developing small Pacific island with the more conceptually ‘sophisticated’ ‘first-world’ one featuring bevvies of corporately beaming stewardesses (think: the ‘Singapore Girls’ advertising campaign for Singapore Airlines some years ago). This ni-Van hostess, and Air Vanuatu, are still ‘new’ to the tourism, and are in process of determining their own line to it. The hostess was showing a natural, unforced (and to my mind in fact fully justifiable and admirable) discomfort and resistance regarding the traditional ‘subservient’ approach required to the Tourist. She was simply being, as I would discover on arriving in the country itself, her totally natural, initially ‘unsmiling’, Vanuatu-self. (On top of that, maybe it was her first flight!). I think that in this light, and in light of an actual reading of the whole two Vanuatu volumes, my take on Vanuatu is in fact indeed as empathetic (sympathetic) as the surreal, unromanticised bringing together of the two wildly different cultures can allow on the basis of a glancing 3-week tourist holiday, which is precisely the restricted framework I present for the two-chapbook narrative.
    Finally, Mark, the book was produced in two volumes purely because the format for the PressPress chapbooks was 32 pages each, and I hadn’t actually finished the second volume when the first went to press some months earlier. It would undoubtedly work better in a single volume as you suggest!
    In any case, many thanks again to you Mark, and your respondents, for consideration of the work.
    Best wishes, Paul Cliff.

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