Pam Brown launched Kent MacCarter’s Sputnik’s Cousin (Transit Lounge, 2014). Thursday 7th August 2014 at Gleebooks, Sydney.
Gig Ryan’s Melbourne launch speech for Sputnik’s Cousin can be found here: https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2014/05/19/a-luna-park-of-treasures-gig-ryan-launches-sputniks-cousin-by-kent-maccarter/
On the desk next to my computer there’s a handwritten question on the back of an envelope – “Who is Kent MacCarter?”. It’s a reminder that I should find out more about “Kent MacCarter”. I know him mainly via email – first, as an executive at SPUNC – the ‘Small Press Underground Networking Community’ and then as editor of the inclusive online poetry review, Cordite. So what do I discover?
Kent was born in Minnesota and lived in various places in the US, studying with the late great Thom Gunn and with Karen Volkman at the University of Chicago. However, and I’m not sure of the dates, Kent decided to ditch his original career-pursuit of poetry writing and became, at first, an extra in various tv sitcoms and eventually landed his first big screen job playing a disoriented and seasick passenger on a cargo freighter full of thieves and smugglers travelling across the Pacific to Melbourne, in the popular B-grade adventure film Direct Tui.
His minor acting roles include a deck grunt on a flounder trawler off the coast of Homer, Alaska in Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s Murder Most Fishy; as a fudge packer in a confectioner’s ‘shoppe’ on an Island in Michigan in the period drama Too Sweet Immediately; as an aspiring athlete working as an espresso cart barista perfecting short blacks at Atlanta’s Olympic Stadium in Shorty Gets Sporty and as a mild-mannered mutual-fund accountant planning an inside job in Swank Swindle, filmed entirely in the vault of a converted bank. As his acting career began to wane, Kent, ever diverse, took up teaching English on the education black market in Siena, Italy.
Eventually though he returned to work on writing poetry. Kent has said – “the word ‘work’ has a loaded negativity to it, an assumed arduousness that isn’t necessarily applicable to a given event of ‘work’. When I’m writing in the evenings, if asked, I’ll say that ‘I am working’. I have certainly put more time and effort – altogether more work – into most pieces of writing than I have, say, mowing the lawn, migrating online content, editing an essay or searing a kangaroo fillet appropriately without overcooking it. These are all acts of work. Some are pleasurable, some not so much…”
So with this amplified biographical context and some idea of his attitude to writing I feel ready to start reading Sputnik’s Cousin.
It’s a collection of highly kinetic, fantastical and sometimes discomfiting poems that don’t seem to have struggled too much – in fact they seem to have relished their release from Kent’s untrammelled consciousness and on to a page. The distinctions he makes about ‘work’ colour a general approach. And an aroma of seared kangaroo meat like summer bushfires like tram-stop tobacco wends its way into the first section of the book which is called ‘Smoke Odes’.
The first poem ‘You and a Clandestine Getaway’ has a note indicating it’s written ‘after John Forbes’. When I see ‘after so & so’ accompanying a poem I always wonder about its various interpretations – is it an emulation or a trace or what? Every poem written in Australia since 1998 is, after all, ‘after the late great John Forbes’. So I guess, in this case, ‘after’ indicates that the poem’s influenced by reading John Forbes. The poem does remind me of Forbes’ well-known poem ‘Monkey’s Pride’ (http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/forbes-john/monkey-s-pride-0458010/reviews/john-forbes-monkey-s-pride-5):
….I am a balloon that floats around
bumping into suburbs
where a cowboy appears from a bookcase
……………riding on a bottle of pills.
Here in Kent’s poem it’s a holiday-gone-luoco in Brazil that has a wanton agency similar to the Forbes poem.
………………..You holidayed with
a lover who slid down
an out-of-town waterfall between
brushy gropes of real banana
leaves and nematodes
into he lagoon
manipulated by should and pumice
upside-down a cachaça punch
in your throat.
These things can happen in ‘he lagoon’ apparently.
It’s a giddying beginning and it looks as if I’ll need some recovery time in between each of the poems up ahead.
Hardly anything in these poems is explicit or totally topical yet everything matters, one way or another. Kent lavishly blends nouns and verbs as he simultaneously elongates perception and bends imagery into unexpected shapes that become fluid and multiple. He works in an eccentric register, rarely staying still. Just as you think you know where he is, he makes another turn, queering the idea and making it strange. What seems eclectic to me probably seems logical or straightforward to him. This plasticised language emits from a kind of poetic glossolalia – like this chain-smoking editor’s riff –
………..This is to say: my breaths are baited. Equipped. Falling low
in ampersands and loops like inserts from Australian Women’s
Weekly in this autumn of renewal – stent! – the battery of tests
……………………………….is a cyclone scooping coastline
toward Leviticus – a shaky hallway menthol smoke and gastric wind. Design:
cock out calligraphy. Smock. A catheter of Winnie Blues.
There are also some wistful remininscences
Michigan Under 10s Regional Kite Flying Champion
A real dandelion in boxing gloves
but everything moves on, or moves – like vibrations or tremors just below a surface – there’s no time or place for wallowing here.
One freely espousing or wildly riffing poem – ‘Light Foxing’ – is presented sideways on the page.
There’s a suite of poems that comprise a kind of homage to the late 1920s jazz composer, cornet player and pianist Bix Beiderbecke, who drank a lot and died young, at only 28.
The way his trumpet did you
………………..sideways in the head –
fleeter than Art Deco or a cheetah
The poems accompany ‘Bixology’, an album of twenty five recordings made by Bix Beiderbecke mostly with his group the Wolverine Orchestra.
Half-diminished 7th chords
The way Bix croaked
……………kicked on the lights
The way that coronet drank
……………his noggin to dropsy
Speaking of Art Deco, there’s a nice homage to Melbourne’s Nicholas Building. Another ‘Melbourne’ poem written with Fiona Hile memorialises the painter of dayglo-edged suburbia, Howard Arkley, who died of a heroin overdose in 1999 (can it be so long ago?).
This is poetry in the time of gamers – action poems, altered pantoums, free verse, hyperrealism, enlivened prose. There’s a cast of eccentrics like Harry Houdini the escapologist, Ms Pac-Man (the tranny we’ve all been waiting for), Kathy Acker, Terry Gilliam and others. Use of form never intrudes on the content, and the two longer prose pieces slow the pace a little so you can gather your breath and get ready to run on.
The second of these prose pieces, ‘Pork Town’, is magical realist. It’s a nightmarish satire of meat-eating Melbourne that chronicles the fortunes made and lost in 19th century abbatoirs and bacon factories around Northcote, Preston and from Williamstown to Collingwood and Flemington. There seemed to be a plethora of bloody institutions. The story is haunted by spectres – a doddering old man who regularly and openly craps on the public footpath and an encounter with a, quote, ‘humungous fucking … thing … bucking at me like an electrocuted steer.’ It’s a big sickly menacing dismembered penis. This is a disturbing and powerful piece of writing that could turn anyone vegetarian.
To continue more calmly – Sputnik’s Cousin also has copious idiosyncratic references that lead the willing reader to diverse research. I looked up plenty of things from the botanic term ‘anther’, to ‘moriawase’ (a Japanese combination platter), to ‘cenozoic’ (a geologic era 65.5 million years ago) to ‘binturong’ which is a bearcat – a lumbering hairy creature that gains an hour of freedom by escaping the Melbourne zoo and appearing in one of Kent’s poems.
Spanish-speaking linen, abseiling window-washers, a Chihauhau named Taco, a monastery in Macedonia located in ‘woop woop’ – these poems celebrate an aberrant poetry practice and a kind of audacious individualism. No algorithm could produce these poems, they’re constructed beyond the normative and seem to be definitely made by a person who really celebrates all things rogue.
At the very beginning of this happily unpredictable book, possibly in memory of his early forays into acting, Kent has chosen a quote from Arthur Miller which seems a good note on which to end my ramblings – “Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.”
Author’s note: the biographical details relating to Kent MacCarter’s suspended acting career are yet to be verified.
– Pam Brown
Pam Brown is a practised professional amateur. Her latest book is Home by Dark (Shearsman, 2013). She has been and continues to be a contributing editor for various magazines and sites including Overland, Ekleksographia, Jacket, Rubric, Polari, Jacket2, PennSound, Fulcrum, and VLAK and is currently editing ten booklets for Vagabond Press – the ‘deciBels’ series. Pam blogs intermittently at ‘the deletions’ http://thedeletions.blogspot.com/
Sputnik’s Cousin is available from http://www.transitlounge.com.au/index.htm#SputniksCousin
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