Mischief Night - New & Selected Poems by Roddy Lumsden

John Sears

His poems are costly, hard-worked monuments to his own internal struggle, jagged, often irregular chunks of language.

Mischief Night - New & Selected Poems

Publisher: Bloodaxe Books
Length: 176
Price: £8.95 (UK)
Author: Roddy Lumsden
UK publication date: 2004-07
Now I'm left with all of this, a room full of your trash.
� The Psychedelic Furs

"Let's sum up so far, bring you up to date" writes Roddy Lumsden in "Compendium," a sonnet towards the end of Mischief Night - New & Selected Poems. What there is to sum up is numerous summings-up, compendia of sufferings, moments of grief, slurs, slights and insults, poems that express the agonies the self suffers in expressing itself. Lumsden wrestles with words almost as much as he seems to wrestle with life; his poems (selected here from several published and unpublished collections dating back to 1997's Yeah Yeah Yeah) are costly, hard-worked monuments to his own internal struggle, jagged, often irregular chunks of language, sometimes bleak, sometimes grimly comic, sometimes cryptic, but always intriguing.

His characteristic mode of expression, or at least the one that affords him the most latitude, is the list, the summing-up up of images, perceptions, thoughts worked into phrases and sentences that revel in their own made-ness, the artifice of their construction. This propensity is signalled in the first line of the first poem here -- "So many, so many songs / for the suicides, for the lives / docked in middle age" -- and establishes itself, a page later, in the asterisked sequence of images that makes up "Miss Hollington's Notes:" "*a chorus of rum babas behaving preposterously behind glass * the trophy smears when hot fudge lifts from greaseproof paper * a squadron of traybakes awaiting rosettes �" and so on, an anorexic's fantasy of self-denial, a culinary game of Exquisite Corpse, Chinese whispers for the famine-struck.

The list contains its own familiar dynamic, so that by the time we reach "Hotel Showers of the World" we know the scheme; lists offer choices for the reader as well as summaries of the poet's memories, and provide tests of verbal skill -- how to make a list resonate with all the significance of syntactically organised language? Make it link everywhere to home, the great hotel of the world, from "Manila's Pan Pacific" to "The Warder's Inn in Lewes" to "The St Andrews Bay," and make the poem another compendium of travel, loneliness, brief physical pleasure; after all, the poem implies, we only stay a short while, and the shower might be a bit like resurrection, from which, despite the world, we could emerge "this pink, this clean."

For all this, there's a dominant darker side to Lumsden that pushes through the playful optimism, making it seem forced at precisely those moments where it might be most unassuming, as if the poet, with a weak grin, were insisting everything's OK just as it teeters on the brink. "Rain at Night" demonstrates this intruding reality wonderfully, and offers an assured, powerful meditation on the truth of separation, the distance between those closest to each other, as the poet talks the deepest sense to his unheeding "young love:" "I whispered this, / as if you hear me across the noise of rain, the darkened counties dropping off, the emptiness." "As if you hear me" -- and yet, says the poem, we go on trying. "Moments of Terror," seemingly more quirky, is finally equally dark, its list an incremental scale of cheerful fear culminating in a howl curiously reminiscent of Wilfred Owen:

Raise three cheers for the agent provocateur punching the air,
for the ugsome stranger who wakes beside you,
nameless, with hairy hands and heavy breathing

for why did we heave with our fins and gasp
and leave the swamp, if not to hear
the porch door creak, the strangler on the stair.

In "My Meeting with the Goddess" we encounter Lumsden's muse, a figure of himself, with hippy leanings ("six years / in the Findhorn Foundation behind her" -- Lumsden elsewhere cites Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground, deliberate musical reference points for a man born in 1966 and therefore rather young to have heard them all first time round). The Goddess is Lumsden in disguise, in mythological ("cryptotheological," he calls it) drag, "sweet but complicated", "a lapsed romantic wearing a cynic's hat". Later, he "will wake in the Japanese annexe: / my pomegranate mouth, my yak flank hair, / the skin of my back busy with mill-sweat," his descent into the underworld, his going through the mill of himself over for now, returning instead to what another poem ("My Allegory," no less) calls "this plundered and squandered nosebag of a planet."

Lumsden's world is one of pubs, drink, temporary liaisons that might, just might, be the real thing; his poems are intensely, disturbingly personal, loaded with private significances, memories, allusions. He sometimes reads as if Roddy Doyle had ingested all of Alan Warner and Edwin Morgan all at once, which is not a criticism, more a comment on the sheer public, acrobatic versatility of his language, alongside its almost deadpan, fatalistic concern with the most intimate and important aspects of life, of why we're all here -- as the book's final words put it, "to love, to die."






Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.