Reviews

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
Amazon
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with words almost as much as he seems to wrestle with life; his poems (selected here from several published and unpublished collections dating back to 1997's Yeah Yeah Yeah) are costly, hard-worked monuments to his own internal struggle, jagged, often irregular chunks of language,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."

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image