Reading Kazoo Dreamboats

Mimi and the Girls- Sarah Small

One of the things that arduity tries to do is to encourage people to read poetry that is considered to be difficult. Most of the time this isn’t difficult because I find that I’m quite good at writing about complex stuff in a clearish manner and can usually deploy my puppy dog enthusiasm to good effect. I like to think that I’ve managed to do this with ‘The Anathemata’, ‘The Maximus Poems’, ‘Todtnauberg’ and others that deserve a wider audience.

The other main function that arduity has is to make people feel more confident about reading this stuff and not to feel intimidated by many of the more off-putting features of lateish modernism. This usually consists of writing about something that I’ve found to be foreboding or things that I know have deterred my friends and suggesting techniques for a more successful reading.

So, all of this is fairly straightforward, I’m currently in the middle of trying to say something useful about the poetry of Simon Jarvis and this is both enjoyable and rewarding. Then I come across ‘Kazoo Dreamboats’ which presents a new set of challenges to the above because it seems to exist outside both Prynne’s work and anything else that I can think of- although this may be due to a lack of imagination.

I have attempted to describe some of the poem’s basic features so I won’t repeat myself here but further attempts at reading /paying attention have thrown more issues into doubt which make writing for the first-time reader quite daunting. This is compounded by the fact that I don’t think ‘Kazoo Daydreams’ can be read without reference to Prynne’s output since 1971 if only to differentiate and indicate how much of a change this represents.

I’ll try and give some examples-

  • we haven’t had a reading list before, unless we count ‘A note on metal’ which is included in the Bloodaxe ‘Poems’ but isn’t a poem;
  • blocks of text have not been obviously inserted straight into other works;
  • this is the first prose poem, if that’s what it is or this is the first poem that looks (mostly) like a prose poem;
  • the phrases are more ‘accessible’ than anything since ‘Triodes’ but the ‘sense’ feels disrupted, I’ll try and give some examples below;
  • as well as the blockquotes, some quotes are indicated by inverted commas within the body of the text some others aren’t;
  • there’s a higher than usual level of playfulness going on;
  • the parrot, the hot pies, chicken in a basket, love potion number nine, alive alive-o, Bill Bailey, the old folks at home (etc).

There are some continuities, the use of repetition, the intensity of thought, the ongoing angry sarcasm with regard to all aspects of capitalism, the use of ‘Prynne’ words (foramen, saccadic), the occasional address to the reader, but this does feel like a completely different way to collide with the ‘unwitty circus’.

The reference cues present a different kind of challenge because most attentive readers will try and dig out the unfmiliar works in order to get some idea of what they’re about. The problem arises because the first three of these are (to my non-scientific brain) fairly difficult to grasp- I’m still working on Van der Waals forces even though the quote is the from the first paragraph in the book and haven’t yet progressed to condensed matter field theory and have only skimmed the surface of pore geometry. My point is that none of these are inviting or amenable to the non-specialist. Then there’s the troubling use of Mao Zedong on contradiction from 1937.

I’m not entirely sure what I mean by disrupted sense but I have tried to read this attentively and can begin to follow sentences and phrases that are much clearer than the recent poetry but then something gets thrown in that sets off another train of thought altogether. This is one of the clearer examples-

The dream very true, in truth a dream of human kind come back, go forward a shadow drops like stone. Water on all sides, the life of men. In the morning milk delivery up to the very door clink clink I heard it on the step, it was Andrew, our regular. My mouth should twitch beyond sufferance in its knowledge rebate, anyone could weep for no less, day by day. There is no unity in mind its line in stolen property its fainting breath absurd: a property of the void itself.

So, we move from water surrounding our lives to the arrival of milk (delivered by Andrew) to twitching mouths, knowledge rebates and the weeping anyone can do to the fragmentary nature of ‘mind’ with reference to what it steals and the absurdity of its existence which is said to be a property of the void ‘itself’. There is a lot of sense that can be made from this which is either enhanced or disrupted by the arrival of the milk which may be an indication or example of the fragmented nature of consciousness but doesn’t really account for the identification of Andrew as the Prynne’s regular milkman. Of course it could be argued that the presence of the identified Andrew is justified by the poem’s wider context or by an element that I have thus far overlooked but what the initial reaction is that the clinking arrival of the milk is so startling that it undermines the sense of what is being said. This may. of course, be the point because there is a degree of playfulness at work here which serves to interrogate the texts that are used and also to introduce a much lighter tone.

So, do I introduce ‘Kazoo Daydreams’ to new readers in terms of its difference to what’s gone before or do I talk about it in terms of itself? This isn’t an argument about quality in the way that I’d advise readers new to Hill to stay well clear of ‘Oraclau’. This dliemma is the worry that any kind of reasonably accurate introduction might put people off- “It isn’t entirely clear what it might be about, it might be a prose poem, it contains verbatim chunks of appropriated prose on quite complex subjects, it appears to be intent on undermining itself and contradicts some of what Prynne has said about poetry making in the very recent past, there moments of lyrical intensity, experiments with repetition and (all in all) it is immensely involving, compelling and (probably) brilliant.”

The ‘Reading Kazoo Deramboats’ page may need to wait for futher reflection but at the moment I’m thinking of emphasis on the startling and the odd as the most user-friendly point of entry, even if that doesn’t do justice to what might be going on.

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