Thursday, July 26, 2012

White Space and Noise: A Review by Pip Adam

Pip Adam is a fantastic writer whose stories are often like wild, driving poems. Geoff Cochrane is a writer whose poems are often like stories miniaturised and then thrown inside a glass bottle. I can't think of anyone better than Pip Adam to review a brand new Geoff Cochrane book.

Geoff is reading on Friday as part of National Poetry day (12.30 at Unity Books Wellington).

By Pip Adam

I’m writing to Lynn Jenner, she’s in Christchurch. ‘I’ve got the new Geoff Cochrane,' I write. 'I love it,’ I write. And then I add, ‘But I would.’

Over the years, Cochrane’s work has been a joy to me, a solace, a proof that art can be made in New Zealand which shows us ourselves in new ways. I’ve taken permission from it to search for beauty in the places I stand and walk and fall in. It may be my temperament, I'm often on a swing from sanguine to melancholic, or my experience, I arrived in Hanmer Springs wearing winter boots on a hot February afternoon. The highest opinion I have of myself likes to think I love Cochrane’s work because it’s so crafted, so pinprick sharpened that I recognise something in it that singles me out as a ‘good reader’. But, really, it comes down to this: his work makes a noise which resonates with a noise inside me made from the things I believe about the act of writing and the act of reading. We have a special kind of light in New Zealand and I also think we have a special kind of dark. In the world I run, Geoff Cochrane goes to Frankfurt and everyone gathered stops in awe of what can be made from our here and now through the lens of our particular light and dark.

Cochrane’s work is at its best in collection. I find myself restless during the time between books, when poems are drip fed at readings or in literary journals. It’s like getting a taste that won’t be satisfied until the book comes out. The Bengal Engine’s Mango Afterglow is a beautifully balanced work. There’s a rhythm to the structure of the book which you can see even by flicking through it. The small untitled pieces hiccup amongst the longer works and the blocks of prose. Lines, asterisks, rows of o’s – the typographical decisions point to a larger language, an orchestra rather than a quartet. Damien Wilkins hits the nail on the head in his back cover quote which identifies ‘those books of poetry that seem fuller than fiction’. There is something that ties The Bengal Engine’s Mango Afterglow together in a way which seems to transcend conventional narrative but creates a cohesive hole. I always think of The Worm in the Tequila as the diabetes collection and I think maybe this is the ‘not giving up smoking’ collection. Of course this reduces the work in a ridiculous way but there is something very special going on with the structure and concerns of this book and it seems to have something to do storytelling – with how we order and make sense. It’s a work held together by fine filaments of image and sound and humour rather than cause and effect. The Bengal Engine’s Mango Afterglow will sit on poetry shelves, and it’s right that it should, it is form extreme, but at night, I suspect, it will grow limbs and beat up some of the more comfortable collections.

Luckily, Cochrane publishes often and one of the prizes of publishing often is a currency which plays with time and space in productive ways. In The Bengal Engine’s Mango Afterglow, the Telecom XT network breaks down, the Arab Spring tightens, Charlie Sheen asserts his right to drink, and into this immediacy collapses the past and the future and alternative states. There are spacecraft and stories of World War 2.The inclusion of Reading Kundera in Christchurch, a poem 'completed early in 2010, before the ruinous quakes’ has the strange effect of lifting the curtain on a haunting parallel Christchurch where things have been allowed to go on. The ‘rescript, reshoot’ played out in the beautiful Mirrory Sunglasses is tantalising like gossip and a playful act of re-remembering. This layering of the possible, the hoped for, the dreaded over the tangible, pervasive noise of contemporary life builds a tension or perhaps a contingency which seems to put everything up for debate.

One of the aspects of the collection I enjoyed was its concern with economics. The series of Pinksheets which are scattered throughout the collection resonate with the rattle of economic downfall. Under a title stolen from the stock market Cochrane explores sounds and images which at first appear to be from outside the world of high finance. The Pinksheets talk about writing ‘When I want to read a poem, I write one’ and smoking ‘I’ll always line up with the smokers. / I’ll always line up with the smokers, / but I’ll also always smoke.’ and Hemineurin ‘Half an anuerin molecule [Hemi- + (a)neurin]. / Found to prevent convulsions in epileptic rats. / Used to sedate alcoholics withdrawing from alcohol. / No longer manufactured, alas.’ In their economic incarnation pink sheets are written daily and Cochrane’s work as diary-like snatches but their title also made me think about how everything is tied to money, how much of our literature is written by the rich and that this seems inescapable because everything is tied to money.

It’s hard and unhelpful I think to pick out poems and lines because I really believe this book has to be read and re-read as a whole. Many of the works and perhaps the work itself turn on a dime, single words chosen, certain rhythms taken change everything. It occurs to me what an intense pleasure it would be to read Cochrane's body of work from beginning to The Bengal Engine's Mango Afterglow like some massive fantasy series. I feel sure the books would have new excitements and joy if taken as a whole. The Bengal Engine’s Mango Afterglow is a perfect combination of craft and experience, flight and trudge, noise and white space.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant review. I look forward to reading the book!


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