Monday, December 10, 2007

Review of Stanley Pelter's & Y NOT?

&YNOT by Stanley Pelter. George Mann Publications, UK, 2006. 144 pp. ISBN O954629973. The third in his gift book series, it is available from: 5 School Lane, Claypole, Newark NG23 5BQ, UK. Please send request with a large SAS and 2 IRCs.

Reviewed by Patricia Prime

&YNOT is Stanley Pelter’s latest collection of illustrated haibun. The lengthy introduction (twelve pages) introduces the reader to some of Pelter’s views of the place haibun should take in our writing lives. As he says,

At this early stage in the life cycle of haibun there is greater potential if, whatever the reason, limiting parameters remain low key and undemanding. Transcribing more complex content means that at least language and style need to be the most appropriate, however puzzling may be the initial results. Form, content, haiku “spirit” and characteristics are at closure when an integrated totality.

He explicates what haibun means to most of its practitioners in the following passage:

Most haibuneers accept as read that haibun is a marriage of prose and haiku. This 1 line perspective works on how the different haiku genre is appropriately incorporated. No relevant “story” can be so imbued with haiku qualities and particularities that it may be self-sufficient without their physical presence.

And he explains how his own haibun differ from conventional haibun:

Some haibun in this book are conformist in content and form structure. As with the first book, past imperfect, others are not, leading to a charge of being “difficult”, not even haibun. With some oral tradition helps. Hearing language can change fog to mist, sometimes clear the sky of clouds entirely. Some, which I call “Impact Haibun”, are the synthesis of a poem usually integrated with visually disjunctive language, qualitatively different from the more lineal layout of haiga. Although at an early stage of development, for me these elicit equivalence to some intrinsic haiku qualities.

The experience of reading Pelter’s haibun is, then, extraordinarily powerful. His writing puts me in mind of that of Gertrude Stein or James Joyce with its extraordinary and uneven assemblage of brilliant language and wavering ruminations, constantly breaking out of the mould of orderly composition. The tension between references to recognisable experiences and the techniques of his writing keeps us on our toes as we try to come to terms with his fracturing of language. Here, as an illustration, are some lines from the opening haibun “Firsts”:

Gimme the flannel, yer ears an’ eyes are really mucky. An’ when’s the las’ time yer nek saw soap?” “Notsir’ard.” “An’ yer carn’t wear that shirt.” “& Y kNOT?” “Cause it’s dirty, that’s why not . . . And look at yer shoes. They ain’t been cleaned for weeks.” “I don’wannergo. Leavemealone.” “Yourgowintergo, and goin’ clean an’ don’t go ov on yer own an’ make sure you say ‘fankyou’ an . . . njoy yerself!”

These lines put the narrator in the midst of a domestic scene where we see a poor British family, where the mother is preparing her son for his first trip to the seaside. Pelter’s musings developing into two sets of opposing terms, identity, which has to do with history, memory and self-interest in time, and entity, which has to do with pure being, insight beyond personality, creation beyond time. Related to these is his distinction between human nature, which refers to identity in time and place, and the human mind, which refers to existing and creating.

“We are poor. So if every family for miles around. Par for the course. Nothing to worry about. Being different, they notice. Decide the poor children of the poor need a treat.” The persona is highly aware of the “firsts” in his life: the “first” treat of a visit to the seaside, the “first” sight of the sea”, “the “first” fishing boat, the wonderful promise of “Here for the First time, I am bumping against a latter-day Serpentine-Eve-Avec-Her-Ripe-Appley-Adam moment, a Love Affair so intense, so integrated a process, so Confused, it can be none other than, mutually damaging for as long as my Evermore lasts.” The flow of one phrase into another, the minimal use of pronouns and prepositions, the run-on words help to create a strong notational effect as if the environment is being mapped out by the young man.

“first love at first sight just what is going on?” is a kind of Babel myth – the difficulties of communication. Speaking past each other, not listening to the other’s point of view, but chiming in with our own opinions – that is what Pelter is communicating in this haibun. Pelter brings into this love affair with words as many different accents and languages as possible. Based on a “real” event, the sub-text is the important part. It’s a particularly difficult piece from which to quote, but here are a few lines:

“I am a Virgin” reverberates. Brake! Care permeates. This IS IT! Ready! NO Yes YES I am. To HIM Hurl HearT.hear SurFACE Heart. Vill ay up insides. Hand-On-Heart. Close to tearing. Stop postures.

his painterly smile
hers an enigma
beyond code breakers

Ease into unitary event. Pattern of backlash recipe. In mounds of valleys does nakedness wait. Yu so ung Slow. Make memorable.

“the great secret” is a little easier to understand. In this poem an old man – a loner, walks through his village . . . is the man the poet’s doppelganger I ask myself.

You may imagine my surprise when, with an unnerving closeness, we are face to face. I had not realised just how craggy, lined and indented he is. I really do hear the sound of my heart, feel an increase in the speed of its beat. Even more surprising is that he talked; talked as if it were an everyday, social event. No one else is present. Proving he did, and what it was he said, is not easy. I suggest you believe.

What these poems demonstrate is how Pelter’s writing stimulates experience, whilst reminding the reader of the textuality of the presentation, through the shifting syntax and avoidance of strict boundaries of grammar. Take the poem “is as is it” (Section 3) which doesn’t contain a period in its two pages:

journeys end at last the door close two eyes two lips is as is it, imagine nothing else to mix up the order natural plays about me and she with private confessional, sweat on his back U and I too can read language specials with mutual humiliation

“masks” is a haibun of which I’m particularly fond, as I enjoy seeing the masks that Pelter assumes from child, brother, son, narrator, raconteur, clown, lover, working man, adult to decline. He shows curiosity, fantasy, flirting – learning about women and how to relate to them, all in a matter of a few lines:

her mascara mask
now she wears the new seasons
castaway model

After disconnecting her nipples (feelings being verboten) she sits on a swivel chair at a dressing table, curious, masked, but secure and calm.

The light sound patterning and links within the text (e.g. the repetition of “eyes” and “lips” remind us that language is a background of conflicting spaces, boundaries and parameters of meaning. These elements link Pelter’s approach to performance and the emphasis on the “collage-like” composition of his haibun.

Print, however complete and accurate the words, flattens and strips language of the touch of human beings, talking and responding to each other. Pelter seeks to show minds groping for notions rather than completing them. Often contexts of exchanges are assumed rather than spelled out. The innovative nature of Pelter’s haibun, the collapsing of phrase, loose syntax, omission of punctuation, use of portmanteau words, capital letters, layout of poems, use of foreign phrases serves to defamiliarise the normative appearance and functions of a poem – suggesting new ways of composing and transmitting one’s message.

Section 4 with its lively layout and typography and its visual effects is another instance of Pelter’s idiosyncratic style. By virtue of its collaged means of composition – layering, gathering fragments and juxtaposing them – the result gives the feeling of endless inventiveness. Seeing new possibilities and perspectives in format, Pelter gives his readers several samples of his art.

The haibun in &YNOT display a remarkable talent for creativity. The introduction clarifies the intensity of Pelter’s vision for the future of haibun and of his development as a writer of this genre.

reviewed by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand
first published in Stylus Poetry Journal, June 2006

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