In this highly
enjoyable volume, Damian Furniss travels the world writing about his
experiences and recording observations. There are poems from Cuba in the
fiftieth year of the revolution, amongst the dead and dying in India, through
the Americas and in Europe 'on the trail of soldiers, artists and monks'.
Furniss's verse is tight throughout, with nothing extraneous, nothing wasted.
For example, in the poem 'If Art Was a Car': 'If art was a car, I'd take this
line for a spin / ...just because I can - / ...now that would be a day, a day
Immediately, I'm seeing a Kerouac moment unfurling before me. Again, this tautness
of language is shown in 'Che in Disguise':
as a yam,
Grey streaked in
That remains of his
I can imagine, in my head, the poem being read by William Burroughs in that
throaty, Southern drawl of his.
There is an easy, atmospheric sense to the Cuba poems in this volume Ð slow,
lounging, sassy. Look at this from 'See That My Bones Are Kept Clean':
gone, do not moan
On my long,
your ringed fingers
With slugs of
There's an easy natural pressure (not a force) at rhyme here, and the words
slip over the tongue just like that rum must have done.
'Bee Movie' is, again, a close, tight poem full of space and clever rhymes (both
end- and mid-line) that masterfully exploit order and form. Got to know the
rules to break the rules Ð ask Picasso.
Face like a
Lean as a guinea
than a whirligig,
And speaking of the artist himself, in '9 + 1 = Picasso', IV Furniss pulls
Wordsworth right into the 21st century: 'Art is the child of a man
/ And a mountain of men.'
Furniss can be earthy, sexual without pretence of cloakedness, and has the
skill and the confidence to carry it off successfully, such as in 'House of
the Genius', III:
skinned and stewed,
is a gift, or
loved to be killed,
like you to be fucked.
You can imagine sitting around with Furniss, perhaps even sipping a mint tea
in the Petit Socco in Tangier, around the corner from Burroughs's old room,
and him pulling the glass away from his lips momentarily to pronounce 'You
cannot lose a cat / As you can lose a mind - / They just go missing..'
('Found Lost Sign').
Well, I can.
A poem such as 'Old Iron' explores the past: journeys, origins and beginings;
exquisite, tailored -
The sunburnt moor
The last flag
of shore he saw.
On his tod
against the waves
To bank the
world's last cod
The more one reads this book, the more it divides into its three sections.
The middle section is titled My White Ghosts and I think it's the most successful,
the most complete, though that isn't a judgment on the rest of the book.
There are some points where Goar's and Furniss's books cross - and one of
these is my mention of a zen quality - and subject matter - to some of the
language. In this book's 'Darshan with Dalai Lama' Furniss draws on a zen
koan; if you meet the buddha on the road, kill him. 'I am here to kill the
The idea is to strip everything down; to begin again from the ground up. Or
as the sufis say: Die before you die. As if to demonstrate his zen sensibility, Furniss quotes
the explorer, traveller and zen monk Peter Matthiessen at one point.
He explores death sensitively and with great maturity in the poem 'The Great
Some went to
rest with children still eggs inside them, others with
beside them, ten in a dozen, baptised by fever of dead in
And in 'Holi at Nirmal Hriday' there is this inescapable (well, for Calcutta)
meld of death and politics:
For a moment
I unlearn my politics,
see a man
empty his lungs onto his bed,
him and rub his chest.
But a joining of the two with the poet firmly in control and in attendance.
And again, I'm going to have to say it, a confidence that can in poets only
come from experience and a thorough slog through a lifetime of writing
towards... completion. A realisation, almost an awakening.
Furniss understands Calcutta at this essential level, for example (in 'New
Life in Hospice') when describing the discovery of a rats' nest. I see this
as a metaphor for Calcutta's poor. It's a beautiful poem, redolent of (in my
mind) Seamus Heaney's Blackberries through its images; its metaphors. The rats in Furniss's
Calcutta are the squashed, vivid fruit in Heaney's: straining, strained.
We found a
balls of pink baldness,
still blind as pennies.
even vermin are
to the dying.
It represents a poet in control of his craft, his art. In fact, as does this
entire volume, which I enjoyed immensely on so many levels.
The poems in
Jim Goar's book were written in Seoul, South Korea over a few years, and all
of them flow into one another, largely without punctuation or individual
titles, to form what is as a whole a glorious example of sparse language and
Due to the lack of titles, I will refer to poems by their page number in this
The sparseness of Goar's verse is no better introduced than on p.11: '...all
motives in the rain / like chameleon skin blossom'
Goar also skirts around absurdity,
and from experience I can attest to Asia's knack of presenting Ionesco-like
bouts of such a condition whilst on the road there. Page 13:
So what if
bald turkeys stole your wedding dress
You look nice
in that hospital gown
He also looks at suicide at the end of this same poem:
And get off
the dirt if you fall
This seems to hint at a zen-like approach to his travels and condition whilst
There are in the book what read like forced rhymes and such instances spoil
the sense of space; the looseness (in a good way) of Goar's writing. For
example, on p.19:
in the rain
what it feigns
in the sun
though I might be mistaken, and re-reading this again now I can see that on
its own I might be tempted to give the poet the benefit of the doubt. In
fact, another instance of what I saw as forced rhyme even adds to the overall
impression, such as on p.23:
the wall. a
I liked the way, later on (p.38) that all these themes I've spoken of -
sparseness, absurdity, confidence even to test new ground from within
near-empty space - come together in a single couplet: 'There is no connection
/ between tomatoes and poets'
I read the book in a crowded place; kids running around, shouting, playing. Seoul
Bus Poems brought me
down, back, to a calmer personal space. It transported me back to a bus in
Sumatra with a pig in a sack on my lap, with Elvis gyrating his
rhinestone-clad hips on a television screen.
© John Gimblett