Book Talk: Clockfire
Author: Jonathan Ball
Publisher: Coach House Press
So I thought I would explore the realm of doing stupid and exciting things like seeing if umbrellas could double up as a parachute when jumping out a tree – except with fewer hospital visits – and review not a novel, not an anthology, but poetry.
Cue applause hopefully?
Okay, so maybe it doesn’t sound stupid or exciting, but anyone who thinks that poetry is as easy to review as fiction should check out this review for Jonathan Ball’s sequel. If you managed to read through the whole thing and you were nodding your head in meaningful understanding, then congratulations – you understand poetry. Otherwise it was probably as literary to you as Finnegans Wake.
Or maybe you are still indifferent, and hearing the word “poetry” evoked a mental collage of that cult-classic Hop on Pop, terrible third-grade Valentines or Shel Silverstein. If this is the case, let me enlighten you, using some metaphorical language that poetry would oft indulge in: if fiction is like a tuck of ham and eggs and bacon served by some middle-aged waitress named Sherry, then modern poetry is that meal compressed into a dab of wasabi, a glass of spiced wine and the walls are white.
But I’d like to get things out the way for those who prefer narrative coherence over strings of cleverly placed words. For those people, I’d recommend Clockfire as a toe-dipping way to have a go at poetry. It’s not a typical collection of verse but more a menagerie of play ideas too surreal to perform – unless you can recommend an audience eager to see a bloodied Oedipus walking down the aisle, passing out knives. Said ideas are sewn together with a traditional opening as you – the audience – sit through a series of alluring impossibilities that leave you grasping at the role played by your continued attention. Six intermissions to remember plot, theme, character, language, and spectacle, and finally the denouement of walking out of the theatre with nothing but the filter of performed memories.
Now a collection of unachievable plays would be lackluster at best if it was only a collection of quirks ideas of say, the actors were replaced with baby ducks. But Clockfire is that $20 you found on the sidewalk when it pushes deeper into the “impossible” and becoming a successful adaptation of a play to poetry, you as the reader, as the audience.
To pluck one idea for examination, as well to be an example of the brevity of Ball’s poetry is one titled “The Play is Over.”
The Play is Over
The play is over. Applaud or jeer. Step out into the street and pick a path. Meanwhile, the play begins again, in your absence. Without you.
It’s a perfect skew of vision – the play you will see only plays when you are the audience, and when the play is over, that’s not true. It’s over you, as it still has other audience, memories, posters, scripts recycled and recycled, actors and directors, recycled again, but without the facet of your viewing.
Of course there is more to Clockfire than how it understands what a reader is; the way words are used or left unused, why it’s structured the way it is, that is really only for those with fancy bits of paper saying they are poetry nerds to explain properly, not me. What I can say is that Clockfire is one of those pleasant surprises, one that reaches beyond the amusement found in each poem with the understanding that there is more to find if held long enough.
Rating: A piece to read in one of those dead moments in time, like having a car without a destination, waiting for a late friend, a lazy Sunday afternoon that was planned up to catch up on work.
If your pen has run out of ink, get a new one.
By A North York “Joshua P’ng” Writer