The title drew me in. I was on holiday in Edinburgh with my partner Bruce and in search of book-related-wonders we visited LIGHTHOUSE, Edinburgh's 'radical bookshop' (Twitter). Suffice to say I had already wrecked my bank balance - all on books I'm thrilled to say! - but this little chapbook caught my eye with the declarative title of Grown Up Poetry Needs to Leave Me Alone. I have always been an 'experimental poet' or perhaps 'word artist/wizard' sounds better (certainly swankier!), and I tend to find this has a tendency to attract the look-down-the-nose-over-the-top-of-your-spectacles derision and snobbery of those who believe poetry stopped with T.S. Eliot or some other dead-some-good-fifty-years poets. I hold nothing against the poetry, I love a good bit of Hardy and Blake, but I do detest it when someone holds up one form of poetry as being better than the other. They often hold the strange idea that there is a 'grown up' kind of poetry, typically the ones we are forced to study rather than breathe and actually enjoy. The thing I LOVE about poetry is that it can be almost anything, it can take any form, what is considered good poetry is purely in the eyes of the beholder. I remember in my Masters degree a lecturer coming into our seminar and declaring: SHAKESPEARE IS THE BEST WRITER WHO EVER LIVED AND LAID THE FOUNDATION FOR ALL LITERATURE - PROVE ME WRONG. Throwing the sonnet-wrapped gauntlet down at our feet with an attitude of academic hierarchy that made my teeth grind. Of course we couldn't prove him wrong: the poor sod was already beyond help.
So such a humorous title as Carly Brown's chapbook instantly won me over. I stroked its unpretentious brown cover full of wavy lines who were trying to be straight but just couldn't help by wiggle (the work of Lydia K Cruz, whose website sadly appears to be no more). The third thing after the title and cover that made me buy the book was the typographic design of each poem, which as Brown says in the preface to her book "is based on the actual performance of the piece and attempts to capture such non-textual elements as speed, emphasis, pitch, mimicry, volume, and space" (preface, 2014). I opened the book randomly and the text jumped out at me like some feisty little pitch-black creature wanting to me heard. I read the last lines of '140 Characters' and walked immediately to the till.
How can I sum up this book? It is a funny, witty, brilliantly written series of poems. Brown covers topics such as the Underground, finding out Santa Claus isn't real and breaking up with Texas. Her rhythm is fast-paced, punchy and if you listen to her on Soundcloud (see link at the top of the page) you will fall in love with her voice. I passionate pace means it will come as no surprise to you that she is Scotland’s National Champion of Slam Poetry and 4th at the World Series of Slam Poetry in Paris, France.
My favourite poem has to be '140 characters', as I feel a lot of empathy with the techno-socio pressure of status boxes and the repetitive need to share. But we never share what really matters or really answer the question 'Hey. How are you?' or 'What's on my mind?' Putting aside the humor, it does share a serious message about how much we use technology and how we:
"..celebrate the freeze-dried fast-food and emoticons.
Nothing's wrong with pre-packing my thoughts into the most
Another poem that made me smile was "To Ruin Christmas" which is the reaction of a eight-year-old Carly finding out that Santa isn't real, though the poem itself is told in the adult Carly's voice, the language used creating a playful combination of the raw feelings of a child with the analytical cultural voice of an adult. For example "Hohoho/Santa cares about everybody equally, tiny weird communist child" (p.30), which shows a brilliant self-awareness that makes her poetry very honest and refreshing. With each poem there is a refreshing comedic integrity but also a brilliant truth that both enlightens and terrifies: the betrayal of childhood fantasy, the self-awareness of our homeland, the practical adaption to sorrow, the closeness of needy tech. All these topics are illustrated across these pages in little text, big text, bold, italic, asterisks, symbols and curving lines.
This is a short little review because what else can I say: GO READ CARLY BROWN RIGHT NOW!