In visual poetry, there is perhaps more than any other poetic form save the concrete cousin, an emphasis on notation and how the poet invites us to immediately share in the perception and reception of their life and experiences. Here in Spare Parts, Eikli and Lewis have created a symbiotic sequence of twelve poems that deliver us the same experiences, but offer up alternative receptions. Eikili on the left hand writes short prose poems of moments, memories, portraits of others and on the right, Lewis minimalizes each of these moments further and like a poetic archaeologist, he excavates stories that lie underneath. Lewis borrows Eikili’s voice, finds the words and then creates a blackout poem with elegant images that immediately provide the reader with a sense of the poem, even before they have read the fuller version. Much akin to photograms, what is illustrated is the result of the intensely personal choices that makes this little book unique. A copy of reality is taken but it is transformed in such as a way that it is functionally included in our visual perceptions of change and the visual representation of the content. What vanishes with the creative editor, is the central content, but the two realities presented by Lewis and Eikli persist: the core and the adjustment, the internal story.
Prose poems are stories stripped into bare fragments that condense and transform meaning. They are acts of rebellion in themselves, refusing to be categorized in either prose or poetry. While it is not the central focus of this book, there is also a beauty in what is often argued and alternatively championed to be ‘uncreative’ writing: technically, Lewis borrows Eikili’s words rather than writing his own. Yet it is his choices, his own perceptions of the essential and his art that show the reader just how creative this process truly is. It is a refreshing look at what can be done by two poets who share a strong sense of language and structure.
Spare Parts is a illustrative title for this little book, as each poem conveys either a sense of loss – either from a relationship, a former life, a change – or a way of being broken, missing or confused, feelings that are ‘leftovers’ from experience. The detritus of life. This is often represented through an object, in ‘Time Pieces’ a watch is broken, in ‘Post-apocalyptic nonsense’ satellites wander purposelessly through space and in ‘PP TI’ with leftover retirement cake sparks regrets.
The everyday environment is our background to the emotions of these poems, we are never thrown out of our sense of the human and the now. Life is unfair, we see in poems such as ‘Change’, where a rich man changes lives with tips and ‘Daiquiri’, where the bartender has to wink and flirt for her tips. There is judgement, both from others and the self. In ‘Two-beat job’ a parent dies and he is remembered as a harsh judge and in the titular poem ‘Spare Parts’, the narrator declares ‘my thoughts are mostly rubbish’. I will pause on ‘Spare Parts’, as it is one of my favourites in this collection, the most emotive lines for me being:
‘My past is made of glassy pebbles; they don’t really stack at all. I keep them in a basket. The sound they make is click, tick, dink. I pick them up, polish them shiny, then put them back in an order that makes me feel strong’ p.27
This poem is both hopeful and tragic. There is a sense that the narrator is acutely aware of his/her mental order, what they need to do to survive and at the same time they are damning of their ideas and their body feels alien compared to their mental landscape. I love the visual image of the past as glassy pebbles: glass is transparent and fragile, while ‘pebbles’ conquers images of beach and ocean, the turbulence of tides that has thrown them to the shore or the workforces who have dumped them there to protect the land. Pebbles both have raw and artificial qualities, which is true of our past and the nature of memory. Some memories are too raw and some we construct in order to believe the fairy tales we tell ourselves.
Spare Parts has a limited print run of 50 and I was very fortunate to ask in time. This is an beautiful, exquisitely human book and I am sorely tempted to enlarge sections of it via photocopy to put on my bedroom wall, as so many of the sentiments expressed here are deeply touching and familiar. You can buy the book on Lewis’ website: https://davidralphlewis.co.uk/product/spare-parts/ and it is only £5.00. You can follow David Ralph Lewis at @davidralphlewis and M. Amelia Eikli @ameliabilities