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Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Guest Review: Evanson on Lykiard

Tanya Evanson reviews
Unholy Empires
by Alexis Lykiard

Athens-born, British poet Alexis Lykiard’s 12th book of poetry pokes fun at rulers, royalists and religionists. A Facebook poke would have been preferable. Let me explain.

The book begins with charming pieces: “War Fever” and “Defining Terms” remind us of our human folly and that in the end, everything is known. There are secrets being revealed here in strong, simple language. There are also moments of beautiful wordplay for which Lykiard is a true master in the classic sense. He touches Shakespeare in “Surplice Requirements, or, Access of Evil:”

Bigot, devout fool or peasant,
Sing your cross or chant your crescent;
Choose to wail at a saintly wall –
Irrational superstitions all.

But the difference is that Shakespeare was usually speaking through characters - drama. Instead here we get a cranky poet - one SO tired of all of humanity’s bullshit yet one who puts so much energy into chastising it.

There are moments of true playful inspiration, mostly in Lykiards’s prose-poetry. On occasion, some of those prose-like pieces come off as spoken word rants – rhetorical and non-revolutionary, yet full of witticism. They sit uncomfortably on the page however and want to let fly. I n “Interim Gob” the most active of all rants, we are ordered to spit upon priests in an act of Lykiardian revolution. This would be more effective proclaimed during a literary performance. The numerous preambles to every poem would have also been more appropriate at a live reading. In the book, they distract. However, spiting in the face of other human beings doesn’t sound like the answer to Lykiard’s complaints. (I’d love to see Lykiard do a reading. He could he start a spitting revolution.)

This book would have perhaps done better in blog format because the true poetry is lost in the subject matter and reactionary style. These are wailings about current and historical events where time and place take on great import - too much for the timelessness of the poetic genre. I searched for epic sense but found none in Lykiard’s sensitivities.

As a media baby, I am easily turned off when I suspect rhetoric and Lykiard’s work falls into the category of those he rails against; the two-sided coin of propaganda. He uses so many news-related acronyms and allusions that most escaped me completely. T hey are probably common knowledge for most British readers, but this is poetry, I am Canadian and the text should have the ability to leave Britain circa 2008 if it is to survive.

This book would have fallen into delicious satire but of that it also falls short - its own subjectivity the culprit. For such a prolific writer, I wonder, where is the wisdom? The wisdom lies solely in Lykiard’s command of language. This is clear in “Men of Straw”:

Talking of feckless rubbish, it’s what they expect
-orate, politicos of slender intellect.
Hot air on air, polluted atmosphere.
Managed dispersal system the new jargon here.

But where is the heart of the poet in all this? Is it lost in the language of complaint? We know where Lykiard stands on politics, royalty and religion but where is his heart? Gratuitously explicit complaints without the subtleties of poetry make this work dry and one-dimensional. I’ll give Lykiard another dimension for wordplay but two is not enough! Where is the keen observation on the secrets inside these social issues? Why do humans engage in these games? Enough with the ellipses, Poet, be the ellipsis! Be from nowhere so we can better engage in your particular view.

I know that I will get a more rounded version of history outside of history books: that is where good art steps in. But art must withstand the text/test of time. If not, how can we learn from past human mistakes? How can the Poet teach us? Rumi says “The news we hear is full of grief for that future, but the real news inside here is there’s no news at all.”

What I want from poetry is a teaching book and Lykiard preaches to the converted – i.e poets and readers of poetry. Ok, we get it, we know we’re a slow species, polite idiots, reckless brutes. Maybe we’ll get it right in the end if Mr. Lykiard can stop complaining for a moment. I just want to grab him by the lapel and shout: “By God man, exile yourself! Again!"

In the end, Lykiard’s work will appeal to a niche market and will probably find success among existing fans. But I want more than an Op/Ed in a book of poetry. In a final note of saving grace however, I will let Lykiard remind us of one last thing:

Remember, whatever you may think or do,
Only one thing remains true:
Never was so much
Owed by so many
To so few.

Amen, brother.

Tanya Evanson is a Canadian poet and performance artist.
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