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Saturday, 15 March 2014

GUEST REVIEW: MACKENZIE ON MARIS AND BEACH

Vicky MacKenzie reviews

God Loves You

by Kathryn Maris

and The Last Temptation of Bond

by Kimmy Beach

 

Kathryn Maris’s poetry is of the slippery, unstable variety: it is witty, self-conscious and often flippant, but sometimes leaves the reader uncertain as to what’s really being said and even less sure what’s meant.

            In the second section of the book, Maris parodies the language and rhythms of the bible, using numbered verses, anaphora, and her own version of the Lord’s Prayer. A desperate need to be loved by God recurs throughout but it’s echoed by a need to be loved by men, bringing these masculine figures to the same level: that of the desired but neglectful lover. However it doesn’t feel like religious faith is Maris’s target, so much as the godless state of contemporary society, which substitutes religious worship with celebrity worship.

            In the wonderfully-titled ‘Will You Be My Friend, Kate Moss?’ the narrator observes:

 

            ‘[...] We have so many things

            in common, like you’re pretty much my age;

            we share initials; the circumference of

            our thighs is basically the same. (I checked.)’

 

The use of shaky qualifiers such as ‘pretty much’ and ‘basically’ suggests wishful thinking on the speaker’s part, but then those initials (KM! It’s true!) brought me up short and had me wondering (fooled?): are the other things true too? Not that it matters, it’s all part of the fun.

            Maris’s collection is extremely wry and knowing, and her take on the confessional is more in the tradition of dramatic monologue than autobiography. She even has a poem called ‘This is a Confessional Poem’ in which the narrator confesses to various minor social misdeeds and mentions her attendance at a ‘class called “Poetry Therapy”’. Slippery as a slope, this poet! However, I find the punning ending as awkward as it is amusing:

 

            ‘“Don’t be Jesus,” she said. “There are enough around here.”

            I know I should thank her if she’s alive,

            but I also know it’s unlikely I’ll rise to the task.’

 

            Maris is technically accomplished and this collection includes sonnets, a sestina and prose poems, as well as the direct parodies of biblical verse. Rhythmically, she rarely puts a foot wrong, but for all the cleverness and anguish in this collection, too often the poems feel rather slight. She eschews description and imagery, preferring a conversational tone, and she is very funny on occasions. ‘Darling, Would You Please Pick Up Those Books’ is written in the voice of a wife fed up with tripping over books written by her husband but dedicated to other women. A few lines convey the sardonic wit at work:

 

                       [...] do I have to be dead for a man

            to write me a poem how do you think it feels

            to be non-muse material [...]’

 

This poem is in fact the sestina, the showpiece of the collection, and the lexical repetition at the end of each line builds the mood to a frenzy of hurt, jealousy and rage, the absence of punctuation contributing to the sense of a single exhalation of fury.

             ‘Angel with Book’ is among the strongest poems in the collection, and one of the few occasions where Maris lets her lyric gift shine through unfettered by the urge to parody and double-speak:

 

            ‘The angel’s book is blue and dense and God knows the book,

            which is nailed to the sky.’

 

            Parodies come in many shapes and sizes and Canadian poet Kimmy Beach’s latest book could hardly be more different from the biting humour of Maris’s volume.  Maris critiques various specific targets, but it would be a strange and thankless task to write an entire collection parodying James Bond if one couldn’t stand the guy. Beach’s The Last Temptation of Bond, dedicated to the Bond franchise, is more affectionate than satirising or critical, and it’s crammed with sex, violence, champagne, Martinis (of course), Bond girls and glamour: so far, so Bond.

            It’s a very playful and inventive book, where multiple layers of ‘reality’ are enacted - there’s the Bond we know and love (or loathe), but also a Bond who has opted for the so-called quiet life complete with office job, house in the ’burbs, and wife and kids. And there’s a third Bond, one who enjoys regular Saturday night movie dates on the sofa with two Bond fans, known only as ONE and THE OTHER. They hang out, drink wine, sleep together and discuss the portrayal of Bond’s character via Walter Benjamin’s theory that each unique object has its own aura which cannot be duplicated when the object is reproduced. It’s not going too far to say that this collection easily outweighs the Bond franchise in terms of intellectual ballast.

            Beach plays fast and loose with the parameters of poetry, incorporating narrative verse, long sections of prose, and scripted dialogue complete with stage directions. Switching between first, second and third person, the narrative grabs the reader by their dinner jacket lapels and hurtles them towards the unthinkable - a grizzly end for Bond. Beach imagines a scenario whereby the Bond girls get together with ONE (thereby colliding two levels of the book’s ‘realities’) to exact their murderous revenge, by reprising Goldfinger’s lethal laser.

            Whilst aware of the stereotypes in Bond books/films, Beach pokes gentle fun at them without overtly critiquing them. The closest we get to an analysis of Bond’s shortfalls is when ONE tells him, ‘All you want to do is screw us and pretend to be smarter than we are.’ Well, duh. Succinct, but hardly telling Bond, or us, anything new. If you’re not a Bond fan, this book won’t convert you: it’s definitely one for Bond fans’ eyes only.
 
Vicky MacKenzie writes poetry and fiction and lives on the east coast of Scotland.
 
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