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Sunday, 22 May 2016

PATRICK CHAPMAN, MODERN DAY STOKER OR POE, HAS A NEW BOOK OF POETRY

A LADY LOOKING FOR NOSFERATU IN CHAPMAN'S POETRY
I have been a fan of Patrick Chapman's poetry for the whole of the 21st century at least, and remember first coming across his unusual work in his book The New Pornography (1996) - which was at the time a radical departure for Irish poetry - and 20 years later still seems to be.  Chapman should be celebrated as one of the most idiosyncratic, strange, disturbing, and imaginative Irish writers now at work - and his gothic, atheistic, scientific sensibilities chime equally with Stoker's and Cronenberg's. We often forget the Romantics loved science and the bizarre, and mistrusted god, and are more modern than even we sometimes appear to be.  Chapman is that sort of Romantic poet.

His new collection is his best by far.  Slow Clocks of Decay (Salmon, 2016) has much that appeals to that part of me which loves Hitchcock films and sexy vampires; that enjoys bleak descriptions of life's futility, and the doomed nostalgia of long-gone love affairs; that mourns suicide cases; and wonders whether the universe is not basically godless. Indeed, readers of my own poetry will see many places where my work and Chapman's overlap, as if in some sort of dialogue. However, this collection is ultimately unique to Chapman, in terms of style, and vision.

Chapman - also a sci-fi writer - is open to levels of scientific explication and weird futurities that I do not myself really explore.  Nor is his anti-Clerical stance ultimately palatable to my own belief system. But that is all to the good.  As a poet, I enjoy encountering poems by others that confirm differences as well as similarities.  In fact, the pleasure to be found in a poem, it seems to me, is that of a satisfactory admixture of the known and the unknown. Too odd and we cannot enjoy at all, or comprehend; too familiar, and we are easily bored.

Chapman risks (but narrowly avoids) cliché with his Novak-obsessions and his Dracula extrapolations, but his open form experiments, grotesque ideas, sense of impending doom, and striking images, make this a fresh, revivifying read. It is probably contradictory of Chapman to love fantasy, the unreal, the undead, and other supernatural beasties, but also to disbelieve in a supernatural God - he seems like one of those Satanists who believes in devils but not angels - but he is entitled to his own fanzine enthusiasms, and his lesbian vampires belong to Swinburne as much as any other Pre-Raphaelite, let alone Twilight fan.

If there were more readers for poetry their first port of call could or should be Chapman. His erotic, dark, suspenseful, terrifying, and at times funny, poems, are far more entertaining than Dan Brown or EL James, and far more artful. As for Irish poetry critics, their tendency to neglect Chapman (and sometimes his near-contemporary, Kevin Higgins) in favour of more sedate, traditional Irish imaginations, is a stupendous pity.

Future critical generations will surely recognise Chapman as a kind of Irish Poe - a figure of singularly eccentric temperament and remarkable literary ability, at home in so many genres, many of them subordinate to the more politely accepted ones. This is a beautiful and strange collection, and everyone who wants to see how twisted lyricism can be without totally deviating from the Irish canon should read it.


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