Alison Gibb reviews
from The Mountain of California …
from The Mountain of California … is the first collection of poetry by British poet R.T.A. Parker. A travel log cum romantic adventurer’s diary: this collection of poems spans fourteen world cities, four non-places and comes with two Californian maps. It is a sequence of one hundred and twenty poems that explores ideas of language and poetry, presented in near identical form. Parker brings together ideas of discovery, encounter, memory, travel, time and romance to create compelling records of places and events.
Each page of the collection looks roughly the same. Each poem is the same shape and size, is titled and is made up of four, three-line stanzas. Every line contains one or two caesura pause breaks, indicated by a single line, i.e. |. At first glance you would be forgiven for dismissing this format as nothing more than a personalized graphic gimmick. However, after reading a handful of poems it is evident that Parker has created a type of loose frame, which through its repetition dissolves, allowing the text to overcome the fixed form. Parker splits words, phrases and breaks lines in inventive ways. He includes grammatical symbols and photography to create subtle differing poetic experiments from poem to poem. Here, language is purposely disrupted to produce surprising effects and pleasing new meanings:
(9. Aquatic Park, stanza 1)
I love | you your | hover
Pack, one | thing in | the world.
In Cal | iforn | ia
(26.Pacific, stanza 1)
IMPOSS | IBLY | UTOP
IAN, | really | reptil
Ian | Venus | Big Sur
(104. England, stanza 1)
IN THE | dark this | one time,
The first | time, | hair
Fragrant, | the light | flicking.
Beneath each poem is a footnote referring to a draft number and to a city. The city of origin may be or a reference to where the poem was written; it is hard to know for sure. Not that I think this matters much to Parker. Parker’s text is full references from literature, philosophy and popular culture that may mean something to one reader and nothing to another. His poetry invites his readers in and takes them on a journey of their own: through forests, across seas, up to the skies and into the possibilities of language. Parker’s experiments are refined and gentle. The visual clarity of words and the use of largely everyday language make it possible to read lines with or without recognizing the breaks. Sentences are long and occasionally continue from page to page, asking the reader to rethink where a poem starts and ends in this shifting collection of poetry:
(65. Niles –Sunol, stanza 4 to 66 [Niles-Sunol], stanza 1)
Droop branch | tips to | soil &
Needle | blanket ; | sure
Touch | spark-bright ; | a
Tangle | the clothes | remain
In the | needle | [Vere
Lendung] ; | bark tracks | before
These poems are a pleasure to read. With his steadfast tone and meticulous presentation, Parker leads his readers through a world, where humour easily mixes with philosophy to create bursts of brightness and crisp exacting poetry. This is summed up nicely in this last playful stanza of this serious first collection:
Ing our | combi | nations
Remain | little | kisses
Become | great big | kisses.
Alison Gibb is an MFA student at Kingston University in Creative Writing, a poet and artist. She lives in Cambridge.