A.E. Stringer’s third collection, Late Breaking, can perhaps best be described as a volume of visual poetry, largely focussed as it is on descriptions of the world around him, encompassing painted landscapes, animal encounters or more general musings on aspects of popular culture. Throughout the collection, these poems remain descriptive works, disinterested in any larger universal concerns in a social or political sense. It would seem that Stringer’s collection has no prevailing agenda beyond its own depiction of art, nature and life. Late Breaking is also a collection in which modernity plays little part, even if several poems touch on the passage of time. Indeed, the collection is perhaps best summarised as a series of pretty pictures. This is an image actively invited by Stringer’s use of narration in several of his poems, in which “my lens” is used to create distance between the narration and the object of his inspiration, cementing a connection between Stringer’s poetry and objectivity. These comments are not necessarily criticisms – there are no ground rules which force poets to make grand, sweeping statements. However, rather than building a cohesive picture focussed on, for example, the relationship between art and nature, Stringer has constructed what could be called a collage of life, skipping briefly from one moment, one image to the next.
At times, Stringer’s faithfully descriptive style works well. “Landscape with Waterfall” for example, does exactly what it says on the tin. The poem takes inspiration from the renowned landscape art of Utagawa Hiroshige, an 18th Century Japanese “ukiyo-e” genre artist, and “Landscape with Waterfall” works well on its own terms. “Ukiyo”, literally translated as “floating world” is captured effectively; images such as “a skim of snow glazes a stream near thaw” successfully communicate the fleeting beauty, removed from everyday life, which typifies the genre.
Elsewhere, Stinger does introduce some intriguing ideas, such as in “Genetic Non-Pigmentation in Deer, Interpreted” and “Artificial Horizon”. The latter proves particularly interesting, playing with ideas of human perception, imagination and technological design:
thickening offshore as water
and sky fuse. Though never
really there, horizon dissolves.
However, too often, and frustratingly, Stringer overplays his hand, practically stating his underlying intention, thus undermining the intrigue and subtlety of his concepts. Consider the “invented” line of the horizon:
lines divide the physical
from the metaphysical.
Beyond individual poems, perhaps the most confused, or rather confusing, aspect of Stringer’s collection is its organisation. Split into four sections, they seemingly follow no particular logic in terms of their order or theme, save being simply numbered one to four. The second section of Late Breaking is particularly strange. It consists of one solitary poem, albeit the longest of the entire collection; “You, Untitled” stands alone, three pages in length, apparently no different from Stringer’s other poems which describe works of art. Perhaps it’s just a personal favourite of the poet’s.
Late Breaking is, however, a fairly substantial work of over fifty poems – so the idea of dividing the collection into parts is certainly not unjustified –yet, somehow here, it only serves to deny the collection some much needed cohesion.
Late Breaking has its moments. At its best, the collection serves up a visual feast which seems admirably resolute in its apparent absence of interest in the mundane routines of modern life. This is a collection that is at its most enjoyable when read, and accepted, as an assortment of its individual parts.