(Penned in the Margins, 2021); pbk: £9.99
In this most innovative of collections, Notes on the Sonnets, epigraphs taken from the first lines of Shakespeare’s sonnets are conjoined, non-sequentially, with lines of prose poetry. These convey thoughts as digressive, associative and reflexive as any creative prose essay – in the Paul Klee sense of ideas being taken for a walk – lines that contain vestiges of the original tropes only recustomised for the 21st Century.
There’s humour in these prose poems, too (‘My ideal recreational drug would be a pill that makes people feel more insecure and I’m the only one at the party not taking it.’), as well as more serious ponderings (‘Sometimes nostalgia is just a self-microwaving cup of coffee which will never cool sufficiently to bring it to your lips.’). The real stuff of metaphysics and all are constructed within the setting of the same houseparty reminiscent of not only the hell of Sartre’s Huis Clos but of the Elizabethan court. Claustrophobic and labyrinthine (‘The difference between a labyrinth and a maze is decision, is deception. But then a labyrinth has a single entrance point and exit, no dead-ends.’), the reader is led through as many streams of poetic consciousnesses as there are rooms in the house, meeting an illustrious crew – from a man with an unfaltering memory, the protagonist’s wife, his son, and the invidious conversations people have at parties about personal relationships.
Luke Kennard’s Notes offer a crawl-space for meditations about religion, philosophy, love, as much as the quotidian. They are underpinned by human informatics on how we are living now. They play with form, with language, with antecedents and what emerges from them. Kennard demands that his reader suspends disbelief to allow all 154 of his prose poems, over several sections to atomise (in the imagination), become entropic in ways that are poetic: ‘The bridge. The mountain. The lake. The ibex. The chocolate cake[…] empty cracked shell of a snail? The grey rhyme. The double dream[…]’ They are ‘smears’ of words, thoughts, emotions across thresholds of rooms, of dead-space – captured thoughts, escaping epithets, exotic, transcendental, and juxtaposing. There is a real-time element to them – poetry emerging before your very eyes in a reading sense.
Sonnet 96 (‘Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness.’) adroitly connects the reader with the awful shape-shifting that goes on in affairs of the heart: ‘the sad horse is telling a story in the hallway. “There was once a wolf[…] the sheep adored him and never noticed that he was gradually killing and eating them[…]”’. This is the poet giving it some verismilitude – drawing the lineaments of Shakespeare’s sonnets into a contemporary circle of recognition and relevance; transmuting them into a series of vignettes, tableaux vivants; offering almost live (page-length) performances of introspections, aperçus, rants, sentimental peregrinations and perorations about the human condition. The same, in essence, today as they ever were in Shakspeare’s time.
The poet’s style is hardly what you might call pared-back but there is something economical in how their expansiveness is confined to a single page (usually), entrancing thoughts, ideas, energies, motifs of the poetic imagination, sound mirrors to the past, grafting imagery and sensibilities with those of the Bard. One reads lines that are full and sound profound on the subject of time (‘There is a lot to be said for accepting that time is linear, the ageing process, your own mortality […]’) juxtaposing with the mundane (‘I rarely think of my son when I’m at a party, and then I remember something he said last night before falling asleep […]’).
His words breathe life into dead-spaces. Notes on the Sonnets are as much about precarity and the vicarity of who we are as people. It is as true today as it was in Elizabethan times, making this collection essential reading.