Quote of the Day
Congratulations to Carcanet for paying equal attention to new poets and to modern classics. The Collected H.D., Mina Loy, William Carlos Williams, and Yvor Winters are all essential books, and Carcanet is doing a public service keeping them in print.
Subscribe to our mailing list
Review of John Redmond's MUDe - Robert Potts, the Guardian5 July 2008
A place of casual collisionsNext review of 'MUDe'... To the 'MUDe' page...
Robert Potts is moved by a blend of memory, perception and imagination
There is a running joke, with a kernel of truth in it, that poets can't drive; Martin Amis uses it in The Information ("Poets don't drive. Never trust a poet who can drive. Never trust a poet at the wheel. If he can drive, distrust the poems ..."). John Redmond is clearly a rule-testing exception; his second collection, MUDe, references SUVs, monster-trucks, hatchbacks, limos, a "decrepit Lincoln", a shuttle bus and other unidentified vehicles, all with a petrol-head's relish. There is even a poem about playing Grand Theft Auto - "with a flick / of the pinkie, switch / from first- to third- to first-person view ..."
That line is one of several in the book which make suggestive links between writing and more modern technologies, particularly the car and the computer game. Some well-chosen epigraphs (two of them from Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone) emphasise the book's consistent themes - modern technology's tendency to increase isolation, rootlessness and atomisation; and the ways in which it can also connect people, manipulating or abolishing distances of time and space.
It also, quite triumphantly, reminds us that literature, and especially poetry, has always had such powers. What is a poem if not a "virtual interactive experience", in which writer and reader, separated in space and time, nonetheless share the blend of memory, perception and imagination that constitutes reality? In "The Clown Lounge", the prepositions "from" and "to" do double duty, marking Redmond's flickering memories of a stretch in the US ("From wearing / shorts all winter to swallowing bongwater, from walk-in / wardrobes to Kofi on the web-page"), but also the act of communication: "From me / to you, Mac, with hugs and kisses". It is both a travelogue and a postcard, punctuated by sundry voices, many of them cajoling or welcoming - "come in".
"The Clown Lounge" is an exuberant poem, attempting to capture the speed and variety of modern experience, of "drive-by" relationships and random collisions. Other poems have a quieter, more elegiac tone; acts of reflection after the dust has settled, "dust of a time / I haven't had time / to erase". Each of the 12 poems that form the first part of Redmond's book has a different pitch and music, but each considers, from a different angle, the problem of locating ourselves in a constantly shifting world; the tension between the restrictions of a first-person viewpoint ("I was facing the wrong direction") and the illusions of omniscience and omnipresence offered by a steering wheel or a computer keyboard ("though crashed to bits, / my crumbling Hummer / outguns the runaway underground train").
One of the outstanding pieces is "Frisk", an elegy for the poet's father, in which presence and absence, memory and forgetting, and the survival of a father's traits in the son, are all captured in seven simple and moving lines:
When he ambled out of the world and shut
the door, I wonder what my father found,
with a nervy frisk, was left behind?
"I am a fool!" He'd say this aloud,
the way I do sometimes, leaving the flat,
turning back for some necessary trash,
opening the door as he is coming out.
In the next poem, Redmond's father is remembered diving into water; but the opening couplet makes it ambiguous as to whether this is a real or a metaphorical event: "Over the inver the universe blows - / father dives into the hereafter". Voices from the shore try to locate him - "Where is here?" - and the piece (and the first half of the book) end with a suggestive Gaelic proverb, "Is fánach an áit a bhfaighfeá gliomach" ("It's a queer place you would find a lobster").
Lobsters may indeed be found in odd places; as might orcs. The second part of MUDe is a single poem, a long sequence in the form of a "multi-user dimension" text-based computer game, in which scenes are described, and players and "characters" explore them and interact with each other. In Redmond's poem, a Dungeons-and-Dragons style game mingles surreally with memories of his Irish childhood, punctuated by the comments (both in character and in person) of other players.
Paul Muldoon might have provided a precedent here - The Annals of Chile also offered a suite of shorter poems, and a longer, hallucinatory final poem, with childhood memories from rural Ireland. But whereas in Redmond's first book, Thumb's Width (shortlisted for the Guardian's first book award in 2001), there were clear stylistic debts to Muldoon in some of the more indulgent wordplay, in MUDe he has purged the flashier effects, while retaining a beautiful musicality. His various metres are unobtrusively surefooted and shot through with assonance and alliteration ("Omney Island. Almost Mayo. / We aimed to see the midden here").
And the title poem is, even measured against Muldoon's wilder experiments, highly original. It is an odd, unsettling piece: deliberately hard to pin down, suggestive without being explicit and, by the end - as Redmond is emphatically reunited with his 10-year-old self - extremely moving. The overheard comments of the other players offer a counterpoint to the journey back into the exciting and sometimes frightening world of childhood. These voices serve as reminders of adult lives across the world ("A five-hour session while my boss thinks I'm working furiously. Man this rules!" ... "YOU ARE ALL A BUNCH OF LOSERS" ... "breakfast? On the east coast it's like 3am"), and reminders that children live on in those adults, just as Redmond's father lives on in his child.
We thank the Arts Council England for their support and assistance in this interactive Project.
This website ©2000-2013 Carcanet Press Ltd