Voluntary Quicksand by Byron Coley, David Keenan & Bill Shute
Next Exit: one by Doug Draime & Bill Shute
Retrospective Forecasts by K.M. Dersley
all from Kendra Steiner Editions (details below)
Review by James B. Kendrick
“Kendra Steiner Editions” is the exotic-sounding name of a small press based in San Antonio, Texas. I don’t know it’s history, but of its current activities I have in hand three small chapbooks (as the Americans love to call them), each presented in its individual polythene envelope. The chapbooks are simple but well-produced side-stapled affairs, slim but pleasing to behold and hold.
Two of the chapbooks are joint-author affairs:
“Voluntary Quicksand” by the three dudes mentioned above is subtitled “In memory of Richard Brautigan”, a writer I have singularly failed ever to read. No matter. The individual poems in this chapbook (I am getting used to using that word) are not attributed, so therefore it’s not clear if these poems are collaborations between the three authors or not; the repeated use of the "I" ingredient suggests not. It is probably unimportant. We should not worry about such things. Egotism is an illness, according to an idiot I know.
The poems can be appalling:
In Kelvingrove Park
I’m led on
by girls in jogging pants
the colour of Neptune
and struck by a vision
of the soft tits
of traffic wardens
I wonder when this nightmare is
coming to an
(from "send me your pillow in burning hell”)
but they can also be a little intriguing:
pigtails and lace
Sundays, after church, again
destiny, with grace
(from “turdblossom spoonbread”)
One wonders whether drugs come into this at all. The cumulative effect has been for me, thus far, one of not knowing whether to be appalled or intrigued, or just appallingly intrigued. I had thought of saying that even if there aren’t particularly great poems in this chapbook then there are some quite good, even very good lines. But I have abandoned that idea because, to be honest, I cannot find any. A pall of sentimentality pervades the whole enterprise, the word “heart” showing up much too often for this reader’s comfort.
The poems in “Next Exit: one” (once again unattributed) each bear as a title the name and state of an American town. My complete lack of knowledge about any of the towns made me feel as if I am not American, which I am not -- a state of affairs I am quite happy with. Whether or not a familiarity with the places, or even a sense of what their names might conjure to the American reader, is of any import I can only guess. If a British poet wrote a poem entitled “Slough” you’d think he was John Betjeman, and he would be on Radio Four. When an American writes “Vincennes, Indiana” it just sounds American. And it comes as no surprise to find that Vincennes, Indiana is home to people who have no money, women who turn tricks to pay the rent, and beer. Schertz, Texas has softball, sex Bingo, freemasonry, Starbucks, and “nine-minute oil changes”. In Blackwell, Oklahoma the guy (whoever) works two jobs after arriving there with 23 cents in his pocket. San Luis, Arizona, on the other hand, simply sounds distinctly unattractive as a place to live. And as much as I respect the fact that these are accurate enough pictures of slices of American life, and readable enough come to that, I feel more than justified in saying that we have been to similar places before, on numerous occasions.
K.M. Dersley is the British representative here today, and since he was recently praised to the high heavens here I am a little nervous about saying anything other than “wonderful” or “smashing”. But I have been reassured that I can say anything I like. We shall see.
Dersley sounds nothing like the Americans, of course, although all of these chapbooks (I’ve said it again!) are “Beat”-derived in language, form, subject matter and treatment of said subject matter. Dersley’s world is filled with careworn lonely old women, the grim lives lived on council estates, dreams and unfulfilled dreams, and love. Which could be tedious were it not for the fact that Dersley has a strain of wit and humour that permeates most of what he does. It’s not so much that he is side-splittingly funny, it’s rather he hints that he can see beyond the immediate to a better life:
it was like the news
of the death of
we thought would endure –
yes, even unto the expiry
of all insurance policies.
(from “Melancholy Coffee”)
Kendra Steiner Editions are available for $4 each from 8200 Pat Booker Road, San Antonio, Texas, 78233. European Distribution is from Volcanic Tongue