-Reviewed by Hayden Westfield-Bell–
Opening with a dedication to ‘Tony Frazer, and his faith in play’, Mark Goodwin begins his new chapbook, Clause in a Noise published by Knives Forks and Spoons Press with a hint; that these poems may be more than they appear. Heavily engaged with the concept of play, Goodwin’s poems challenge syntax and test the boundaries of traditional poetic forms whilst exciting the casual reader with sound-infused lines that electrify the tongue.
Read them aloud, hold them in your mouth, taste them and feel the words as they form at the jaw because Goodwin’s poems benefit greatly when given voice. A rolling of the r’s or a tumble of t’s’ snag in thorny staccatos (‘asymmetrical beasts receive electrical signals’) or blend seamlessly into smoother rhythms (‘enjoying erosion; a pestling’) and the words on the page seem to fade, transferring onto your tongue. The poems become your own as you’re forced to navigate a rocky terrain rich with jumbled tenses and pause to stroke the petals of a line struggling through a crack in the earth, like ‘a belch of roots’, ‘some local cruelty on a floor’ or the line ‘she messes her mouth’.
Perhaps you stumble a little over ‘but some two couldn’t stay this’ and bruise your knee ‘under generalisations that / I without will read & shout’ but the hard-going nature of the text serves to emphasise the more distilled lines that can be found within the poems. Structurally, the poems are written in free verse and feature rare cases of rhyme, ‘Chemicals of a Dog’ and ‘A Contiguous Body’ are particularly effective at exploring the page adding a visual dimension to the poems and affecting their reading.
Here’s where the ‘spoilers’ begin: Goodwin claims that ‘Facts of a Teleology of Utterance’ is a translation of Giles Goodland’s Myths of The Origins of Language, ‘A Contiguous Body’ is a translation of The Separable Soul by Elisabeth Bletsoe and, perhaps the most telling translation is that of Peter Redgrove’s Electricities of The Cat, which becomes ‘Chemicals of a Dog’. From origin to teleology, soul to body, electricity to chemicals, Goodwin’s ‘translations’ are really not translations at all…
The poems begin to unfold in front of your eyes. ‘An incomplete desert is declined’ from ‘ Facts of a Teleology of Utterance’ makes sense when understood as a mirror image of Bletsoe’s ‘the whole forest is named,’ but it’s important to refrain from cataloguing the lines as simply creative opposites, or of considered and constructed mistranslations. ‘A weight of absence’ becomes (in ‘Contiguous Body’) the ever beautiful ‘a lightness of presence’ and ‘he clears his throat’ from Myths of The Origin of Language translates into the feral ‘she messes her mouth’ in Teleology, through inversion these lines enter into a kind of parallel poetic universe – remaining as powerful as they were in the original, albeit, with an altered message.
Not all lines are beautiful, however, and the nature of translating every word into its opposite often results in conflicting dangerous lines. Tenses distort, the syntax breaks, and though Goodwin is often quick to pull in the slack and pull the language together with alliteration or assonance some areas of the poems can appear dense and unrewarding. ‘Chance for a Large Dark’ was particularly intimidating, though perseverance is often rewarded; ‘smoking / in the day it was to be the very hamlet of life / listless around its inertia emailing’. These distortions and destructions raise interesting questions as to the nature of language and the way we use oppositional dyads; conjuring up visions of Saussure-ean semiotics and Wittgenstein-ian wordplay, but come across aggressively when judged poetically.
A ballsy pamphlet of considered ‘mistranslations’, Mark Goodwin’s Clause in a Noise is a collection of reinventions; grasping beautiful lines from the likes of Giles Goodland, Elisabeth Bletsoe and Peter Riley and pull them into a playful parallel universe rich in staccato and sound. Poetry miners and puzzle solvers will find the collection rich in poetic treasures but the more casual reader might hesitate on the fringes; uncertain of the contents within Goodwin’s swirling poetics.