-Reviewed by Rosie Breese–
Jared Joseph’s collection Mammal begins with a wall of sound – a riotous rattling-off of terms from the animal, human, and physical worlds; a litany that mixes all three into a kind of primordial soup laid thick over the page. It’s insistent, persistent. There’s no scanning, no skipping. There are rhythmic patterns of substitution and conflation, the animal for the human, the physical for the animal, and all permutations in between:
‘Animal-drowning noise, give me animal falling from sky, wax instead of wings, glue-char instead of wax, hoof of horse instead of burnt, burnt umbra instead of half of anything …’
And there’s the recitation of a kind of idiosyncratic etymological genealogy:
‘like Christian comes from Christ, like Lazarus comes from rest, from lessness, like Islam comes from is lamb, like lamp comes from oil comes from holy-lubed revealed word, like the shower curtain…’
Here, we see what’s to come in the rest of the collection: the physical/animal world is brought up against the world of human concepts with a wonderful, boundless freedom – sonic links substitute for semantic ones, the visual for the conceptual.
The wall of sound soon gives way to a series of sections, each taking a different animal as a starting point, musing on its physicality, riffing outwards from the animal to the human, to the world of objects and back again, inhabiting all and collapsing the distances between them. The poems, or sections of the wider poem that is Mammal, seem to be drawn endlessly forward through a sheer joy in sound association, as demonstrated here, in the section beginning ‘Now I am a mule’:
‘We’re hot to trot on rasping coughs
The floor is hot.
The limestone floor is hot to trot.
The sock hop is an out of body experience’
There is a jangling percussiveness to this writing, as hypnotic as listening to a drummer jamming. There are lines that surprise, there are unexpected fills. There is something transcendent about the frenzied rhythms and repetitions and the hypnotic quality of these, together with the evocation and inhabitation of animal bodies and voices. A shamanic dance would be an apt way to describe it. It is indeed an ‘out of body experience’.
As such, these poems could be seen as places of metaphysical enquiry and contemplation, the themes of birth, sex and death frequently surfacing through their twists, turns and rhythms:
‘Cheryl’s death is all about.
The end line lies about the table with vermouth
the table is sopping with vermouth
the end is vermouth
drink death down the gullet!
death to vermouth’
These moments of physical transformation are ever-present, and the objects and sounds that surround them are repeated almost obsessively, mutated, turned this way and that, and incorporated into sonic-semantic fantasias that draw you in through curiosity and a desire to link theme with object with being. You’re then yanked through a set of steps so unexpected that you forget what you started with and realise that perhaps you’re just there to join the dance, along for a jolting and magnificent ride and that that is a joy in itself.
Even so, this constant riffing makes space for some wonderful moments of quiet drama:
‘..just load a gun & love
like a crushed bird too tired’
I’ve laid with everyone.
I’ve been the light weighed on their skin.’
And then there’s the moment something dazzles and distracts the drummer, who gets stuck beating a shining cymbal:
diamonds diamonds diamonds’
There are a zillion other treasures within this collection; enough for me to bang on for several more pages, but I want to leave some for you to discover for yourself when you go and download it and spend some good, long afternoons in its gloriously unpredictable company. It’s free, by the way.
The one thing that could be improved upon (and I’m really nitpicking here, but if you’re shallow like me, you do indeed judge a book by its cover) is the look of the physical copy that came bounding through my letterbox. The shiny black cover, the vaguely bondagey artwork and the translucent paper all combine to give this collection the look of something less professional than it is. That said, it *is* primarily available as an ebook, so who the hell cares. It’s what’s inside that matters, right? And what’s inside is really, truly exciting.
Jared Joseph’s irreverently dazzling collection forms part of 79 Rat Press’s ‘NOTHING TO SAY’ series, which showcases the work of six uniquely inventive writers. 79 Rat Press is a publisher of conceptual ebooks, established, as their website states, with the worthy intention of ‘creating moments in contemporary literature that bring an awareness of the glorious, spectacular possibilities of words’. This is something that this collection achieves in showstopping style. I certainly look forward to reading more from this series.