Spaces of their Own by Russell Jones

-Reviewed by Anna Percy

spaces of their own - cover

The themes of this pamphlet are depicted on the cover in images: black space and an ape with a ray gun dangling from the title. The design throughout is clear and the poems are spaced appropriately which can be an issue for experimental text poems. Released in July 2013 by Stewed Rhubarb Press the poems included have a good and varied publishing history.

The strength in the collection is experimentation, in poems such as ‘Five Monkeys’ we are presented with a research paper layout with three small poems linking three girls/women to apes. In Specimen One ‘’a smacking apeish grin’’, in Specimen five ‘’she is jungle, her mind is in the canopies’’ Specimen four is composed of dots and lines.

In ‘Teleportation Error’ text is manipulated to suggest reordering of atoms. Thus ‘’to materialise’’ becomes ‘’t  om ate rialise’’ and ‘’error’’ becomes ‘’rorre’’. Poems like these, where the experimental techniques employed aid understanding rather than obscuring the poem, are the most effective.

In ‘Condemnations from a Laptop’ computer error messages are linked to the human experience with Conception, Birth Childhood etc in a list on the left hand side with corresponding errors. The last line ‘’Obituary Your session has ended due to inactivity’’ creates a poignancy unexpected from the use of this kind of language, articulating our collective knowledge and negotiation of technology.

‘However Star’ in the centre of the book could be seen to be taking the experimentation too far. The poem is in the shape of a star, already a tricky form, which is also combined with a  sound poem and reversed text. In this case it renders the poem confusing to read and is therefore less successful.

There is an unease with technology throughout the poems, perhaps best articulated in ‘Chromosome Medley’, where we are given two years 2052 and 1984. In 2052: CHOICES FOR THE UNCONCEIVED  we are at a GATTACA level of genetic engineering ‘’What’s Hereditary? Remove the Walrus / from the walrus. Your mother’s snout’’ contrasted with the more organic trajectory in 1984: ONE CASE EXAMPLE ‘’Mum walks, drinks, sings, smokes / eyes, trousers her way to conception’’.  The science fiction poetry in this collection is at its best when it manages to express our distrust of technology.

There are so many observations of women within the collection that at times this becomes uncomfortable. In ‘girl.drm’ we are presented with a dream/android vision of a girl. The reader is instructed

you can share her: tongue the ice cream
from her midriff
steal her fingertips
suck the drowsy breath from her lips

This proffering of a girl, even a dream/android/vision of a girl, for mass consumption is a troubling concept for a feminist reader without further examination.