– Reviewed by James O’Leary –
From what information I could find (or not find) on Smallminded Books, they have no online presence, don’t promote their work, and have no submission process. This is an endeavor with no intention other than to make art for the love of making art. They publish short-run booklets folded from a single sheet of A4 paper, each written by a different poet, all edited and produced by Rupert Loydell. In an interview with rob mclennan (the lowercase name is part of rob’s style), Loydell says “I think the world needs immediacy, interesting objects and free gifts as much as glossy paperbacks or online access.” Each creation has its own way of using limited space to make its mark, and I was fortunate enough to receive four of them.
Leaving Ghosts on Pikkutrapp by Aaron Kent
A combination of Finnish and English, the seven poems in this booklet require a particular type of attention (for me at least, having no knowledge of Finnish). Being at a slight remove, even at a disadvantage, I wasn’t compelled to look up English translations of the foreign words; instead I embraced the mystery and used context clues to get a sense of the feeling, if not the full meaning, of the poems. The collection holds together because of a central continuity, recurring states of isolation, distance, and the potential for overcoming them. For all the talk of failures and mistakes, there are brief (if sometimes cynical) references to triumph and victory. The final poem disintegrates language entirely, pulling words apart and scattering them across the page, leaving it to the reader to puzzle out what is happening. The strangeness and linguistic dislocation makes for a unique reading experience.
8 Mesostics for Brian Eno by Rupert M Loydell
A mesostic is a poem in which a vertical phrase intersects down the middle of horizontal stanzas: in these mesostics, the phrase is BRIAN ENO over and over. This is a smart, single-minded investigation of rigid structure. It explores repetition and refrain as a literary and musical tool, as well as the notion of working within a form, a set of self-imposed rules, in order to distill and guide creative expression. It’s a weird experiment—a successful one: “aBout / Repeatable / MusIc / About / eveNt / finishEd / agaiN / Of / Being / familiaR / wIth / detAils / foNd of / dEtails
walking trees by Andrea Moorhead
Because there is no invention with its format, no technical or thematic play, ‘walking trees’, a single poem across six small pages, struggles to stand on its own. It has an ethereal quality, and while there’s nice use of slant rhyme and some charming imagery it doesn’t quite hook on to anything tangible. It’s in need of something to build on or lead into and so didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. Having read it after the two above, it’s clear that a key part of being contained within an innovative, compact frame such as this one is for the work to either be in fusion with or pushing against its constraints. In this case, there is no underlying tension (or communication) happening between the medium and the content.
Stack of Hay by Martin Stannard
This seven part poem has a secret. I don’t know if that’s the right way to explain it, but there’s an outside-looking-in feeling here that really works dramatically. Partially this comes from a one word parenthetical phrase, ‘(spectral),’ which appears throughout, casting doubt or unknown agency onto the surrounding content, recontextualising what has come before.
All this time I have been
trying to make a difference
—though it ain’t working.
But you will be OK eventually.
Part four has the only subtitle ‘(Interlude)’, and has a different voice to the other parts, functioning as something between Greek chorus and stage direction. These poems demand rereading to unpack what is happening and it rewards this rereading. These booklets from Smallminded Books really are gifts, something different to what I have seen before, unexpected and fun. It’s the kind of art I’m always happy to see in the world.