For Now by Edward Doegar

-Reviewed by Alex Bell-

Released alongside Rebecca Tamás’ Savage, For Now is the latest in the consistently great Clinic pamphlet series, which has included Edwina Atlee’s The Cream and Chloe Stopa-Hunt’s White Hills. For Now is a collection of 15 poems which are both slight and substantial, treating intertwined personal, political and historical subject matter with a distinctive economy, precision and control.

One of the most remarkable characteristics of the poems are their economy of language and the shortness of their lines – many of which consist of just one or two words each. These tiny, staccato lines resist a smooth reading and invite the reader to pause and scrutinise each word and phrase, placing them like paintings in so much blank space. In places, this technique allows Doegar to show off his ability to express a great deal in a very few words, often loading up deliberate puns or multiple meanings. But it is most effective where it shows language failing to stand up to such scrutiny. ‘Lonely Planet’, for instance, uses found text from travel guide website describing the sites of past and current conflicts as holiday destinations:

Sarajevo is intriguing
And cosmopolitan
In the 1990s
Sarajevo was besieged
And on the edge
Of annihilation

Today its restored
Historic centre
Is full of welcoming
Cafes and good value

The bullet holes
Largely plastered over

The language of the travel guide, at once keen to stress the regeneration of the city into a tourist-friendly destination, and to use its violent past as a selling point (the chime of “cosmopolitan” with “annihilation” doesn’t go unnoticed), only needs to be arranged just so by Doegar to act as its own satire. Likewise, other types of of register, political, scholarly, public, private and poetic language find themselves under examination, broken down phrase by phrase, word by word until sometimes a kind of absurdity or emptiness shows. As the poem ‘Even So’ would have it:

The seeming
Of hollow
Who listens hears
Profound profound

There’s an anxiety here about the construction of false meaning, which works particularly well in those poems which discuss interpretation of history. One of the most powerful pieces in the pamphlet, ‘The Sanctioned State’, starts with the attempt to imagine

The symbol of sanctity

From the guesswork
Of chisel and shot
The removed particulars
Of lips nose eyes

The poet shows a healthy mistrust of the attempt to reconstruct this figure in the absence of ‘particulars’, or worse, to replace those particulars with a political or symbolic meaning. That this is often the work of a poem is something the poet is keenly aware of.

Making explicit the insufficiencies of his medium, Doegar makes his poems all the more meaningful. Perhaps what I like most about the pamphlet is that its persistent self-scrutiny and its measured, close-mouthed, careful style shows a kind of admirable honesty. If many of the poems seem to say it’s impossible for language to represent things exactly as they are, they work hard to resist representing things as they aren’t. This sometimes appears to be what keeps these lines so short – elaboration might result in fabrication, exaggeration or reduction. It’s this strictness and discipline that make the emotional pay-off of these poems, where it appears, so hard-won, and so affecting.