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Sweating Cubism Out: A Full Cone By Miles Champion
Steve Whitaker, Literary Correspondent
Miles Champion
The title of Miles Champion’s startlingly original second collection for Carcanet is a neat encapsulation of the dynamic of the book’s content. But the poet’s almost total immersion in surrealist imagery need not confound the reader’s sense of author as celebrant. A full cone could be a brimming ice cream or it could be a volcano waiting to burst, and in either case the advent of colour, of animation, of vigour, is upon us.

Conventional approaches do not yield evaluative markers here: an instinctive search for meaning, for unity, for any kind of wholeness, is likely to be fruitless. Instead, witness the cascades of words and listen to the silence between lines. The interstitial quietus common to Champion’s many concrete excursions acts to vivify the text which it divides, so that the outrageous concatenation of everyday cultural artefacts is rendered explosive.

The cracking of linguistic whips is brave and not always successful, sometimes a charge in the direction of smoking guns. But the bravery of the poet rewards the reader in spades. The urgent beauty of ‘Bel Air’ is consistent with its own mobility, its inability to remain focused:


‘The biographer quite deranged
Neurasthenic and excitable
Flowers unguents
Pins and a big brown moon’


The free-flowing quatrains themselves are ‘excitable’, and if any vision is vouchsafed in the poem as a whole, it is of an imaginative stroller with heightened senses and no destination. There is a hint of Mrs Dalloway here; an immediacy of sensual apprehension which illuminates the essence of landscape.

The effortful conflations of ideas and images energise the inert mind with pyrotechnic clarity. And, judging by the chronology of his collection, Champion’s own compulsion to alchemise words into squibs has remained unabated for decades. The distilled quality of the poet’s imagination enables a highly intelligent and insouciant rendering of historical avenues as though still visible: the cultural luminaries who randomly people Champion’s narrative are not interruptive. Betokening a psycho-geographer’s gift for rendering the past in the present, their presence is an indicator, too, of the poet’s capacious intellect.

The fractured, deeply impressionistic ‘Colour in Huysmans’ shapes language into Huysmans’ own amalgam: the French novelist and art critic’s use of words to describe sensual reception and to appropriate a vision of art to new purpose, is given a skewed poetic rendering which is obscure only as it is a kind of conduit to his acrobatic thinking. Champion’s lush metaphors nail the lambent vitality of art as though inspired by a Van Gogh canvas; the circumlocutory stream mimics a state of mind given to randomness and caprice:


‘It was the lightest lemon yellow imaginable

flowers of matchflame


Fooling safety


In method’s bed?’


The poet’s self-referential excursions hold up a mirror to his own art. Finding a staccato, stuttering poetic form to measure the tentative stages of the development of Surrealism, Champion heralds the seismic cultural shifts which followed in a breathtaking embodiment of an era, beneath a title whose expression vents the strain and anxiety expended in the act of creation. ‘Sweating Cubism Out’ describes an art embracing new dimensions:


‘the softer      packets      fascinated Braque
he sensed      a new kind of space      in which the
fans and instruments
could be made

to ‘synthesize’'


A fragmentary negotiation between extraneous voices frequently illuminates narratives where snatched expostulation may be hidden in an arrangement of surreal images. We eavesdrop, as we do in Eliot’s theatre of voices in Wasteland. The narrator’s dialogic immersion – uncertainty as to who is speaking is common – has the effect of suggesting snippets of expression captured as though in transit, as though the reader was a pedestrian lost to the world of the pavement, in a suddenly broken reverie:


‘had a short walk to get to
one of the cars
usually rinsed off in the bathtub
with some nice glass
suddenly the window seems washed
though maybe it’s still modern
what can it do to anyone
you’d be surprised
put in the food and water
the cars and so on
he’s a nice man
until the wet congeals’ (‘Untitled’)


The poetry is difficult; a sense of gathering awareness, where the furniture of images become lucid, is conditional on the discarding of receptors of meaning. There is a simple reward in hearing the complexity of sounds, in luxuriating in the astonishing juxtaposition of sometimes organised, often dissociated, collage of ideas. And in any case, the poet is ‘knowing’ in the most pragmatic sense: a blindsiding bricoleur, he yields the illusion of teeming chaos before pulling the reader up short with an archly brilliant intellectual supervention:


‘the narrator encounters a madeleine
literature is ancillary to cognition
essence effs the ineffable
we enfold in a nimbus
death provides the frame for beauty’ (from ‘Sore Models’)


If Champion’s framing of beauty is fearlessly uncircumscribed, it is perhaps because he is an instinctive note-taker, a diarist of random thoughts. That, severally here, he commits his words to incantatory purpose, to lists, to lines which thump like a hammer or a heartbeat, to moments of high comedy, confers upon his surreal odyssey a profounder eloquence.

A Full Cone is published by Carcanet Press

Also by Steve Whitaker...
Taking A View: Landscape Photographer Of The Year – Collection 12
Poem Of The Week: ‘Authentic Victorian Mermaid’ By Cliff Forshaw
Banksy & Hockney: A Tale Of Two Auctions
‘Ye Are Many’: Film Review - Peterloo
Bantams, Bum Bandages And Book Signings: The Diary Of A Yorkshire Vet By Julian Norton


Sweating Cubism Out: A Full Cone By Miles Champion, 30th October 2018, 10:25 AM