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Friday 4 July 2014

Craig Podmore's 'an autopsy of the spleen' reviewed by Polly Trope

an autopsy of the spleen

An Autopsy of the Spleen -- as the title suggests, this set of poems circles around the thought of death, and takes inspiration from the poetry of Baudelaire, who made the word "spleen" famous in poetry. Sound bytes that recall Baudelaire and the old symbolism with its skewed aesthetics of the awful, are strewn all around this Craig Podmore's newest collection.

Titles such as "Opium in Bloodied Hands", "The Pale Drunkard" and "The Ennui is Murder" hark back to Baudelaire's celebration of opium-smoking in his artificial paradises, which often appear paired with the darkest desires. In a similar vein, references to Ennui expand upon a pivotal theme of Baudelaire's "Flowers of Evil", in a modernized way that brings the banned poets of the 19th century bang up to date.

Boredom and moodiness as demons and the number one enemy of any poet spring back into view. With "A pale drunkard", Podmore takes us for a walk in midst the French symbolist big city monster, with its anaemic faces, its dark and squalid corners, its syphilitic prostitutes in the dim glow of less-than-sanitary late night hangouts. All these are things which quintessentially haven't changed about the fringes of city life, even though the gaze on them has shifted to more nonchalance, less repulsion. The sweaty and brutal power nurtured by a mixture of madness, illness, and alcoholism, inhabits and perpetuates the neuroses of urban life in this new collection all over again:

"The insight of my failures
That permeates,
My insecurities shrouded by insolence
And lack of empathy.
Gnawing nothing,
Shedding skin
And gorging on black and blue


Setting up such a geography, Craig Podmore's chapbook draws up a portrait gallery of the distant and not-so-distant forbears of urban alcoholism and the murky innards of late night excesses as they are, and as they have been, in a half-real, half-nightmarish setting which only poetry can really capture.

But the word "Autopsy" -- the other part of the title -- encapsulates the more up-to-date, thriller-like aspect of this work. Circling around the image of a dead female body which crops up again and again, from different angles, forming a puzzle piece by piece, an intrigue weaves itself through the collection that is never quite solved. The lyrical narrator lets us in on a little secret : he himself is not 100% sure of the order of events or even sure of their truth. The distorted and estranged mental spaces he at times crosses over into blur and de-blur, and he tells us things in a haze.
This trope of the "unreliable narrator" hails from a much different tradition than Baudelaire, and draws up reminiscences of Dr. Caligari's Cabinet and many modern films with their double-edged confusion and portrayals of losing the moral compass.

"The murderer gazing upon his victim endlessly;
He texts his wife concerning shopping items
Followed by a thorough check of his victim’s purse.
A theft of £4.10,
A brain haemorrhage
And another human looking for something"

The dim contours of a dead woman, with whom there may or may not have been a past romance, also open up a space for the poetic reflection on death and desire in a more general sense, and this is where the full contemporariness of this volume really comes into view. If there is a dance around Christian morals and a kind of medievalism like that of Baudelaire, there is also an aesthetic of explicitness, of unconcealed pornography in pair with the sensationalism of the globally desensitized period in which we live, its nonchalance, its cruel sarcasm.

This chapbook is a success on so many levels. My warmest congratulations to Craig Podmore. It is available here

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