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Tuesday 15 July 2014

The Introduction by Christine Murray to 'the king is dead' - Reuben Wooley (Oneiros Books)

songs of the redwet bones / the king is dead by Reuben Woolley

mountain poem

that idea here
safe. hold
on to it . your life
on the next word

the king is dead is a Promethean gamble that pays off for Reuben Woolley, a book that seems to be absurdly minimalist in its expression manages to body-cage and reduce universal themes to striking symbols that set into balance the agonies of existence along with a patient longing for death. Death is a transformative process that has some inherent physical repellence. Its leavings are everywhere, and can destabilise one for moments, or for eternities,


death came early this morning
I know . I saw her
she came strafing
quiet houses . slashing
infants with shrapnel
gutting the sick with bayonets . she said
I am only here
invited . I limit damage
remove pain . I am
the final cure

The body lets us down all the time. It is the site of the vagaries of coming age that Yeats may have hinted at, although he hardly put the cartilage and the blood-bag into a poem. He put a tattered coat upon a stick and allowed us to derive what symbolic meaning we could from it.

Woolley alludes to medical processes and to bodily experience and perception at the elemental level of being. Necessity advises the theme and subtext of this book. the king is dead is imbued with physicality,

I collect
the redwet bones
of recent unbuilding.

from prey

Here, an Egyptian longing to fuck everything and transform here and now into a sacred and simple animal that does not have all these complex nerve-endings and crosswires. I think of Hughes’ dung beetle symbol,

These bone-crushing mouths the mouths
That labour for the beetle
Who will roll her back into the sun.

From The Dogs Are Eating Your Mother, Ted Hughes (Birthday Letters, 1998)

Transformation from the plane of physicality is explored at an elemental level in the king is dead,

we eat
the hearts
of kings we kill . a
curious transformation . are
alchemical gold
black veils
become us well.

The eponymously titled series at the heart of the book explores the rage of human wastage and the necessity of physical and psychical transformation. There is a psychic economy to how mythos and ceremony are presented by Woolley,

& then
the final procession through all these changes
fast & lethal . a song for dawn
when the singer was elsewhere
wasting his stinking mouth
& from his back
the ritual firebird
in the sunshine crack

from the king is dead (iii)

Woolley discusses his approach to necessity and economy in the beautiful mountain poem, there is little left for the poet but the words that form images of phantasmagoric death queues and unearthly processions.

These are of little consequence when the stumbling bird, the carcass, the news-media act as revelators of the mystery. One need not look far because your death walks beside you at all times, best become his familiar, after all there is no eluding him/it  in the final moments of a life,


my deaths sleep with me
I shall not forge · I
do not step lightly
through bones · I name
all the faces
they are my necessary
ghosts · they fall
like fruit sweet
plenty · putrid
beds of richness · I am not
guilty · I just
survive · just
breathe and sleep

This is an excellent debut from a writer that I have become familiar with on social media. I have read some of his poetry and collaborative work on different media strands. It's excellent news that Reuben Woolley now has a first collection. Expect more and interesting work from him over the coming years.

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