Believing that ‘creativity and play are symbiotic’, Lit from Below, Terence Winch’s sixth collection, grew from an invitation in the early 90’s from poet and visual artist Ray di Palma, often associated with the Language poetry movement, to contribute a chapbook to a series he was publishing. Winch responded by writing ten-line poems, ‘foreshortened sonnets’ he describes as ‘little word-houses’.
An Irish-American poet, writer and musician, Winch grew up in the Bronx, New York, but moved to Washington DC to play music where he became involved in the ‘Mass Transit Readings’ and the poems in Lit from Below are plotted in time and place with cultural references.
My release mechanism cannot be compared to Madonna
Tina Turner, Hulk Hogan, or Willem de Kooning.
They swim about, lashing their tails in the aquamarine pools
of a mythic past that mocks the Beach Boys where they live.
[‘In Retaliation against’]
Collections in which the form or concept is a given, I’m thinking of the recent Drysalter by Michael Symmons Roberts and Sam Riviere’s 81 Austerities, provide a narrative in the knowledge that the next poem is going to be related to the former by length or concept and, like Drysalter and 81 Austerities, I found myself reading the 90 poems in Lit from Below in sequence, from beginning to end. The effect of the poems is cumulative and a complex combination of celebration and satire but behind an, at times, sardonic tone is an honesty that reminded me of poems by Richard Brautigan.
I wish you didn’t feel compelled to spray everyone
at the gallery with the aerosol version of Wordsworth’s
Prelude or pixelate their emotions into tiny red balloons
of melancholia, which you know causes weight gain
Said to be uncharacteristic of Winch’s other work, the poems in Lit from Below are economical and, at times, surreal. I found myself on train journeys, as the poems merged into one another like tracks on an album, picking out individual lines like “My wife and I danced on a stack of fresh tortillas” from ‘The Sacrifice’ or in ‘A Marvellous Feeling of Air’: “Your black potato is jammed inside the minibar”. But slow down and the poems are vulnerable relationship studies, broken and whole,
Everything can be explained by contextualisms.
Everyone has to give something up. Time. Space. Old clothes.
History tells us about the meaning of love, which is the sun
of human emotion. We pour it over our thirsty memories.
[‘Off the Map of Love’]
and, alongside the absurd, there is pathos in Winch’s observations of everyday life and a deeper sense of being that I think can emerge from constraints placed on the writing process.
At the end of our lives, each of us is highly visible to motorists
at night as we switch from one side to the other.
The result of our measurements and experiments led
to our Special Theory of the Futility of Gestures and Attitudes.
[‘Credentials You Can Trust’]
What lifts the collection are moments of terse humour and plain language that invite the reader in to play.
God is asleep, and I have great hair
for a man my age, don’t you think?
There is a woman in mink eating
an apple in the lounge. She is catastrophic.
Lit from Below is a collection to read without question and let its juxtapositions wash over you, like reading John Ashbery, then go back and take your time with it. And look up Terence Winch on youtube and listen. Once you get the depth of his voice you will read the poems in a new light, or perhaps dark.
(Opposite) High-definition 3-D mock-ups of man on bed
were once thought to prove that amazing things can and do happen.
Lit from Below is published by Salmon Press, 2013, €12.
(to read previous Magma blog reviews, please click on the ‘reviews’ tag immediately below)