Today's book of poetry: Bit Parts for Fools. Peter Richardson. Icehouse Poetry. Goose Lane Editions. Fredericton, New Brunswick. 2013.
Peter Richardson is pulling our legs in a rather spectacular fashion. One would have to search high and low, near and far, to find poetry as entertaining and flamboyant as that found in Bit Parts for Fools.
These are poems that demand you read them two or three times, for the fun of it of course, but also for clarity. Richardson's exuberance is our reward in these richly textured works.
Professor Jacobsen Discourses on Another
Aspect of His Made-up Language
The words for today are broischni hydranya.
Saying them in your mind, you find
you can either be compassionate
or ruthless. It depends on tone.
If you growl the Slavic-sounding phrase,
broischni hydranya, several men
will be bound and gagged
and lowered into a freezing river.
If you soften your voice, the locution
will spare enemy officers
and send them to a field hospital
to recover in clean linen.
This language where tone controls meaning,
and meaning, the lives of ex-occupiers,
can it pull the dying from boxcars
and reinstate them in a ghetto?
Even as you stormed the one bridge
to this ruined plaza — your makeshift
command post in the roofless opera —
works of art were being carried away.
But among these few captured
enemy reservists, some are polyglots
and they will be pitching their ears
to hear how words will exit your mouth.
Richardson is completely committed to the universe of each poem. The infinite galaxy of his imagination is only limited by what the reader can take in. Richardson constructs the world that each poem inhabits as this were all his playground, and language something he made up to amuse himself.
In a Belgrade Hotel Lift
To move the cabin, push the button for the wishing floor.
If the cabin should enter more persons, each person
should press the number of wishing floor.
Driving is then going by national order.
If you are from Bulgaria you will be driving soon.
Leave complaining to the Americans.
They are far down the list after Rarotonga.
Anyway, control panels such as these
will not alleviate a slivovitz hangover.
Foot traffic creaks in an adjacent stairway
accessible through the staff lounge.
Passes may be secured at the front desk.
Please give the phonetic equivalent
to the words Roman marsh in Estonian
written in non-Cyrillic letters behind the bar.
Distances will be called out in metres.
Weights and counterweights obey old gears.
Each may eventually attain his or her wishing floor.
Bit Parts for Fools is like an intelligent boulder rolling down a steep hill - but in total control of itself, speed, direction and intention. These poems steam roll over the reader, the subjects hardly matter as everything is being illuminated with a razor lens, a very sharp pencil.
August Scene at Spyros Inlet Resort
Corinthian shin guards fallen from a trireme in an ancient
would entice a small man floating above sunken keels on a
to dive down google-eyed over cordage and hull plates from
and not what was spoken of by the bogus archaeologist at
but instructive to a tycoon lately up from Athens on a
who can chat up the locals, greet the sun beside a sylph a
third his age
and lust for antiquities in a capsized scow, before shooting
send him angling slack-bellied for his yacht with a prayer
and a vow.
She springs to her feet, scurries to the bow ladder, yelping
all legs and hips in that thong she wears, hands clamped to
ears he adorned with black pearls last night over an ouzo
after she suggested they go skinny-dipping in the hotel-spa's
He promises the gods he will sit at that pool and write out
for a library, oh, yes, a library, to be staffed by the
of this backwater, for its motorbike crazies, who roar along
if his left arm can stop going numb, if she will trust her own
and reach down the bow ladder a bit, if he can do more than
at the hand reefed in so all he can do is wave at its
Peter Richardson rattles off wise gems like a gone mad jeweller giving away his wares. These poems are wicked tight and packed with startling images and incandescent language.
It's sweet, this bandage that floats from your ribcage today
and the way you manage to look aghast but not pained
in the room whose louvered windows mute the light.
You sense that your lungs harbour a scabbed lymphoma
daily diminishing since you began the exercise of opening
a rabbit hutch door in your chest. A mea-culpa-like tap
enables you to insert your right hand into the beehive
of cells clumped beside your heart and to further note
that as the stinking maroon cloth emerges, another
lump located under your left shoulder blade begins now
to shrink restoring you to the facsimile of someone
able to stand the sight of himself in a bathroom mirror,
someone less fearful of dying this week as the putrid gauze
piles into your hands and you take a whiff of clotted blood,
declaring what your body has produced sweet as the plunder
of bees nesting in crags above a shoreline of dirty syringes.
"Anything will travel if you clap on wheels" is a line from Richardson's poem Sven Takes to His Rollerblades. It may be Richardson's mantra. He can slap the wheels onto any subject and the next thing you know it's racing past us with vigor, elan and considerable speed.
Do you get the impression I liked this book? These poems are not what I traditionally champion — but perhaps I am learning. I'm not certain I felt smarter after reading this book but I certainly felt happier for the experience.
For the second or so his brain stays bathed
in the necessary projection room electrics
he travels forward to this cloudy evening,
to the pale beverage tipping from his hand,
the floor rushing up, the outflux of breath,
to a bit of scalp nicked by vinyl clapboard
but not before reviving a Forties childhood
himself with mumps then the Saturday Post
cover of him ogling a limited edition stamp
whose provenance he can't recall as scenes
fly by too fast for him to subordinate them
to his wishes under a fleet of mauve clouds.
But surely it doesn't work that way. No one
believes the load of crap about a life's film
flashing before the eyes of the free-falling
alpinist or the hapless motorist ten metres
from smacking granite. There's a gonging
by way of closing credits. A crash of static
clearing pixels from the screen. No rushes
dedicated to childbirth or a family opening
its solstice gifts, just whirling phosphenes
lighting a sky that moments ago produced
stories this husband and father could swear by
who now doesn't know a comet from a glove.
Bit Parts for Fools by Peter Richardson is an immensely rewarding read. Can't recommend it highly enough.