This collection of poems by Rhodes academic and dramatist Anton Krueger (formerly of the English Department of the University of Pretoria) is headed by an epigram by American poet and humorist Don Marquis: "Publishing a volume of poetry is like dropping a handful of rose-petals down the grand canyon and waiting for the echo."
Most sources render it thus: "Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo." Whether Krueger is taking poetic liberties with the original quotation or not, the most significant shift is from verse to poetry, and this is an important distinction indeed. Is Krueger's work poetry or mere verse, and will there be any echo after he has thrown this handful of rose petals down Ecca Pass (a scenic cutting hewn by Andrew Geddes Bain on the road between Grahamstown and Fort Beaufort)?
The collection starts well. I was caught by the wry self-deprecation of the opening poem, "cold", in which the poet likens himself and his poetic enterprise to an increasingly cold and failing Scott of the Antarctic.
The second item, "traffic", is a concrete poem about mad consumerism and traffic mayhem which reduces in triangular shape down to the last line, containing the single word cars. Very apt indeed. This struck a responsive chord in this non-consumerist Johannesburgbound reviewer, and made me wonder whether the poem dates from the writer's days in the metropolis, rather than his more recent sojourn in a town that features all of a dozen traffic lights.
"naked" introduces a gentler, more intimate tone and is intentionally self-ironic in that it is a set of words (a poem) in which words are increasingly seen tobe getting in the way of a romantic relationship, which blooms only once the words dry up and wordless sensuality takes over.
Two fine poems on Russia follow, in which the country's merciless exploitation of the underclasses is the theme, and then we are in Lisbon, where the city is rendered in a series of terse but evocative glimpses.
Krueger revels in stripped-down, minimalist poetry in the imagist style (at the level of typeface this is reflected in the use of Iower case and ampersands throughout). Take this fragment from the Lisbon sequence:
6. on the subway in the mottled population of the carriage, two suits gravitate towards each other's orbit
There can be no doubt that Ezra Pound's emblematic imagist poem "In a station of the metro" Iooms large in its brevity behind these lines, and indeed behind much of the poetry in this volume. Impressionistic glimpses of Spain (Gaudi, Goya, Dali) and Munich follow, before the collection returns to the more introspective and domestic mood of "naked".
We do have thus poetry rather than verse in this collection. The poet knows how to evoke images and emotions by the way of tantalising fragments. On occasion he drops into a highly effective folk style as in "got a dog called sue", the opening stanza of which goes:
got a dog called sue, & a cat called rex. bought myself some braces, youdon'tknowwhenyou'llneedthemnext.
Irreverent, funny and caustic he delights in the incongruity of things, as when bored in a committee meeting at the university, he notices on a painting of "days of yore" the trail of a snail smudging the "prestige / and propriety of one prof's paraphernalia" ("in the council chamber").
The poems occasionally appear too hastily assembled--even inconsequential. In "last of the highway tales", for example, which captures an episode of getting fast food on the motorway before rejoining the madness on the road, the medium is the message (fast, slick and unsatisfying), but perhaps a little too glibly so.
In general, though, I was impressed with this debut collection. It is jaunty, funny and fast-paced, and yet has enough incisiveness and gravitas to draw the reader in.
Will this handful of rose petals have any echoes, though? Selfpublication is increasingly being resorted to these days, and when the material merits public attention I have no problem with this. Here Krueger is following in the footsteps of the late great Don Maclennan, fellow Rhodes academic and poet (and other accomplished writers are now doing the same). I am immensely grateful that Maclennan, for one, resorted to this, as I would not otherwise be able to enjoy a half-dozen very rewarding collections of poems, some of which contain his finest mature lines.
Given the increasingly marginal position of poetry in South Africa today, and the fact that this collection probably would not be distributed widely (perhaps the biggest drawback of self-publication), Krueger is unlikely to receive many echoes for Everyday anomalies. However, if he can elicit from a few others the appreciation that he received from this reviewer, I suspect he will feel that, unlike Scott, he had accomplished his mission.
Reviewer: Craig MacKenzie
Department of English, University of Johannesburg
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|Title Annotation:||'Everyday Anomalies'|
|Publication:||Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2011|
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