[the following was commissioned by Tom Bamford for performance at the launch of his pamphlet, Cryptozoology]
Tom Bamford, Cryptozoology (Veer Books)
What better demonstration of a publication’s worthlessness could be desired than its author’s failure to correctly pronunce that publication’s title? In this case, I’d like to draw attention to Mr Bamford’s repeated mispronounnciation of ‘Cryptozoology’. You’ll note that the Greek derivation of the suffix ‘-ology’ (think of biology, anthropology, phrenology) would suggest that what we have on our hands is – in fact – cryptoZOH-ology. Or, I’d prefer to think, cryptoz-eulogy, perhaps as an unconscious pun on ‘eulogy’. This work standing, as it surely does, as eulogy to the poetic career of Mr Bamford. Beginning with such a confused, unstable work as this, Mr Bamford’s career had better be laid to rest before it begins.
And that, surely, would be in the best interests of all involved. I will, over the next four minutes, explain why that is.
The first and most striking failure of the poetry lies in its deployment of the scattered deixis and the hyper-frequent indexicality; it’s like listening to some kind of American. Note the persistent and unspecified ‘they’ of the opening stanzas. It’s as if Mr Bamford wanted us to see these objects – these ‘theys’ being described – as some kind of generic object of experience. That is, to make his poetry somehow characteristic of experience, rather than a lovely useful record of one individual – but uncomplicatedly transferable – subjective experience. An experience of, for example, a nice tree or a powerful, noble hind, its broad chestnut haunches flashing sweatily in the light of the morning chase.
The other effect of this unmoored ‘they’, is that it comes to suggest – absurdly, if you ask me – to suggest that an object’s meaning, or the details of its being, are conferred upon it from outside, as if the way we looked at things somehow altered the thing being perceived. Pish. We’re only on the second page, and already Duns Scotus would be spinning in his grave. Much more of this and we’ll have to fetch the Heidegger. And yes, more comes: we find these deviant ideas in quotes like ‘their species showing them in their best light’, or in the way objects are ‘blessed by narrative’. By page 13, we require knowledge of Dropbox to make sense of our ancestors. As if history was somehow contingent to the present! Absurd! Any history textbook will demonstrate precisely the ossified nature of history, and no cryptozuulugy will change my mind.
Noone like me would ever accept, for example, on page 13, that ‘fog/pyramid’, suggesting that the two might be equal as monuments of significance, as though we should be somehow dissatisfied with pre-established hierarchies of value.
And so, faced by a messy world I personally find scary and therefore objectionable, has Mr Bamford at least succeeded in crafting a nice, memorable narrator for his book? Not at all! Notice the repeated ‘ums’, and the dart back to a speaker clearly having trouble sleeping, and in that wakefulness presumably writing the – evidently sleep-deprived – twaddle we have the misfortune of finding in front of us now. It’s almost as if the narrator is unwilling to countenance the conventional fiction of an authoritative, objective narrator undergoing the events narrated, as he narrates them.
(I use the gendered pronoun by the way, erm, unthinkingly and by default. It’s just the rules of the only type of literary criticism which make me feel safe.)
So unstable is the narrator of this ‘poetry’, it seems at moments as though Mr Bamford has – one can only presume during some grave lapse in concentration – allowed the inhuman void of agency implicit in the natural world he is here confronting some kind of active role in the human process of its own description. Once again, pish: a stone is a stone, a hind is a hind. A rich, majestic, sensual hind.
Because the natural world is, after all, a human construct. Trees are made of timber, rabbits – as the most widely eaten animal in the world – are made of meat. Hinds are made of rugged brawn. The hills are made of fuel.
Would it that the content were the only problem here, but the typesetters at Veer seem to have neglected to fix any of the manifold problems Mr Bamford evidently has with his Word Processing Software, indeed with his keyboard, which seems to have a broken full-stop key and an erratically sticking ‘tab’ button. Although some people may choose to believe that this kind of scattering across the page – this fleeing from the physical margins and towards the conceptual ones – is intentional, but I refuse to believe anyone would intentionally deviate from such a noble tradition of straight left-hand margins. Mr Bamford, I suggest to you, has been too lazy even to fix his malfunctioning keyboard.
Here’s one tip for free, Mr Bamford – if you want to buy a new keyboard, you’re going to have sell more poems. And to sell more poems, you’ll need to use these words more: prayer, craquelure, astringent, that kind of thing. Grace. And fewer words like Cryptozuulogy and ‘owsla’. Indeed, my favourite bits are when the words are struck-out, as if the author were acknowledging the lack of authority implicit in the conceit of his poetry. Bravo to that.
Having enumerated its many failings, what can we say of this heap of contradiction, this radically self-marginalising poetic? Cryptozuulugy is poetry as tourist, poetry as outsider in a world too rich to be captured by its own mannered praxes. Poetry aware of its lack of central nervous system, poetry considering a walk to the giant Buddha of oneness, only to demur at the last moment. Cryptozuulugy is poetry as an infinitely recursive series of homuncular rats, each undoing the neat brain of its host.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH A SONNET?! What’s wrong with a sonnet? What’s wrong with a sonnet about trying to catch a pretty woman in a net?! Or a muscular hind.
Because it’s worth noting My Bamford’s apparently reluctant concession to this mode when, on p14, he concedes that ‘reach can unfold into dogs’ – that is, that the process of extruding beyond oneself, and considering the objects of the world in one’s own terms, might be understood as implicitly predatory or aggressive.
Yes indeed, with its exuberant, omniverious making and unmaking of categories, you might be mistaken into thinking that Mr Bamford at some point failed to learn the difference between ‘elusive’ and ‘allusive’; as if taxonomic instability were somehow paradigmatic of a modern, data-saturated age. Once again: Pish! I say. Mr Bamford, check yourself.
This thinking is exactly the kind of radical hoo-hah we must at all costs prevent from reaching and potentially contaminating the true, important thinkers of our age.
And it’s with that in mind that I urge you in the strongest possible terms to buy up every available copy of this cryptozuluugy immediately; we cannot risk this kind of process-driven assault on conventions of all kinds… we can’t risk its getting out into the world.