‘The Underground Cabaret’ by Ian Seed – Shearsman Books

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Life, Rented by the Hour

I do not believe these narratives were first etched by a knife in the chest-skin of the author. Were they? That they sing with uncertainty – often disturbing; often enticingly unexpected – is, however, the one certainty there is.

I am disappointed to read on the book’s back cover ‘The prose poems in The Underground Cabaret form the final (my bold type) volume of a quartet, following on from New York Hotel, Identity Papers and Makers of Empty Dreams’ and hope this is yet another tease. There are genuinely few current writers whose work I always look forward to reading so much and always enjoy beyond that expectation. Perhaps there is comfort in this too, a thought to add to all the other possibilities.

The question when reading Seed’s prose poems is always: at what point will I be asking questions, not really needing/wanting to know, but looking forward to those moments. Another wonderful aspect of questioning is, for example, how at the end of a poem Missing, why is what we might want to know the reason why he is standing in the middle of a dual-carriageway? After what has led to this? The actual asking does sound convoluted, but that is the least of concerns.

Sometimes in these poems the unexpected becomes an aphorism about life, as mysterious and surprising as we all know life can be, but rarely as unusual as any prose poem’s momentary metaphysical observation, like how being handed a spade signals the onset of adulthood.

And there is much of such peculiarity in these ‘micro-fictions’, often actually philosophical or just wickedly witty as in Abuse.

In this collection there is genuine range in the recollections of mystery and the unexpected, but there are ‘themes’ that pervade. These come in the form of false reassurances and many accounts of the hopefulness ultimately thwarted by the reality encountered. Because the stories are so often unresolved – as if everyone’s life is any different – and one is pausing on the moment of that precipice,  it could be easy not to notice the loneliness and isolation being framed so regularly. In the poem Company (3), the speaker shares a love of Elvis Presley only to have this ignored and then making yet another mistaken choice at the end of its telling: ‘I got back to my empty room’ being one of many similar arrivals.

Aligned to this thread (though I don’t mean to overstate), hotel rooms are a common environment, one that offers the potential for chance encounters as a remove from the ordinary/familiar, as well as countless disappointments. Indeed, as readers we can never be sure if a particular suggestiveness has ever been realised. There are other times where even the most basic of certainties in an accommodation cannot be sustained, as in Arrival.

Not wanting to characterise the whole, or even its tendencies as a complete embrace of interruption and disappointment – because of the compulsion to read and be engaged and struck warmly by a deep sense of sharing in the tellings – there can be a moment when unable to find that hotel room will lead to the very warmth I have described, as in Criteria where help is found in holding on close and trusting to fortuity and a promise.

Further details can be found here.

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