This chapbook/pamphlet is a delight to read, and personally for a variety of reasons: it is from Ian Seed whose work I always enjoy; it is from Like This Press which is the publisher through which I first discovered Seed’s work – Threadbare Fables, 2012; Italian Lessons, 2017 – (and I am fond of other publications/presentations, so it is good to see its return after some years), and the collection itself reveals a storytelling slant* for a writer I might not have expected – though this in itself is of further interest in considering any possible different responses for someone ‘new’ to Seed, or like me, has that precursor experience.
I’ll hopefully illustrate this ‘distinction’ as I write more….
There are 15 prose poems in this collection, titled One through to Fifteen. One is a sweet prose piece of love at first sight/sexual attraction set in a discotheque where The Doors’ ‘Break on Through’ delivers a literal if possibly exaggerated namecheck for the encounter: its lyrics could suggest dramatic/metaphoric meanings, but I’ll quote the last four lines to be entirely neutral,
‘Break on through, break on through
Break on through, break on through
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah…’
On my initial read, I thought it namechecked an actual time – and thus lapped into my age-era – but it was ‘a sixties special’ disco evening, and of course our protagonist and the girl he meets are young adults, not teenagers. That said, the teenager-esque feeling of the encounter is bedded in an innocence that is both tender and foreboding (remembering the collection’s title…). Two sets another time-frame, ‘The discotheque closes at 4.00 am’, and we can see this progression is going to be a narrative; an unravelling.
As the sequence develops, there’s scene-setting that is realist and informed by the locale and other ordinary markers, like descriptions of a train compartment, yearning for a coffee, and a love of Italy where this all takes place. The short-story telling finesse of the whole is down to the writer’s craft, that experience with the form and how to evoke across a myriad of tones and purposes: here for clarity of place and moment.
We learn the girl’s name is Donatella as more facts provide the narrative landscape. Ordinariness in the revelation of new love is both a setting of expectancy for that forecast of betrayal, but also, for those of us who happily know Seed’s prose poems/work well, an unexpected calm in terms of human experience (which I’ll anchor for context to a review observation I made about Seed’s Italian Lessons – a linking text, obviously – when I stated: ‘Italian Lessons fulfils such certainty and uncertainty… from the randomness, surprises [absurd, comic or disturbing] and dislocations of place and experience that feature…’). Donatella’s life is gradually revealed, and she is established as someone without complexity (or that ‘uncertainty’) but occasional surprise, like the way she responds to the boss where she works.
I warm to the normal intricacies of this everyday account of a life, like the preparations for a first day of a new teaching job in Turin at the Liceo Linguistico, Via Arsenale. I think this is for me partly as a backdrop to the milieu for so much of Seed’s prose poems over the years where Italy is the stage for many indeterminate, aching, and emptying experiences. Here it is rooted in a less fragile existence and experience, though it isn’t without problems.
Nine is indicative of this continuing close storytelling. The longest in the collection, there is an account of teaching, a focus on students (many from the 25 of a single class snapshot in crisply illuminated details) and a reflection on a parents’ evening which all produce a clear portrait. Some sense of discontent in life at the time is expressed, but for me again, the special reveal is a concluding line which is a window into how this life shaped Seed as a writer. In making an observation about the book Portable Jung that he is reading, Seed states,
‘Reading the book makes me wake up in the night with strange dreams, which I write down and turn into little stories’.
In Ten, for further example, there is an encounter which concludes as an echo/premonition of what we might normally expect of many of Seed’s prose poems, including those I recall so well from Threadbare Fables.
In the closing prose pieces where there is a conveying of more personal encounters and a pertinent comment on reading ‘Italian literature in Italian’, it has become a narrative which advances its focus as memoir, and this has been the natural engagement of my reading. This has also been the natural reflection of this review. That the collection presents a distinct normalcy (for want of a better word, but I trust my illustrations have delineated the variations/variables of a writing lifespan) is the aspect I most recommend for its warm or mildly darker candour, self-reflection, and evocation of relatable experience.
*I did say ‘might not’ for the apparent mystique, but of course this isn’t really the case, and a most recent story The Touch in The Fortnightly Review, developed at length, can be read here. One ‘might’ also say, it has a signature ending…
To get the pamphlet, go here.
To read more of my reviews of Ian Seed’s work, go here.