“Music for Broken Instruments” by A.S. Patric – A Review

Music for Broken Instruments – available to read free here!
by A.S. Patric
The Black Rider Press
April 2010

Review by Ashley Capes

A.S. Patric’s “Music for Broken Instruments” reads as a kind of language-based salve for what Patric sees as a variety of wounds cut deep in our society, injuries he explores at length in this chapbook-length work. Released as the Black Rider Press’ first e-book by poet and publisher Jeremy Balius, the collection is presented in black and white, looking as if it has been typed on paper that’s been crumpled and folded, a touch which shows welcome attention to aesthetic. Otherwise it is presented like a conventional chapbook, in that the collection not a multi-media text.

However the poetry doesn’t feel conventional, instead it’s almost a call to arms – the opening lines of lead poem, King Hit for instance, urge readers to open themselves to experiencing the world and to Thought itself. And our greatest tool as thinking beings, it seems, is the Question – a theme Patric returns to throughout the collection, and one which is cleverly transformed into a poetic device in final poem Q&Q.

These two pieces are a wonderful compliment to each other as opening and closing pieces, both in form and content. Where the urging of King Hit to:

drop a brick
into your soul
kick out the heart
of the old man
wandering, drooling
roaming your head

directs the reader to follow suit through use of its verbs, Q&Q is just as direct, but instead poses questions. And questions may be more powerful, may be more disruptive than a kick, requiring as they do, some engagement on the part of the reader. In fact, this aspect is a key strength of much, if not all of the poetry within, where a challenge is thrown to the reader. Read! Think!

Patric also shows a deft hand with repetition and variation, not only in the bigger picture of the collection, but from poem to poem. We see this especially in poems like Paper targets, A tissue, a tissue and the wry In defence of blind ignorance:

every now and again
every again and now
someone offers you
………………………………….everything
you’ve ever dreamed of
the trouble is
they take it
………………………………….away
more often than not
reconsidering and rethinking
on second thoughts on second
         ………………………………….asking

the poem also demonstrating the importance of layout, which should not be overlooked – as the poems in the chapbook often lead the eye down the page, engaging the reader both visually and verbally. Both Mr. Leviathan goes on a holiday and Kicked in the teeth when I was just coming in for a kiss blues do this wonderfully, adding movement to pieces which already have a startling sense of movement – where Patric ‘leaps’ from one image, thought or mood to another, and does so within a clear set of thematic borders all the while keeping things interesting, such as in Kicked in the teeth…:

………I’ve told you that before
…..the waves and the ocean beneath are real for God’s sake
entering my ears when I’m sleeping
……………….and I wake with a goldfish in my mouth
it’s not what the doctor ordered
……when I told him I was worried
…………all my tentacles looked less octopus
……………..and more fish’n’chip calamari
….and you and your fat oily lips acting like I’m barely even tasty

Mr. Leviathan… is one of two pieces that seem to carry the bulk of the thematic concerns, whereby a deep frustration with modern society’s inability to slay giants, slay the Leviathans of our world, is most apparent. Patric seems to be asking, where have the heroes gone? This frustration comes through in the lexical sets used in the collection, those of war, death and pain, but also of the body and of the ocean for instance, where water is a dark, troubling thing full of monsters or disappointments.

But the tour de force of the collection for me is The meaning of a dream. Here we see the same frustration and uncertainty that keeps Patric probing and questioning, and equally so perhaps, asking the same of the reader, as in the opening – when he purposefully contradicts any idea of authorial-instilled themes or ideas:

I will not make sense
any greater significance is refused
and I will certainly be careful
avoiding any kind of unravelling
satisfying dénouements or conclusions
any and all a-ha moments

something which in turn demands of the reader that they create their own meaning from the text – not unlike a review of course. When I read The meaning of a dream, there are so many little signposts that pop up to convince me of what I see as a bittersweet description of Patric’s disappointment in classic dreams or ideals, like financial security, religion, home ownership, family, and even stability in general:

I’d rather be a mouse
at a feast of metal shavings

Or

just the old man
waving at you
in a cloud of flies
that we used to call God

The impression of dissatisfaction and even loss is also clear from the closing lines of the poem, where the wild pace slows:

divining underground springs
in the outback of your
great Australian dream

But there are lighter moments throughout the collection. In Flick of the wrist the reader gets a nice change of pace, as the force of the collection is broken up with a snapshot of happiness, where a simple coat rack is the catalyst for a moment of respite. A lover in fortuna has a wonderful absurdist bent (‘First thing I’m going to do is grow me a Friedrich Nietzsche moustache’) and A little something stars a cloud as metaphor for a child, a poem which, by virtue of its non-romantic aspects, avoids becoming cloying:

the sunless baby fed by blood
it is able to swallow and dance
before death, before this vast blue world
before and after all our names

There’s a thrill to the challenges posed in “Music for Broken Instruments” – not only to think about the words, images and poems within, but about our role as readers of poetry. What is it to actually engage with a poem, to question it, to do more than simply consume it?

From Q & Q, two questions I liked:

Have we been little things?
……..Have we been voiceless?

Patric has blended his themes and form in a manner which is both pleasing and exciting and I think “Music for Broken Instruments” shows hopes that we won’t be voiceless, which is a welcome change from the nihilist side of poetry, which can frustrate even as it draws our attention to things unsatisfactory.

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