In summary: No mere precursor to a full-fledged collection, this pocket-book has a serious case of finely controlled flamboyance, celebrating self-reinvention and 20th century stage glamour.
Jon Stone: Part of Donut Press's recent fusillade of superbly produced titles, Wayne Holloway-Smith’s debut pocket-book is noticeably heavy on personae. Several poems reflect on the act of contriving a change in outward appearance, either from the point of view of an admirer –
Throughout a relatively short set, Holloway-Smith employs an impressive assemblage of borrowed tricks and techniques.
“She enters, stage left, Charlestones clumsily.
A glut of men watch as she struts
a playful rubato, cha-cha kicks, twirls a parasol
like a walking stick, ‘til oops! she stumbles.”
– or the changeling themselves –
“Set apart by the rouge on my cheek, purple sweater
(subtly rolled to the neck), the taper of fur outlining
my gracile figure, a flagrant stance:
twisted hand on fulsome hip.”
– or as a set of instructions:
“Etch an outline of your ideal.
Let it hold you accountable.
Feign authenticity, be well versed
in the art of telling a lie.”
Cutting a Figure
The disguises adopted by these always larger-than-life characters are never simple pantomime but act as a metaphor for aspirational, emotional and sexual metamorphosis. With their penchant for fine detail and admiration of extravagance, the poems lionise the escapades of those daring enough to make the transition to adventuress or tearaway. They also hint at the incompleteness of such transformations: Groucho Marx is tied, in the first line of the poem which describes the beginning of his attachment to his cigar prop, to his birth name Julius, while in ‘Mid-tale, the Maker of Myths’, the crowd of adherents to an old master’s tales cannot finish his story. Protagonists are often half-caught in their own imaginings, stuck (temporarily or otherwise) part way through their grand escape plans.
What’s impressive is how thoroughly Holloway-Smith’s stylistic inclinations mirror his subject matter. Throughout a relatively short set, he employs an impressive assemblage of borrowed tricks and techniques: the title as first line (notable because it's also used as the title for the whole collection), the address to a fellow contemporary poet (in this case, Donut stablemate Tim Wells), the fake reminisce, the counterfeit interview, the misleading title ('Reasons Not to Brick a Squirrel', which is not a list poem and contains no reasons as such) and the surrealist eyewitness account, to name but a few.
It makes for as heady and beguiling a mix as the concoction of provocative gestures and accoutrements that Coco brings to her stage act. It's also somewhat more honest about the writing process than poetry which makes claims towards a deeper authenticity; Holloway-Smith’s vision of a world where such authenticity is an urgent and intoxicating artform rather than an innate quality is an empowering one.
Donut! The gold standard in book design sublimation! How clever you think you are! Well, you may have produced another little gem, repleat with finely tuned work from yet another promising young writer (I saw fit to include Holloway-Smith's work in my own Obakarama micro-anthology), but you have yet to reckon with my full power. My future works shall one day make your handsome black endpapers and immaculately formatted innards look like so much cheap gristle!