Jon Stone: There's an immediate coherence to this debut from Joshua Jones, albeit it comes in the form of an over-arcing ambition that sometimes seems to drown out individual poems. Jones' post-structuralist influences are plain to see, and he aims to constantly distort and destabilise traditional forms and devices, then distort his own distortions, so that the reader can never be sure-footed when making their way through his work - the rug is pulled from under you, and then the floorboards. A poem called 'Quiet Days' begins -
Jones frequently employs what might be described as a sort of contrived schizophrenia.
"It's a quiet day so I think really hard
and start to sever my limbs."
- then describes the ensuing deconstruction even as it casually disarms and satirises the reflective mode. Following this is a sequence poem that begins on part 2, while earlier, 'Threshold' starts with the proposition that "There's nothing wrong with sleeping in doorways" and follows its own line of logic to a point where it suddenly furiously denounces itself:
"If that's the case, maybe ask yourself:
who the hell wants to sleep in their own doorway?"
As implied by the title, Jones frequently employs what might be described as a sort of contrived schizophrenia as a way of engaging with existential concerns. It's an approach that rejects categorisation and strives for originality, but perhaps tries too hard and goes too far. That there are stand-out pieces within the collection, and that these are often those that stick most closely to their initial conceits, suggests that it's too soon yet to throw the baby out with the bathwater. 'Scalp', for instance, which gives the sun and wind agency and sets them to bullying a 'local kid', and 'After', which similarly proceeds from "The sun is dead in the water face down", are refreshing for their refusal to slip into ironising. Sure, they're tongue in cheek, but the best lines imply a connection to humanity that other, more slippery pieces lack:
the kid fell over
the leaves on the trees rustled like barely suppressed laughter."
And all at once the lyric is armed again. There's also a defensive aspect to all this, as if Jones hopes to sublime the flaws in his writing by setting them in a context where you can never be sure he's not deliberately pointing them out for us, holding them up as examples of the inadequacy of language. The longest poem in the book, 'Sigging', despite some promising comic imagery, ultimately fails to rise above the level of a Luke Kennard pastiche. It's crowded out with whimsy, and also long-winded similes of wildly inconsistent quality. The very fine "My brow furrows like a rope bridge breaking" is immediately followed by "You made all these things up, like giving CPR to a tin of beans". Like what?? But then the characters in the poem begin pointing out their over-reliance on these very devices:
"'Like a ...'
'See, you're still doing it!'"
So Jones knows as well as we do that it gets a bit much, but wants this to be seen as a device in itself. The same might go for the name-dropping (both pop culture and classics), which really should have been kept under tighter control. Tom Waits, Rilke and Keats all gust in and out of Thought Disorder as characters, doing little but lending the proceedings a touch of burlesque, while others are referenced in passing.
There's plenty to admire in this collection; it's just that one can't get away from the impression that the heart is one place and the mind another. In the aforementioned 'Sigging' and in the breezy opener, 'Exposure', as well as elsewhere, it's clear that Jones has a feeling for the territory of difficult or complex relationships between men and women. It's as if he's decided, though, that this is too old hat and that poetry must be ruled instead by philosophical conundrum and intellectual distance.
Dr Fulminare, print patrol here. Suspect is clad in a creamy textured card (very fancy) with quality dark blue endpapers. Cover illlustration: watercolours and inks. However, suspect has a tendency to crease width-ways during browsing, leading to dints in the pages, this due, methinks, to the binding process. Kerning is not consistent throughout, sometimes notably changing between paragraphs. Haven't we all made such mistakes? My under-editors, perhaps, but not I.
As to the contents, consider the piece entitled 'Mentality':
"My mind is a room full of men aging ...
The most fucked up thing?
That each of the men running around in my mind
has a room of men running around in theirs
This is, of course, the homunculus theory of the mind. Does Jones deflect all criticism towards this infinitely regressed initiator? Certainly, the opening lines to 'Breathing Smoke' find him blaming something else:
"The CCTV camera told me to do it ..."
In this poem, he watches himself from outside himself, trying to get to the bottom of his own motivation, and it is this kind of activity, I suspect, which has led him to worry, elsewhere, about too much 'pseudo-imaginative bollocks ... as if I was reading between the lines of some wilfully obscure poem'. He wishes to out-think these flawed 'other selves' when what is needed is to out-distance them.
Finally, the answer to the dinting problem is hinted at in 'They tend to come at night':
"They tend to come at night, jackals
who silently kick in the doors
and do petty things
like bind our books..."
Will this boy take responsibility for anything??