The pamphlet form is too rarely used like this: to present a whole, fully realised sequence that is quickly and easily digested, still more easily shared and, owing to its formal coherence, stays with you like a favourite recipe. Earlier last year, Nine Arches Press released Tom Chivers' The Terrors, a collection of e-mails to inmates of Newgate prison. Nick Asbury's self-published Corpoetics used a similarly neat idea - rearranging corporate manifestoes into telling commentaries on contemporary capitalism. Now it's Richard Moorhead's turn to add to the library of short-but-filling collections.
This is a collection that makes you want to join in the game, even though most of us couldn't possibly do it as well.
If you've encountered Moorhead's work in either Horizon Review or Mimesis, you'll know what to expect. For everyone else, what we have here are 21 poems, all named after vegetables and divided into their appropriate seasons. Moorhead then sets out each piece like a dictionary entry, drawing on the sound and texture of the word to suggest an array of new, strikingly unusual definitions. Sometimes this works a little like Douglas Adams and John Lloyd's The Meaning of Liff, where the name of a town or village is used to describe a thing or sensation that, according to the authors, is so familiar as to deserves its own moniker. radish, for example, when deployed as an adjective, is "the way prim teenagers should feel when waiting eager with resentful answers", while peach is "that moment in an argument when things get out of hand".
Just as often, however, and always within the same poem, Moorhead's definitions veer off into the surreal and semi-alien - "shiny dominatrix, scented alumininium violets of furniture polish" or "a cup of arctic fox fur". In the space of a few short lines, he can switch from comic (beetroot is "the odour of an arse, well-oaked by firelight after a good half hour receiving hunger on the parlour table") to lusty (cherry is "how fuck me bends and growls, when you say it and touch my shirt") to sensuous (fig is "the tang of coins in a warm pocket") to delicate (artichoke is "the momentary sense of disappointment when she hears you say, I love you inadequately").
I could keep quoting for several more paragraphs. Like Asbury's Corpoetics, this is a collection that makes you want to join in the game, even though most of us couldn't possibly do it as well. There's also a sense of several disjointed narratives running through the collection, the strongest of which is the implied romantic relationship, sometimes floundering, sometimes burgeoning, between 'you' and our veggie lexicographer. But what The Reluctant Vegetarian does especially well is prove how mouth-watering individual words can be, how each one is a densely packed arrangement of sounds and connotations, as beautifully organised, in its own way, as a molecule, and as reactive as magnesium.
I am concerned that no biographical information about Richard Moorhead is contained within this slim artifact. The back cover instead promotes the press. Is the reluctant vegetarian himself real, or is he an invention of those words which seem, throughout these poems, to be striving for relevance and realisation? Were these 21 pieces in search of an author? Did they concoct one in their own kitchens?