In Proportion

Lighthouse Dreamingbook cover

Poetry review by Robert Wood

After Naptime

by Chris Edwards
ISBN: 9781922181190
32pp AU$22.50

There exists something of a history of experimental mystery writing. From Gertrude Stein’s under read Blood on the Dining Room Floor (1933) to Roberto Bolano’s Antwerp (2002), these works critique the didactic mode that predominates in popular, genre, crime fiction where the structure invariably follows dead body, investigation, solution. The generic standard is a simple neat package and the style of writing is usually clear with a dash of slight, often cliched lyricism. In contrast, Stein, for example, has no detective, no investigation, and the premise of a found dead body is a loose one that is consistent with other hallmarks of her ‘difficulty’. This is crime writing as a negation of Crime Writing. This experimental tradition, if it can even lay claim to such a naming, is one that Chris Edwards’ After Naptime could be said to fit into.

After Naptime is not so much a story, but a repetition compulsion with themes of mystery that touch on certain motifs – shadow, lighthouse, nature (wind, animals, bees), characters named Edwards, Guppy, Snagsby, branches, crystal, brain, spirit, ship and time. The intervention is about narrative, as demonstrated by editorial interjections sometimes signposted in brackets, as well as the style, which while thrillingly disjointed lead us towards an end.

It reminded me most of Roberto Bolano’s Antwerp in its fragmented, shifting, self-referential nature. Indeed, like Antwerp there is a character, written about in the third person, that shares the same name as the author. But we see too the influence of Pete Spence and Pi O as fellow travellers in concrete and visual poetry. And there is even a shade of Susan Bee, Charles Bernstein’s partner, in the selection of images. A great number of these images seem drawn from a popular archive, with science images like roots and zygotes and brains recurring. When I consulted the references I was surprised to find the eclecticism of sources, from The History of Mystery to Muscle Building for Health to Great Inventors.

Consulting these references reinforces the major literary quality of bricolage. This is collage at the level of word as well as image. After Naptime is a Frankenstein’s monster of a book. Its stitched together quality will be evident in the following excerpt:

 

quote 1

At the level of words, this passage is one of the more direct sections of After Naptime. At the level of image, this passage is spare but gives the reader an idea of the type of visual style consistent with other sections. It also demonstrates the literalness – we read ‘lighthouse’ and see a lighthouse, we read ‘shadow’ and see a shadow. It struck me though because it is incongruous with other sections, which are more often fragmented and elliptical as well as sustain a more abstract relationship between word and image. This is seen in the following:

 

quote 2

There are no genitals here. But this juxtaposition of passages that tell you what is happening and others that show you or imply a mysterious process is an important contribution. It altogether makes for invigorating reading where we sense an internal defamiliarisation and there are unexpected, mysterious turns like the narrative itself.

It is hard to know where to place After Naptime because it is situated as poetry yet appears like art/text. Edwards, the author, works as a graphic designer and typographer and this carefully jumbled and judiciously spaced arrangement allows the reader to come at this work less encumbered by expectation and frame. We do not have a preference for left justified text with italicised title. That in and of itself makes After Naptime a valuable intervention against official verse culture hegemony. What I think is also important is the sound shape of certain passages when read aloud. There is a discordant lack of musicality, noted most keenly by the absence of rhyme. The language is cut up even for the ear.  This means there is a synchronicity to sound, text and image. The images are not often literal – we do not have a picture of a brain to replace ‘brain’. They miscommunicate, productively, with each other and allow one to be in one’s own sort of mystery as one searches for orientation. Whether there are sounds that the images are associated with is something that may be ‘solved’, ‘unveiled’, ‘revealed’ by a close reading.

After Naptime was soporific in the best possible way. Like dreaming while awake it folds you into a world of mystery, chance, dissociation and rich imagery, while showing us what story can be via Frankensteinian rich imagery and collaged images.  

 

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