Toby Fitch, ‘Rawshock’ launch by Gig Ryan
Gig Ryan launches Toby Fitch's Rawshock at The Alderman, Friday May 25, 2012
Rabbit Journal 5, 2012
Influenced by the French poets, particularly Rimbaud, Apollinaire and Mallarmé, Fitch’s poems bathe in the green light of imagination. Colourful, picturesque, partly visionary, his poems take us on a journey in which the city is revivified through the lens of poetry, in fact invented through poetry: shopping trolleys like giant ice-skates, “the brittle night taken out of the fridge”, the “tooting owls, / beyond the rooftops / into the twisting funnel of stars — / I could almost crack open the night // and swig” (‘On the Slink’), where “the faculties lose their facility” (‘Floe’) (which echoes Rimbaud’s “immense derangement of the senses” that he proposed as necessary for poetry: or, more simply, this is what poetry does to us). The book opens with a quote from Lewis Carroll’s The Red Queen’s emphatic “Off with his head” — which also refers to Orpheus, who ends as a head floating down a river singing his songs, after being attacked by the Maenads. The first poem ‘On the Slink’ begins at night, the following poems gradually moving into morning - “and then comes the morning when it dawns on you / the sun is not going to rise any more than you will / above yourself...where self-abandonment is out of vogue, tunnel / vision is the new black” (‘Narrows’). So Fitch refers to the poet as a disembodied head, yet parodies any idea of disengagement: “Whatever you say, say nothing — / as a bystander / amongst the panic and the vomit, / do nothing and nothing will bend.” (‘Parallels’). This book is split into three sections with the first and third imprinted on each other, mirroring each other, as in the Rorschach test, but not repeating — the first can maybe be seen as Orpheus in happier times, his honeymoon period, when his poetic power can move the rocks and trees. The middle section, or nightmare sequence, is the Orpheus and Eurydice section with its explosion of raw shock / Rorschach test, as if whatever is happening is open to multiple interpretations — each burst of line and colour echoing the catastrophic events of the myth, the poems literally breaking open, breaking down into single letters scattering around the page, into almost wordless cries, as Orpheus’s powers of persuasion, that is the power of poetry/of art, leave him. The shape of poems echoes the freedom and omnipotence of Orpheus’ ability — unglued from the left margin, these poems shape themselves, best shown in Oscillations which literally oscillates down the page, its lines and meanings bending accordingly.
His Orpheus and Eurydice sequence utilises the original inkblot (Rorschach) test in technicolour, dragging these mythological creatures up to date, bickering and pre-empting each other, often humorously yet murderously. Where traditionally Eurydice is silent, being rescued from Hades by loud-mouthed Orpheus, here Eurydice gets equal billing “remind him I’m not quite the damsel in distress” (Rawshock, 1.), “blue lyrics hack us apart again and this time it’s terminal” (Rawshock, 3.)but rather than feeling heartbroken at losing Orpheus, she says “finally I can hear myself think”(Rawshock, 3.) so we see a double-sided myth, and like all poets gives voice to the once-voiceless. ... “Glue me to your wedding gown...Where’s our pre-nup I sing and bite, come / back to us, Bacchus, come back!” (Rawshock, 2.). Using both voices also resembles the inkblot, two sides of the same coin, of the same smudged images that dance before our eyes turning into whatever we wish to perceive. Orpheus is torn apart “possessed by nothing / but art, stripped by drunk women / of all I took for granted./ Bones & borders / countries comfort / mean zip to me now…” (Rawshock, 10.). Fitch also sees poetry as open to interpretation, as a series of images flattened onto a page — a murky reed-filled mirror in which we see ourselves.
After the Orpheus and Eurydice, we return to the poet’s bed in Apnoea, thus emphasizing the idea that what we have just been through is nightmare. Yet there’s also a sense that that section has been an apocalypse, as he imagines a future in the poem ‘Dry, Mainly Sunny’ — this poem also seems to take from Baudelaire’s ‘Le Voyage’ — “from which the lucrative few take off / in their pleasure craft, their hyperbole, //in search of greener planets…” where “the coffee-stained corpse in the fridge / is getting nostalgic for what that glitch / in the system felt like, or for some other // feel-good story…” The book ends on Nightcap, and much of this final section seems to tip the world upside down. Here, in ‘Finding H’, a poem after Rimbaud, the poet is jammed into the contemporary world:
I stood on a mountain with my tablet
downloading the seasons
and spun from new-fangled spinnerets
a pop song with themes and variations
to raunch the riverbeds, undulate concrete
and shepherd the galaxy
into a single omniscient cloud.
And I streamed it to everyone!...
His lover now “tormenting the swivel chair … pressing her own buttons.” This section also reminds me of Baudelaire’s albatross, the poet is too heavy for the earth, his outsized wings that impede his ability to walk on earth ... that is, the poet’s natural habitat is in the air, flying. But Fitch’s vision is more irrepressible than tragic, I think. The poet remains unvanquished by the trappings of the modern world — he adapts it: (‘Le Pont Neuf’) — “Romantics, werewolves, lunatics — / eat your hearts out! / So cries the city, pretty night- / lights twinkling ... Paris is howling! — even / the moon is puking its delight!”
This book is also full of puns and deliberate ostentatious consonance, deliberately breaking the rules of poetic taste, scattering wordplay around like marbles, e.g. “cheek by jowl; no howl from the invalid mouth / stuffed with one inspired mouse; the toes, / unable to tow the two..” (‘Floe’); or “Nyx and the Styx as stoned as onyx. You canN / collude with Chaos all you like” (Rawshock, 4.), or in his last poem ‘Nightcap’: “The only way to cap / off the night / is to decapitate yourself..” again returning to Orpheus’s head as it floats down the river to Lesbos… And Orpheus’s death somehow looks back over the book we’ve just read — “And I continue, wavering / till the dawn beyond the final night, / traffic piled up in the rearview / mirror like a whitewash of words, / none of which can tell me the right way” (‘Junction’). But the book’s last lines speak of reincarnation of the poet in a sense, and looking back — “ Now / feel the fabric / of the clouds” — as his words wrap up the world and outlast him … that is, the poet has now entered nature and become it, the world we see forever changed / heightened by his vision of it — but the poet’s world is made of words, the traffic is like a whitewash of words because it’s only words that poetry uses. The title and design (the fabulous Chris Edwards) of this book are brilliantly appropriate as each part mirrors, reflects, answers and imprints on each, with the vivid raw shock of the power of art (to move the gods in Hades, to rescue the dead back into life) hallucinating brightly at its centre.