Thursday, January 17, 2013

Eros and Thanatos

I don't know who it was who originally observed that poetry tends to be about sex, death and poetry - but Daniel Sluman's fascinating debut collection, Absence Has a Weight of Its Own, certainly fits that bill. Illness, murder and suicide sit alongside accounts of late-night encounters in clubs and investigations of the creative process. Sluman's insights, though, are clearly hard-won. This is not a doomy pose, but the real thing.

What particularly grabs the attention is the aesthetic unity of the collection and the ways in which Sluman's poetic technique both reflects on the physical experience of those encounters with Eros and Thanatos and establishes disturbing parallels between them.
The first aspect to note is the way that Sluman makes things that are intangible, emotional or even metaphysical into something physical. So, for instance, in 'We Daren't Go Back' bedroom walls 'glitte[r] with premonition' while 'revelation' is 'greasing the hands' of the narrator; or, in 'A Fist of Tax's Announces That It's 3 a.m.', 'the understanding of tonight / crawls up my stomach & rolls / over my tongue.' This latter example highlights a second feature of Sluman's writing: the way in which the borders of the body become porous to these concretised thoughts, fears and emotions, remaining passive as it is invaded by them. So, in 'Evocation', a lover's presence becomes 'smoke / easing through your muscles' and a description of drug-taking ('E') sees 'serotonin explod[e] / in the cradle of our stomachs'. In fact, this boundary-crossing and the making physical of the non-physical create a hallucinatory or dream-like quality across the entire collection. Sluman generally avoids simile, and while such description could be taken metaphorically, as in the dream-world these transformations are can also be seen as literal.
A central theme of the collection is illness and mortality, and it is here that we possibly find the root of this aesthetic. For instance, in 'My Death' the narrator in the hospital bed is losing control of his body and its boundaries: the doctors 'smooth out' his 'organs / one by one' and his own breath is transformed into 'the push & pull' of a 'fine wire' inside him. This is a voice that sees 'the entropy in everything' ('Lovesong to a Tumour'), whether that entropy is in the threat of physical disintegration or in the thrill of desire. And the two are clearly very close together.
This, then, is an intense and arresting d├ębut collection.

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