Review: Nathan Hamilton, from his blog Curiosa Hamiltona
(The complete article - which also includes reviews of "Still to Mow" by Maxine Kumin & "Miscreants" by James Hoch - can be read at Curiosa
... It is this sort of experiment with which Philip Fried's fine book-length sonnet sequence, Cohort
, is concerned. Here, the suspended fragments of Kumin's half-ignored 'world of sirens, metal and speed' are steered for headlong in poems of repeated linguistic invention and probing wit. As the three introductory poems demonstrate this is a sequence of some scope and ambition:
...the lead-footed, combustible
bus-driver steers our destinies
no appeals except to the wheel.
in the spin, the wandering poles, the rifting
plates, we ply our cosmic commute,...
('Short Line Driver')
...it was all radio.
At night the bedsprings picked up transmissions
that were bending around the edge of the future.
( 'Reversible Swirlâ€™)
From the witty metaphoric introduction to its chilling legalese close, language and the noxious aspects of an information age out of control are on trial in Cohort. And so is the lyric self (or selves) and its place and purpose in the world, as in the envoi 'i too am a late bloomer / with rank in the family a budding consumer'. The first three sonnets avoid punctuation and capitalization, other than Big Bang and Ygdrasil (the 'world tree' of Norse mythology). Punctuation and capitalization of the pronoun 'I' is left until the fourth sonnet, 'The Oral Tradition'. This 'growth' draws attention and declares a process of world creation and investigation. Then, in 'Sealed Warrant', the reader is addressed across the gap between octet and sestet: 'You are the material // witness implicated in every window'.
And so the framework for this trial of language and the world is set-up in the sonnet's form - its history of lovers' quarrels and legal proceedings, opposing forces, arguments, and potential reconciliation. Fried plays continually with this gap between sections as, in 'Risk Assessment', 'the needle of grandma's Stuttering stitching, // piecing together our lives of patches and fractions' and, in 'By Babylon's flow-charts' //And we, we are a swarm intelligence. Get it? // Got it! / twitching down the pheremone lanes'. These repeated formal games subtly, and delightfully, invite the understanding that the tense join of the age's fragmentary forces resides irretrievably and yet observably in the separating white space of these sonnets' form. And the sequence's formal trajectories are even more intriguing. As if the joining forces were being stretched to breaking point, the sequence condenses from the reducing six sections of the introductory poems, to the five-section sonnets in the title poem, into the two sections of the Petrarchan sonnet. From here, it then expands out again into the four sections of the Shakespearean, and from there - while observing also the use of regular dashes and hyphenization to delicately enact a fracturing force in sentence structure - back out into the world.
That the 'rivers of Babylon' lyric has become 'Babylon's flow-chart' is also typical of Cohort - this time of the wordplay, specifically Fried's regular usage of modern business banalities and symbols, mixed with other cultural fragments, to suggest harm being done. This is the damage of the entity 'business', an entity we have created but which no longer works in our own best interests; its now contextless 'strategies', 'protocols' and 'underpinnings' running amok across the landscape of thought. This is all to say that Fried's is an altogether more rewarding project. It remains true to the territory and jargon of our time, and is wryly entertaining, without ceding intellectual ground. It is relevant, insightful, and darkly witty in its scrutiny of the digital age - an emboldening salve amid the wear of 'the world's infantile, satisfied babble'.
About the Reviewer: Nathan Hamilton runs Egg Box and is Chairman of the Board of Directors for Inpress, an organisation that represents and supports 30+ independent UK presses. He also currently programmes and runs the Richmond Upon Thames 'Book Now!' Literature Festival. His poetry and criticism have been published in a number of places, in print and online, including Poetry London, the Manhattan Review, nth position, the Guardian, and the Spectator.