Butterflies of a Bad Summer
Page Count: 54
Publication Date: Tuesday, December 06, 2016
Cover Artwork: Olger Diekstra Photography – www.olgerdiekstra.com.au
About this Book
Karl Parkinson’s poems tease music from the rhythms of everyday life, and sing, like Whitman, the song of self. But in Butterflies of a Bad Summer, self admits a multitude: we orbit the supernovas of doomed artists like Corso, Selby Jnr., Bukowski, and Arenas, and sample with them the exquisite taste of dirt and immortality. We climb the highest peaks to stand alongside Simeon Stylites, before swooping back to Dublin to catch a glimpse of Burroughs in a Temple Bar café. These poems remind us of the transcendent potential of the artist; something bright to cling to in a dark world.
Butterflies of a Bad Summer is a great surrender to the beauty of the bodily world. It is an antidote to the age of celebrity, austerity and small mindedness. The poet who speaks in these poems lives, kisses, screws, ignores, drinks, argues with, caresses and dies with a crowd of broken visionaries who populate a universe drunk on the pleasures of being. Lorca, Bukowski, Kerouac, Kahlo, Blake and many more all join in Parkinson’s joyful elegies. In the true Whitmanian tradition, this is a vivid Dublin-based poetry which shouts out in delicate, tensile language at a world that has forgotten how to dream. Karl Parkinson is a talented collector of life's evanescent moments of clarity.
Parkinson has set himself up unashamedly and without irony as a singer of the human soul in its contrary states of degradation and exaltation. It’s worth listening to him.
Karl Parkinson is a writer from inner-city Dublin. Butterflies of a Bad Summer is his second collection of poetry. The Blocks his début novel was published in 2016 by New Binary Press to rave reviews. In 2013 Wurmpress published his début poetry collection, Litany of the City and Other Poems. His work has appeared in the anthologies, New Planet Cabaret (New Island Press) and If Ever You Go: A Map of Dublin in Poetry and Song (Dedalus Press), as well as in several journals, including The Stinging Fly, The Poetry Bus, Penduline, Colony, Can Can, The Pickled Body, The Bohemyth, The Incubator, Revival and Wordlegs.
Karl is one of Ireland’s most acclaimed live literature performers and has read by invitation at festivals and events in Ireland, the UK, the US and Canada. His work has been broadcast on RTE1’s Arena Arts show many times. In 2015, he featured on the Setanta Ireland live TV New Year’s Eve show. Karl is also one half of the spoken word/electro music duo, The King Mob, and a creative writing workshop and course leader, teaching in schools, festivals, youth clubs and adult learning centres in Ireland.
Read a sample from this book
Gregory Corso’s Suit
for Stephen Murray
“Man, look at my suit,”
says Gregory to the crowd.
The crowd applauds the whiteness,
the poet in his drapery of romance,
a poor clown in an expensive suit,
dancing for the biography’s page.
A fortnight later, ruined.
Blood stained, vomit splashed.
Ah, poor suit, paid for with books of poetry,
you tattered and debauched thing,
slept in, creased, greyed in tone.
“Man, look at my suit,”
says Gregory to the crowd,
before grabbing a poetess’s ass
and being shoved into a filthy canal.
“Man, look at my suit,”
says Gregory to the crowd,
looking every inch the grand poet clown
and prince of the tombs that he was.
Unkempt and greasy, starving, and pissed
in a handmade Italian suit that was as beautiful as a slug.
I was born to weave, so I weave,
I speak not on scripture, I sing,
no Muhammad plucks my strings,
no Rama, nor Ganesh plays my flute,
only the beloved's melody is here.
I live with the butchers, traders,
down in the bad end of town,
I sit it the market place, I kiss
the dirt, not a crown.
I don't bother with books, I write
nothing down, I just sit here and laugh,
when they ask about God. My eyes are
enough, no point talking to those who
can’t see their self in the mirror.
When the Hindus and Muslims come
for my body, it won't be found,
only jasmines will be there, and still
they will split them and hoard them
instead of sharing them around.
Melville In The Mist
For 19 years
& $4 a day,
he worked as the only honest man in the New York
customs house, writing unread poetry.
His reputation as a writer sunk by the whale,
his two sons in the grave,
depression, drink and madness,
assailed his spirit, and still he wrote on.
Pulled through by his wife
and dead relatives’ money, he had a quiet death,
left a trunk filled with books and his name and rep
rose up from the depths to claim the critics’ brains.
I turn to the mirror now and look: is that Melville's
mystic thinker’s whale’s mist blowing from my crown?
Interview: Karl Parkinson interviewed on RTE Radio 1's "Arena" arts programme.
Listen to the interview here>>>>
Review: Butterflies of a Bad Summer reviewed by Kevin Higgins for The Galway Advertiser, August 3rd, 2017
Parkinson’s poems are formally far looser than McDonnell’s; for better or for worse there’s not a sonnet in sight. Among the giants on whose shoulders Parkinson attempts to perch are Whitman, Rimbaud, and Malcolm X. Parkinson’s lines are long, except when they are extremely short; his tone conversational, Dublin inner-city, street.
In ‘Making Love To Frida Kahlo’ he writes “Tell fat Diego to fuck off,/and let’s you and I dance/in the Mexican dust,/with monkeys at our side.” His elegy for his nephew, Graham Parkinson who died in his twenty-second year is the centrepiece of this collection. Anyone who has had someone close to them die far too young should read this poem, every line of it dripping with compassion and empathy.
The witty ‘Poem for My Body’ is a rare example of an Irish male poet writing about his own physicality: “I smile,/because I still have a head/and to go grey is wonderful”. The final stanza of ‘To Write Something That Will Last’ is one of the truest things written by an Irish poet this century: “Words pure as spring morning,/that stink like a dog’s shit/when coming out of the mouths/of presidents at inauguration speeches,/but rise again like mountains from secondhand books/in the hands of poor boys and girls...”
Review: Butterflies of a Bad Summer reviewed by Hubert O'Hearn for The London Economic, July 14th, 2017
If you have not heard of the Irish writer Karl Parkinson before, well let me tell you two things. One, you really need to move in better and more alternative circles; and two, you’re missing out on something special. Parkinson’s first novel, The Blocks, like a great thoroughbred on its maiden race broke screaming with nostrils flared from the gate. It was the novel Ireland had not only waited for, it was the novel Ireland needed – no false nostalgia or theme pub metaphors. It was as down and as dirty as Shane Magowan’s teeth before he had them fixed. Parkinson wrote of the Ireland that the Cook’s Tours skip over – poverty, drugs, death, crime, do what you have to do because there is no one to help you to do anything else. If it was any more Existentialist, Sartre and Camus would have emerged from the grave and kissed him on both cheeks. Then they would have sobbed into their pillows that they had not thought of The Blocks first.
Generally speaking, I never give a moment’s thought to a writer’s biography and/or career when assessing a book. Butterflies of a Bad Summer necessitates a reconsideration of all that as this slim volume of verse is, with a various few yet equally important exceptions, Parkinson’s assessment of himself. It is dangerous stuff to assume one knows a writer’s mind – where you imagine him grimly clutching the last pint before time is called, he might be chasing the trails of faery dust through a peaceful glen – yet I am going to call the writer’s bet based on the narrative I see in his hole cards. Karl Parkinson wants to know if he Belongs.
Oh, to a writer this is important stuff and don’t kid yourself that it’s not. You hammer at a typewriter for years until the technology changes and you tickle-chiclet at a laptop keyboard for years more until – and everything in media happens slowly until it happens at which point it happens fast – you are an overnight success after three thousand nights and amidst all the acclaim you wonder, ‘Wait. Did someone make a mistake?’
It is a transition point, when a writer becomes an Author. Suddenly, and it is a matter of suddenly, one feels the same as ever except now, for whatever reason (oh right, I wrote a best-selling novel!) people start tp pay attention to the exact same things you’ve been roaring or whispering from the pub stool for twenty years. So, as Robert Redford said at the end of The Candidate, now what?
Well, you know, just as newly elected Presidents look for examples from previously elected, successful Presidents, writers who are now Authors start digging through the biographies, looking for advice, hints, templates!. And that, if I am reading it right, is very much the head space from which Karl Parkinson wrote Butterflies of a Bad Summer.
Let us look at the first poem, for such placements are not chosen at random. ‘Rimbaud You Kiss My Ear’ invokes, in order, Lorca, Pound, Kerouac, Woolf, Ian Curtis, Caravaggio, Hemingway and the titular Rimbaud. Save for Ian Curtis, of whom I honestly admit to having no prior knowledge, all the rest share two points of personal history: brilliance and mental illness. Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway chose their own death by suicide; Jack Kerouac did the same, but the slow way, by drinking himself to death. Ezra Pound? Well Jesus, they just locked him up for sedition and let him work on the Cantos from an asylum cell. And yet, Karl Parkinson end his poem with a relentlessly cheery, ‘All is well!’
So what strange brew do we have before us? Parkinson could have chosen any of a thousand writers who gained fame in mid-life who did not end their run at The White Stag of Fame (cf. Ezra Pound) by sending a shotgun shell through their skulls, yet he chose these writers. So what is the tie, what is the rub he wants from them?
Charles Bukowski shows up later in this collection, in ‘Bukowski Jumped Off the Shelf, And Saved Me From Drowning’. Parkinson (or to be fair, his narrative voice) wakes up ‘spitting demons. The day got on top of me like a brutalizing cop and inside me like a tapeworm’ which I have to say is very good, brutal imagery. Old Charlie shoves his way off the bookshelf and into reality and says:
To which advice the narrative voice sighs, ‘And everything was fine, just fine.’ Yeah? You’re saying that? The hell it is.
If Parkinson is writing purely from a persona it’s one of the purest, Well Holy fuck Jesus personas I have ever seen. If he’s writing from a perspective of ‘now what do I do?’ then there are things to be concerned about for those who care, as I do. As Parkinson has written these poems, purely shaped and edited them as he went along, I am slightly at ease. A poem such as ‘His Friends Called Him Cubby’, dedicated to Hubert Selby, could not exist without perspective, and perspective implies strength.
Except for such poems as ‘The Art Is What You Need’, by and large Karl Parkinson puts his own aesthetic into the background in favour of the, let us say, Hall of Famers. The result? The overall assessment? This is disturbing, troublesome writing and therefore a bit of genius. As the music critic and novelist Marcia Davenport once said, ‘All the great poets died young, fiction is the art on middle age, and essays are the art of old age.’ I look forward to Karl Parkinson’s essays.
Be seeing you.