2013, Bubbles for Reuben, Chrissy Williams, Down's Syndrome, Flying Into the Bear, HappenStance Press, MacDonald's, Penned in the Margins, poem, poems, Poetry, review, Robot Unicorn Attack, The Lost, this is love, verse
It’s just easier to think in shorthand. Certain brands – political, commercial, or artistic, trigger knee-jerk reactions of love, or loathing. And so it was that I entered a MacDonald’s restaurant for the first time since MacBirthday parties. I expected to loathe it, hoped even. The objective was to help some teenagers with Down’s Syndrome to order drinks of a hue which the day centre had decreed to be free of a forbidden colourant (and to get the right change which, it seems, can be quite an issue if you have Down’s). We’d hardly sat down before staff gathered for a hushed confab at the till, and they were definitely looking our way. Typical. Then a woman, who turned out to be the manageress, came to the table, asking whether we’d like to see how Big Macs are made, and soon my group was in the kitchen, being proffered with drinks and food. I had assumed that I knew how a busy, indifferent world works, but that afternoon revealed a hitherto unseen vista of human kindness. When I walk past those golden arches, arches with the power to trigger a range of emotions, I remember those young people – and the manageress of MacDonald’s, Fleet.
In her prose poem, Bubbles for Reuben, Chrissy Williams presents her reader with a slice of summer: ‘Amanda blows bubbles for Reuben who chortles under the catkins. Jim watches from his chieftain’s seat, made by a woodworking friend who only just realised his wife is a whole person separate from their life together. Bubbles drift towards Jim in a cloud and his face blinks through them’. The prose poem form lends the scene the quality of a snatched Polaroid, as things as fragile as an English summer day and a lungful of soap bubbles are sketched on the page. The chieftain and his seat suggests a fulcrum, something sturdy and dependable, the still point in the community. The fact that the seat is wooden contributes to this sense of rootedness and its status as a gift lends Jim a certain authority. However, his epiphany throws his world, and ours, into uncertainty. Suddenly, ‘it’s Jim who is moving, rushing through the sunny air’ and we think again about the significance of those bubbles.
In Flying Into the Bear, Crissy Williams delights us with the unexpected, challenging our assumptions by snatching moments of beauty from surprising places. The title Robot Unicorn Attack, for example, wrong-foots those who think that the tabloid press tells us all we need to know about video games. ‘Attack’ plays to preconceptions about the nature of video games while the first line enacts a metamorphosis, as the simile incarnates the abstract in our mind’s eye: ‘Possibility bursts like a horse / full of light, accelerating / into a star. Explosion. Hit / <X> to make your dreams / crash into stone’. This is perfect for video games, as there is no horse, just lines of code flying through a hot processor at breakneck speed. This poem also informs our reading of the collection’s title. In Penned in the Margins‘s anthology, Adventures in Form, Williams’s poem ‘this is love’ is coded in HTML: ‘<p><a href=”www.cupoftea.uk.com”>this is love</a></p>’ demonstrating that new skills are required to read the subtext of our age. Like the violent title, the line break at ‘Explosion. Hit’, goads the reader into associating video games with physical violence but the following line undermines this, reminding us that this is virtual world in which even defeat is a choreographed, aesthetic experience and simply a matter of perspective.
Flying Into the Bear offers the reader a virtuoso range of forms. In The Lost, Williams offers something akin to a sonata, as her epigraph, the opening lines of Dante’s La Divina Commedia, offers the exposition: ‘Nel mezzo del cam min di rostra vita / mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, / ché la diritta via era smarrita’. The succeeding lines, culled from eight translations, riff with this material, creating something which feels like a dark version of Frost’s The Road Not Taken. ‘At one point, midway on our path in life / When I had journeyed half of our life’s way / Halfway along the road we have to go / I came to in a gloomy wood / In the midway of this our mortal life’. As we attempt to construct a text from these fragments, some roads become metaphorical, while others feel more literal. The ground shifts beneath our feet, creating something hypnotic, desperate and full of regret.
It is easy to see why Chrissy Williams was anthologized in a number of sections of Tom Chivers’ Adventures in Form, and Flying Into the Bear is an exuberant, dynamic collection in which little is as it first appears. The unexpected transforms the prosaic into something altogether more memorable.