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Up Bluen

Author: Donna Kuhn
Genre: Poetry
Reviewed by Ruth Mark

At first glance this is a chapbook written as mobile phone text
messages. The poet doesn’t appear to believe in proper punctuation,
there are no capital letters and she barely gives the nod to grammar –
for example:

“yr cool enuf”
from a lot of money

The famous poet e.e. cummings also wrote in lower case and the jury
is still out about whether this format works or doesn’t. I’m not
convinced. It simply looks lazy to me. However, it is perhaps the way
communication is going.

My second concern is the title. What on earth does it mean? Ambiguity
can work, journalists use it all the time especially in gossip
columns in order to get readers to read further. Here, you’ll be none
the wiser after reading the title poem (incidentally the second, not
the first in the book). Does it mean stay positive blue/depressed
person or something else entirely? This ambiguity could lose readers
right from the off. Many will simply not bother reading further and
that would be a pity because there is much to enjoy here (once you
get used to the new language that is). The hand painted cover is
exquisite and the titles of many of the poems are simply heaving with
imagination (e.g. masculine flowers, the way winter speaks, sideways
cat meets cowduck girl and many more.)

Therein lies the rub however – the titles tend to be more interesting
than the contents. This is word-play at its highest level. Basically
take a list of words and combine them in as many permutations as
possible. Perhaps you too will create a new language, perhaps you’ll
just confuse your reader. Kuhn plays with language here, she is a
word conjurer and she has, like many poets, a number of favorite
images which recur again and again (e.g. chinese, traffic, blue, food
of various sorts, coffee, birds, dolphins, alligators, picassos
horses, ocean, stars, photocopies and many more.) Unfortunately, the
repetition grates after a while, for example:

“i like to make coffee
i like to make coffee”
(from apple moon)

Many of the lines are simply psychedelic:

“yr hands sound like she’s a judgment…
hand out lizard, i love that u made
aluminum intentions up bluen”
(from up bluen)

The major problem however is that so few of the offerings here tell
any kind of story, and those that do require a different thought
process to decipher them. It’s kind of like reading codes, lines that
ask more questions than they answer:

“… i just glared at her
(from her dolphins)

“get yrself dark urban pterodactyls, girls
(from i am the thing)

There are however some signpost lines along the way which can help
you feel grounded e.g:

“i loved serious correspondence”
(from pear mess)

“how can he come home anymore”
(from falling alligator)

and some of the lines are simply intriguing:

“i live like winter sings in a chair
that has a creek in every room”
(from fluid pearl)

“in january the waves move my eyes”
(from transparent (2))

“if u ask im a door on dreams”
(from her dolphins)

“her door to war falls, her lips burning out philosophy”
(from fenugreek)

‘faces’ is in my opinion the best piece of writing in the entire
book. It is full of emotion and dark underpinnings with references to
death, divorce and more.

Perhaps Up Bluen is an example of poetry which is better performed.
It would be interesting to witness it read before an audience. Kuhn’s
own view of poetry is:

“poetry is words making love in a funk…
poetry is words i dont know”
(from nectarine funk)

Most of the time it’s difficult to follow Kuhn’s frame of thought, to
know where she’s going. At times it’s simply too weird, too much of
an effort to keep reading. I persisted. I fear many readers won’t
bother, many will think that life is too short to make the monumental
effort required to read between the lines and attempt to figure out
what Kuhn is getting at. I never thought I’d say this but, here goes,
grammar, punctuation and capital letters are important, they really
can help the busy reader! The book also made me renew my belief that
images, story, a point, are all important in poetry.

There are times that the language is compelling but mostly I felt
like she was trying to convince me into thinking that this was a new
kind of poetry. Perhaps this is how experimental poetry is going. If
so I won’t be joining the trend. It was like reading words cut out
and pasted together in various montages, filmed and played on fast-
forward. Kuhn does tap in to modern society but the manner in which
she does didn’t strike me as entertainment. The txt-message/Play
Station generation might enjoy this book. I’m not sure it will appeal
to either the poetry ‘mainstream’ or to a general audience however.


August 8, 2004 in Poetry | Permalink


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