Top Ten Tyres: Gareth Twose. The Red Ceilings Press, 2013.
I tried not to base this review on a barrage of tyre based wordplay, but, as the below shows, I failed. This book has the zip of the Pirellis on Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari and the grip of the spiked winter treads on Lenin’s armoured limousine. As always with Mark Cobley’s persistently excellent The Red Ceilings Press, the physical production of this book is as luxuriant as a showroom brochure, fronted this time with a close up of a sleek, factory fresh tyre that might lead us to expect the contents to comprise a raft of performance statistics, or advertisements for platinum wheel trims. But Top Ten Tyres is no more about tyres than Hamlet is about cigars. Twose uses the notion of the tyre to create moulds into which text can be injected, with the poems being grouped into fours, each headed with the name of a brand and its vehicular position: Avon – near side front, Avon - off side front etc. The most cursory read through reveals that there are more than ten of these and that the relationship with the heading of each block to its content is no more than passing. Some of these blocks are ten lines in length, some are more, some less. There is no easy solution to this work. It cannot be inattentively thumbed like a copy of What Car? in a dentist’s waiting room. Twose’s work does what experimental work should: it makes demands on us as readers. It does not present us with a snap shot, rather a slow, panoramic reveal. Meaning is not offered to us: rather we, as readers, must make it, if we feel the need to make it at all. This is a book with a framework that is not really a framework, working almost subliminally with the nuances of product and the litany of livery, with the white noise of advanced capitalism and the buried structures of an alternative. It is deeply intelligent work that does its work meticulously.
The text is disjunctive, a molten, multiply enjambed hybrid of written and found material, not so much a patchwork as a montage, or a series of overlays. Top Ten Tyres is densely striated, but also transparent in that Twose does not keep anything out. Like Zukofsky’s A,Twose’s work is not simply a view of the world via a repeatedly asserted single point of reference, more a prismatic conglomeration of multiple, partial and fragmentary perspectives. Reading Top Ten Tyres is like channel surfing on a Freeview box, or viewing the world from a late night black cab blurring along a radial road, or rollerblading around the Trafford Centre after having your mocha laced with peyote. All human life is here, from I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and Hellman’s mayonnaise, to Katie Price’s ear and Paris Hilton’s eyelashes.
What must not be overlooked in Top Ten Tyres is its wit. By wit, I do not mean puns or whimsy, although these are both shots in Twose’s locker, rather the term in its learned, Lawrence Sterne sense of robust, eloquent, dextrous, ambidextrous play. Twose’s humour is not slapstick. It does not proceed by gags and punchlines, rather by a skilful blizzard of references and a production line of precision tooled images, delightful in their absurdity, Day-Glo in their sensory impact. There are too many to mention individually, so I’ll pick out three favourites: “marzipan penguins for Christmas”; “significant peril for sleek aubergines”; “debt-sodden ostrich in a leotard”. The first is the sort of thing you might buy on Bid TV in the small hours after one too many Babychams. The second, in a better world, would be a newspaper headline. The third achieves the rare feat of being both absolutely tangible and totally unimaginable.
Top Ten Tyres is a work of what Marjorie Perloff calls radical artifice: a text in which language is not simply a content delivery mechanism, rather a thing in itself. Twose’s language is not designed to be invisible or neutral. It is not meant to be looked through, or to exist in the background, like Pan Pipe muzak in a lift. The pleasure comes not from what is happening, but how what is not happening is shown to not happen by the medium of layered, luminal language. Twose’s work has no narrative. It is not concerned with self expression or psychological investigation. Whilst the text, laid out in its semi-regular units in a pseudo-schema, seems to invite linearity, and sequential processing, this is not what the experience of reading Top Ten Tyres feels like. There is no single route or arc, no message in block capitals. Reading this book is not about connecting A to B to C, but appreciating that A, B and C exist simultaneously. This is an open, porous work. One feels that Twose would have no problem with multiple readings and would indeed welcome them as evidence of success. Twose’s detonated, tessellated text foregrounds the materiality of language and makes it physical.
Top Ten Tyres is a book of great technical facility and does what only the best work does: it offers us a different way of seeing. I, for one, will never look at an aubergine or Paris Hilton’s eyelashes in the same way again. Gareth Twose takes poetry and retreads, remoulds and, if the situation demands, completely replaces it at the roadside. And you won’t even need to claim on your insurance.
copyright © Tom Jenks, 2015