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Steve Spence

"Under The Cliff Like" by Tim Allen, 196pp., pub. if p then q   £8.00

It’s always exciting to open a new collection from Tim Allen. This one is actually an ‘old text’ (in more ways than one) which has been reformatted with plenty of space and only one text per page. Unusually for Tim Allen, this is a ‘found text’ initiated from ‘an encounter’ with Granger’s Index to Poetry (Columbia University Press, 1962 printing), a huge and somewhat ‘antique’ edition which I can recall Tim coming across in a remaindered bookshop in Plymouth’s Frankfort Gate some years ago. What Tim has done, ‘quite simply’ is to have taken all entries beginning with ‘Like’ and juxtaposed these with an equivalent number of entries beginning with ‘Under’ in alphabetical order. He’s left out all the commas and inserted a full stop at the end of each pairing.

Much of Tim’s poetry has been influenced by Surrealism and the French notion of euphony as well as the process methods of the Oulipo and these elements are very much in evidence in this substantial but very ‘spaced out’ collection. Thus we have gorgeous nonsensical lines such as the following which combine strangeness with humour with sheer beauty: 

          Under the oak tree stretched in the
          youthful leaf of the greenwood like the
          hermit poor.

Giles Goodland has written about working with ‘found poetry’ (in an old edition of Tears in the Fence, I believe) and makes some good points about the playfulness of appropriation while also noting an aspect of this kind of work, which is the production of ‘cheap poems’. Likewise with Peter Finch, who has made the point that given the abundance of ‘already existing’ material why not work with what is already ‘out there’, reinvigorating texts by a process of change and juxtaposition and thus creating something quite new. Tim Allen is always ‘obsessively masterful’ in his creative enterprises, pushing himself further and further ‘out there’, in some cases further than most of us would either want or dare to go and by comparison this text is positively laid back and relaxed. It is masterful though! Here’s another one to whet your appetite:

          Under the slanting light of the yellow sun of
          October like one who solves some curious
          alphabet on desert stele and then solves a

These are poems to dip into, to read through at a gallop and then have another look later. They will entertain, entrance and cause great puzzlement if you attempt to read for meaning too literally.

It’s unusual for books from If P Then Q to include cover artwork but Tim’s covers – whoever designed by – are artefacts which incorporate as much careful thought or throwaway carelessness as the actual texts. This splendid example is disturbingly literal, a tree apparently growing downwards from the edge of a precarious outcrop of rock. Apparently, anyway! The title – Under The Cliff  Like – is perfect. It’s the ‘Like’ perched at the end that does it, just like the rock itself. Clever stuff.



Copyright © Steve Spence, 2017