Finding Our Way

Joe Hill Makes His Way Into The Castle, Katy Evans-Bush (CB Editions)

Katy Evans-Bush has several previous poetry books and pamphlets out, but they are very different to this new volume, produced during lockdown when – lonely and uninspired – Evans-Bush returned to a favourite poet from her teenage years, the countercultural anarchist poet Kenneth Patchen. As well as re-engaging with his poetry, Evans-Bush cut out phrases, mixed them up and used a handful to riff on for a whole new series of poems: a kind of Dada-esque starting point that was quickly subsumed, overwritten and processed into her own work.

Having said that, Bush-Evans seems quietly paranoid about acknowledging her inspirational material: there’s a long list of ‘Source Notes’, listing the individual Patchen poems she took phrases from at the end of the book. For me, this is totally unnecessary, since each poem is titled ‘From lines by Kenneth Patchen #(1-51)’ and the phrases are adapted, recontextualised or reworked into new texts.

Like Patchen’s own writing, these poems are by turns emotional, confessional, political or declamatory; sometimes relying on simplistic stories, emotion and opinions:

     What are these stories? Are they for self justification,
     & only when we think we’re caught? Is this really
     the best we can do?
          [‘From lines by Kenneth Patchen #38’]

The poems are best when they look out at the world rather than inside, to what the poet is missing or feeling, whether that is sorry for herself or angry at what’s going on:

     No no no Oh we here are living out our
     little pretend lives drinking our beer feeling
     bored or annoyed no no the pandemic the
     three-storey lockdowns with wine and jig-
     saws and too much Amazon piss off you
     old men with your paranoid answers no
     don’t you come to me chatting your facile

What is said is totally understandable, and I imagine fairly representative of how many of us were feeling, but it doesn’t make for great poetry. Better is #37, also self-reflective but more structured and orderly, considered:

     You’d be a ghost too
                                        Worn to a stub

                                        A thing of the past

     Don’t touch a thing
                                        Oh wait it can’t

     It’s a Zen thing
                                        About opening up

     Examining yourself

Evans-Bush understands, however, that ‘there’s always another viewpoint’ [#15] and that

     The origin of this, and this, about which we know nothing,
     becomes its own folkloric meaning & open to interpretation,

     thus nothing.

That ‘nothing’ hovers around the edges of lockdown depression:

     It wasn’t much of a summer. You could as well
     write the biography of the northern rain as sit
     on a deck chair in a sweeping expanse.

but there is also some gentle wit, often at the expense of the narrator:

    The whisky wraps its duplicitous arms around me;
     I always pull at a party and this one’s just the whisky
     & Robert Burns & me.

and by #44 even the author is ‘So tired of all this pathos, this emotion, all these / particulars’.

However, in her ‘Preface’, Evans-Bush quite rightly suggests that the world now (or as the book went to print) is even darker than it was back in lockdown, and that her worries about ‘the material beginning to feel dated were misplaced.’ Instead, she now sees the book as ‘like a map’ as well as ‘being like a diary, or a phone’. (The latter is a reference to #29 where the narrator speaks directly to Patchen through an [imaginary] tin can and string telephone.)

A map is a good thing. It suggests finding a way, but also allows for the fact it is only one possible way of offering directions and locations, only one way of understanding landscape and place, only one set of symbols and shorthand. So, your reading of this book may be different, less melancholy than mine; you may concentrate on the revolutionary zeal and optimistic declamations scattered throughout the text. Either way, this is a fascinating project, a brilliant way of engaging with Patchen’s poetry, and the legacy of Joe Hill. The penultimate poem, #50, notes that ‘We find / out by being & then it’s too late’, but we also find out by engaging with being as it happens, as we go through life. And trying to find the truth, perhaps even having a private revolution:

     & we all know, everybody knows, that
     truth is always what they don’t say. So
     shut up, sing up, kiddos. What a revolution.

Marc Bolan (a kiddo who sang up) quite rightly stated that ‘You can’t fool the children of the revolution’ and although the 60s dream turned into a 1970s hangover and never bore the utopia hoped for, lockdown and politicians’ antics since, seem to me to slowly, ever so slowly, be provoking dissent and a desire for change. Evans-Bush is a voice to listen to, as indeed is Patchen’s; and thanks are due to CB Editions for publishing this persuasive, personal, original and revolutionary collection.




Rupert Loydell

(First published at Tears in the Fence)







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