“Dissolve to LA” James Trevelyan (The Emma Press) – poetry review

Dissolve to LA by James Trevelyan book coverGiving voices to minor characters or those who didn’t get to say anything in the original story is not a new idea, but, when done well, it can enhance a reader’s understanding of the original or offer an in-depth exploration into an issue or episode that got skipped over in the original. “Dissolve to LA” gives voice to minor characters in action films, offering not only a commentary on the films but also an exploration of cinematic tropes. In “Lloyd”

“They gave me a name
and does that not give me life?
More at least then UNIFORMED COP,
NIGHT NURSE or FIRST JOCK,

who may have had more to say
but can’t claim to an existence
beyond their scene. I suppose
they forgot me, but I’ll not

forget the night…”

The character, in this case the owner of the truck stop diner from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”, looks at the hierarchy of characters: his name boosts his sense of importance over and above an unnamed speaking part. Another minor character plays with a stereotype, “Admiral Chuck Farrell” speaks:

“You had me at your name and innuendo, your made-up cod-Russian sweet nothings, your fatal frame and martini twist: might have known a Ferrari-toting Soviet pilot might come with added spice,”

His speech picks up on the irony of an admiral in the Royal Canadian Navy, from “Goldeneye”, being seduced and killed by an assassin, and suggests he has the self-awareness to know that he will, against all common sense, allow this to happen because it’s a necessary plot device. Similarly “Girl” explores cliches,

“Why always making a grab for fame;
the good girl fallen;
the prominent dad downtown.

Why always naked, wasted;
testing the strength of a balcony fence;
always weightless and hilarious.

Why a car bonnet that breaks the fall;
the shirt always open, not a hair out of place,
like Ophelia or a centrefold.”

This girl’s death sparks a police investigation into a drugs ring in “Lethal Weapon” where it’s discovered her name is Amanda Hunsaker. It buys into Edgar Allan Poe’s assertion that the most tragic scene is the too-soon death of a beautiful young woman. Death leaves her as voiceless as she was in life, with other characters all too ready to project their theories onto her. Tragedy is also found in unrequited love, particularly when the would-be lover only gets to tell them on their death-bed. “Helen” muses,

.                                      who cradled your chest
when that bullet ripped in; who heard you’d die
in your whisper and who followed you, pressed

into the road? I’m Helen. I hope they’ll write about us,
Sam, and our too-short time on this too-fast bus.”

The film is “Speed”, Sam is the fatally shot driver and Helen’s hope that they will be remembered as forlorn as her hankering after the man she was too shy to tell she was in love with.

“Dissolve to LA” avoids two potential problems. Firstly it’s a judicial selection of poems so it doesn’t feel like a one trick pony. The selection of characters isn’t predictable. They all share that they are minor characters from action movies with tragic endings but the characters themselves are different. Secondly the voices are all distinct. It’s not known whether the poet has picked his favourite films or whether the films weren’t gripping enough to stop him doodling on his notepad whilst watching, but the poems lack the arch tone of superiority or a vocabulary that sounds odd in the character’s mouth. Each poem has been allowed to find its own form. Each character has been given chance to speak.

“Dissolve to LA” is available from The Emma Press.

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“Urban Myths and Legends” The Emma Press – poetry review

Urban Myths and LegendsThe editors Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright wanted to find poems that “shared Ovid’s glee in storytelling” looking for transformations and gripping ideas. Some poems take their inspiration more directly from “Metamorphosis” than others and some hint at fairytales – a glass slipper, a rose briar – while others create their own myths. Some transformations are dramatic, as in Pam Thompson’s “My People”

“… those who lived near the canal
grew scales

and those who lived on the tops
grew furs to keep out biting winds

and some sprouted wings
to hunt for food

or so my mother told me
before her toes pitched her

into a middle kingdom
of sloughed-off skins
and reheated dinners.”

Other transformations are less dramatic, in Deborah Alma’s “My Brown-Eyed Girl”

“my sister and I discovered
that she’d always coveted
my grey-green eyes
and I, hers of golden brown,
and Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes
was never personal enough.

So we swapped, we popped out
our eyeballs, slipped them
into our mouths to moisten them
before slotting into familial sockets.
Then we sat down with a nice pot of tea,
lemon drizzle cake
and little chance of rejection…”

The contrast between “grey-green” and “golden brown” follows the line of desire; “grey” suggestive of boredom and “golden” suggestive of reward or treasure. The routine detail of tea with cake acts as a anchor and keeps the poem from veering off into fantasy. It also resists the temptation to fork off into a nightmare. Other poems take on the personification of an inanimate object, for example in Jon Stone’s “Yardang”

“…Out it came, a tortile bolt
of drunkard wind – dying to screw
and strew, to chew and chisel bone
or stone, to shave down to a hump
each stump. Now I’m a blasted dune,
the scoundrel’s plaything. Now I drift,
as darkly as the shifting coast,
from one form to some other, strand
by strand, flayed to my filament,
while on its high and singing wire
the mad sylph speaks its only like.
My faltering’s its favourite band,
my knots its little coterie.
The coward wind is changing me.”

The yardang projects its reinventions on the wind it blames for whittling it into shape and toying with it: an unreliable narrator but a likable one. “Urban Myths and Legends” feels like a city walk along a street with varied architecture, some buildings ornately constructed, some classical and modern with clean lines, each a marriage of form and function; each worth stopping to study while a gentle wind whispers of history, suggestive fantasy and magic realism along a street worth return visits.

“Urban Myths and Legends” is available from The Emma Press