This weekend we review The Red Laughter of Guns in Green Summer by Alan Finlay and Phillip Zhuwao
Chainpoetry is not really a new style. It is however a giving-receiving approach to self expression that very few poets, very few indeed, due to their ego-centric make-up find too covert to expose their individual lyrical prowess. At the same time it is an approach that can be used succesfully by matured poets who feel they've got nothing left to prove, as did former New Coin editor Alan Finlay and Zimbabwean poet Phillip Zhuwao.
According to the editorial penned by Alan the two spent a month and a half in 1995 to jointly-write The Red Laughter of Guns In Green Summer Rain. (Pause right there, evidence seems to suggest that Zhuwao die in 1994 and not much is known about him apart fom an interview in Bleksem written by Alan)
Okay, here's how it works, jot down between a word a paragraph, pass the paper to you and you do the same and pass it back to me. It can be anything between that, meaning a chain has got links and if one is going to provide the next link it's almost the nextn word. At the end we read the product and analyse if it makes any sense at all. Usually it does or doesn't.
Chainpoems are a risk or a risque. They are artworks you engage in when you are too confident about your prowess and posess a giving spirit - often without receiving the equivalent. Alan and Phillip had enough time to engage in their craft, that's until as Alan writes, "the weather grew, i got a job, phillip left on the train to harare".
The Red Laughter of Guns in Green Summer is 32 pages long, published by Gary Cummiskey's Dye Hard Press and contains 18 poems. It is divided into IV chapters, each containing both the poets' DNA. In I'm Scared of Going into Darkness it becomes difficult to detect the point of merger. "I'm scared of going into the dark/ I'm scared of being forgotten/ I'm scared of flowers growing from my chest/ and the laughter of bees as I struggle to rise".
Only four poems make Chapter I, there's an obvious weakness which is similar to that of rap songs that are rushed into the studio or released because the artist suddenly died and left unreleased material. Check out Tupac Shakur's posthumous songs to see what I mean.
In the absense of a theme the name of the poems is taken from the first line of the text. What with the one I've reviewed starting with the words from the title. Others following the self-defeatist approach are What's in me is difficult to explain, in our shoulders are broken hunches and Of Angels and Demons. This is unattractive.
However, as if the two men felt the weakness, Chapter II improves, with a shrewd Song, as the title of a poem. And here you are left wondering if this is a poem to be sung or it's just a name. Quite interesting, you don't find the word 'song' anywhere in the body and you start singing. That's called freedom of imagination. Then there's Song of the Falling Leaves and Summer Sunglasses
While both styles are explored succesfully in the book the only strong point really is the attempt at providing themes that the duo do with the introduction of every Chapter. Somehow, one feels that the short verses are solid and are tied together.
Like I said, chainpoetry is for the over-confident whose previous works have set their bench-mark. But if you're just starting, you'll get lost in the depth of simulated mediocrity, avoid it, only Alan and Phillip could risk this much.
*Alan Finlay's picture sourced from JournAIDS (www.journaids.org)

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