Sunday, October 25, 2009

Mark Walton's Frostbitten (Book Review) by David McLean

Mark Walton's Frostbitten
Reviewed by David McLean

This book is the first in the Epic Rites series of chapbooks that is one of the more promising ventures in contemporary poetry. Mark Walton presents a tight collection of poetry that takes the reader into the gay scene in the contemporary UK and works organically as a mixture of classical articulate rhyming poetry with more modern thematic and lexical attributes.

If on walking into a bar instead of seeing only
abs, pecs and ready sex,
we could ascertain the hopes and fears,
the love and pain, the latent creativity
just below the carefully honed surfaces
and perhaps proffer our own offerings in return.
Instead we make do with our constrained liberation.
Our unrequited aggression always unconsummated.
(It's a Queer Thing)

The poem “Frostbitten“ is a stunning run-through of a dysfunctional relationship predicated around fisting and other more conventionally (ant)agonistic uses of the fist. Maybe when you tried to leave some body you are a reluctant fist prised out of the ass with a healthy plop. But Mark Walton is more poetic than I am about it.

Now it's over,
and I lie thawing
in the sun.
Parts of me still
black and flayed.
Parts of me still
aching, numb.

A moment smitten.

A lifetime frostbitten.

Generally, he manages to dissect his own emotional responses and extend therefrom to an anatomization of human emotivity that applies to heterosexuals as much as to gays, though most of us may be reluctant to admit it.

You ask if you can piss into my open heart.

‘Surely intimacy is the gateway
to commitment,’ you say.


And maybe that's why I swing on the gate.
Enjoying the ride and the view.
Splinters in my fingers.
The sound of creaking hinges.

Never quite stepping off.
Boundaries the only things respected.

Boundaries are respected and everybody's modern life is borderline, there is no real contract, no deeper feeling, no ability to grasp life as a question of involvement and rooting on any level, and even if fragmentation is good in one sense, it makes people less inclined to thrive

Stepping back into an alley way
I watch the people passing by.
Heads down against the rain.

There is no wonder in the dazzle of the lights,
no company in teeming pavement crowds,
no nourishment in the fast food joints
and convenience stores that line their route.
(Dark Matter)

And apart from the content I've mentioned, the dissection of modern whatever-sexual man, the form is breathtaking, the words wound richly round each other like bodies, gay or otherwise, an articulate and well-written chapbook of which Mark Walton can be justifiably proud

The city streets are stripped of
their morning suited sheen
by the hard truth of a winter’s night.
The tyres of my bike will find
each crack and imperfection,
like your hands
on my bare flesh
in the thin tin shelter
of our bow-stowed beds.

Nowadays, instead of gays adopting the lifestyles and commitment of heterosexuals, as it looked for a while would happen after AIDS became such a perceived threat, it seems that straight people, especially younger ones, are living with the rabid and random promiscuity of little Freddie Mercury-style eighties' gays, what Mark's poetry shows us is that this is something we really need to go beyond, to live for real feeling a minute, relationships that take longer than it takes to cum. They leave a better taste in the mouth, and more self-respect in memories.

The whole crowd moved on
in the time it takes
to change a record.

But how are we ever
supposed to find our song,
or write our story?
When even whilst you’re talking to me
you’re looking over my shoulder.

It’s all death or glory.

But I want a love that develops
like a slow patina over time.

Accreting meaning with each meeting.

A gradual blurring of the lines between
yours… ours… mine…

This is a first rate book, do read it - it is written in blood in the sense of passion and passionate engagement for the relational self and the other that makes it, but it is also remarkable for a vigorous and intricately articulate language, sensitive to each emotional and cognitive nuance of the well-chosen words. First rate book. Buy it at Epic Rites. There's also a webpage at Frostbitten Poetry.

Author bio:

Up to date details of McLean's several available books and chapbooks are at Epic Rites, or at his blog at Mourning Abortion. A new chapbook hellbound is on sale from Epic Rites at Epic Rites, and his third full length, laughing at funerals, is coming from them next year.

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