COLLECTED WORDS: THE POETRY ALBUM
By Frank Burton
Reviewed by Emma Lee
Frank Burton's performance poetry album firmly leans towards the surreal whether it's a rude boy in a boy racer car booming out drum and bass but confessing to preferring classical, applying for a job as the official office bore/irritant, being a paranoid reactionary, watching a friend turn into a mountain (mum comments 'it's just a phase he's going through'), having a pet shark or having 'just enough time to decapitate the gawping orange mess' of a fish before a one minute silence. Each poem takes a strange slant on a recognisable situation and pushes it as far as it will go.
Post Man is a neat word play on postmodernism and would translate to the page equally well. (I Can't Get No) Customer Satisfaction which has Frank trying to complete a questionnaire about a visit to a forest, getting patronised by trees and worrying about the questionnaire being on non recycled paper--apparently a ruse to wipe out the competition--holds its internal logic that's clearly been thoroughly thought through. In The Day of the Disembodied Leg humour is used to good effect, 'you've read about him in the anthology of “Life and Limb” a study of detached body parts. You've seen him in the documentary “Alive and Kicking”...' but underlying it is a serious commentary on the way social outcasts are treated.
In 28 tracks, a couple of weaknesses are excusable. Bognor Headlock could have done with some editing: 'she wears pigtails like she's a little girl although she's approaching thirty' didn't need 'like she's a little girl' which is already implied in the use of 'pigtails' and I picked it up on first hearing as would an audience used to performance poets. My Face doesn't do sufficiently enough with the cliché to stand up as a poem (complete poem):-
'I hate my face
I truly do despise it.
I cut off my nose
To spite it.'
On the plus side, it's the only poem I could lay out on the page as poetry. I couldn't hear the line-breaks in Frank Burton's readings so have formatted other quotes as prose. A complementary lyric book, perhaps available separately, would have been welcomed. I don't believe performance poetry is a separate entity from poetry: a good performance poem should work on the page and a good page poem should work in performance. There are differences in that a poem written for the page can be denser as readers have time and space to re-read at their own pace. A poem written for performance is often more direct as it has to work for someone hearing it read by the poet for the first time but it should also work for someone hearing it for the thirtieth time. I can listen to and read the best performance poets over and over and if I quote someone like Jean 'Binta' Breeze from performance, I can hear her line endings and lay the poem out as she intended it.
A spoken poetry album really does put the voice at centre stage. I'm not suggesting there should be any musical interludes or backgrounds, which can distract from the all important words. But 28 poems read in the same tone with the same rhythm did find my attention wandering. Collected Words: The Poetry Album is best listened to in sections rather than all at one sitting.
Collected Words: The Poetry Album by Frank Burton. Available on CD from www.lulu.com and www.cdbaby.com and as a download from iTunes.
Frank Burton (and samples of his poetry) can be found at www.frankburton.co.uk and www.myspace.com/frankburtonpoetry
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