Operations of Water by Ian Seed

My review of Operations of Water originally appeared in issue 63 of The Journal.

There’s a famous story about the novelist Saul Bellow when, stuck in a rut with an unfinished novel, an American in Paris, he walked beside the Seine and became inspired by the freedom of the water. This relationship between the written word and liquid forms is at the heart of Ian Seed’s latest poetry collection, Operations of Water. It’s there, foremost, in the title of the collection, which draws from the final long poem: the tension between the two nouns exploring the contrast between technical manipulation and a sense of flow. It’s in the ziggurat of water on the front cover, which embodies the title of first poem in the collection, based, like much of the work, on the new sentence of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry. 

‘Liquid elsewhere items ramp,’ one section begins, and it’s the crux of the focus: how freedom of inventiveness is often channelled and manipulated, how structures arise from the imagination, and how the imagination itself becomes structured. Images of water, fluidity, shores and beaches fill the collection, more often than not in close proximity to a proxy for the poetic form. A lake freezes over in the potential work of a small notebook. Journeys are undertaken, leading to odd surrealist encounters. (Seed is one of the few experimental poets whose work engages with surreal). ‘Danger in the Water’ begins “Consider yourself boarding a ship.’ The reader is offered a voyage to where ‘the water/ flows crystal clear down the middle of the street.’ Clarity then, and also a middle ground, but what kind of ship sails down a street? The clarity is deceptive, and the middle ground will be abandoned, as it is throughout Seed’s poetry, where openness can lead only to surprising turns of logic. The poem ends with an appeal to both imagination and emotion, a sense of voice, and a defence of the spirit of the stream that covers the whole collection: 

I want to seek out quantities of those little creatures, their brilliance
Listen to the argument that is in my heart. Push them gently
back into the water, every tongue trembling under a wayward sun.’ 

Most poetry collections define themselves around a sense of space, but for this reader at least, the spaces involved with the line breaks felt more acute in Operations of Water. Seed is a prolific and accomplished writer of prose poetry, so to rediscover his ‘narrow’ forms offered a new perspective on the other elements of his work. For all the self-conscious inventiveness and humour here— not many poets seem to have as much fun in this kind of work as Seed– I did keep going back to his prose forms: the surprise of those vignettes and little structures, which are often so surprising because they appear so deceptively linear. After walking a long time by a river, sooner or later, everyone longs for the sea. 

Knives Forks and Spoons Press 978-1-912211-66-1

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