Restless Voices by Alan Price

My review of Restless Voices by Alan Price appeared in issue 66 of The Journal.

Reading Alan Price’s recent book, which includes a sequence of poems using the cut-up method, I was struck by how this form of work offers an almost an inverted experience, in that it is more interesting and rewarding to write than it is to read. Price bases his cut-ups on a range of letters from poets, and the voices on display (Larkin, Eliot, Blake, Bishop, Whitman) are largely, almost stubbornly canonical. You can’t help but wonder how the work might have been re-energised if the sequence had been constructed by having these letters ‘exchanged’ between some of the figures here (Larkin writing to Whitman might have been a hoot) or better yet, invigorate the canon with a host of minor, perhaps marginalized, voices. Price’s seriousness isn’t in doubt, but, then, more often than not, seriousness only takes you so far. The cut-up was popularly used by Beat figures Williams S. Burroughs and Bryon Gysin, to discover un-noted synergies and synchronicities, a hidden reality emerging from behind the texts ( “When you cut into the present the future leaks out,” Burroughs once explained). No such shamanism of approach here. In his introduction, Price eschews this kind of method: ‘Dadaism is a legitimate road to take but not for me” and the question is, if you’re not going to employ the cut-up to embrace, well, nonsense, then why bother with it at all? The poems end with rather dry references to what was really being expressed in the letters, which is a bit like having someone explain why the joke is funny in the act of telling it. More largely, we probably need an anthology of cut-ups of the kind Jeremy Noel-Todd produced for prose poetry, to chart a sense of development of the form. Or, maybe, that misses the point of what has always been, essentially, an exercise based around disposability. Price’s intentions in this collection are honorable, but like using a Ouija board for a coffee table, you’re left wondering if there’s really a point. 

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