For some reason, a little mysteriously considering its confidence Benjamin Dodd asked David Musgrave to ask me if I would launch Regulator, Dodd’s first book. After reading Regulator, I can say I am privileged to get in the first sound bite in on this collection. Oddly, or really not so oddly, I worked for a long time in Chemical Regulation so launching Regulator seems singularly apt.
'Regulator', the title poem, gives an insight into Dodd’s modus operandi, one might say his regulatory approach, where what starts off as an acute point of observation, with the precise words, an exacting image , but as things go on, the duplicity, the ambiguities, the metaphoric qualities, the innuendos, start to add up so, while we start off at the scary point of a dam spill way with its gates and concentrated surge of water, a heavy duty playground for young men, the action of jumping off seems as much a method of regulating excess testosterone, as writing it also becomes a way of regulating the past.
These poems are discretely loaded with revelation; there is a perversely biblical strand from the start.
Thinning our little herd
we had Baskerville
hounds in our heads
sweeping bold arcs
through feathered darkness
at the porch light’s circle edge.
My father’s too-long absence
and the distortion
of farm-night acoustics
surely exaggerated their size
but the rigid carnage we’d find
stitched to the morning’s frozen
grass did little to lessen unease.
A man who was not our father
barked stark instruction
at my brother and me:
for burning a gutted calf.
In ‘Thinning our little herd’ we get the Hounds of the Baskerville with an edgy twist, a man barks, orders, blood on the ground, a prodigal father and a calf , not fattened by gutted. By strangely inverting elements in the New Testament, Dodd gives the disturbing scene both a resonance and clarity, and at least for me a dark comedic take.
Its hard to put your figure on why but perhaps the unseen and unmentioned idea of Basil Rathbone invoked by the Baskervilles, or the very dry line breaks, so ‘foolproof steps’ come across as anything but. He laminates b-grade horror with biblical chutzpah, with a nearly casual and economic micro tales.
The unsparing perception of country life brings to mind Philip Hodgkins, though their motivation is different they both have a blistering acuity. Dodds continually reminds us that life if often bizarre, we most often blinker it out, Regulator brings it all back into focus.
Dodd had a sure grip on his mixed media vernacular, with touch points in 'Day of the Trifids's. 'Boys Own', 'Twisties' and 'Letona,' Bambi peppered with an integrated and casual literary chutzpah, sometimes combing the two to recognise a Lord of the Rings tragic reciting ‘ impervious to the snagging bramble of almost impossible consonant clusters’ in Lounge 22.
One of the recurrent themes in this collection is metamorphosis, of rock, of creatures, alive and dead. Most particularly so in Host, where he does a reverse Kafka. It’s only recently that, reading Kafka in Spanish, that I realised Kafka is funny, it is English that renders him dour. But the poem, Host, with its inversion of metamorphosis where a part of the narrator turns out to be, well, for those who haven’t read it I’m not going to be a spoiler here. I will say I needed more than a moment to resettle myself when I’d read this.
The collection is littered with knifes, sharp edges, broken glass, one can literally say these are cutting edge poems, where everyday life is a little jagged , a baited trap waiting for the unwary. The remedy is close by, and you might see these as work, in one sense as, cautionary tales, a Maxwell Smart guide as to what not to do. Where we see in ‘Man at Home’
there’s prudence too
in placing the eager edge
of a can’s excised lid
inside the empty thing itself
instead of the way I’ve dropped it
keen curve up
beside the jagged glass.
One thing I particularly like in this collection is the way it celebrates men, from a male perspective, in here we have coming of age poems, without slushy romance, and see that there is nothing really casual about casual sex. They give a vivid and honest vicarious sense, an evocation of the tension of finding one’s sexuality without losing one’s sense of humour, whihc is so well done in poems like 'Water Tower'.
These poems are mercifully free of piousness, there is no straining here for the lyrical parsnip, no obfuscation, no death by Language, no false humility, but it not what I might say is the negative capability of these poems, but for what they are, finely written, witty and lucid accounts of coming of age and living in Australia, that I recommend this book for your reading.
Carol Jenkins 23 February 2014