Responses to How to Bake a Planet (Salmon Poetry 2016)
In regards to time
Brianne Alphonso returns with three capsule reviews on the inevitable onset of years.
How to Bake a Planet, Pete Mullineaux (Salmon Poetry, 2016)
How to Bake a Planet combines the somber with the comedic while confronting us with the reality that time decays — and sometimes, too many times, we are alone. Solitude is not the key theme of this book so much as the danger of distraction in an ever-expanding world. How can a person form connections when the human shelf-life is so short and no one can be bothered to veer out of his own lane? The singular voice of this poetry — one part sarcasm, one part irony, two parts morbid bluntness — poignantly conveys the feeling of “seeking something firm / to anchor the uncertainty / or perhaps contemplating / the ripple effect she could make / by gently rocking the boat.” Mullineaux draws on anxieties about a poisoned planet, strangled relationships, and the ever-present ticking of time in an attempt to uncover the smothered sentiments we all keep locked away.
Jacket2 USA (2017)
How to Bake a Planet
Salmon Poetry (Dufour Editions, distr.)
British-born and Irish transplanted poet Pete Mullineaux returns with this approachable collection that draws his concerns about human isolation from the natural world together with his inventive and thoughtful wordplay. Mullineaux demonstrates a poet’s precision with words yet leaves a place for more casual readers of poetry in his work.
World Literature Today. (2016)
AN AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL OF ECOPOETRY AND ECOPOETICS
Pete Mullineaux, How To Bake A Planet. Ennistymon, County Clare: Salmon Poetry, 2016. ISBN: 9781910669549
Pete Mullineaux’s How To Bake A Planet opens with ‘Dancing in the Street’ a poem of interpretation of coexistence:
This could be the pavement of romance –
random intimacy of bodies
about to make contact like bubbles
on a screen-saver,…
‘Nice poetry’ one would say and glide through remaining lines, and that would be missing the core of its magnetism and feeling instead only electric charges. J W Mackail in Lectures on Poetry (Longmans, Green & Co, London, 1914), says:
… poetry, like life, is one thing, but that this one thing is perpetually transmuting and recreating itself in the progress of history. Essentially a continuous substance or energy, poetry is historically a connected movement, a series of successive integrated manifestations. Each poet, from Homer or the predecessors of Homer to our own day, has been, to some degree and at some point, the voice of the movement and energy of poetry: in him, poetry has for the moment became visible, audible, incarnate; and his extant poems are the record left of that partial and transitory incarnation. (xi)
Poetry will become the nobler interpretation of an ampler life. That vision is in the future. (xiii)
Nature, now is being saved as screen-saver. That is the present, and that is interpreted in a subtle manner in the poem. Serenity is getting digitalised, so is peaceful coexistence. It is not human nature that is progressing; it is the natural world that is getting transmuted; it is the ‘eco’ that is getting morphed by human activities. If the partners in the poem, ‘Dancing in the Street’, are to be taken as Mother Nature and ‘manly’ human entity, the meaning rises to a new level of understanding. Then a new meaning emerges:
But no, whoever you are stranger
we have been singled out, then coupled:
partners by chance in this public-private
moment, courting like doves, necks
dipping side to side – even our ‘sorry’
synchronised, both going one way
then the other, sharing this brief fault
in normality, an alternative universe
where bubbles freely merge – our
separate paths set to converge.
Courting is a nice way of exploitation, if one goes by Freudian principles, and that is the only continuous movement happening since time immemorial between Mother Nature and ‘manly’ human entity. It has taken too much time perhaps for Nature to realise the true sense behind human courting. Now the paths seem to diverge, looking at the way She is protesting; yet the separate paths can be set to converge by reestablishing trust, by drawing the attention of all concerned, by taking to dancing in the street to slow down the ‘change’. It is with this kind of mesmerising ‘goggles’ that How To Bake A Planet raises above common poetry.
The poem, ‘Small Hungers’ begins with fidgeting toes but progresses towards,
In truth it had been a grey affair: low – tide:
cold, misty – the pebbles laced with tar,
so instead we have the comforting heat,
clear water in a jug; …
Climate change is now a grey affair, the fickle weather pattern is a punctuated effort of Nature to teach the living world a lesson on ‘mismanagement’. When the poet says, ‘the pebbles laced with tar’, a scared pair of eyes of tar dripping pelican stares at our subconscious eyes, yet we move to comfort, controlling room temperature, reaching out to clear water in a jug, unmindful of tarred sea, tarred ocean floor, melting hotness of world, melting delicate species of the world.
Regrettable warfare, contrasting with colour, is seen in the poem ‘Child Soldiers’:
A genuine soldier looks on, somewhat
Familiar neutral grey tones of an Irish town
but everywhere, patches of red –
the soldier’s jacket, the crimson shawls;
beneath one rust-red roof an unidentifiable
blaze glimpsed through a narrow window;
three scarlet ribbons trickle down
from a paper helmet; the rosy cheeks of
the boys and girls.
The scarlet ribbon that a child wanted so badly that it hurt a father’s heart, is some imagery that no reader will miss, but here ‘conscientious’ word play will create stillness as the reader thinks of excessive ‘red’.
Helplessness faced by gentle souls in this roughed world is seen in the poem, ‘Rest Assured’. The poet’s impulse to leap out to do something is felt by the reader, and the rush of words makes one grab an opportunity to participate in that ‘doing something’ but then it gets down to:
rest assured –
we will have opened our doors
onto normality, re-fuelled
the tanks of convention,
‘First Fruit’ is a poem of life’s force and flags down the reader’s thoughts to halt, feel and proceed:
Neither an apple or a fig – but
a ripe luscious cherry tomato,
a ready to burst red-hot globe, rising
from the ground – wild, fertile,
Poetic thought continues to the next serious tone in the poem, ‘Inflation Theory’, where the poet speaks of ‘Gravity’ of the present situation of our living planet. When said repeatedly, ‘Gravity can only slow it’, the extreme importance laid on the awareness of ongoing environmental crisis pops up. The poet says:
But if we could just outgrow it –
our addiction to inflation: pack it in.
This universe expands, we know it,
Gravity can only slow it.
Though it seems like a plausible solution, it is as said earlier in the same poem, ‘we surely cannot win’. Given the rate at which the planet is deflating, that slowing Her down is beyond mortal thinking is well expressed in the poem, ‘Crunch Time’:
But now the Man appears, kicking
dust up from the asphalt, beckons us
to cross a river of spilt oil onto
the weighing scales.
Though it seems that the poet is talking about an old car going to scrap yard, the bigger picture of humankind treating the planet as scrap yard looms large in the subconscious of the reader.
It is the poem ‘How to Bake a Planet’ that adds momentum to the ‘turning and turning’ poetic thoughts in both the poet and reader, and if the present anarchy is ‘climate change’ then as the great poet Yeats said ‘the centre cannot hold’. In ‘How to Bake a Planet’ a recipe is given and it is already cooked beyond the point of being rightly cooked:
Increase heat gradually, stirring continuously.
Flambé the mushrooms!
Throw everything into a sealed container
with generous lashings of crude oil.
Sealed containers filled with nuclear waste that sit comfortably in oceanic floors, ‘oil’ that has become a new oceanic water layer exhibiting brilliant ‘Interference of light’, disappearing green causing enough envy in a lesser world of ‘dead living’, such things have set the timer; yet the poet says:
Set timer –
‘chilled’ here is not positioned as a word, but as a one word human story.
Zola Budd’s famous answer to a question in the interview ‘The fall’ about her cathartic running, ‘Running was my escape’ is powerfully used to poetic advantage in the poem, ‘Zola Budd awaits Roger Bannister on Mars’ as the poet turns it:
Instead I have the dead heat of this dead planet, where
everything is old news; the
newsreels in my mind repeat themselves in black and
white. The truth is I had to run
twice as far.
Each and every poem in How to Bake A Planet relates to the present crisis in its own way and at the surface level it looks calm and commonplace poetic experiences, but deep down it is in a ‘triple point’ where the agony of being part of the society that is mutilating Nature, helplessness and hope coexist in equilibrium. Day Lewis in The Poetic Image (The Alden Press, London, 1947) says: ‘The poet’s task, too, is to recognize pattern, whenever he [or she] sees it, and to build his [her] perceptions into a poetic form which by its urgency and coherence will persuade us of their truth’. (36)
The pattern of Pete Mullineaux’s thought is revealed in the title of the book, ‘How To Bake A Planet’. The untaught craft of poetry to represent the fluidity of complex thoughts would fall flat if the pattern is not recognised in the beginning, before the poet comes to dance in the street. But when the reader holds firmly his gentle hands, it would be a delightful waltz to the end, reverberating sense.
Thriveni C Mysore is a science teacher from Karnataka, India. She is locally acknowledged for her critical essays and articles on Philosophy and Education. Her books in Kannada on Philosophy and Science have won State awards. Being actively involved in Environmental Awareness Programs, she holds lectures and presentations for students. Amidst life’s complexities, she finds divine-solace in reading Nature poems.
THERE IS an increasing personal belief that a poetry selection should at first be read through fairly quickly, and then revisited at a later date at a slower pace. This will help the reader to a deeper understanding of the why and wherefore of the poems and greatly enrich his/her reading experience.
More often than not, despite poems appearing to be randomly placed in most volumes, there tends to be an underlying narrative present which will become manifest only after repeated readings, a narrative that sometimes comes as a complete surprise to the poet. Yes, there are individual poems that will stand out but the full impact of a collection will only be enjoyed when the reader discovers its narrative voice.
Pete Mullineaux’s third collection, How To Bake A Planet (Salmon Poetry ) is an intriguing example of this poetic experience. In the first poem, ‘Dancing In The Street’, he explores the serendipity of a first meeting that is tentative and unsure, yet somehow full of promise: “This could be the pavement of romance -/random intimacy of bodies/about to make contact like bubbles/on a screen saver, save for the last second/adjustments, incalculable near misses;/and had you been a heartbeat earlier,/me a hesitation later…..”
As the collection progresses, the poet’s confidence seems to grow and about the half way through we find him taking stock in ‘The Dance #2’: “Another day entirely -/this time ready and prepared/for our performance/having practised steps and scales,/date and time of our rendezvous/carefully orchestrated -/…A brief interlude to recover,/pick up the rhythm,/ re-tune the smiles.”
The main landmarks of the journey are paintings and music, beginning with a poem based on the 1879 painting, Jour D’Ete, by Berthe Morisot, and finishing with the ‘Bubble Wrap Blues’ and seven songs. There are also poems inspired by Military Manoeuvres by Richard Moynan and The Midday Meal by George Collie as well as Electric Picnic and what is perhaps the most stand out poem in the collection, ‘First Jazz’:
“Coltrane, cool train/ taking vinyl track/with swerve/and verve, hip dip/curve of life, gravity/ bending light/with thumb/and fingertip/on moon/reflecting keys/ take a winding scale from/the black bottom/of a southern swamp/up past a levee camp moan/through a blood red foam/to the cold blue gates of heaven.”
The journey is not without its moments of doubt and the collection is peppered with a series of ecliptic moments reminiscent of Edward Thomas’s “stop at Adlestrop” railway station, TS Eliot’s “moment in and out of time” or Yeats’s Irish Airman’s “in balance with this life, this death.”
All this adds up to an intriguing and enriching collection of poetry, one that is certainly worth several visits.
Responses to Session – (Salmon Poetry 2011) http://www.salmonpoetry.com
‘Session captures the wit, inventiveness, grace and connection of player to player, of musician to the natural landscape, of seasonal rituals to the deepest desires of the heart. This remarkable collection belongs in the library of every musician and poetry lover.’ (Irish American Music & Dance Association, Minnesota, USA.)
‘With requisite craft he takes you into a world of observed moments, of habits and rituals, leaving you with a more enriched feeling of the occasion at hand…the power of now in poetic terms…a beautifully written work.’ (Trad Connect/Ireland)
‘Session is a beautiful magical book, soaked in waves of musical imagery and sound… written with impeccable craftsmanship, a delight on the ear and begs to be read out loud.’ (The Ranting Beast/Ireland)
‘These reflections and resonances are evocative and insightful. Mullineaux crafts genuine and perceptive surprises. More please.’ Orbis Magazine (UK)
Poems from Session were recently part of a special feature on Pete’s work in FUSION Magazine from Berklee College of Music, Boston, USA. http://www.fusionmagazine.org/irish-poetry-soaked-in-waves-of-musical-imagery-and-sound/
Pete was invited to read several poems from Session on RTE Radio 1’s popular Arts & Culture programme, ARENA in 2014. http://www.rte.ie/radio1/arena/programmes/2014/0117/498624-arena-friday-17-january-2014/?clipid=1398454
Praise has been received from many in the world of Traditional Irish Music, including Martin Hayes, Michael O’Suilleabhain at the Irish Academy of Traditional Music and Siobhan Long (Irish Times)
The book is available as part of the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin and on the Piper’s Club website (Dublin) and through several other traditional music outlets.
‘All things have their sympathetic note’ – Pete Mullineaux writes, and this collection of rare beauty and understanding takes us from the universal presence of sound in nature and everyday life, to its manifestation in traditional music. Here Mullineaux has captured the rituals and subtleties of the form, from the first, sometimes faltering, initiations of the musician through the extraordinary energies and relationships that emerge in performance. Traditional music is characterized by an awareness of the past, place, people, and occasionally protest while its greatest musicians reanimate the familiar tune with surprising additions, changes and often great humour. Mullineaux’s poetry exhibits all of these qualities giving the reader an illuminating insight into the music and the place it inhabits, particularly the west of Ireland.’ (Sean Crosson: author ‘The Given Note: Traditional Music and Modern Irish Poetry.)
Responses to A Father’s Day (Salmon Poetry 2008)
‘Imaginative, innovative, intelligent and poetic…reminds me of the three Liverpool poets, Brian Patten and the others…a fine and beautiful book.’ (Pat McMahon – Head of Galway/Mayo Library Services.)
‘…gorgeous and resonant…with a stunning final blow.’ (Ailbhe Darcy – Stinging Fly Magazine, Dublin)
‘Mullineaux is a profoundly sensitive poet… while some lines are so grimly funny I’m genuinely jealous I didn’t think of them first.’ (Kevin Higgins – Galway Advertiser)
‘…vivid verse that will take the reader on a roller coaster of emotions.’ (Midwest Review – Oregon, USA.)
‘keen-eyed and lyrical…emotional and tender but also humorous, witty and philosophical, this is a brave collection from a wonderful poetic mind.’ (Gerard Hanberry)
‘Simple, luminous images…Mullineaux’s voice carries lilts of John Cooper-Clarke. There are poems here to make one smile, frown, think; the comedian often gives way to a serious poet indeed. A fine book then, and beautifully produced.’ (Fred Johnston – Western Writers Centre.)
‘From punk to the poem of this refreshing collection, Pete Mullineaux has successfully translated his West Country English childhood to artistic manhood in the West Country of Ireland, Galway and Connaught.’ – Richard Montgomery
‘These poems sing of deep humanity.’ – Geraldine Mills.
A Poet Prepared: Pete Mullineaux looks insightfully at traditional Irish music. Reviewer: Anne Marie Kennedy
The Bristol born, Galway based poet, author and playwright Pete Mullineaux knows his way confidently around traditional Irish music. His poetry collection, Session, (Salmon Poetry), dedicated to his mother, with artwork by Fran McCann, is guaranteed to leave his readers wanting more.
The poetry, like the regional variations in the music, varies in style and tone, the common link being the poet’s voice as a silent observer. Mullineaux uses evocative images, insightful observation, humour, playfulness and nostalgia. He is a scrutiniser of intricacies, a watchful eye, someone who listens to the tunes and observes the people who play them. The reader sees the players’ eyes, fingers, their bodies, the body language and the resulting inter-personal and inter-musical relationships being formed. Mullineaux also explores the emotions and psychologies of his subjects with curiosity and admiration.
One of this writer’s favourites is ‘A Piper Prepares,’ where the speaker intimately describes the uileann piper’s preamble. It is a tantalisingly visual poem with so much anticipation in the opening lines that the reader hopes the preamble goes on. ‘It’s almost like shooting up; a captivating ritual / as the belt is looped around the forearm; the buckle/ notched, blowpipe joined to leather bag; a shard/ of cloth, folded between elbow and rib for comfort.’ Mullineaux has the speaker in this poem watch the piper assemble the instrument and describe it in slow motion detail. ‘Drones are attached like pistol silencers, regulators poised,’ and while acknowledging the tune of the same name, ‘the piper’s apron,’ he remarks on the leather patch across the lap which provides ‘protection from the crazed jabs of the chanter, / its manic hypodermic dance.’ As the tune begins, ‘a primal hum vibrates,’ and ‘a gasp/ for air as the bellows fill and suddenly there’s life/ in the lungs and wind in the reeds…’
‘The Five Mile Chase,’ is a tribute to Patrick Street. Andy Irvine, John Carty, Kevin Burke and Jed Foley have their individual stage movements noted and matched to rhythm, playing styles and character nuances. ‘A tilt of the chin for the pigeon on the gate/ a bend in the waist for the stack of wheat/ a wink in the eye for the blue eyed rascal/ a slip in the hip for a trip up the stairs.’ It’s a twelve line piece that could be sung in jig time. Hup!
Mullineaux uses a coupling motif throughout the collection. In ‘The Lads of Leitrim,’ an accordion and a flute player meet up regularly to play a session in a snug in Manorhamilton. The poet compares their ease and joy in the music to a long standing marriage. ‘Could there be a love closer to their hearts/ than this – something to cherish for a lifetime -/ never to part, for better or worse/ in sickness and in health.’ As they launch into the Fermoy Lasses, he declares ‘these fellas are wedded to the music.’
Another couple, Paddy Canny and Frankie Gavin, have their musical communion told with slow lyrical ease in ‘Cave Music II.’ Canny, ‘the elder statesman has eyelids drawn / tight like a mole,’ while the younger Frankie, ‘allows the older man the lead, follows the set tone/ finding his own empathetic touch.’ Mullineaux provides the snapshot, watching the young Gavin who could have closed his eyes, but chose not to. Gavin, who was ‘a generation apart’ at the time, kept watch of the older man, ‘aware how much this moment must be fixed, / treasured deep in his own vaults.’
Watching Dermot Byrne and Floriane Blancke’s playing compelled the poet to write ‘Tabhair Dom Do Lámh.’ Byrne’s accordion sits ‘like a sleeping child in his lap,’ and Blancke ‘leans forward, the harp/against her cheek, listening/ for a heartbeat…’ The poem moves swiftly from the womb analogy, to a child one, when Byrne ‘tickles and squeezes’ the accordion, and like an infant, growing with the pace and momentum of the tune, together, the duo, ‘fast forward, to courtship, / dancing, making crazy love / through music.’
This aptly titled collection, Session, by Pete Mullineaux is a gem. Encore, si’l vous plait? It is available from www.salmonpoetry.com, bookshops and music stores.