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Dan Disney reviews Andrew Spragg

Andrew Spragg – OBJECTS

(High Peak: The Red Ceilings Press, 2014. Paperback, 48pp, £7) 

Reviewed by Dan Disney

This book of dire imaginings is a forecast in which the weather turns sublime, the poet mapping trajectories of our presently mutating contours of reality to an imagined near-future. In the epigraph to OBJECTS (the title functions either as a verb or noun), Spragg signals his intentions: ‘The other aspect of this present is what I shall call a sinking in (Sartre)’. In the first poems, Spragg turns his attentions to the irreality of objects, defamiliarizing all he apprehends: a ‘plane passes and bumps up against a limit’; elsewhere, ‘the Scrooge McDuck tumbler sat in the kitchen’; indeed, this book is filled with uncanny snapshots (‘a boy fires his cap gun into the ground’; ‘old bunting hung from balloon cables’) and, at least initially, time is one of the objects Spragg sets up for appraisal. The first poem, ‘#1’, begins –
To begin with there is the sensed week, a long try at motion,
and by the narrow edge we can in assurance see it
as an event or as a coming eventually back.
Two ways the mirror holds the object, knowing nothing of the object
but knowing something of being an object. The week is known by increments … 
Re-reading these lines as meaning-filled (ie and not mere sophistry), Spragg is resisting the intelligence almost successfully; conflating the function of mirrors and time, he seems to be telling us how we are objects framed within mundane temporal dimensions (width, length, depth, space, and time, which mirrors us). Further in, and the poem ‘on Berkley’, explores how surfaces are (counter-intuitively) ‘unbuffed except by touch’; Spragg then surveys how we ‘Squander by rote … Centuries of marauding abound and become, in any event, theme park trinkets and scent candles’. What we touch in time we turn into baubles, the grey goo of the marketplace, a collective Midas touch in reverse wherein our phantasmagorias come to be populated by ersatz glitz or, worse, the effluence of commodity fetishism gone wild (‘The aircraft underside illuminated in the toxic algal bloom’, etc). 
Four poems in, ‘This functioning view’ establishes a narrative logic: Spragg is imagining a flooded, post-object world and his text surveys vistas where – 
The rains came. The rains came. An erasure. The rains came. The scent of burning rice. The rains came. On consultation it was communicated that statue had no present name for this. The rains came. The objects that float were buoyant. The rains came.
Just like the biblical narrative of Noah’s boating across oblivion, Spragg’s testamental imaginings are driven by a measured discontent – the overarching tone of this book is that soon enough we’re all going to cop it, and that for some of us (recalling the epigraph from Sartre), this unavoidable fate is only now beginning to sink in. On the Red Ceilings Press website, poet Jonty Tiplady calls OBJECTS ‘A rare and budding song of the anthropocene’. Indeed so, but OBJECTS is also a fabular tale in which Spragg imagines his narrator wanting – 
to write the story of objects, all of them under the water. In efforts to remember them and their locations we attached great cables and buoys. That doesn’t work, as we grow sick in our boats and wonder what objects looked like.
In creating a zone in which the world’s things have disappeared, Spragg foregrounds how we are always-already blind (replace, say, ‘water’ with ‘neon’ or ‘data’). The anthropocene cannot be misread as a future event or calamity, and Spragg gives us a book in which paradigm shifts are read as already well underway; OBJECTS is written from a place (the ‘present’ alluded to in the epigraph) where ‘objects (are) brought ashore upon the vagrant tides’ of capital by an interpellated, alienated workforce ensnared in its own false consciousness and potential demise.
In drowning domains of former excess and spectacle, Spragg ratchets up the irony, but never in a celebratory or meta-spectacular mode: in ‘Hand me the merry’, the poet exposes the logic of desire as supremely absurd, immediately redundant in any post-collapse milieu –
lobster bisque, bisque, lobster bisque. The world
came as a damp note and bust its roof, and all we ate
was lobster bisque. Eating shrimp in Zaragoza, locked up
and fingers stained red with the eating. Hand me the merry
serviettes you auburn beauty you, nothing here is a surprise except
that old switcheroo. See that thing, your want, well that’s now you.
Shifting from the logic of exchange back to use-values, in this texts Spragg points toward how we’ll return to survival drives (still sated, but no longer by market conventions), a covetous, post-deluge species still turning what we touch to sludge. His allegorical text is indeed a budding reverie, if by that term we can agree to the etymology (to ‘push forward’, or ‘thrust’); at heart, OBJECTS understands the recognizable patterns of human behavior as objectionable but unchangeable and, therein, our uncertain future as inevitable. 
22 May 2015