Robert Herbert McLean’s ‘Pangs!’ — Notes from an abandoned review

thoughts are expressed and then repudiated — revisionary, impulsive (and sometimes repulsive), suggesting, like its title, that — lived through desire’s pangs and that language is not so much the container or medium for pre-ordered subjectivity but its waste product, — known by the whistle of its passing rather than its form or shape as it goes

not that a poem follows the creation and curation of a self, but rather McLean’s poems are that self in the act of revision

Despite then being interesting in theory, the book itself is boring. You flick through the ~70 pages of ‘waste material’ — the book is bound like a flipbook — and stop here and there, you put it down and pick it up again, you read some lines at random:

Fond bends of the bob and tug of love giving over as if an illegal fireworks display. Swans
are the best friends of a shoe seller’s ghost. I told her she’s the coldest witch of any winter.

This restless phrase-turning goes on and on.


Between 2003 and 2015, Arts Council England awarded £13,229,179 for poetry projects under the Grants for the Arts scheme.

My pamphlet RETURNS is published by If a Leaf Falls Press, in a run of 30. Apparently now sold out, copies are available from me if you want one: charleswhalley at gmail dot com.

Review of SJ Fowler’s ‘{Enthusiasm}’

My review of SJ Fowler’s collection {Enthusiasm} is published on Sabotage. This has taken me months to finish, so I’m grateful (as ever) to the patience of my editors. It’s an interesting book coming in what seems to be an exciting time for Test Centre, who are publishing consistently good stuff. I’m glad it exists.

In the review, as well as discussing the ‘mainstream’ as a necessary fiction, I describe what I think a real contemporary successor to the historical avant-garde would be: weird and uncool; written by/representing the marginalised; probably unconcerned with the rarefied theorising that weirdos like myself enjoy; and, most importantly, coming from within a broader context of political activism within the literary community in a way that addresses poetry’s position in society. I also look at the troubles with contemporary poetry that positions itself as ‘avant-garde’, and how that positioning, almost in itself, demonstrates the problem of its institutionalisation. In short, I argue that a contemporary avant-garde (or, rather, poetry furthering the avant-garde’s historical aims) might be possible, but that {Enthusiasm} isn’t it.

It’s perhaps a little unfair of me to use a review as a starting point for a discussion that ultimately condemns the book in question, when, for the review itself, the book deserves to be praised. However, Fowler’s book, and his positioning of his work, are a provocation towards some useful thinking. Hopefully it’s not just me who’s interested.