miguel-cullen2

Wave Caps by Miguel Cullen

miguel-cullen2

Wave Caps
Miguel Cullen
(artwork by Alix Janta-Polozynski)
Odilo Press, 76 pages,
978-0992863609

Jonathan Catherall
Miguel Cullen’s first collection, Wave Caps, is an uneven read. It’s the only publication so far of Odilo Press, set up by Cullen, a journalist, and Alix Janta-Polczynski, who illustrates the cover and provides three more illustrations inside. The website of the press declares its aim to ‘create a new, fresh frame of reference for contemporary verse’, aiming to ‘give this uniquely deep and dangerously personal artform an edge’ by focusing on ‘Urban music / Outsider Art / marginalised societies / intimacy / fear / London cultures / Modernist poetry / Diaspora culture / and all themes that the current scene doesn’t talk of.’ Whether or not this highly contentious assertion is true, Wave Caps can at least be said to be ambitious enough in attempting to compensate for this perceived lack, though its success in doing so is, at best, patchy.

The blurb for the book emphasises the juxtaposition of high and low, ‘pavement-pounding street demotic with the mandarin modernity of Ezra Pound’. As far as the demotic is concerned, Cullen is best in the longer, breathless, stream-of-consciousness forays through London, such as ‘UK Apache’: here, there’s a devil-may-care linguistic play, an eclecticism, a muscular urban rhythm that speeds the reader onwards in an eddy of sound and sense:

One finger can’t crack lice

Ole Kent Roe:

Skull mown with tramlines,

Riginal ragamuffin, whole trees,

Gs, fweas, filigrees, breeze

The urban music theme through the collection feels genuinely lived in – ’20 Wave Caps’ is a track by Earl Sweatshirt, incidentally – and is supplemented bizarrely by the inclusion of a gizmo inside the back page, which when you press in a particular place, treats you to a ragga rap. A similarly surreal edge can creep in quite entertainingly in places, as in ‘Acacias Negras’:

We gazed incandescent for ourselves

Fort-ly – cabbaged – our sim-cards weren’t straight

For-ly

There are quality lines in the more reflective pieces too, as in this beautifully weighted phrase addressing an unspecified listener in the eponymous ‘Wave Caps’:

You are there, you’re the motion of all the brambled

Random exhalations from the core, that the sea contains

Other elements, however, convince less. There are truly duff notes – ‘Octillion’ for example begins with an off-colour and seemingly unintentional parody of Eliot:

I have known it all, the afternoons, the mornings, and the nights…

Have you known this night?

Sky Lock by Miguel Cullen (The Literateur, 9 July 2012):

The town’s crop
Beneath the coy spring sky.
The churning mercury of cloud
Conceals an etiquette to be observed –
These wheels are notched –
There is a code.
‘Mi yegua es la luz mala
De las crines de carbon’

The safe’s aeolate configuration
Solves.
The bow arcs
In pure pulse
And blows a white dart
Through the twelve axe heads.

Cullen might also have benefited from early modernist injunctions regarding impersonality. There’s a lyric casualness which relies on the romantic staples of the soulful poet addressing too-frequent skies, stars, seas and mysterious shes. And there are serious questions about the political naïveté and apparent lack of irony in a text like ‘Dia Tribe’ which luxuriates in characters who are or know the nobility, or one which makes apparently dubious associations, as in ‘Gravediggaz – Niggamortis’

Speaker’s Corner will be massed

With Arab families having picnics in four months time;

Kicking footballs against Marble Arch

Was our form of urban terrorism—

In all, there’s the kernel of a voice emerging, but the editorial pruning-knife needs to be wielded much more vigorously.

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