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Bog Docks by Gary Cummiskey

Michelle McGrane

Bog Docks is the latest collection of poetry from Gary Cummiskey, author of The Secret Hours, Lost in a World, Visitations, River of Dreams, When Apollinaire Died, Head (with Roy Blumenthal) and Reigning Gloves.

The presentation of this slim, stapled publication is high-quality, with close attention given to detail. The author has chosen to illustrate the front cover of Bog Docks with an intriguing ink drawing of his own that stands out in effective contrast to the stark white cover.

The title, Bog Docks, is taken from one of the poems included in the volume and most of the poems have previously been published in South African journals such as Carapace and Fidelities, or online.

Cummiskey opens the collection with the poem "What they do", beginning with the lines:

When they get their hands on her
the wild-haired girl
with sparkling eyes
they will do their best to destroy her

Be warned, this is not poetry for the lazy or timid who are hoping to be lulled to sleep by sweet, soporific verse. Many of the surrealist-inspired poems in Bog Docks hurl defiance at middle-class values, commercialism and conformity, while showing understanding and sympathy for the lost individual, the artist, the dreamer, the outcast. Showing a gritty attitude towards suburban pretension, Cummiskey is a man who describes himself as always having been "a bit of an outsider".

Jean-Michel Basquiat, an artist who died of a heroin overdose at the age of twenty-seven, made an impression on Cummiskey which is reflected in the poem "Basquiat".

We are the ones that massacred morning
We are the ones that made colours commodities
We are the ones that let junkies die
We are the ones that ate off polished silver and spat quietly
in the corner
The ones that wiped the words off the wall
and sent love sprawling into the gutter
We are the ones that faked success
We are the ones that dragged dreams from the night
We are the ones that ravaged the summer
We are the ones forever outside

It becomes apparent when reading Bog Docks that Cummiskey's writing has been somewhat influenced by the Beat movement of the 1950s and writers such as Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso and Ferlinghetti. His work contains hard-edged commentary on the schizophrenic and frequently brutal nature of contemporary society. Its mood is often uneasy or angry, one of restlessness barbed with pain.

The sinister "Supermarket" illustrates a dark and edgy humour. It is strong poison.

It is a supermarket grown out of the sky. Disenchanted
wanderers come from miles around to shop.

Strolling through the aisles, I notice that the shoppers all
have empty eyes: they are dead, zombie-like.

'What are you doing?' I ask one of them. 'What right have
you to be here?'

'Even the dead need to eat,' says the hungry corpse, loading
cornflakes into his trolley.

"Still life" is spare and immediately recognisable, leaving a bitter aftertaste in the mouth.

an empty bottle
a blanket
in a deserted alley.

In his most recent volume, Cummiskey illustrates that he is not afraid of experimentation and risk-taking with structure and form. The twenty-eight poems comprising Bog Docks are diverse in length and vary from surreal dream narratives and prose poems to cut-ups.

Cut-ups, Cummiskey explains, were more or less invented by the Dadaists and are created by cutting up magazine or newspaper articles, taking headlines or phrases and stringing them together to create startling images and messages.

Cummiskey takes the surrealist view of poetry as a weapon, a magician's wand, not to create false worlds or dupe people, but to transform the world. He is an artist who sees poetry as a means of change and liberation.

Bog Docks incorporates innovative poetry of concentrated energy and avant-garde spirit. Cummiskey offers his readers an alert imagination and a strongly original mind. He does not pander to political, social or religious programmes. Love or hate his work, this is a poet who is unafraid of sticking his neck out in order to declare his truth to the world.

Bog Docks (ISBN: 0-620-33553-X) is available at better bookstores countrywide, and is also available directly from Dye Hard Press, P O Box 783211, Sandton 2146, at R30 per copy, including postage and packaging. Cheques should be made payable to Dye Hard Press.

LitNet: 13 April 2005

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