Review: Know Yr Stuff by Calum Rodger

The Pleasure of Pleasure

The thirty-two page pamphlet is a wonderfully flexible athlete without which the world of small press publishing would be seriously diminished. It is ideally suited for polemic, personal artistic statement, poetic experiment and many other handy do-it-yourself items. Calum Rodger uses the space and format extremely well, making a valuable contribution to the pamphleteering tradition.

‘Know Yr Stuff’ takes the reader gleefully into hedonism with breezy zest and knowing wry humour. Given that life is a mix of highs and lows, what we’re given by Rodger is mostly the up-beat side in his sequence of eight poems. Witness the opening lines from the eponymous ‘know yr stuff’,

“When I was a boy

they gave us at school

a little blue book

it was well fucking cool”

The poem floats along on its decasyllabic rhythm in what are essentially rhyming couplets. Appropriately for a piece set in the class-room, the rhythmic ease is suggestive of nursery rhyme. This opening poem sets a narrative tone and trajectory for what follows. However, we don’t meet with the structured rhyme scheme of childhood again, “for that was the day / Metaphysics arrived”, propelling us forward into something resembling adulthood, where one may find oneself in a “pesky existential void”, drowning in “pleasure”, “drunk” – or some combination of these.

For those who like long titles Rodger serves up ‘the worst of my faults is a certain impatient gaiety of disposition’, and for those who like one word titles there is ‘pleasure’. This reader found ‘pleasure’ the most bold and formally interesting poem in the collection. It is part syllogistic-list-poem, part concrete poem and part prose, suggesting unlikely connections with humour and philosophical depth.  Epicurus wrote, ‘we recognize pleasure as the first good innate in us, and from pleasure we begin every act of choice and avoidance, and to pleasure we return again’, and Rodger hints at this notion with his recurrent motif of “cue-routine-reward” which occurs in the second and penultimate poems.

In ‘know yr stuff’ and ‘last poem’ the theme of a highly significant association with another human being arises, so the collection has both balance and artistic intelligence. Rodger depicts a masculinity which is happily absent of violence and other well-known ostensibly ‘male’ stupidities. There is a grasping towards universal pleasure and a lyrical smile in the colourfully titled ‘sexual positions with imaginary girlfriends’:

“spring for lust

bud in a blanket

summer for passion

bloom in shadow

autumn for fucking

all four seasons

winter for love

one dark morning”

and in ‘because I am drunk’, the following lines on trust are presented four times in step fashion across the page:

“trust

trust the set to adjust itself

itself”

Are they a sigh of acceptance, an expression of hope, a plea for ‘trust’ in life’s pleasures? Rodger opens poetic possibilities with ease that makes writing good poetry look like a breeze. It is a pleasure to be in his company.

—Towser

Tapsalteerie, RRP £5.00, 32pp