Poetry Professor Wu's Rulebook

Book review: Original plus DUB


Here’s the premise: a person (poet, artist, writer, musician) chooses a collaborator (another writer, poet, etc.). They share a poem with one another, and then each produces a visual ‘dub’ version/remix of their collaborator’s poem.

Now, perhaps unsurprisingly, as a collective creative ourselves, Nothing in the Rulebook was immediately inspired by this idea, which is behind Hesterglock Press’s Original plus DUB anthology. The concept of collaborative collage and remix stands in itself as a revolutionary act of artistic solidarity in a world in which individual competition has so long been the overarching creed. Simply put, we had to see for ourselves what such a work would look like.

The first impressions of this work are undoubtedly of creativity unleashed. With the variety of poetry, prose, art, illustration, and the shifting styles of each – from more traditionally constructed poems through modernism, post-modernism and more generally at times some works that cross the borders of all sorts of metaphysical cages of ‘form’ that is beyond ‘post-post-modern’ and perhaps, simply, “new”.

There’s so much to take in, to analyse and feel, that to run through each work piece by piece would require an entire thesis. So instead let us consider this work as a whole.

(There’s still a lot to consider).

This is remix; destructive construction; it is, at times, a little bit mad. But there is a strange beauty that lies within the frenetic energy of it all – a beautiful madness within the random that reveals itself as you excavate further and more deeply into the material. Reading the collection, therefore, becomes an exploration – a journey where one repeatedly makes new and unique discoveries, and, crucially, re-discoveries where you uncover new meaning in the remixed versions of the poems.

So to say this is simply a unique or new work is to do it a disservice – there is little way to adequately do justice to how exciting reading the book is; partly because it seems we have been so worn down by the workings of a publishing industry so risk-averse that so many new books are essentially just copies of previously commercially successful ones. It’s refreshing, essentially, to read something that isn’t a prequel, sequel, reboot or celebrity memoir.

The influences of the dub poetry movement provide the anthology with a rhythm and a beat that also highlights the editorial craftsmanship on show here – to create a genuine feeling of engaging conversation. Though this is not a simple dialogue, but a multitude of dialogues. The conversation is a group one, with multiple voices and refrains heard in both real-time and as echoes – so that there is almost a sense of temporal distortion; with memories and feelings about certain poems played back at you; only twisted and refracted, creating something similar, but ultimately entirely new.

There is a danger with putting something like this together in that it becomes too chaotic (though of course, some may say chaos is itself a beautiful force of creation). Yet it never feels like that. Instead, there is undeniably a sense of control through it all, that makes the reading experience not unlike being on a heaving dancefloor listening to a collection to driving songs, all of which riff off one another, blending and refracting themselves and enhancing the beat. That is to say, by the time you put this book down, you may find your mind and pulse racing – you may be covered in sweat, and find yourself blinking at strange lights trying to make sense of the experience you’ve just had. But you will know one thing for certain; that experience was unlike any you’ve had before, and it was totally worth it.

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