Keston Sutherland and the Forklift

I’ve got hold of Sutherland’s recent “The Stats on Infinity” published by Crater Press but it’s now out of print. This contains one long poem, several sonnets and a poem called “Reindeer”.
The long poem is entitled “The Proxy Inhumanity of Forklifts” and is both complex and challenging. The forklifts and their inhumanity is a reference to the fact that some British squaddies suspended an Iraqi prisoner from a forklift truck and were subsequently prosecuted for this and other acts of brutality.
“Forklifts” is challenging on a number of levels in that there’s a prose section where the text is interspersed with written numbers so that it’s quite difficult to read, there’s a few lines with blank spaces where we’re either meant to guess what should go there or supply our own words, there’s stage directions and the forklifts have a speaking role, some lines appear to spring from nowhere and there are a variety of themes that are alluded to but not really expanded. There’s also a poetised and only slightly amended rendition of Patent 5027473 for a fridge door closing mechanism- the prose version is on the cover.
It’s a much darker poem than Stress Position, the tone throughout is one of barely controlled rage and the ‘sense’ of the piece barely hangs together but this is what is so good about Sutherland, he has this ability to hover on the edge of mania without quite tipping over. ‘Forklifts’ gives us Borders (the bookstore chain), Geoff Hoon, The Waste Land, Dutch Flarf, halon, Marx, Ciudad Juarez and Israeli foreign policy but not in that order.
A pelvis makes an appearance, as it did in Stress Potion. Here the line is; “sh/se had a pelvis like a shrink’s bill in an incinerated ringbinder” whereas Stress Position had; “I, conscientiously synthetic like and alpha hermaphrodite’s PVC / bath water stripped to my gated pelvis, screaming a rhyme for HEAD”. I could argue whether a ‘shrink’s
bill’ can in any way be ‘like’ a pelvis and whether forklift trucks have anything remotely pelvic, but I do admire the way that the motif is carried over the next few lines.
Now we come to bookshops Stress Position referred ironically to the chances of the poem being sold by W H Smith’s and “Forklifts” has this- “…but you were actually sick / Bordersin administration for recalled aphrodisiac”. Sutherland is in the book trade, he and Andrea Brady run Barque Press so this may be just another snipe at a failed bookseller (Borders went bust last year) although ‘recalled aphrodisiac’ doesn’t make complete sense. ‘Borders’, on the other hand may refer to the disputed boundaries around Afghanistan and Taliban-controlled territories of north west Pakistan.
Now we come to the blanks- the word is used twice in the same way “this blank life from routinely going” and “blank life from routinely going out”. Given that the first line doesn’t actually make sense in its context, I’m left to wonder whether ‘blank’ is used as an adjective or whether we are meant to supply our own word. If the first option is the case then it isn’t clear whether Sutherland is describing one life as blank or if he’s referring to life/existence in general. The other more obvious blanks occur when the forklifts get to speak. “Karl Marx” occurs in the middle of the first line, the second line has a gap followed by a comma followed by another gap then “Schmerzesgewalt” then a gap, the third line has a longer gap followed by a comma, a shorter gap and then “the teenage rind” followed by a gap and a question mark. Google tells me that “schmerzesgewalt” means “anguish” but that doesn’t really help with teenage rind so I’ll have to give this some more thought.
“Forklifts” contains one prose section which purports to be the third side of an equilateral triangle, the second being the versified patent text with “out of order” replacing “closing direction” at the end. The prose appears to be fairly straightforward until you try to read it. The numbers that intersperse the words gradually become more complex and disrupt any understanding without quite intense concentration. The effect is quite disconcerting and very effective.
Obviously, I’m going to have to give this much more consideration. What I really like about “Forklifts” is the extent of the challenge that Sutherland throws out to the reader and the sheer intensity that is sustained throughout (patents excepted).


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