Three Cats @ the modern institute

Three Cats @ the modern institute

Nicolas Party returns to The Modern Institute with wry humour that outdoes his countless art historical references

At Three Cats a jug is an elephant, and an elephant is a jug. You’d be forgiven for thinking this is a poorly-translated proverb, but it illustrates the sense that Nicolas Party’s newest exhibition (entitled Three Cats) is full of indeterminate things. There’s a still life of fruit, or perhaps candles. The figures in Profiles are androgynous. The cats in Three Cats lookplacid, yet the painted gallery wall features a green malachite scratch: maybe the culprits are hidden in plain sight?

party1

Party returns to The Modern Institute for the first time since Still Life Oil Paintings and Landscape Watercolours (2013), in a flourish of purples, greens and blues. There’s a similarity to the subject matter in this new show, as Party returns to classical genres such as still life and portraiture with the same droll humour.

Each way you turn, the compositions have a knowing look about them, as if the classical themes have been inserted for added symbolism. There are art historical references, as the supporting statement notes the cats are a nod to Balthus. However, there’s a sense that ‘still lives’ or ‘portraits’ are composed with the very purpose of making us ponder their symbolism. This is most the case in Purple Fruits, where a single needle leans against a bowl of particularly peachy-looking plums. There may be a hundred and one art references to support the work, or perhaps there’s just a wry smile.

Party is at his most dazzling in his large pastels. Four Green Birds and Still Life are bounds ahead of smaller works such as Tree, which lacks the impressive lustre of the larger pieces. However, there’s an integrity to the exhibition that carries the less notable works. Three Cats chimes like a dissonant yet pleasing chord.

[first published in The Skinny, November 2016]

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Curtain Twitchers

Curtain Twitchers

                                            Curtain Twitchers

Oh the hassle of a very good utility area! He bought b&q high-quality repairs
and the staircase in between, horrendous. It’s not just the physical effort
of that front bedroom again, that massive garden. Door framed all that
good space, and I still prefer grass and shrubs to a brain aneurism. They had the flowers
at the bottom of the garden piled with Suffolk pantiles – horrific!
I haven’t used him since he lumped it.
It’s quite a busy street, various services. Some of the stonework was redone.
Beautiful job. Popped in the pipes.

They cleaned up the benches in the flowers and now they speak French.
I got the electrician in I got the gardener in
I forget who’s doing the carpentry, surname is Taylor –
oh he wouldn’t speak to her, I’m still waiting for the bill. I like it, it’s lovely
I’ve got two friends getting married and an extension soon to be knocked down.

The Soylent Fail

The Soylent Fail

The Soylent Fail

in plain view of mum’s cherry pie
i shopped knock-off soylent from my iphone.

the real deal took six months to deliver
and impatient for this powder,

i swallowed the click-bait whole,
tap-paid in euros at the kitchen table.

a legit website is enough to calm
the nerves of a first-time deep-webber,

but i have stalked facebook late at night and
know the sight of a guinea pig, which

as the light pushed my blinds open,
it dawned on me i had become.

the syncopated ring of an incoming skype
ticked the delivery off my to-do list,

but eyes stuck to the shrink-wrap, the label’s type
made me pause before swallowing:

is ‘tahoma’ the font of choice for fitspo hype
or murder by mail-order?

i hold that synthetic banana
should carry a trigger warning.

hungover, there’s nothing better
to curdle stomach matter,

than shaken with tap water,
a chemical talc warm in plastic.

the unopened sachets watch over my kitchen,
gumlessly chewing all that’s convivial.

Lost Gorleston Poem

Lost Gorleston Poem

Lost Gorleston Poem

This Mr Whippy tastes like air, you said.
I gave you pennies stuck with lint,
A gift from the arcade.

 
Then something on the shape
Of tickets issued from machines,
how they looked like tongues

 
And a few (unwritten) lines
On the ker-ching of slot machines,
Or miscellaneous imagery of that variety.

 
This is still a love poem to you,
But because my thumb is tired from scrolling
through fourteen thousand messages

 
Rooting for some lost phrase
That turned too smooth in my mouth
Like a peeled grape.

Poetry for the Millennial Generation

Poetry for the Millennial Generation

If Generation Y were to write love poetry, it would sound something like Jack Underwood’s ‘Love Poem’: “The streets look like they want to be frying eggs/ on themselves. I’m thinking of you and going/ itchy from it. I keep expecting to see a nosebleed/ on the hot yellow pavement. Every thought is/ a horse fly.’ Or perhaps, if Generation Y were to write a collection of poetry, it would sound something like Underwood’s new book, entitled Happiness, and published in August by Faber & Faber. Rather than saying anything as ambitious as ‘Underwood is the voice of generation’ (oh look, now I’ve said it), Underwood and his fellow products of the 1980s Emily Berry (Dear Boy, 2013), Sam Riviere (Kim Kardashian’s Marriage, 2015), and Luke Kennard (The Migrane Hotel, 2009), seem to be forming a contemporary poetry aesthetic with a particularly millennial feel. I might tentatively claim that Generation Y is beginning to speak and its voice sounds a little like what these writers are putting into print.

Jack Underwood

For a poet writing in 2015, to be considered ‘wildly successful’ is to sell around 500 copies of a collection. That’s a tiny figure which says a huge deal about the poetry market in the UK at the moment. What’s more, if you consider the number of friends and family members who are pretty much obliged to buy these authors’ books, and contribute to this figure, the real number of people actively interested in contemporary poetry is even smaller than this number might suggest. ‘Either somebody else somewhere/ is reading this now, or no one else in the entire world is’, as Underwood pithily puts it in ‘Accidental Narratives’.

Writing from this context and remaining relevant is a difficult task, yet Happiness successfully taps into contemporary culture. In ‘Holy Sonnets X’, for instance, Underwood borrows from the student maxim of the importance of a pint of water after a night out, without sounding too ‘Skins series seven’: ‘O drunk DEATH, go home. We like our dying lives./ Have a big glass of water and think about it:/ I sleep in often. I waste my life like rain.’ In ‘You Are Definitely Coming, So Why Not Now?’, death takes the form of a grim reaper armed with an angle grinder cutting necks “like bike locks” before evaporating into the creeping “smell in the fridge”. His images are as contemporary and thrilling as the ping of a message from a match on Tinder.

Underwood has been critiqued for offering poetry with a good deal of instant gratification, of writing ‘indie house’ poetry which sounds great (really great) on first reading but fails to stick with you for even the rest of the day. Think #1 chart hit, rather than concept album that’s ‘a bit of a grower’. Yes, there are moments in Happiness that might fit this description; ‘She Loves You Like’ is a weaker piece that rests on candy sweet images, “she loves you like the delivery man’s knock”, like “parents falling asleep wherever they are”. These moments are however few and far between. In fact, much of the criticism of the collection for its pop appeal relies on lazy negative stereotypes of the millennial youth. Rather than criticising the collection for appealing to a short attention span, we might celebrate the work for accurately depicting the flighty movement of contemporary consciousness. ‘Accidental Narratives’ is a case in point. The listed series of broken images that opens the poem are jarringly disconnected and flit from scene to scene with no overriding narrative. Yes, it is uncomfortable, and like many of the pieces in the collection makes for disconcerting reading, but the collection should be praised for honestly depicting a multi-tasking, tech-savvy generation bombarded by constant interruption. Like a phone vibrating on silent, there’s a distracting background hum to the collection.

Much of the millennial generation still has a student loan, dirty dishes in the sink, and a preoccupation with the question ‘what the hell should I do with my life?’. It’s early to talk about the work produced by Generation Y because most of it hasn’t yet been produced.  But this new collection by Jack Underwood, and other collections by writers in his contemporary circle, might just be a new kind of poetry which can’t (and shouldn’t) be judged by fixed and outdated principles of what makes for ‘good poetry’. It’s natural to be tentative about judging really new work, but it is safe to say that Happiness is a thrilling debut from the forefront of the millennial generation.

disposeable income

disposeable income

Here in this 21st century culinary domicile
a voice from the radio: “we have more
disposable income than ever before”.

Around me a dented ‘happy birthday’ crown,
six plastic hold-all clothes pins, patriotic napkins.

Earlier in the Fitzwilliam, an exhibition:
Renaissance to the Enlightenment,
how the British spent their pocket-money.

Chinoiserie shoes with detachable heels,
a teapot resembling a pineapple, multi-part flexible armour.