Lewis Parker is the poet for hire/street poet/poet busker/guerrilla publisher1 regular readers may remember as the man behind 100 Haikus about Haemorrhoid Cream, which I reviewed back in August.2 Suicide Notes was the first book put out by Parker’s independent publishing house, Morbid Books, and comprised a collection of the poems he had written out on the streets. The term he uses to describe himself in the marketing copy found online about the book is “écrivain public“, which is French (if you hadn’t guessed, you brexit bastard) for “public writer”, i.e. someone who would writer letters and other documents on behalf of the less literate/less literary. These poems, Parker is therefore saying, are written for/in collaboration with other people, as other people have provided the subject/theme. This idea of collaboration was taken further with his second publication, which featured many poets writing on a singular, unpoetic, topic.
Suicide Notes contains poems written to express the emotions and feelings of other people, and where Suicide Notes differs from Haemorrhoid Cream is the average level of emotional depth. Don’t misread me – there are four or five haikus in the collection that – unexpectedly – whirl a reader into a flurry of emotions, but in Suicide Notes we are discovering Parker with a different MO, a different intention, a different aim. This isn’t a collection predominantly trying to get laughs (for even the deep poems in his second book get a laugh out of being a poignant poem about haemorrhoids) but nor is it something trying to showcase poems that have been edited and honed over a long period. It’s a difficult book to discuss, because it’s far more conceptual than I’m perhaps making clear.
Suicide Notes is a beautiful object, 20 sheets of thick paper each containing a hand-typed poem, a sturdy cover with the title printed strong, white on black. This is an object to look and to hold. Parker typed 100 copies of this himself, all of them containing a slightly different book (I read edition #26, fyi). He is unclear about how much each book differs, but implies that the order changes, and some poems appear in some books that are not in others. There are 20 poems in the book, so if every one were to contain solely original verse, that would be 2,000 poems. That sounds like a lot, but it’s less than 7 a day over 12 months, so if Parker was putting out a poem every 5/10 minutes whilst poetry busking, he could well have amassed that number of poems within a year. Sorry, this number-crunching is irrelevant.3
There are 20 poems here. Some are prose poems, some are only a few lines long, some are most of a page (none are longer). Some are humorous, some are dark, some are light and a few have “twists” in the final line. Because this is part of a larger project, because there are poems written in this series that are not within these covers, there is perhaps a collating centre lacking from the book if considered solely as a collection of poems. There are a few pieces that are numbered, ‘Suicide Note no. 7’, for example, which imply a raft of other poetic suicide notes that aren’t here.4 There are pieces about popular culture, about death, about animals and a lot of abstraction. The highlights in #26 include ‘SUICIDE NOTE no. 1’, ‘ABORTION MARATHON’, ‘THE NEIGHBOURS’, ‘DEAD RABBITS’, a pair called ‘WOMAN’ and ‘MAN’, ‘PHOTO BOOTH’ and ‘LITTLE OLD LADY’. Some of these are painful, some are funny, but all capture an image, strongly, and hold it to the light. This is what all of Parker’s short pieces do well, they hold and express a solid idea. It seems somehow natural that he’d progress from this fluid free verse to haiku, something so rigid that it would necessitate him learning brevity with his language, but harnessing his skill at ideas.
Suicide Notes is a beautiful object, and has some great pieces within it. I’m sure from out of these 100 different editions Parker could have produced a traditional debut collection of poems that was presented in a traditional way. But that’s not what he was trying to do here, this was a poetic project to capture other people’s thoughts with his poetic eye. And it works, imo, as a beautiful art object and a solid concept.
It’s not a life-changing collection of poetry, but that’s not what it’s meant to be. It’s literature that’s been felt, lived, written. The method of production is present on the page, with corrections and occasionally misaligned centring. It’s an object that wants its reader to think of poetry as something active, something made, something built. And in that regard, Suicide Notes is very successful.
1. He didn’t use that term, but I think it sounds cool, so I’m going to keep it in. Lewis, if you’re reading this – which you probably are as I’m going to directly tell you I’ve posted this once I have – please let me know if you’d rather that description was redacted, and I’ll change this footnote where necessary. If you read this and get back to me to say that it’s fine to call you that, I won’t touch the footnote, likewise if you don’t comment, but if you do tell me that it’s inapprops I’ll edit the following bold capitals to convey your disapproval: LEWIS PARKER HAS NOT CURRENTLY REQUESTED THE FOOTNOTE BE EDITED. ↩
2. And doesn’t that feel so recent? At least, it does to me. Barely anything has happened to me since. I’ve left London maybe two or three times, but never England. I’ve been to two parties, I’ve had a lot of alcohol-related blackouts and I’ve been working quite intensely at Modern Folk. But in terms of personal development, in terms of writing, I haven’t done much. Oh, I’ve taken up cycling and squash, so I’m technically having a mid-life crisis, which (if true) thankfully promises a death in my mid-50s. The only downside of a Fleming-age death is the hampering of any potential for dragging some semblance of a career out of my existential dust at a later date. Talking of myself, the last few posts I’ve written here have been of a higher literary standard than most for a while, yet none have returned high viewing figures, because the books I’ve been centring my posts on have been relatively niche. This book’s also niche, though I reckon a niche independent poetry publisher is more likely to drive traffic towards this blog than the publisher of Preacher: Book Four. So maybe that means I should be more guarded than usual, maybe anything I write here is more likely to be read by someone I might later meet at a wanky literary event. “Oh, are you the guy who reviewed Lewis Parker’s book of poems and in your review included a discursive footnote that was about half the length of the review and ended with a fantasy imagining what I – a potential wanky literary type, like yourself – might say when approaching you at like a poetry reading or something?” Yeah, that might happen, actually. Time to reel this in. ↩
3. Sorry (again), I’m feeling a bit ropey atm as I’m a borderline recovering alcoholic and have just successfully gone three days without drinking, and am very confident I’ll last through until at least tomorrow evening. As a result of this, my mind is not quite as sharp as usual, though much wider. Alcohol limits your faculties, but also stops you from becoming easily distracted. Though maybe that’s the result of all the Lemsips I’ve been banging instead of my usual negronis. They don’t hit the spot, not like liquor. Not at all, not at all, not at all. I’m easily distracted. I’m hungry. Maybe I should go away and eat something and come back to this. Yeah, maybe that’s the answer. I made a delicious pumpkin, blue cheese and pistachio pasta sauce, sage and rosemary, innit. Great. Onwards. ↩
4. Or is it going for the whole Brief interviews with hideous men thing? I.e. the numbered interviews, with some numbers not included. I doubt I mention that in the linked review, but I’m not going to check as I’m achingly sober and doing so isn’t going to get me any closer to finishing this post and walking my doggie. ↩