Of the many things I enjoyed about Kerf, a collection of ten poems by Gareth Farmer published by the87press, the cover was definitely one of them: a selection of retro illustrations of woodworking tools that sets the tone for this extremely interesting work.
The delivery is anything but wooden, the language here is voluminous, and from the outset we are aware that dense meaning is one of the real themes of the book. We learn from the introductory ‘excursus’ what ‘kerf’ is, and how it relates to the author and the autobiographical poems within. It is almost onomatopoeic, a chafing that stands for the whole; these poems are where the pleasures and explorations in carpentry meet the hewing of life as an individual newly aware of a complex diagnosis of ASD.
Humour and rhythm are found throughout. I particularly liked the grafting of words together, the ‘buffetiquettes’ of ‘Cognitive Loading’ just one example, followed later by the wonderful (and true) observation that ‘It is never appropriate to fondle vol-au-vents.’ This poem also works another wonderfully simple poetic trick (which I won’t spoil by revealing here).
The density of earlier poems falls away in ‘Sssssssstiiiiimye’ that I read as a literal transcription of a unique mind caught in a seemingly simple everyday exchange; followed then by ‘Persona Non Grata’ in which I appreciated the metaphorical crafting described in lines such as ‘Leave body overnight in a cool, dry situation. Remain calm’ (an instruction I can entirely imagine printed on my own metaphorical wrapper).
The final sequence of poems, entitled ‘What’s That: Instead Of Ego,’ is the apotheosis of Kerf, taking us through the process of a project in sections (from ‘inception’ to ‘finish’) and has a more languid flow while still full of Farmer’s alliterative whimsy in lines such as ‘Why the barbs of behavioural bonhomie?’ As stated in the ‘Finish,’ ‘It began as an elliptical idea’ and ended up as a finished and well-sanded piece. The jig, as they say, is up.
Rosa Fernandez is a slam-winning poet and sometime proofreader. She also enjoys wearing silly hats.
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