Thursday, October 18, 2012

Review of Rawshock in
The Australian newspaper

Geoff Page, August 2012 

Toby Fitch's first full-length collection, Rawshock, has a ludic quality but a darker atmosphere. Many of the poems have dream-like geographies and meteorologies, owing a lot to the French surrealists.

As in the opening poem, On the Slink, they often have an inner-city resonance, not unlike an up-dated version of T. S. Eliot's Preludes ("Bottles in gutters, / alley cats on the slink / under streetlamps that crystallise / in the corners of my eyes . . .").

Following the surrealist influence of Guillaume Apollinaire and others, Fitch is plainly a poet who sees the shape of a poem on the page as at least equal in importance to its sound. Many poems in Rawshock, including the title sequence, are "concrete" poems, weaving their snake-like way down the pages or, as in The Living Daylights, diffusing into a scattered text to match the meaning of what's being said. While such devices are not new (George Herbert employed at least one of them in the 1600s), Fitch doesn't use them spuriously.

The technique is taken to an interesting extreme, however, in the title sequence, which retells elements of the Orpheus-Eurydice myth -- while exactly matching the form of each poem to an en face Rorschach inkblot.

The strategy reminds us of the link between the subconscious and myth but it's not clear to this reader how much is gained beyond what would be apparent through more orthodox lineation.

Despite the enthusiasm of David Brooks and Robert Adamson on the back cover for Fitch's innovations, the best poems in this collection may well be the least shocking and adventurous ones, such as Fluff, which convincingly renders an inner-city dating scenario, and Mannequins, in which shop dummies mimic the mindlessness of those they're designed to appeal to. "If we stand anaesthetised by the / cleaning lady's spray gun, // dressed in the latest, we might blend in, / and late at night, when we're blind, // security guards will make love to us, / though only with their torches."