WHEN we read something – whether it’s a work of literature or an instruction manual for a dishwasher – we usually expect it to reveal its meaning to us more or less instantly. What is the point, after all, of writing something deliberately obscure or difficult?
Interference Pattern | J O Morgan | Cape Poetry, £10
In his latest collection, however, the Scottish poet J O Morgan flips such conventional wisdom on its head. These poems seem to ask: when almost all the reading matter that exists in the world is already obvious, what is the point of adding to the sum of obviousness? More interesting, surely, to look at the possibilities of the non-obvious – to experiment – to find out what happens to a human brain accustomed to reading things that lead it from A to B to C when it suddenly comes up against something that flits from Q to L to Z. Can words on a page communicate meaning to us in oblique, nonlinear ways that we don’t yet fully understand?
Interference Pattern teases us at every turn, inviting us to try to unlock its secrets while keeping the keys just out of sight. The title is certainly suggestive of an overarching authorial design that has been deliberately obscured, and the way the typography alternates between italics in one poem, Roman in the next, also seems to allude to some sort of system, an understanding of which will suddenly illuminate the whole.
Having tried reading the book in various different ways, however (poems in italics only, poems in Roman only, etc etc), I think the connections between poems are more subtle and more random than they initially appear. The multifarious voices in the book mostly speak over each other but occasionally to each other, creating an intricate web of echoes and half-echoes. Do the voices recur? Does, for example, the voice that speaks of the benefits of corporal punishment in one poem belong to the same person as the voice that, in another poem, metes out violent justice to a foul-mouthed hitchhiker because of a “firm belief in discipline”? It’s impossible to say for certain. Another of Morgan’s anonymous voices perhaps gives us the closest thing to a key to making sense of it all:
It’s akin to a Venn diagram where one circle is me
the other her, though that minor overlap is not
what we share, it represents our differences