Skip to main content

Review - “The Owner of the Sea” by Richard Price

Steve Spence

“The Owner of the Sea” by Richard Price, pub. Carcanet 177pp. £12.99

 

The Owner of the Sea is a ‘rewiring’ based around three Inuit stories which combine mythology with ecological issues and an anthropological perspective which relates to the harsh realities of surviving in an extreme climate. We have a new take on pantheism and these are also some of most weird and scatological pieces I have ever come across. Price makes it clear in his introduction that although he has taken a few liberties with the existing sources these are poems which still have something to say to us today in terms of our place in ‘the natural world’ and the strange symbiosis expressed throughout is at once entertaining and hopefully also thought-provoking. The structure of the poems is pretty straightforward, which is perhaps the best way to present material which involves such shape-shifting and at times shockingly dramatic moments or encounters. It is hard at times to know how to read these poems but as they certainly work on an entertainment level it’s probably best that I give a few examples to give the potential reader a sense of where Price is coming from.

 

          The Owner of the Sea

 

          Who remembers the names of the Owner of the Sea?

 

          She is the Owner of the Sea,

          The Woman Who Would Not Marry.

          The One Who Did Not Want A Husband,

          The Owner Of The Sea.

 

          She Is The Woman Who Was Always Having Sex,

          The Terrifying One.

          The Woman Who Was Always Marrying, Always Divorcing.

          She is the Owner of The Sea.

 

          She is – Don’t name her.

          Say simply the one down there.

          She is the Owner of The Sea.

                         (p 17)

 

          Questions

 

          Is it right for a woman to sew the hide of a caribou,

          but wrong to spear one?

 

          Is it right for a woman to butcher a seal,

          but wrong to harpoon one?

 

          Is it right for a woman to cook a char,

          but wrong to hook it?

 

          There are fewer rules here

          when the hunting families have moved on.

                          (p37)

 

 

There’s a dream element to many of these poems and as they often work ‘in flashback’ it’s perfectly possible to dip in and out of the mini-narratives prior to perhaps reading through in chronological order.

 

          Mrs Wolverine

 

          The truth is the wolverine didn’t have a wife.

          For some reason, females tended to avoid him.

          No problem he said to himself, I’ll just shit a wife.

          He crouched down and shat a human woman right out of his

              backside,

          the biggest shite he’d shot out of his hind quarters

          since he’d eaten a whole caribou a few years back

          (now I come to think about it, he said to himself,

          a diseased beast I found in its death throes,

          tastier than you’d expect, an acquired taste, I grant you, I’ll give you that,

          but I barely left a flake of flesh on the bone.)

                      (p134)

 

This mix of crazy, scatological invention and detail based on hard reality is typical of the narrative flow of these short interconnected pieces which have at their heart a challenge to our twenty first century approach to the world and our place in it. While they may appear strangely disconnected in terms of the mythology there’s an underlying sense of an interdependence between life forms which we seem to have lost but also a rich tradition of bodily description minus an ornate embellishing more common in modern satirical writing.

 

          The giant

 

          When Kiviuq came out of the hole in the universe

          he was close to another shore. He had stopped singing.

 

          In the middle distance there was a huge naked man

          roughly chipping away at an uprooted tree with an axe.

 

          He would take each wood chip and rub it against his penis.

          He’d throw each fleck of wood into the sea and each became a salmon.

 

          The giant had his back to Kiviuq

          and as he got closer he could see he was hollow:

 

          his mouth went in a tunnel straight to the hole in his backside.

 

          He might be sensitive about that, Kiviuq thought to himself,

          and made sure he approached him from side on.

 

          “Hullo, stranger,” said the giant, tensing his hands around the tree,

          “you didn’t come up from behind, did you?”

 

          “No, Sir,” said Kiviuq, “I’ve come from this direction.”

                                   (p161)

 

It may be that I’ve not read enough comparative mythology but these narratives have a very unusual take on creation myths and dream elements and I can only imagine that this has to do with the extreme environment from which they originate. Tom Lowenstein is another poet/writer who deals with such anthropological extremes and I probably ought to take another look at his work. Meanwhile, I’m going to have another listen to Frank Zappa’s Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow and Nanook Rubs It, from Apostrophe which have suddenly re-entered my consciousness.

 

 

 

 

Copyright © Steve Spence, 2022

 

Popular posts from this blog

Review - High and Lonesome: Three Books: Crozier, Prynne, James

Andrew Duncan High and Lonesome : Three Books: John James, Striking the Pavilion of Zero, J.H. Prynne, High Pink on Chrome ; Andrew Crozier, High Zero (Shearsman, 2021; edited Ian Brinton)  The reason why these three books from 1975-6 and 1978 are being republished together is straightforward. Crozier had named a work High Zero , and when I interviewed him in 2003 he conceded that it referred to High Pink and Striking the Pavilion of Zero , and that he had used lines from those two works as keys to develop the High Zero poems from. Publication together allows one to read across and recover a part of the composition process. High Zero was published in 1978, later than the two poems it is a response to. The founding moment is The English Intelligencer , in which all three of these poets took part. This was an attempt to recapitulate the development of Charles Olson, up to about 1950; he was seen as both the continuator of Pound and as having thought profoundly about geography. T

Essay - Whatever Happened to the Poetry Manifesto?

MARTIN STANNARD WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE POETRY MANIFESTO? Recently I tried writing an essay that had the working title 'Why the Meaning of a Poem is the Last Thing You Should Think About'. I felt like I had something to say. It began like this: I can't help but remember what my old angling tutor used to say: “Be careful when you open a can of worms." Of course, he didn’t say any such thing, and I never had an angling tutor, but writers, and perhaps especially poets, can say anything and get away with it, because . . . Actually, I'm not sure why. I'm not even sure if it's true. If it is, it shouldn’t be. And I'm not sure about that, either. I think it's probably best if we accept a certain degree of uncertainty and subjectivity and other words that suggest everything is open to argument and get on with this. Just because something is open to argument doesn't mean it's wrong. Later (about 3000 words later) I decided I was on to a loser.

Review - "Bright Angel Proof" by Nick Power

Charlie Baylis Bright Angel Proof, Nick Power (£10, erbacce press) In the spring of 2016 a writer from the small Northwestern town of Hoylake, Nick Power, took a trip flying around America on budget airlines, soaking in all its big ticket tourist attractions and gaudy glories. The trip, and Power’s poems about the trip, come together to form Bright Angel Proof , a collection which evokes beat generation myths of a mystical America, but behind the lines Power knows that the beat generation era is done and perhaps was never really there to begin with. Power is too late to join the ranks of Ginsburg, Kerouac et al but at least he suggests that he might have something to say, which is more than most contemporary poets. Power attracts attention as a kind of modern Burt Lancaster, an adventurer of compelling (North) West Coast vibes and easy going company who, like Lana Del Rey, has ‘feathers in his hair...c hurning out novels like Beat poetry on Amphetamines.’ Power’s companion on the