This collection brought me back to jazz nights at Le Duc des Lombards in Paris in the late 90s with its strained light, stifling smoke and those journeys the sounds took me on; joyous, jerking, juvenile, gyrating, discombobulating, dysphoric, destructive, devouring, divine, the mind always running after that next note, never quite able to identify the melody, overthrown by the chorus, broken by the refrain and suddenly raised by an unexpected pause to catch your breath before it dived back down again. The Gull and the Bell Tower by Kari Flickinger is exactly that; an unstoppable, unrelenting and sometimes unforgiving flight into the syncopated jazz beat where words tremble on the page like strings across the double base. Mingus, Davis, Coltrane and even the Duke are already rummaging through their own ashes for ways to transport rough riffs from the dearly departed to accompany this debutant’s outing.
I read it first from beginning to end but I’m not sure that’s even necessary or the best way to do it, each poem stands alone, this is not purely a collection but a collaboration of perfected poetic hits. A triumph of words that, as it says itself, defies the organised poem, being too fat with words, with depth, with flow, with movement that carries emotion in waves, floods of water, drowning, reviving and drowning again and sometimes both, back and forth, up and down, over and in between these flights of fancy, fear, folly, force, all of which we meet in the very opening poem- wings jumping towards the truth even if the feathers cannot be trusted and, right there, we have been forewarned; this is a journey into what will keep us afloat and the lies that will bury us under the weight of a feather that can turn to steel, lips that can turn to other mouths while we swallow words that, not always comfortably, spiral down the oesophagus, like love, like loss, like life, like the very best jazz.
‘Sound can tell you before you are gone how it was you went’ and it’s all here, waiting for us to hear it, be seduced by it, deduce it and then reduce it to nothing so we can catch the next flight out.
An astounding body of work that does not end when you turn the last page, for it is only then that the questions arise and you are compelled to dive back in to uncover the answers. For like jazz, like life, the rhyme is only accessible when you slip beneath the distractions of the flesh. In the guts of The Gull and the Bell Tower the bones have slipped out from the disguise of the skin and are waiting for you to finally see them. This is not just a debut, it is a revelation.
The Gull and the Bell Tower is published by Femme Salvé Books and is available here…