How To Bake A Planet
Pete Mullineaux’s How To Bake A Planet opens with ‘Dancing in the Street’ a poem of interpretation of coexistence:
This could be the pavement of romance – random intimacy of bodies about to make contact like bubbles on a screen-saver,…
‘Nice poetry’ one would say and glide through remaining lines, and that would be missing the core of its magnetism and feeling instead only electric charges. J W Mackail in Lectures on Poetry (Longmans, Green & Co, London, 1914), says:
… poetry, like life, is one thing, but that this one thing is perpetually transmuting and recreating itself in the progress of history. Essentially a continuous substance or energy, poetry is historically a connected movement, a series of successive integrated manifestations. Each poet, from Homer or the predecessors of Homer to our own day, has been, to some degree and at some point, the voice of the movement and energy of poetry: in him, poetry has for the moment became visible, audible, incarnate; and his extant poems are the record left of that partial and transitory incarnation. (xi)…
Poetry will become the nobler interpretation of an ampler life. That vision is in the future. (xiii)
Nature, now is being saved as screen-saver. That is the present, and that is interpreted in a subtle manner in the poem. Serenity is getting digitalised, so is peaceful coexistence. It is not human nature that is progressing; it is the natural world that is getting transmuted; it is the ‘eco’ that is getting morphed by human activities. If the partners in the poem, ‘Dancing in the Street’, are to be taken as Mother Nature and ‘manly’ human entity, the meaning rises to a new level of understanding. Then a new meaning emerges:
But no, whoever you are stranger we have been singled out, then coupled: partners by chance in this public-private moment, courting like doves, necks dipping side to side – even our ‘sorry’ synchronised, both going one way then the other, sharing this brief fault in normality, an alternative universe where bubbles freely merge – our separate paths set to converge.
Courting is a nice way of exploitation, if one goes by Freudian principles, and that is the only continuous movement happening since time immemorial between Mother Nature and ‘manly’ human entity. It has taken too much time perhaps for Nature to realise the true sense behind human courting. Now the paths seem to diverge, looking at the way She is protesting; yet the separate paths can be set to converge by reestablishing trust, by drawing the attention of all concerned, by taking to dancing in the street to slow down the ‘change’. It is with this kind of mesmerising ‘goggles’ that How To Bake A Planet raises above common poetry.The poem, ‘Small Hungers’ begins with fidgeting toes but progresses towards,
In truth it had been a grey affair: low – tide: cold, misty – the pebbles laced with tar, so instead we have the comforting heat, clear water in a jug; …
Climate change is now a grey affair, the fickle weather pattern is a punctuated effort of Nature to teach the living world a lesson on ‘mismanagement’. When the poet says, ‘the pebbles laced with tar’, a scared pair of eyes of tar dripping pelican stares at our subconscious eyes, yet we move to comfort, controlling room temperature, reaching out to clear water in a jug, unmindful of tarred sea, tarred ocean floor, melting hotness of world, melting delicate species of the world.
Regrettable warfare, contrasting with colour, is seen in the poem ‘Child Soldiers’:
A genuine soldier looks on, somewhat befuddled, … … Familiar neutral grey tones of an Irish town but everywhere, patches of red – the soldier’s jacket, the crimson shawls; beneath one rust-red roof an unidentifiable blaze glimpsed through a narrow window; three scarlet ribbons trickle down from a paper helmet; the rosy cheeks of the boys and girls.
The scarlet ribbon that a child wanted so badly that it hurt a father’s heart, is some imagery that no reader will miss, but here ‘conscientious’ word play will create stillness as the reader thinks of excessive ‘red’.
Helplessness faced by gentle souls in this roughed world is seen in the poem, ‘Rest Assured’. The poet’s impulse to leap out to do something is felt by the reader, and the rush of words makes one grab an opportunity to participate in that ‘doing something’ but then it gets down to:
rest assured – we will have opened our doors onto normality, re-fuelled the tanks of convention, hand-braked the possibilities.
‘First Fruit’ is a poem of life’s force and flags down the reader’s thoughts to halt, feel and proceed:
Neither an apple or a fig – but a ripe luscious cherry tomato, a ready to burst red-hot globe, rising from the ground – wild, fertile, unashamed.
Poetic thought continues to the next serious tone in the poem, ‘Inflation Theory’, where the poet speaks of ‘Gravity’ of the present situation of our living planet. When said repeatedly, ‘Gravity can only slow it’, the extreme importance laid on the awareness of ongoing environmental crisis pops up. The poet says:
But if we could just outgrow it – our addiction to inflation: pack it in. This universe expands, we know it, Gravity can only slow it.
Though it seems like a plausible solution, it is as said earlier in the same poem, ‘we surely cannot win’. Given the rate at which the planet is deflating, that slowing Her down is beyond mortal thinking is well expressed in the poem, ‘Crunch Time’:
But now the Man appears, kicking dust up from the asphalt, beckons us to cross a river of spilt oil onto the weighing scales.
Though it seems that the poet is talking about an old car going to scrap yard, the bigger picture of humankind treating the planet as scrap yard looms large in the subconscious of the reader.
It is the poem ‘How to Bake a Planet’ that adds momentum to the ‘turning and turning’ poetic thoughts in both the poet and reader, and if the present anarchy is ‘climate change’ then as the great poet Yeats said ‘the centre cannot hold’. In ‘How to Bake a Planet’ a recipe is given and it is already cooked beyond the point of being rightly cooked:
Increase heat gradually, stirring continuously. Flambé the mushrooms! Throw everything into a sealed container with generous lashings of crude oil.
Sealed containers filled with nuclear waste that sit comfortably in oceanic floors, ‘oil’ that has become a new oceanic water layer exhibiting brilliant ‘Interference of light’, disappearing green causing enough envy in a lesser world of ‘dead living’, such things have set the timer; yet the poet says:
Set timer – bake indefinitely… … serve chilled.
‘chilled’ here is not positioned as a word, but as a one word human story.
Zola Budd’s famous answer to a question in the interview ‘The fall’ about her cathartic running, ‘Running was my escape’ is powerfully used to poetic advantage in the poem, ‘Zola Budd awaits Roger Bannister on Mars’ as the poet turns it:
Instead I have the dead heat of this dead planet, where everything is old news; the newsreels in my mind repeat themselves in black and white. The truth is I had to run twice as far.
Each and every poem in How to Bake A Planet relates to the present crisis in its own way and at the surface level it looks calm and commonplace poetic experiences, but deep down it is in a ‘triple point’ where the agony of being part of the society that is mutilating Nature, helplessness and hope coexist in equilibrium. Day Lewis in The Poetic Image (The Alden Press, London, 1947) says: 'The poet’s task, too, is to recognize pattern, whenever he [or she] sees it, and to build his [her] perceptions into a poetic form which by its urgency and coherence will persuade us of their truth'. (36)
The pattern of Pete Mullineaux’s thought is revealed in the title of the book, ‘How To Bake A Planet’. The untaught craft of poetry to represent the fluidity of complex thoughts would fall flat if the pattern is not recognised in the beginning, before the poet comes to dance in the street. But when the reader holds firmly his gentle hands, it would be a delightful waltz to the end, reverberating sense.
Pete Mullineaux, How To Bake A Planet. Ennistymon, County Clare: Salmon Poetry, 2016. ISBN: 9781910669549