Oyster Boy Review 17  
  Fall 2003
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The Order of Things

David Preece

The Order of Things: An Anthology of Scottish Sound, Pattern and Concrete Poems.
Ken Cockburn & Alec Finlay, editor.
Pocketbooks, 2001.
208 pages, £7.99 (paperback).

This varied and extremely enjoyable little book has as its core an exploration of the concrete poetry that blossomed in the 1960s in Scotland, primarily the work of Edwin Morgan and Ian Hamilton Finlay. These writers took the form, already popular in places as disparate as Brazil and Germany, and made of it a particularly Scottish variant, based on sources as disparate as fishing boat numbers, Gaelic song, bagpipe music and birdsong as in this excerpt from the poem "Twittering":

Fa liu o ho ao ri o ho ao o ho
Svirrr-r-r rrerererere drrit kokokoko
Air farail ail o hao ri uh-POOMBH ri ho hill eo
KolloRAP-kooloRAP gan-HONK bheep-bhibew . . .

This may sound initially abstruse, the kind of book that may be of interest only to a handful of readers (say, people doing a PhD in poetics). However, nothing could be further from the truth. The book is shot through with a particularly Scottish sense of the absurd and many of the poems are hilarious, particularly when read out aloud (such as the Loch Ness Monster's Song, by Morgan).

Moreover the editors cast their net wide, making explicit the connections between concrete poetry and the greater poetic tradition. Thus links are made with the Dada poems of Hugo Ball, children's playground skipping rhymes, and even the Iliad. Within these pages the Latin names of native wildflowers nestle next to a selection of street names—all chosen for the poetry of speaking them aloud. Latin, Romany, Glasgow-dialect and pure unadulterated gibberish have equal validity with "proper English"—by virtue of the sounds they make. For such, in this book, is "The Order of Things."

The book is beautifully typeset by Colin Sackett, who has created a unity and order from the most disparate of source materials. The sheer beauty of the book as a thing in itself is reason to buy it. Even better, the accompanying CD provides acts as a taster for the book, allowing the listener to sample a range of poems, ranging from the humorous to the sublime. Not perhaps a book to sit down and attempt to read from cover to cover, but a perfect "bedside book" to dip into on a lazy Sunday morning.