Review of KULTURKAMPF in Poetry New Zealand

Brentley Frazer. Kulturkampf: Selected Poems 1995-2015. ISBN 978-0-9941861-1-9. Brisbane: Bareknuckle Books, 2015. RRP AUS$ 15.95 (+ $5 p+p). 114 pp.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, most young poets were constrained to write parodies of The Waste Land. These were all much of a muchness and best forgotten, but Brentley Frazer’s new book presents ‘A Greener Pasture’ – one of the better Eliot parodies I’ve read. It starts out:

April gets hot here, lizards mate on cracked footpaths, pre-mix aluminum Bacardi cans stir desire for the drought to break; memory of dull roots, thirst for rain. Couldn’t get warm at all last winter, it figuratively snowed.
(‘1. She Kissed Your Arse Goodbye’)

The full poem moves along briskly, making sense in its own world without the painful hiccups that parodies often suffer while proving how witty they are. And how has this wondrous event come about? According to the author’s abstract on, he has used a combination of two oulipo devices, homophony (imitation of sound) and homosemantic translation (imitation of sense) (more or less!). It isn’t The Waste Land but it feels like The Waste Land, a very good exercise if you can do it, and he has certainly done it. A difficulty (or success) in writing with many constraints is that if you are doing it very well indeed, the trick is hard to spot – unless it is a conspicuous one like dropping out a particular vowel or punctuation mark. I suspect that most/all of the poems in this book are done with specific constraints in mind, which means it’s nearly impossible for me to comment on Brentley’s technique. He has elsewhere spoken of his devotion to E-Prime (English Prime, dropping aspects of to be), but I have no idea how to spot the technique in use. The poems are all readable and fluent, even on vastly different topics.

A second suite of poems is ‘A Factory of Shadows’ – again I can’t guess the constraints, but it feels like a free-for-all version of The Divine Comedy with a mega-cast: Lucifer, Krishna, Jesus, Shiva, and Buddha (for starters) emote back and forth while going in for a good bit of derringdo, ending up sounding like open-mic night complete with fencing foils. But the topics are all tried and true ones, ones for which we have no solution yet. One character begins:

– I am the Son of a Star. You won’t find what you’re looking for here, in The Factory of Shadows. All of this is an illusion; you have been institutionalized by language, concluded values based on an error in your understanding. You are in a cemetery disguised as side-show alley, and is answered:

– Ok…wow! I said, gesturing him to sit. That’s random. How do you fit?

The debate gets heavier, and answers appear imminent. Then:

And I, intoxicated with the wine and the hash Shiva had provided and the pulse of the music, forgot my place. Damn you, Dark Lord, I shouted. Now I’m right back where I started. (all from ‘4. Fornication Boulevard’)

And that’s it. A virtual person from Porlock (who has already appeared hither and yon as a place-holder for Prufrock) stops the clock again. That’s a major constraint, if you want to look at it that way … unless, I guess, you’re from Porlock yourself.

Read the full issue of Poetry New Zealand Year Book 2 2015