TALES FOR A DECELERATED CULTURE: Ricky Monahan Brown reviews An Aura of Plasma Around the Sun by Maria Sledmere

I heard you have a compilation of every good song ever done by anybody Losing My Edge, LCD Soundsystem

Maria Sledmere has heard every band and musician you should have heard,[1] read every poet you should have read,[2] studied every movement that you should have studied,[3] seen every film and followed every director you should have seen and followed,[4] devoured every writer you should have devoured,[5] and scrutinised every artist you should have scrutinised.[6]

When Sledmere writes that [t]here are like a trillion songs about Falling and starts reeling off the artists responsible, she conveys the sense that she could name each of the trillion songs to which she refers. It’s this quality of incorporating an entire world of artistic sensibility – together with a sustained sense of allusiveness – that stretches her collection, An Aura of Plasma Around the Sun, off into the furthest widths, depths and heights.

This new book from the editor-in-chief of SPAM Press, whose The Luna Erratumwas shortlisted for the Saltire Society’s Scottish Poetry Book of the Year for 2022, demands that the reader dive into those depths and rewards the reader who is willing to make that journey.

The references Sledmere makes, to poets of the New York and Language Schools are particularly apposite: the work in An Aura of Plasma Around the Sun leans towards prose poetry and challenges the reader to tease out its meanings.

The first half of the book, in particular, is so committed to an almost episodic prose style that, in parts, it recalls passages from Douglas Coupland’s Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, but from a single, singular perspective. One of the particular achievements of An Aura of Plasma is the sustained nature of its internality, even if the collection is partly assembled from work previously published in various exhibitions, anthologies and pamphlets.

The subject of these poems moves through Glasgow, with and without friends, like Tom Verlaine moving through New York City. The workaday world rarely intrudes; the characters in these poems are unconcerned with employment, except for an occasional reference to a McJob behind a bar, polishing glassware, or a disastrous work experience experience. Instead, this book is always about poetry, or the creation or delivery or study or experience of, or preparation for, poetry.

An Aura of Plasma is always about poetry, but it is about other things, too. Now that the next waves of Covid appear to be on the horizon, there finally seems to be room to write about the first waves and lockdowns of this era.

After writers have been discouraged for so long from writing about the pandemic, Sledmere approaches the subject with appropriate discomfort, but also with ease and grace. She writes of how in lockdown / we touch each other’s faces through glass or make bad negronis.An Aura of Plasma is also about friendship and love and sex and a woman whose back becomes overgrown with wild mushrooms.

There is no doubt that the reader has to participate – and participate fully – in creating the meaning of the poems in An Aura of Plasma, but the reader who is willing to put in this work will be repaid in glittering prizes. Brilliant phrases burst through the longeurs of lockdown and invite the reader deeper in – my love is a seed library; sugar dust, drug store girls; aspartame hours assigned a calorie.

What’s more, the jokes that emerge from ennui sparkle. The poet considers, will the weather be dreich or will I just say that word for effect? There’s a good one about a character checking her phone, then going to untold measures to not – stuffing it down sofas, leaving it on the bus only for some stranger to return it, zipping it on the inside pocket of old rucksacks she didn’t need anymore, and there’s a great one about lockdown and Amy Winehouse and Marilyn Monroe and the police pouring black dye into a popular lake during lockdown. Fans of the Red Hot Chilli PeppersAn Aura of Plasma really is a treasure trove for pop culture obsessives – will enjoy reading of something that sounds like blood sugar / sex frack / the pigs.

The meditation on an outbreak of love, Tender, includes Emma Mason’s and Isobel Armstrong’s statement (in the academic journal Textual Practice) that [y]ou can only talk about emotion by talking about something else.

An Aura of Plasma talks about poetry and the sun and poetry and undiscovered types of orgasm and poetry and sickness and poetry and Glasgow and poetry and somehow, we can touch each other through its pages if we so desire. All of this makes the effort of the collaboration embarked upon by its reader, and the sustained effects achieved by the poet, absolutely worth their while.

Photo credits: Hem Press (top)/Alexander Hoyles (author photo)

Click here to read Maria’s selection of poems from An Aura of Plasma Around the Sun

About our contributor

Ricky Monahan Brown suffered a massive haemorrhagic stroke in 2012. The resulting survival memoir, Stroke: A 5% chance of survival, was one of The Scotsman’s Scottish Nonfiction- Books of 2019. The live poetry, spoken word and music series he co-founded, Interrobang?! won the Saboteur Award for the Best Regular Spoken Word Night in Britain for 2017.

Ricky’s Gothic novella Little Apples emerged as part of the first issue of Leamington Books’ Novella Express series in 2022. His short fiction has also been widely published, including in Scotland, Ireland and the United States.
A stroke awareness ambassador for the British Heart Foundation, Ricky lives in Edinburgh.

[1] e.g., Phoebe Bridgers, Jeff Buckley, Cigarettes After Sex, Billie Eilish, Scott Huchison and Frightened Rabbit, Angel Olsen

[2] e.g., Rae Armantrout, Alice Notley, Anne Carson, Peter Gizzi, Dana Ward

[3] Not least, the New York School and the Language School

[4] e.g., Annihilation, Donnie Darko, Ham on Rye, Jim Jarmusch, Harmony Korine, David Lynch, Morvern Callar

[5] e.g., Jenny Boully, Joan Didion, bell hooks, Clarice Lispector

[6] e.g., Marina Abramović, Louise Bourgeois, Gustave Doré, Johanna Hedva

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The Glasgow Review of Books (ISSN 2053-0560) is a review journal publishing short and long reviews, review essays and interviews, as well as translations, fiction, poetry, and visual art. We are interested in all forms of cultural practice and seek to incorporate more marginal, peripheral or neglected forms into our debates and discussions. We aim to foster discussion of work from small and specialised publishers and practitioners, and to maintain a focus on issues in and about translation. The review has a determinedly international approach, but is also a proud resident of Glasgow.

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