Ex Nihilo, by Paul Stubbs
Black Herald Press, 30 september 2010
120×160 – 46 pages – 8 euros
Paul Stubbs’s Ex Nihilo is a pocket sized rumble of literary thunder, the first feelers of a language storm that makes the susceptible reader who first opens it, look up at the sky ominously. Holding a copy of Ex Nihilo, the reader is obliged to repeatedly take new bearings, constantly rechecking a mental compass whose needles quiver wildly in all directions, for the long poem within is unlike anything else found on the bookshelf of a smugly stocked Waterstones. In fact it won’t be found on the shelf of Waterstones at all, because it is far too radical and incendiary to sit alongside the bloated dignitaries and carefully positioned courtiers of the Bloodaxe, Faber and Carcanet fiefdoms. The infernal heat given off by Stubbs’s constantly firing cannons means this book must be held in a secure area, away from the carefully tended prize beds and gentle rustling of self assurance inherent to the poetry ‘business’, the poetry ‘society’, the poetry ‘school’, the poetry ‘prom’, poetry ‘please’, the increasingly predictable production line of the poetry ‘industry’ in the United Kingdom. No, it must be held in the head only, and from there a realisation of Ex Nihilo’s importance departs and like a flaming beacon lit from peak to peak, communicates from one reader to another. This is an underground book because it does not seek to flatter tastes already established, rather it seeks to leave a skin even as it grows a new one, to lift the bark suddenly, catastrophically, so the creatures beneath are forced to run madly, blindly into the new light that interrupts their slumber, and that’s the way Stubbs wants it. Stubbs’s is a restless deception-proof poetry that keeps moving on from the page, or indeed off the page, as if this white space is a laughable plot on which to establish a permanent settlement. ‘Only a word thin fragility, this page, bearing again only my own footprints…’ For here passes a tireless vagrant with a weighty sack of religious doubt and existential horror knocking at door after door, where he has been assured a meaningful response will be forthcoming, but behind which only an icy wind blows…
The poet Stubbs has two significant previous collections to his name. The Theological Museum, 2006 (Flambard) and The Icon Maker, 2008 (Arc). In these works Stubbs cemented his reputation for unconventional ‘unscripted’ unremittingly challenging forms. These sometimes sublime sometimes disturbing poetic architectures, over which deep space blizzards seem to continually rake, cast a sometimes majestic sometimes bitter beam into a future void of darkness, a beam whose exact trajectory and final target defies any coherent conclusion. Ex Nihilo should be passed from hand to hand and by word of mouth. It should go under cover of the night in which it was born, so as to avoid being stopped and searched by the poetry society police. This book is so far from the habitual workshop ‘facilitated’ fare, with their deathly diamond precision and priestly obedience to nurture a language they know and feel safe in, which in fact screams to be let loose and to turn savagely on its creator. Paul Stubbs states with visionary confidence and an absence of pretension at the outset of his poem, ‘I begin alone, waiting for my eyeball, like a sun, to rise, and cast out my own shadow from the shape of everything…’ and he ends thus ‘And so imagining how my slack breathing it still sways the grass of a world I no longer have access to, I think on…’ For Paul Stubbs is above all else helplessly corporeally integrated with his poetic utterances. His body and his mind are locked in a fusion that has somehow through virtual existential annihilation constructed a fantastic makeshift raft of language, a useful object to support his mind for the duration, with branches felled from the forest of eventual silence, a platform on which to lie exhausted and drift through whatever remains, after the sanctioned insanity and myopia of his epoch finally give way. One can only think of Klaus Kinski as the jungle inexorably closes in during the finale of the Herzog film ‘Aguirre Wrath of God’, staggering about his half drowned raft and holding up a tiny monkey in his gloved hand to heaven. Paul Stubbs is one of the few genuinely original poets operating at the moment, and his work deserves a wider distribution. Stubbs’s next collection of poems concerns the paintings of Francis Bacon as interpreted through Stubbs’s vision. An enthralling prospect indeed.