Issue 21 – Winter 2011 – Marcus Slease on Michael Zand

The Place of a Lion

Michael Zand, [lion:] the Iran poems (Bristol: Shearsman Books, 2010)


Michael Zand invites us to explore the nature of photography in his debut collection [lion:]Yetno photographs are displayed in the book. The existence of the photographs depends upon language or text. The reader must imagine them into existence through the materiality of language. We encounter the photographs as passages of text – five pages placed at specific stages across the poem, each with reference to one photograph. Each photographic chapter is divided into two sections.

The first section is specific and connects to location. Elements of the photograph are described and highlighted within the context of the whole. The first line is a statement of intent: a first position. There is then a specific shape to it on the page: like an over-extended cliff face, with a wide top and smaller, less substantial bottom. After the cliff, there is a line of reflection, sometimes a challenge or a riposte. Within the first section, words and phrases are clipped and juddered. Each judder is like a pulse that repositions and redirects us around the overall context of the photograph. The judders are controlled through enjambment, the use of full stops in the middle of lines and the break-up of words themselves.

The second section is a dialogue reaching out to us and asking us to consider our own location as a reader.  The material is inter-weaved with found texts, journal notes and other colloquial devices.  Space is left at the bottom of the page for our responses to it. Rather like the letters in Williams’ Paterson, these passages help us to identify and build a dialogue with the poem. They are always instructive in tone and often colloquial and a little confessional. They create a sense of connectivity between writer, reader and text.

In addition to questioning the nature of seeing and photography, [lion:] also textualizes the world of myth. A key figure here is Charles Olson and his idea of the poem as energy transference. The small boy and fool perform distinct functions within a process of energisation. Passages involving the small boy are driven by action: active verbs, sweeping movements, changes in perspective, dizzying prepositions. He essentially runs continuously until he tires at the end of the poem. The fool is more measured – his passages are repeatedly broken lines, to put the skids on the momentum, to transfer more of the energy to us. His verbs are often imperatives, his nouns and phrases are instructive or prescriptive – he shows us the way. The small boy is the instrument for heightening the intensity of the rhythms and language of [lion:] and creating a kind of momentum – to allow us to get swept away by the mythology without accepted a conventional reading of it. Conversely, the fool is used to cool and slow the transmission of energy – to allow us to reflect and find our own space.

There is a forest scene which appears at certain points of lion – this is the theatre in which our exploration of the myth stories takes place. The forest texts are ultimately a direct challenge to the world of myth. First, the fable is left generic and unspecific: the crucial details of the tale such as the moral of the story, the flaws of the protagonists, are omitted. Second, in common with the ecopoetics of Gary Snyder and Maggie O’Sullivan, the perspective of the human narrator is sidelined. It is the forest itself that tells the story. Third, the words and phrases of these passages slowly break down and get remoulded in the image of the forest itself.  Finally, and crucially, the myth stories are shown to be surfaces, under which there is little or no epiphany or redemption. When we finally see lion, at the first version of (the end of it) the forest narrator peels away the surfaces of the myth enigmas, and we discover that there is nothing that lies beneath them.

Michael Zand is a British poet of Iranian decent. The lion of the title seems to represent neither England nor Iran, but something in between. This in-betweenness is achieved through an active dialogical relationship. Foreign words are brought in to English – they are left untranslated and given home registers or speech genres. Foreign speech genres are applied to English words. Grammatical rules are deliberately melted and reconfigured to create new associations and implications. Words themselves are broken down or remoulded to create new realities. False friends appear to hint at cross-cultural linkages that do not actually exist (or perhaps ironically they do, once the false friendship has been established!).  What Charles Bernstein called a world of ambiguous and multi-meaninged juxtaposition emerges from this tower of babble.  As in Allen Fisher’s book length poem Place, location is counterpointed against different times and timeframes with the deliberate aim of exposing similarity, difference and the layering of cultural experience through history. [lion:] achieves dual goals: to both provide an exploration of personal identity through the rites and rituals of an nation and also to highlight the elemental power of myths and myth-stories that appear to transcend national and cultural barriers.



Marcus Slease was born in Portadown, N. Ireland. His most recent books are from Smashing Time (MIPOesias Chapbook Series), Hello Tiny Bird Brain (Knives Forks and Spoons), Balloons (Deadwood Press) and Godzenie (Blazevox). He currently lives in London (U.K.).