Thomas Harrison

Adriano Bulla, Ybo' and other Lies (2005) Poetry Monthly Press, ISBN 1-906126-19-0

We all tell lies. All the time. This intriguing and sophisticated collection aptly calls its poems lies. Adriano Bulla, former lecturer, now teacher and critic, shows us that lies are not the conscious distortions of an alleged truth directed at others, but the subconscious confusions of poor souls. We all tell lies, all the time, to ourselves.

In a journey which is itself a chronological inaccuracy, as the author was too young in 1991 to have written the first poems in this collection, as if to tell us not to trust the words of his own poems, Ybo' and other Lies stuns the reader with its extreme experimentalism, its extreme imagery, its complexity, its variety of forms and yet consistency of theme: the disorientation of the post-modern and post-colonial alma.

The collection starts with a series of poems, "Ybo'", an esoteric word, whose meanings is hidden from the reader, a riddle partly explained in its introduction (not included in this edition). Ybo' represents an aspiration, maybe the need to understand, the all-pervasive quest for self-knowledge and happiness. The experimentalism in these poems is mainly linguistic. Words are distorted in a hallucinatory trip into the unconsciousness of ill being. They flow into each other, they melt through constant alliteration in a poetic slur stitched together by suspension dots that not only allow the reader to pause, think and infer, but confuse the rational mind and the phenomenal world, like an LSD trip:

. . .Brought by breath o' blush'd
wind, 't whirls up. . .
. . .obah
lifts, lines. . .
beyond crosses. . . caught
in th'eddy-turnin' windmills?
. . .bein' hurl'd high. . . .

The inability to take control of one's own mind, highlighted by the use of passives, throws the reader into a landscape of Freudian dreams and Christian symbolism where questions only bring more questions, while the answers are hidden in the fog of punctuation and sound:

. . . whirls o' –
. . .–fog?. . . fallen. . . floodin'
. . .inside. . .
mist mincin' my mind. . .

While the soul is dipped into its remotest corners in "Ybo'", the following series "Heaven from Hell" is a conscious nightmare, a literary exploration of the stagnation of the world. Its complexity should not be a deterrent to the reader: the imagery and powerful diction are a continuous reminder that poetry does not need analysis, but understanding and empathy to be appreciated. It is a highly parodic series, with references to hundreds of texts that the literary mind will find exquisite stimuli, or doors to other worlds. Though there are lines in Latin, Ancient Greek, Middle English, French, Italian and even Egyptian, the poem is mainly an English epic.

Its mind-boggling and soul-freezing refrain, "We cannot drop the curtain" is a reminder that there is no escape from the stage of life, and its continuous references to war reflect the conflictual nature of the poems themselves:

After a war, wall still
Facing the winds like stubborn willows:
Whispering and weeping. . .

This apocalyptic vision is underpinned by references to destruction and demolition, "a considerable part of the building / Had already sunk [. . .] / Forgotten the cries of their ruined walls" and again, "Thus, crumbling / Like dry bones in winter" and the need to escape from a reality through suicide, "– We hope we shall hang him tomorrow" which cannot be satisfied because the curtains cannot be dropped.

The poems play with different rhythms and meters, from the regimented hendecasyllables of the "epitaph" to free verse, and at times get stuck in polyglot cacophony, like the broken record of Babylon tower:

Quocumque me verti
Quocumque me veri
Quocumque me veri
Quocumque me veri

Such a complex series is followed by 24 "Flickers", delicate spiritual landscapes that capture subtle feelings through juxtaposition of natural imagery and sounds. These seem to be, structurally, less experimental than the previous poems, however, the experiment here is not with form, but with imagery, and the ambition is to push explore the possibilities of human expression: feelings become the protagonists, if "Ybo'" is is a charcoal painting, "Heaven from Hell" oil on canvas, the "Flickers" are watercolours.

Bony fingers
Against the bloody sun

On tolling waves
Forgetting enamelled
Abyssal skulls
On the white sands

The swollen eye
Of a flayed sky

That lightly ripens
On marble ripples

("Flicker" nr 5)

The collection closes with a group of miscellaneous poems, some of them about war (Under Heavy Copper Heavens') some erotic, like the exquisite "Between Dreams", which captures a moment of intimacy during sleep, paints it white, gives it the hissing sound of sleep through the alliteration of 's' and fills it with the richness of the juices of nature, freezing this split second forever, in a still where dream and reality mix:

As if in dreams, I rest my nose between
Your cheeks – the moon is sleeping on my face
Still wet with love and passion, silver drops
In rivulets of nectar fall down the slopes
And kiss my lips, disclosed like rose to dew,
And drown my face along a milky way
Of satin waves, and find humid source
Of joy – a plump carnation brown and dark
Like loquat nested warm and snug in you;
A silent kiss I stole from slumber's arms.

("Between Dreams")

After so many changes of style and themes, the collection closes with a change of mood. "The Happy One" is a bawdy poem with an extremely quick rhythm which shows no respect for its own nature, Along with "Sots / On the rocks / Like cocks" we find a send up of the most romantic of poems in a new hallucinatory journey, this time not reminiscent of acid, but, more congenially, alcohol, "Trilla lirra by the river [. . .] I wish I hadn't lost my liver."

Ybo' and other Lies is an exceptional collection of poetry for the literati as well as for the passionate amateur. It explores the human soul with heavy strokes of formal and structural haphazardness, smoky landscapes of the unconscious, picturesque watercolours and erotic photography. It sounds like Wagner in "Ybo'", like Beethoven in "Heaven from Hell", like Nick Cave in the "Flickers" and end with the most courageous musical option of all for such refined text: a genuine, bawdy, heart-felt sing-along.