Review: Flood-Junk by Sean Magnus Martin

Sean Magnus Martin, Flood-Junk, Against the Grain Press, 2018. ISBN: 978-1-99979-0-721. £6.50 including P&P.

Flood-Junk is a darkly beautiful pamphlet by Sean Magnus Martin, published by Against the Grain Poetry Press in 2018. A strong and unified pamphlet crafted around various objects washed up, or left behind after a flood, Martin gets his reader to begin thinking about the aftermath of wreckage in a whole new way. From cars and cannonballs, to lawnmowers and clarinets, Martin explores how cataclysmic events, such as a flood, displaces ordinary objects from their original context. This displacement is explored both in terms of space and locality, as well as time, and is bound to broaden anyone’s mind when it comes to the perception of “junk”.

The opening poem, for which the pamphlet is named, is an impressively haunting speculation of the aftermath of the biblical flood. Martin imagines Noah’s children stumbling across objects and animals from the pre-flood world. His descriptions are direct and therefore vivid, resonating with the reader throughout the rest of the pamphlet:

            So when the children,

            playing in fields

            happen upon a horse

            skeleton, hanging in a tree

            faded and preposterous,

            what can he tell them?

In this poem, Martin begins asking questions he subsequently examines throughout the rest of the pamphlet. He asks how you explain something so far removed from what is expected, how to explain things that are not where they should be and interrogates the idea of a flood as a process of cleansing. Instead of focusing on what items, or beings, a flood clears away, Martin examines these items upon their reappearance.

Whilst Martin typically focuses a on a different item of flood-junk in each of his poems, ash and driftwood are of the few recurring items explored in the pamphlet. In an interview with Against the Grain Poetry Press he describes these items as being, ‘the closest I could get to creating characters that belonged to the flood’. These items near-characterised personas become realised through Martin’s use of personification of ‘Ash’, and is particularly powerful in the poem of the same name:

            Ash

            cries as his father carves him,

            makes him into something

            he was never supposed to be

            As the old man works, he hums

            a lullaby.

Structurally, the poems tend to have similar line lengths. In the poem ‘Car’ this technique creates a solid chunk of densely packed text on the page, yet this mass of words is crafted with depth and nuance. The interplay between structure and language makes for an amazing reader experience, as it challenges expectations on a visual level, while the words construct their own revelations too. In emphasizing the mass of the poems, the poems appear as solid as the objects they describe, and the accumulation of lines seem to reflect the accumulation of objects throughout the pamphlet. The poem ‘Car’ is definitely a standout piece in the pamphlet; dark and eerie to begin with, and even more so when least expected. Similarly, the poem ‘Cruiseliner Cavern’ combines normality and tragedy, reinforcing the contrast between the two. This returns to Martin’s exploration of how ordinary objects and places become distorted when they are stripped of their original locality, purpose, and context by the cataclysmic events of a flood.

In the latter half of the pamphlet, Martin explores the remnants of other cataclysmic events such as, ‘the ash / people of Pompeii’, ‘the bog bodies, preserved / in peat’, and ‘Hiroshima and Nagasaki’. The horrifying nature of these events, and those like them, necessitate no long explanation from Martin. Instead, he returns to the theme of cataclysm resulting in displacement, allowing these people ‘to emerge / thousands of years out of context’.

‘Flood-Junk II’ marks a transition from the observational emotions Martin’s narrator conveys, to that of personal emotion. The introduction of the narrator’s father, and description of a childhood memory cements the previously observational poems in a context of personal experience:

            When our world drowned, there was no cataclysm,

            no event, no ending to end all endings.

            There was simply:

            a house,

            a basement,

            and a hole that couldn’t be plugged.

The brief return to the human inhabited world comes to remind the reader that these events do not happen in a vacuum. As with the opening about Noah and the flood, the repercussions of a flood are far from cleansing, but damaging. Mixing the narrator’s childhood memory with the adult narrator’s hindsight, Martin creates a touching poignancy that is eerily beautiful to read.

Ultimately, Flood-Junk is a thought-provoking and beautiful read. Martin takes our expectations of junk and crafts stories that gather into a wonderful narrative from beginning to end. The interplay between time, place and context is such an interesting theme and is cleverly explored in a variety of ways that will keep the reader thinking and may even make them pick the pamphlet up for a second time.

 

Beth O’Brien

 


 

You can buy Flood-Junk here.

Beth O’Brien (she/her) is a third year English Literature student at the University of Birmingham. She has published poems with Foxglove Journal and Nine Muses Poetry, and is a reviewer for Mad Hatter Reviews.She has also written articles for sheswanderful.com and the Graduate Recruitment Bureau blog.

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