Robert Herbert McClean, Pangs!, Aldgate Press, 2015.
Pangs! is the debut poetry collection from Irish experimental writer and audio-visual artist Robert Herbert McClean.
The collection consists of three interconnected sequences of 23 numbered prose-like poems, arranged as a non-linear manual of observations and ideas. They are fast-paced and explosive, honest and fearless, intimate and unashamed.
McClean’s writing establishes new possibilities for recording and reacting to the realities of modern life. Poems about love, sex, violence and religion exist in a landscape of CCTV, Skype, YouTube, torrents and hard drives, operating via the propulsion of a cohesive yet fragmentary narrative, set to a soundtrack of synth pop and thrash metal. The recent history of Northern Ireland is a continual presence, impossible to ignore.
It is a poetry book for the digital age, reflecting our modern culture of obsessive notation and text-based communication; words and sentences crossed out yet visible remind us of the indelible digital traces we leave behind.
Pangs! introduces a striking and distinctive new voice, which combines a poetic and lyrical sensibility with a radical and rebellious energy. It is ‘emotionally kaleidoscopic’, ‘a panicked e-dreamscape’, striving to ‘dismiss the poetic’ in a satirical dissolution of the traditional lyric ‘I’ and its associated conventions.
‘As exciting, disturbing and joyful as anything I’ve read for ages. In retrospect it’s as if I sensed this book being darkly prepared, the result of some kind of alchemical process, containing the necessary intensity of a cast charm or secret rite: the product is unlabelled and highly potent. These uniquely-voiced, dynamic and sometimes bewildering poems sift the strewn wreckage of a tradition and history that is both hunted for and resisted, in a strategy boldly at odds with the automatic obliqueness of much poetry with violence and confusion in its origins. Here, a mysteriously driven forensics operates in the wake of an unexplained blast, in a landscape where the dust never settles. Organised like an exploded view at the instant of detonation, McClean’s Pangs! are scary and hilarious, conceptual, elusive, alarming, tragic and personal, full of brilliant syntactical feints and collapses, their diversions, manoeuvres and recoveries consistently and unnervingly inventive – “You’re a linguistic floozy. You’re like a car bomb. I mean everything.” Pangs! is an urgent renovation of the Northern Irish poetic tradition from within.’ – Sam Riviere
‘Passionate, perverse, unruly and political, Pangs! is a most unlikely melodrama; with the boldness of its imagination and the febrile desperation of its speaker, reading Robert Herbert McClean’s book is like watching someone make a heartfelt apology while doing the international “blow-job” mime. It’s rare you see poems treat themselves so irreverently, while clinging on so dearly for life. In Pangs! McClean has done that remarkable thing that poems can, which is to agitate and organise language in such a way that you can’t tell the difference between an idea and a feeling, an image and a feeling, a feeling and a feeling… “Swans are the best friends of a shoe seller’s ghost” claims the speaker of “2.3”; that you know what he means, and believe him, is testament to the compelling imagination and explorative openness of these wonderful, bright poems.’ – Jack Underwood