Page 45 Review by Stephen
"I raised myself upon a bed
Of pyroclastic stone...
And felt four hundred million years
Compacted in my bones."
I'll ask it again: what the hell have we done to our planet?
In the relatively short time we've been here we have covered 98.3% of dry land with asphalt and concrete*, hunted to extinction flightless birds who were sunning themselves quite happily on their idyllic tropical islands, turned rivers into sewers, Sherwood Forest into a tree, and pumped our bountiful and previously spotless oceans with carrier bags, condoms and lakes of crude oil. We're not nature's friend, basically. We are an abomination.
Such is Nick Hayes' message, but it's delivered with such beauty and such verbal dexterity that it is to swoon. Even a barren list of chemical constructs is transfigured by his craftsmanship as the Modern Mariner bears witness to our crimes:
"Swathes of polystyrene bobbed with tonnes of neoprene
And polymethyl methacrylate stretched across the scene."
Or as Coleridge originally wrote:
"Water, water every where,
Nor any drop to drink."
No, it's all so contaminated now that we bottle it in plastic... then throw that plastic into the sea for good measure.
THE RIME OF THE MODERN MARINER is inspired by the Coleridge classic The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner in which the titular character curses his crew by shooting a playful albatross out of the heavens with a crossbow. Immediately the wind drops and, well, it doesn't go well for them. The Mariner is then compelled to tell his tale to all who will listen, and listen they do: he has a way with him. Moreover, in the Wedding-Guest's case at least, they learn:
"He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn."
The Modern Mariner sets to sea specifically to hunt whales: he wants to carve their giant bones into tiny dominoes. Not even into great works of art, but into an idle gambling game. While he's waiting he uses floating bottles as target practice before turning his attention nonchalantly skywards and, oh look, there's a big white bird! Kapow!
"Its body burst upon the deck
Its death seemed no great loss
It looked as old as time itself
...It was just an albatross."
In both poems the word 'albatross' concludes Part I, and although I can't give Hayes credit for matching Coleridge's halting - truly devastating - reversal, I do think "Its body burst upon the deck" almost adequately compensates. The Modern Mariner's crew are pretty soon for the chop while he himself is confronted by the results of man's assault on Earth's blue oceans in the form, for example, of a North Pacific drilling barge "split right down its spleen" and the least evolved sea-dwelling progenitors of man poisoned by their supposedly superior successors. But the sea isn't finished with him yet, as he finds himself tossed around by a storm of Olympian proportions until he's thrown into the waves and comes face to face with his quarry.
"Two hundred tonnes of living flesh, the queen of all creation,
And me, this mote within its eye... too long above my station."
It's profoundly affecting stuff. The sort of language I imagine BLOOD SONG's Erik Drooker using if ever he employed words (please take a look at BLOOD SONG - it's eloquent enough, and along the same lines, without them).
As to the art, think the cover to Craig Thompson's BLANKETS or his signed print we have on our wall: blindingly beautiful blues in a quality silkscreen print effect. There are swirls everywhere, even in the Mariner's Ancient Greek beard. Also - tricky thing to pull of, this - the timing of the panels, often six or seven to the page, to the rhyme itself (often only half a line to the page, sometimes none) is note-perfect. Because, yes, this is sequential art, not an illustrated poem. Big difference.
Even more so than the original, THE RIME OF THE MODERN MARINER is a warning about hubris, and it's a warning delivered here to a soulless, suited git sitting on a park bench during his lunch hour eating a rubber sandwich packed in plastic. He doesn't pay attention, he's more interested in his Blackberry, and he dismisses the Mariner's eloquence like the crumbs he brushes off his knees. It's the end of autumn, by the way, and you know what Page 45 is like about leaves, so I can't resist four more lines from the beginning of the book, after which I knew I was in for a spell-binding read.
"Icy wind was rushing through the litter and the leaves...
Whirling swirls of rusty pearls discarded by the trees.
The drowsy world of autumn, of overripe excess,
Was changing right before his eyes to hoary abjectness."
I hope the suit has a long, hard winter.
* Actual percentage may differ. This isn't a scientific paper, it's a tirade.