Review from Heathen Harvest Webzine (www.heathenharvest.com):
The following three paragraphs, obviously not including this one, act as an introduction prior to the main review of this work. You don’t need to read them. Although you will miss out on the opportunity to gauge my mindset at the time of writing the review. Very scary it is too. There’s nothing in those opening paragraphs that is essential to the review. Well maybe paragraph one is. But I’ll repeat that somewhere along the line later on, so you can miss it after all if you want. This is just me setting the scene as they say. If you can’t be arsed with my personal meanderings then by all means head straight down to paragraph four and onwards for the meat and potatoes of the piece. After all, time is precious in this rush, rush, rush society we live in and I wouldn’t want to stand accused of wasting anyone’s time. Thank you.
“Speaking in [Severed] Tongues is a distillation of stream of consciousness prose and poetic works composed at various points around the globe during two decades of nomadic wanderings. These pieces have been linked together as a singular work and are presented in print as the digressions of an uninterrupted dream.”
Thus the blurb on the back of this book took me slightly aback. A piece of writing incorporating poetic elements usually isn’t my “thing” if you know what I mean. Sure I’ve read some poetry before. Back in the early to mid 70’s when I was in my higher education phase of development was the last time I tackled that form of writing. Covered all the greats. Burns, Owen, Sassoon, Graves, Pound, Poe, Auden, Dante, Eliot, Keats and, of course, bloody Shakespeare. A veritable football, or soccer as our yank ‘special relationship’ friends call it, team of esteemed talent which I was forced to read to get my English qualification prior to going into the big bad world of real life. I can now, on reflection, 30+ years later tell you that reading those cunts never helped me once in any of my employment positions. There’s no call for reciting (To a fucking mouse) word perfect when you’re digging a ditch for £3.00 an hour. Or $6.00. Or however many Euros that pans out at. I could have, I suppose thinking about it now, kept on reading poetry in my spare time between work and sleep as a form of relaxation. But given the choice between taking copious amounts of drink and drugs and eating pussy or immersing myself in The Books of Homer's Iliad there could be only one outcome. And Homer was never going to be in the running. Poets, fuck them all.
But now I am forced to read a book that takes in some parts of this literary form of writing to enable me to write this review you are reading, hopefully if I haven’t scared you off by my introduction, before you. Of course if you jumped straight to paragraph four and onward you’ll have missed all of this anyway. Que sera, sera . Actually I wasn’t forced as such. I had volunteered for the task but didn’t fully realize what I was letting myself in for. Should have done some prep work before offering up my services. Things never change even after all these years. I couldn’t help myself. I saw the magical name of Michael Page flash up before my eyes and felt an uncontrollable urge to be the one to review this book. After all Michael Page is the man famously behind the musical projects Fire In The Head and Sky Burial, acts I have written copious fawning words about and had aural spasms over for many years now. Special music gets to me like that. And there’s none more special than Michael in my eyes. Feel free to call me a sycophantic sad sack of shit. I don’t care. Been called worse. Much, much worse. Sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you. Unless the name calling is followed up immediately by the sticks and stones of course. That’s a different scenario altogether.
Speaking in [Severed] Tongues is not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination. Much like his musical output Michael challenges all normal associated perceptions to produce a work that is stunningly unique. There are no better words to describe it. I have never come across a book before that just tears up the rule book on writing conventions and spits it back in your face so effortlessly. Bewildered and awe struck I was by the temerity of the man. An act of degenerate genius even. Or an act of belligerent defiance. Kicking against the pricks in every sense. Before getting to the gritty words contained within you first of all have to understand the layout of the book. For this is the beating heart that drives the momentum ever forward and turns normality on its head. Move past the startling cover photographic colour image of a statue, taken it looks from a cemetery somewhere, which is cast in fine shadow and the book flowers open to reveal its dark secret. There are 94 pages all told. But only half of them contain words. Every even page is left deliberately blank. Having read through the work for the first time I initially thought these blank pages were there by some grand twisted design. That you were to write down your own personal thoughts about your experiences so far as you gorged on the smorgasbord of delights served up for the eye and mind. But then it dawned on me that to ink on this book would be akin to defacing a great work of art. A bit like drawing a Hitler moustache on the Mona Lisa. So I discounted that theory as absurd. Then it dawned on me. The realization striking home vividly. These blank pages were in effect a resting place for the eyes. A pit stop of contemplation in which to dissect and digest the true meaning of the words that had so readily embedded themselves and where each individual who traversed these pages could form their own thoughts on what Michael was putting across. Then again maybe I’m reading too much into these blank pages. There could well be another reason for their existence which I haven’t yet figured out. Only Michael knows the truth and he’s not telling yet.
Move past the conundrum of the blank pages and you’re hit square on with the other, even more confusing, layout of the words themselves. Speaking in [Severed] Tongues is literally one long sentence. No punctuation ever sees the light of day. Capital letters don’t exist. It feel like you are privy to the ramblings of a criminal recounting all his crimes, without taking any time to breath between sentences, minutes before facing Old Sparky. Words just shoot off the page homing in on your eyeballs. The words are laid out double spaced to ensure maximum impact. From a single solitary word to a stream of twelve in a row they keep striking home like a programmed Exocet missile. Begging to be scrutinized in minute detail. Which is what you end up doing. Looking for a hidden meaning in each line that probably doesn’t equate to Michael’s own vision. Seeking the profound truth that lays within each delicate syllable. I believe the term used for this form of writing is Free verse. Whereby each verse is not bound by rhyme or meter. Strange but true none the less. Speaking in [Severed] Tongues is, as previously mentioned, a distillation of stream of consciousness prose and poetic works composed at various points around the globe during two decades of nomadic wanderings. From that you take what you will. Although Michael is at pains to state that ‘These pieces have been linked together as a singular work and are presented in print as the digressions of an uninterrupted dream’ then these are dreams I wouldn’t want to have. They say that the best writers work from personal experiences. That by utilizing their knowledge they can create a work more vivid than something simply conjured up and constructed from the depths of their imagination. Which is why I read into this prose an almost confessional aspect to the work. A baring of the soul based on certain factual events of the past of which he only knows. One mans tale, exaggerated possibly to give more credence to the overall effect, of lust, love, hate, betrayal, hope, longing and peace and other innermost thoughts, many pitch black in nature, that zing back and forth with the vibrancy of atoms being separated then brought crashing together in unison.
I was going to take a few random pages from the book to illustrate my point here. But to do so is tantamount to sacrilege. Something I’m just not willing to do. Instead I’ll give you just one line, as it is written, to ingest which is as horrific and tragically beautiful as you’ll ever read:
blood in your bubble bath
Those five simple words conjure up any number of meanings. Perhaps it signifies a woman having her period whilst bathing. Or of a wound not fully healed splitting open again. Even an attempted suicide by one who no longer cares for the world they live in. This is what the book does. It makes you dwell on everything laid down in front of you. Of course by taking those five words out means you know of nothing that has gone before nor that which proceeds it. The overall context is lost to you. So you are now left dangling in empty space not knowing where that line eventually leads to.
And that my friends is why Speaking in [Severed] Tongues is so invigorating a read. What at first appears as a disjointed piece of prose rises above that mere fact and deftly slides into place to complete the complex picture you have painted purely for yourself. With each subsequent venture into this flummoxing literary world you can read an entirely different viewpoint from what you first thought you had initially comprehended. Which is a remarkable achievement in its own right.
There has to be a caveat placed here though. Anyone expecting an autobiography of the life and times of Michael Page, artist, writer and musician, can turn away now. That book hasn’t been written. Instead this is a book dedicated to the purest art of poetic prose and as such stands as a testament to the modern writer and his art. It won’t be for everyone’s taste. But if it can turn an old decrepit curmudgeon like myself onto such an exquisitely rendered, intelligent and ultimately satisfying piece of work then I’m sure it will do the same for you if you’re willing to give it half a chance.