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Cal Doyle reviews James Cummins's newest poetry collection


Cal Doyle


Cal Doyle's poetry has appeared in a number of magazines and journals. He has read as part of Poetry Ireland's Introductions Series and is the poetry editor for wordlegs. He lives and studies in Cork.










Flash Bang by James Cummins

Flash Bang

James Cummins

(Burner Veer Publications, 2011)

ISBN: 978-1-907088-43-8

£5 paperback

Buy from Amazon





Flash Bang is a chapbook-length poem divided over twenty-one sections (mischievously, only twenty of the sections are numbered, and one of them is left entirely void of text). In it the author, James Cummins, presents the reader with a multitude of (apparently) competing frequencies of text which often cross and interfere with one another.

            These interferences, or transgressions, between these frequencies (which constitute the "body" of the text) are forced upon the reader when the poem commands you to “slip your hand into my throat” and six pages later the poem informs you that:


your hand enters

my lungs

first the right


moving across … the left [.]



The poem says ‘jump’ and the reader has no choice but to ask ‘how high?’ By engaging with the poem, you are at its whim: your hand moves right, the text shifts left; your hand moves left, the text jumps off to the right. You are told to enter the "body" of the poem, but by reading you have already entered. And if you are naïve enough to search for any "meaning" the text will, both figuratively and literally, jump out of your grasp. This jocular game of cat and mouse betrays a keen wit on behalf of the author, a wit which is brought into sharp relief in section 6 of the poem. In its entirety:


[                    6                    ]


lincoln was a line dancer



The assertion not only toys with ideas of capital-T truth and its less poetic cousin, trivia, (this reviewer, for one, turned to Wikipedia immediately after reading this section) but it follows on from an earlier section (4) where Cummins writes “each line is not directly related”: whether Abraham Lincoln was a line dancer or not, the reader certainly becomes a line dancer: “back//left//heel and toe heel and toe [.]” You are consistently reminded that you are ensnared in the text and that the author is pulling the strings:


i read this poem over

lowering all the cases

in a room

in the process of transformation [.]



            The deliberate ambiguity around the word “transformation” reinforces one of the poem’s central ideas: that nothing is fixed, that everything is fluid: the text, the room, the author, and, by extension, the reader. Flash Bang is taking a moment to remind you that it is far more than a witty exercise in some kind of meta pyrotechnics: this poem is fully engaged with the continual processes of metamorphoses one experiences in the (contemporary) "information age".

            Bar some occasional parentheses and ellipses, and the odd “(forward slash)” the poem is almost completely unpunctuated and composed of lower-case letters. The most apparent "punctuation" marks are the occasional instances of “FLASH” which appear almost randomly within the sections


[…] to give a personal touch




          fe fi fo




all that glitters          glows [.]



This mirrors the myriad instances of information interference and dissonance that the ‘average reader’ might find by spending one hour on the internet, or playing a video-game, or watching television, or strolling down a busy city centre street. "We" are barraged by textual information and sonic shifts in pitch and register on an almost continual basis. But Flash Bang is not here to preach or dogmatise, it is here to reflect and reproduce: if you have come here to get away from the noise and interference of the day-to-day (poetry as "consolation", anybody?) you have almost certainly come to the wrong place. Flash Bang is active, it is its own agent, it does not allow for rest or complacency on behalf of anybody who might come across it.

            Despite the startling juxtapositions of techy jargon (“RCA ‘fliptop’ ”), txt speak (“w00t w00t”) and grotesquery (“the eye feels loose in its own socket”) the most ‘shocking’ aspect of Flash Bang is that at its core it is, in fact, a lyric poem. In between the "noise" of the competing frequencies there are instances of an off-kilter calm:


the lights

in a row

one by one

around the outside

the colour green

next to yellow

your scrawl

reminds me [.]



            In the popular computer game franchise Call of Duty the "flash-bang" grenade is one of the very few non-fatal weapons that one’s Marine Corps avatar has at their disposal. The weapon may be non-fatal, but it is among the most lethal – avoiding the haphazard and imprecise explosions of conventional grenades, the ‘flash-bang’ works best in confined spaces: it stuns the opponents, allowing you to dispatch any targets at your leisure. Flash Bang works to the same effect: after you finish reading it, you’ll be left stunned, disoriented, and fearful of what Mr. Cummins might decide to do next. Highly recommended.


©2013 Cal Doyle


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