the saws and hammers

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albatross who emerges from the door
apple the albatross pecks
gorilla that comes out of it
the hinges on the apple
trumpet the gorilla plays
thereby ejecting a pineapple

dried peas in a drawstring bag

hen who minds the store
squirrel who buys the peas
pours them into a basket, catapults
down the slide
squirrel brings the chair
reaches the birdbox on the tree
places the peas there
and is startled by the stork

bear sitting next to it
uses it as a pillow
raccoon who wakes the bear
takes away the blanket
acorns gathered in it
raccoon tips the acorns on the bear
racoon tips the diamonds on the bear
tears that spray out from the bear’s eyes


cats that drive the truck
turkey they pass on the road
surprised into a waggon
leg of lamb leaps out from the waggon
cricket that picks it up
cottage with patched window
cricket shivers there

plan the pig draws
triangle atop a square
cats who come to help
the saws and hammers
storm that blows the cottage away
bin rolls down the dale
among the daisies



On Surrealism and Poetry

‘the saws and hammers’ is a transcript, of sorts, of several stories by picture book artist Noboru Baba (1927-2001). I don’t know if Surrealism/surrealism was ever a reference point for Baba, but in the playful chaos of his stories and in the irreverent anarchy of his characters, I detect a strain of a revolutionary art that shows us the joys of a freed imagination. The animals (always animals) in Baba’s books play, fight, build houses, and drive trucks across daisied meadows, before a storm comes and blows it all away. There is always disaster looming, and cruelty, but the animals seem to go about their ludic business with the inevitability of a scroll unfolding (much like the Japanese population do in their capricious environment of earthquakes, bad faith politics, and impending nuclear disaster.)

One way children learn about the world is through books, and the logic of the language in them – the prepositions which are the relationships between things, and adverbs like ‘thereby’ that suggest that one event was a consequence of another. Children, before they fall into world of stultified grammar and politics, are incredibly open-minded about the connections between figures, objects, and events. Anything is possible. Children are often interested in what happens next, and what eventually happened. As long as those questions are answered, the chain of happenings are accepted, however absurd or dream-like they may seem to us.

The poem draws on the Japanese game of shiritori (translated as ‘taking the end’), where players have to think of a word (always a noun) that begins with the final sound of the previous word.  Parts of the poem were written in this way, to allow chance and whim into the story, while following a logic of composition. What I wanted to draw out from Baba’s work, and what may connect this poem to surrealism, is the element of non-sequitur – or non-non-sequitur. Things can follow, and why not? The province of imagination allows it.

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