Review: Cartouche! by Dylan King & Michelle Moloney King

Observing a young child at play is a wondrous experience. A rug becomes the sea; measuring spoons are flowers and mushrooms; a cardboard box is a garage, a castle, a football goal. Imagination isn’t restricted by an object’s nominal function. Everything is infused with sparkling energy and an unquestioning sense of fun.

Cartouche!, a collaboration between Dylan King and his mother Michelle Moloney King, captures the joyful essence of play. Dylan King’s contribution is in the form of visual poetry: confident, vigorous drawings and adventurous explorations of the interaction between a keyboard and the appearance of characters on a screen. Michelle Moloney King responds with ekphrastic poems that are vibrant and surreal. 

Dylan King’s concrete poems invite us as readers to reconsider our conditioned approach to processing information. Instinctively, we read his poem below from left to right as we scan for meaning:

Considered, however, as a creative juxtaposition of shapes and space, the poem reveals its asemic charm. How beautiful, for example, is that middle sequence, with its disrupted patterning!


And if we rotate the poem clockwise through 90o, it becomes braided hair, or raindrops sliding down a windowpane, or loops of liana in a tropical forest, or anything else that our imagination might suggest.

Michelle Moloney King’s ekphrastic response, ‘The Fire of Poetics’, is equally full of unrestrained zest:

The red-eyed tree frog
Fixing at linguistic Senna
As a matrix matting or
Lingual laxative their
Poet made from the dried pods of an interpreting tropical tree.
That is the wildfire of 
Thrumming thoughts
Which a tigress sentence can permeate to slow the pouncing paws and reveal
The semantic of self.

We shift between meaning and experimentation, revelling in the poem’s sonic patterns – ‘matrix matting’, ‘lingual laxative’, ‘thrumming thoughts’ – and the vivid images: the tree frog (inspired perhaps by the ‘Kkkk’ of the companion poem); the tigress, symbol of fierce maternal love; the ‘pouncing paws’ that may or may not suggest small hands gleefully plonking on a keyboard. 

The poetic dialogues in Cartouche! stimulate our brains to occupy ‘that space between familiar and strange’ which is discussed in the Introduction. We have the freedom to generate our own responses to the ‘pure lack of empirical data’, and to carry these over into our lives and creativity. The cardboard boxes of our minds can contain hummingbirds, traffic cones, puddles, cathedrals, galaxies, photons, elephants, ants. We are encouraged to experiment without signifiers or signposts, using intuitive tools to explore landscapes that open up through play.

Dylan King’s final poem in the collection consists of lines of capital letters followed by an energetic, free-flowing squiggle. Michelle Moloney King’s ekphrastic response, ‘Physics Prayer for Home’, begins:

The actual phenomenon we survey
by kamikaze uniforms could be a garland haze,
And it happens all the time
but in a controlled environment.
Not as overtaken aggregation but as flexure dial
There are still particles to dimmer.

The poem concludes:

See me. See us moving forwards regardless
Change us from proton to wave.

This is poetry without constraint, playful, exuberant and full of fun. In their Introduction, the poets exhort us to ‘Please enjoy’. And I did.

Cartouche! by Dylan King & Michelle Moloney King is published by Beir Bua Press (December 2022).

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  1. Pingback: Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 27 – Via Negativa

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