Iain Sharp, The Singing Harp, Wellington: Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop, 2004. ISBN 1-86942-036-5. 28 pp.
Iain Sharp: The Singing Harp (2004)
Two million words ago, before he became a journalist, he used to want to be a poet. God knows why.
There’s a scene in the Scorsese movie The King of Comedy where the de Niro character finally succeeds in getting his stand-up routine on TV. We’ve been assuming all along that the reason for his failure is that he’s a lousy comedian, but now we realise that he’s actually pretty good – it’s just that his material is so painful and self-loathing that people can’t deal with it.
Iain Sharp, too, can be extremely amusing. Anyone who’s heard him will testify to the effectiveness of his stand-up act. Judging by the older pieces included here, in his “first book of verse since 1985” – “The Splog,” for example, or “The Ponsonby Strut” (“Martian canals in your eyeballs / cardboard wine in your gut; / that’s how you do the Ponsonby strut”) – that’s always been true. Why, then, does he hate himself, and poetry, so much? Mostly (presumably) it comes from a genuine loathing of pretension. “I, too, dislike it,” as Marianne Moore said of Poetry with a capital “P.” There are, after all, moments when Sharp permits himself a timid validation of some of what he sees around him:
The small things that sustain us: Nadia
Salerno-Sonnenberg playing ragtime violin
over the starlings’ chatter as I sip lemon
juice … (“New Year Benediction”)
His book reads like Sam Beckett trying to ape Cole Porter. Funny, yes; clever, yes; but dark … It must be those two million words getting revenge.