Review: 'Flood Junk' written by Sean Magnus
A review of
‘Flood Junk’ Sean Magnus Martin
by Caitlin Miller
The debut poetry pamphlet by Sean Magnus Martin, published by the innovative and independent ‘Against The Grain Press’, is both dramatic and captivating. The title poem ‘Flood Junk’ is infused with notes of the biblical and mythical from the start, evoking the archetype of old Noah and a ferocious sea storm. Throughout the collection, Martin laces the poems with religious imagery and semiotics: a choice of lexis that lends them a haunting lyricism and sense of timelessness. The very first line of the poem reads ‘We all know the story.’ This phrase arguably hints at the universality of the themes of grief, loss and the aftermath of disaster, which are interwoven into the poems that follow.
The ‘flood’ can be interpreted as both a central premise and a metaphor for a catastrophic trauma, involving the elements and the emotions. The ‘flood' lives on through the ‘junk’ washed up on the shore, which could in turn be seen as a metaphor for grief and the lingering affects of a life changing event. There is a sense that the event could be anything : from surviving a natural disaster such as a flood or the tragic death of a loved one. Flood Junk feels simultaneously personal and political, which lends it real relevance and potency and the ability to connect to people on multiple levels.
Martin captures this essence of an ‘aftermath’ excellently through the construction of poems about the miscellaneous objects that have washed up on the beach post flood. The objects are anthropomorphised and presented as characters in their own right; as survivors and as symbols. In Canonball, a stand out poem, Martin composes hypnotic and visceral stanzas, regarding this piece of ‘junk’ through an almost mystical lens which seems to overpower the natural world. He writes:
You are the world before light,
A black iron moon red in the atmosphere,
Falling through the night to obliterate
Poems that follow, such as Car, Beer Barrel, Clarinet and Lawnmower continue to imbue inanimate objects with feelings and thoughts, refining the tone of personification that Martin employs so deftly. This technique not only allows the poems to convey the lasting emotional effects of the ‘flood’, which can be read as both literal and metaphorical, but creates strong and vivid imagery that provides a sense of visual cohesion to the collection.
In using this conceit Martin has created a surreal but eerily lucid and cinematic dystopian fantasy world, imbued with both the mythical and the mundane. He achieves this with originality and precision: Flood Junk exudes a landscape and tone as aesthetically compelling as a disaster film with special effects, an animation or a video game. If you are looking to be transported to another realm and stimulated intellectually and emotionally in the process then Flood Junk provides all of this and more.
The structure and narrative of the poems manages to raise relevant eco- themes in relation to climate change and natural disaster. Martin interweaves man made objects with trees and features of the natural world, such as ash, elm and driftwood. This juxtaposition could be seen as highlighting the tensions between the natural world and the destructive elements of humankind. The stunning and effective poem Lawnmower, is powerful in its imagery and message, which points towards sabotage of the environment. In its final stanza Martin writes:
There is no green anymore.
I think of those abyssal lawnmowers,
sitting in the cold-dark, dreaming
of warm summer days
and a world of overgrown gardens.
In a later poem, Black Box, he draws on historical disasters such as those that took place in Pompei, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This adds an interesting aura of a timeline to the collection, which seems to place the world in flood junk as embodying the qualities of a futuristic omen about the state of planet earth. Topics such as these are never explicitly stated, and thus Flood junk is open to analysis and discussion. In this respect it would be a great focus for a class or workshop exploring the meaning of contemporary poetry.
As the pamphlet nears its conclusion, Martin deepens the scope of his poetry and introduces human characters, anchored by the utilisation of Ash as an emotive character or symbol.
In a triumphant, rhythmic and beautiful final poem Elm, which also possesses an air of folklore and fantasy, Martin zooms in on people instead of objects, on the ones who have left and those left behind. This fans the collection with the unmistakable feathers of grief and the impact of loss as a vital and permeating theme. The final stanza of the final poem reads:
A song for all lost things, for the siblings, parents,
nieces and nephews still tumbling in the dark.
And so Ash sings too,
sends his prayer out into the night,
that all may nod a shore.
A gripping and thought provoking debut pamphlet, Flood Junk by Bath Spa Allumni Sean Magnus Martin and published by Against the Grain Press, touches on both human and eco themes. It is layered and imaginatively crafted; a must read for enthusiasts of contemporary poetry who are interested in having a new and exciting readerly experience. It also comes alive when orated, as demonstrated by Martin himself at the launch of ‘Flood Junk’ at The Poetry Cafe London in the summer of 2018.
You can buy the book here.
Sean Magnus Martin is a poet from the Lake District. He studied a BA and MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. In 2015 he won the Battered Moons poetry competition. He has been published with Riggwelter Press, AmberFlora Zine, Ink, Sweat and Tears and in the anthologies Love Like Salt, Plume and soon to be in Eyeflashes' upcoming Dust. Sean is also a game journalist and enjoys tea and dogs.