Daring and Unburdened by Pretence, A 101 in Forgery in All its Forms

Jon Stone’s School of Forgery opens with the line: ‘Where I come from, it’s the other way round.’ Evocative enough in the context of the opening poem, Near Extremes 1, but when read in the context of the whole collection takes on a more deceptive meaning. It is the first instance of forgery that will go on to characterise the book. In this case, a failed attempt to experience the Christmas season delivered by someone who does not understand the essential element of the experience. Near Extremes 1 continues:

‘we plunk cinder knucklebones into our soda / stand hunched over momentary snowflakes / willing our fags to catch cold, so we can / scorch our lips with frost-feathered plumes.’

This conflation of hot and cold, of scorching and freezing, climaxes with the line: ‘we never seemed to earn that white hot Christmas.’ The holiday is described with a misunderstanding of its most Dickensian connotation. It is our first, tentative lesson in forgery – of trying to be something we are not – from Jon Stone, who will go on to give us the 101 on its many shapes and functions.  

Tongue talks about the organ of the mouth, describing it as ‘sizzling filled with half-heard songs / names and lamentations…’ a reference to both the makeshift nature of our language and of course that feeling of something being on the tip of your tongue, but speaks more to where these words are born from. How do we decide, in our shared-consciousness of pop-culture and literary influence, where our thoughts have come from and whose they were originally? Tongue is followed by Torn Pages from a Chapter on Ray Guns, which not only shows off Stone’s ability to switch and balance tone and style but explores the legitimacy of chance poetry; of the appearance of originality. An academic treatise on the use of ray guns in science-fiction, as you read the article the lines begin to fall away into nothing, mid-sentence, as though the page has been ripped away. Only jagged, puzzle-piece poetry is left behind – ‘starbreaker is a modest / destabilise stars. It red out / gravity waves’ – but this is not the work of a poet. This is the equivalent of a monkey pounding at a typewriter and coming up with Hamlet.

Stone is open about his own influences throughout the book, whether that is science-fiction, anime or manga. The poem dojinshiworld, a reference to doujinshi culture (think of fan fiction writers but for manga), is about imitation as both flattery and theft and Tatsunoko seems a reclamation of Urtsukidoji, a manga written by Toshio Maeda, an author whose work was itself marred by an adaptation which included instances of sexual violence not present in the original work. It is this exploration of the unclear divide between imitation, adaptation and theft, and the effect these acts have on those committing them, that makes Stone’s poems so interesting and goddam fun to read.

The poem dojinshiworld, a reference to doujinshi culture (think of fan fiction writers but for manga), is about imitation as both flattery and theft and Tatsunoko seems a reclamation of Urtsukidoji, a manga written by Toshio Maeda, an author whose work was itself marred by an adaptation which included instances of sexual violence not present in the original work. It is this exploration of the unclear divide between imitation, adaptation and theft, and the effect these acts have on those committing them, that makes Stone’s poems so interesting and goddam fun to read.  

Stone’s poetry is filled this level of daring character play; of pretence and voice-acting

Take the title poem, School of Forgery. The story of a student working to seduce their teacher, the student writes her an erotic letter written in her husband’s hand. The deceit on offer here, however, is double-edged. The desire is shallow and ultimately empty. The forgery is seductively written – ‘I’ll slip the envelope’s blanched almond tongue / into the just-open mouth of her marking drawer’ – but ends in emptiness. The student has learnt to mimic desire, but soon the sweet juice ‘unwinding from a glass’s rim’, turns to itches and scrawls. To lurches and a ‘leer for her waist’s gay lavolt.’ The student has only learnt voyeurism and the physical distance necessity for fakery by letter. Not true romance.

Split into two sections, Originals and Fakes, the second part of School of Forgery seems much more accusatory. What Robots Murmur Through Broken Sleep is not only a re-working of Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep but shows us the curse of an immortal machine burdened by artificial human thoughts. After experiencing the electromagnetic simulacrum of a dream of a flower peddler, it declares: ‘Ah, but I have no use for flowers. Flowers must wither and / die’. The tragedy of the machine being that it will not get to experience – in what is a reference to Madea again – the blessing of death; the true meaning of life. ‘Even if I were free, where could I go with this ruined body’.

The Not-Who-They-Say-They-Are Sonnets, even has the poet taking up the personas of famous literary forgers, including Tom MacMaster, the writer of A Gay Girl In Damascus, who was heavily criticised for being a white American man pretending to be a gay Syrian writer. Stone’s poetry is filled this level of daring character play; of pretence and voice-acting. An indication perhaps, that there is no such thing as originality or truth; either in poetry or in our day to day lives, but still Jon Stone’s voice remains unique throughout a piece of work that might otherwise have been burdened by pretence. The end result being a master-class in forgery and its effable techniques.

  • The School of Forgery by John Stone, is published by Salt and is available now.

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