By: Tom Jenks
Publisher: if p then q
“We make lists because we don’t want to die”, is the final line of Jenks’ book. It makes sense coming at the end of a poetry collection which is essentially one long list of ‘items’. A humorous list. A list that documents the overwhelming amount of information presented to us on a daily basis.
Jenks doesn’t shy away from making contemporary references and self-referential comments in his work. He uses ‘items’ from the modern world to create ongoing jokes, as well as thought provoking lines. Some of the book is pure cynical humour, but this is contrasted with moments of deep philosophy. The book could even be read one item on the list a day; so that the reader would have a prompt of something to think about each day.
There are warnings near the beginning of the text about its nature. For example: “ flaw is lack of CENTRAL UNIFYING THEME”; and “ YOU HAVE MISSED VITAL PLOT INFORMATION”. This suggests that although his piece is full of solid points; even Jenks is aware that it sometimes reads like a notebook of ideas, rather than a final text. However, I will concede that this unconventional structure also allows Jenks to be uniquely imaginative through intense bursts of information. Each item on the list has a point to make.
Jenks’ surreal, ongoing jokes include a string of unlikely followers on twitter (many of which are actually dead); ‘possible titles’ for his book (my favourite is: ‘There is Nothing Funny About Mao Tse Tung’); and ‘Rare British sheep breeds’ (complete with a tiny cartoon sheep each time).
The point that Jenks is trying to make, is both about how overrun with information we are in the modern world; but also about the permanence of writing. Before the internet, writing was a fairly permanent form of expression. Books were physical objects with credibility. Now that anyone can publish themselves over the internet (for example by doing what I am doing right now- blogging), that is no-longer the case. We are constantly bombarded with social network updates, adverts, exam papers, memes, trashy magazines and internet forums. It is unlikely that readers will consider any of these pieces of writing more than once- we don’t have time too. All of this information is distractions from our constant struggle to make use of our time in constructive ways. Jenks expresses the frustration and desperation caused by social pressure to be perfect amongst his lists. Whilst each item could be considered individually, reading the entire text at once shows how it reflects how overwhelming modern life is.