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                          Welcome to the Museum of Cattle, by Jane Ormerod
                          (Three Rooms Press, 2012)
                          ISBN # 978-0-9835813-9-0

                          Reviewer: Cin Hochman

                                                  Lucy. Lucy. Lucy. Lucy.
                                                  She caught the pox from The Pistols and the clap from the Clash . . .

                                                                                             -Jane Ormerod

Four decades after the Beatles landed in America came another British Invasion; to wit, the arrival of Jane Ormerod on the New York poetry scene in 2004, an event which was no less swoon-and-gasp-worthy. Suffice it to say, we Yankees are mighty glad she crossed the pond.

So, welcome to the Museum of Cattle, indeed. Welcome to a bawdy barnyard of a book that renders Orwell's Animal Farm as tame as a petting zoo. Wherein our heroine, in the guise of a Cockney cowgirl, throws out enough red meat to raise cholesterol levels, while simultaneously raising the literary bar. Seemingly spawned from the loop-and-surprise prose of John Ashbery, with a bit of Gertrude Stein's playful rhythm, Jane Ormerod adds her own fierce and urgent glossolalia. You will find no swaying grass or gentle heifers lowing here; despite the title, this is poetry drawn from the fist of the city, in all its swagger and grit and grandeur. Naysayers of experimental poetry be damned-Ormerod delightfully assaults our senses with language turned on its ear, and the result is a stunning salvo of sonics. Yet, for all her oblique bent and disparate juxtapositions, Ormerod sets a tone which creates a connective chain of lucid thought and meaning. Methinks that Shakespeare would say there's a "method to her badness." He would also, as a fellow Brit, proclaim her simply brill.

Dada means hobby horse in French, so it is quite apt that the opening poem, "Lying Sideways, Eyes Closed, Rain" conjures up the iconic image of a miniature horse so ingrained in our collective memory. Perhaps this juvenile steed, gathering a kind of breathless momentum, is meant to foreshadow the real horses that gallop, willy nilly, through the rest of the poems. Or maybe this is Ormerod's initial gift to us: an equine lullaby.

There is a scarf for little horse
Bedtime slurp for little horse
Bread for breath hunk for horse
Remember little, little horse
Remember horsey, little horse?

It is tempting, of course, to characterize an Ormerod poem as strictly stream-of-consciousness, but a deeper reading reveals an unexpected precision amid the randomness. Populated with people we've never heard of, but who seem oddly familiar, the poet's narrative becomes the epitome of well-crafted intrigue.

And never let it be said that Jane Ormerod is a one-trick pony . . . reading between the lines, one could swear there is a dead body stashed somewhere within these poems, and this forms the link of a new motif and scenario. In what is destined to become one of her signature poems (I can already picture her reading this one out loud to an audience glued to their seats), Ormerod finds herself lost in another city:

There are steps, directions on tops of steps, and further steps. A man carrying a
fedora or saint up the steps. Directions to the Pacific, to Quebec. Directions,
curtains, and beads. A coat to carry.

Who is there? You have a candle. You have a tie. Is it this time of night? May you
help in any way? Can you save your life so hard, it cracks apart a lie? Do you
know of pains that do not smell?

Against this backdrop, it suddenly occurs to us that we are privy to a little murder, and not necessarily a metaphorical one, replete with probing interrogations ("Where were you at eleven o'clock? // You appear deeply sorrowed.") and a closetful of covert conversations and clues ("do you confess to Quebec?" "Have you been where horses stand and witnesses squeal?") With a title that belies its theme ("Initial Notes for a Possibly Punk Poem About-at the Moment-a Girl Called Lucy"), the plot thickens:

Lucy is a crime scene. She wears a crown like a plague. She is luggage and
baggage, carry-on and hold-all. Knapsack, duffle. She has something to do with
porridge . . .

Lest there be any doubt by now that there's something sinister in the State of Denmark (or Canada), along with the persistent refrain of "I give blood, I give blood, I give blood," Ormerod seals the deal with this denouement from "The Killing":

Buy the largest suitcase you can find
I hear there is little space between killing and the end

Despite the murderous intent and forensics, however, the poems are not without their bouts of whimsy. Whether you spell it humor or humour, Ormerod's is of the nudge-nudge-wink-wink variety, as evidenced by titles such as "Call Me a Cabernet Sauvignon" and "Was Bartholomew a Stranger or Strangler?" Wordplay sounds almost too flippant to define these careful, never contrived, combinations. What fun to discover embedded snippets of found poems: prices snatched from menus and an accurate list of the number of times particular nouns are used within the whole book (oh, Jane, please tell me at which store you shop for your brilliant images and phrases). And where else will you find Alvin (the Chipmunk, presumably), dispensing financial advice, in what is really a grand piece of socioeconomic commentary:

Alvin Says Buy Nuts
Buy more than you need
Bury them
In the spring you can sell

All stereotypes aside, Ormerod's work is not the stuff of stiff upper lips and prissiness. No one would accuse this poet of being dainty and proper, although, curiously, even when she lobs expletives, they sound almost regal. So, too, in Ormerod-speak, there's an aristocratic edge to lines like "they said she was a crock of slut." I dare say, these poems seem equally at home wallowing in the mud --- or taking tea with the Queen.

Although she is adamant that "the ‘I' that i use is never me," Jane Ormerod claims to be "tiresome and typical and a tricky girl and a how do you do." I beg to differ --- a linguistic trickster she may be, but, typical and tiresome? Never!

Please come in
Please come in
Please come in
Please come in

So what are you waiting for, cowpoke? Put on your silver-buckled boots, jump in the saddle, and visit Jane Ormerod's Museum of Cattle --- it's well worth the price of admission. Once you're there, I guarantee you will want to stay until the bloody cows come home.

Jane Ormerod was born on the south coast of England.  She now lives in New York City and performs extensively across the United States and beyond—Los Angeles to Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, Nashville, Salt Lake City, Canada, Britain, Ireland, and The Netherlands, to name just a few places.  Ormerod’s previous work includes Recreational Vehicles on Fire (Three Rooms Press, 2009), the chapbook 11 Films (Modern Metrics/EXOT Books, 2008), and the spoken word CD Nashville Invades Manhattan.  Jane was a founding editor of Uphook Press. In 2012, she formed great weather for MEDIA, focusing on edgy and experimental poetry and prose.

Cindy Hochman is the president of Harrison/Hochman "100 Proof," a company that proofreads and edits literary manuscripts (please ask about her reasonable rates).  She is the editor-in-chief of this journal, and if you truly have a burning desire to read more about her, you can click above on "Meet the Editor-in-Chief."