The Best Way To Drink Tea is perhaps a misleading title for Paul Fauteux’s recent chapbook from Plan B Press. It indicates a kind of domesticity, quirkiness perhaps, but the poems within are gloriously dark and strange, much more grim and gritty than I was expecting.
The very first poem, titled “Snell’s Law”, sees the narrator jump into a wheat thresher, and calmly narrate the process as he is ripped to shreds by “whirling machine flails”. So far, so disturbing–but the darker elements of the next few poems are not quite as obvious, tending towards the ominous rather than the bladed. Perhaps the right word to use is “sinister”. No matter what horrors unfold, or what dark secrets are hinted at the style remains calm and cool, distressingly removed from proceedings–just like the narrator of the opening poem, who barely bats an eyelid as he’s chewed to pieces by the machine.
This sinister atmosphere is enhanced by the decision not to provide any background information about the collection. We are left with the unsettling feeling of having read the works of a madman without the humanisation of the traditional third-person bio to make us feel any better.
However, being curious, I went in search of further information, and was surprised by what I found. A blog post on the author’s website reveals that the book is in fact “an artefact that exists to indicate the procedure of something that is only reproducible (producible?) via live performance”. In simpler terms the book is a product of a performance piece with the same title–a “playbill” as Fauteux refers to it.
Although I couldn’t find a recording of the performance, there was a freely-available stop-motion short film which formed a part of it. It made for interesting viewing, but wasn’t a truly revolutionary experience for me. I imagine seeing the performance in person would be a much more arresting event. Although the atmosphere of the short film complemented the contents of the book nicely, they still felt very much like discrete experiences.
In truth, I’m more than happy to read it just as a book. Think of the film and the performance as supplemental material: there to delve into if you wish, but not necessarily an essential part.
The Best Way To Drink Tea is available from Plan B Press at www.planbpress.com.
Christopher Frost is a writer from the North of England.