My father was a big fan of indexes. An avid reader of non-fiction, he used the index as the portal through which to begin his passage through a book. A rabbit warren has many entrances: this was his. From the first page to the last? Never. From the index to page 24, then back to the index, then off to page 267, then back to the index, then to page 89 – and so on and so forth. He asked not of a book, ‘What does it mean to say in general’, so much as ‘What does it say about this thing or that’. Books were to him a buffet lunch; eaten in bits, in several trips.
What would he have made, I wonder, of Jaymer Veers’ latest work, Poppies: The Index, the ‘sequel of sorts’ to Poppies: Book One? (first mentioned here). He would have liked it, I think – albeit with reservations. That is to say, he wouldn’t have taken it seriously as a work of art, but he’d have enjoyed it for ‘what it was’.
But what is it? It is an index to a book that doesn’t (yet) exist. A book which consists, otherwise, of a translator’s note. A book that lives, primarily, in the mind of its writer – and, to an increasing extent, his loyal readers. Poppies: Book One framed the non-existent work; Poppies: The Index adds a few splashes of colour. Or is it more than this? The index in question is, after all, comprehensive in its range. This isn’t one of those piddly indexes one finds at the back of a cheap academic book. This is the sort of index my father would have drooled over. Sub-headings abound. ‘Kingston, Harold; Character of: 34-7, 65, 110-3, 213; Sexual deviance and: 36-7, 69, 319-23; on foreign policy: 118, 401-3’. Imagine a fuller, richer, deeper version of this and you’re somewhere along the way to grasping the sort of thing that we may be dealing with here. This is a monster index. This is a book taken apart and put back together according to alphabetical names, places, events and themes. Here are the jigsaw pieces: now make the book.
This is more, therefore, than a few splashes of colour. This is almost the whole picture; albeit the picture fragmented; cut into segments: plenty of water, you could say, but no real river. Poppies: The Index gives us a very good idea of what the book is about; about what it covers – but how does it flow? Poppies: Book One offered a few clues in that direction, granted, but the book itself remains, quite deliberately, just out of our reach.
And so the tease continues – as we ought to have guessed it would. Where will Jaymer Veers go next? Poppies: The Critical Response? Poppies: The Souvenir Guide? Poppies: A Synopsis in Ancient Greek? Anything, I should think, than Poppies: Book Two. The Poppies project will always skirt the edge of what we may perceive to be an ‘actual text’. It refers to something other than itself, but it is what it is. And of this we can hardly complain. Poppies: The Index more than stands for itself. An index that questions the very nature of indexes: that comes before a story. This is enlightening stuff. It’s also clever stuff. And you know – sometimes it takes a poppy with no seeds to remind you what you never saw when the seeds were there. My father would have cradled his reservations close: I toss them out of the window, with the next-door neighbour’s cat.