Martin Creed, Work No. 117, All the sounds on a drum machine (1995), at The Poetry Library

Work No. 117 by Martin Creed is a jokey little number. It consists of an audio tape on which can be heard, as advertised, every noise on a drum machine played in sequence.

As it runs the gamut of automated sounds, it sounds like an ironic comment on the technology used. The machine sounds, well, mechanical, and the recording format is obsolete.

But now that it sits with the largest collection of modern poetry in Britain, its comic potential poses a problem for the serious business of verse.

Poetry is both rhythm and metaphor. So next to this piece every word of every line of every poem here, in around 100,000 books, becomes a permutation of a slightly crap machine.

Creed would not be the first to compare poetry with machines. In an introduction to a book of his essays, William Carlos Williams described the poem as a “machine made out of words”.

And poets are well aware of the limitations of language. In The Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot already speaks of “a raid on the inarticulate/With shabby equipment always deteriorating”.

Having said that, Work No.117 could have you nodding along. It has an irrefutable logic. It works. Once you get over the format and the kit, it even makes a serviceable poem.

This artwork is one of three works by Martin Creed which have recently gone on display at The Southbank Centre Poetry Library, London.

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