"Smuggling in Accidental Poetry": Cognitive and Stylistic Strategies of a Stammering Teen in David Mitchell's Black Swan Green
In this article, Constance Robert-Murail will explore the poetic »accidents« at work in two extracts of Black Swan Green (2006) by David Mitchell. The novel tells the trials and musings of Jason Taylor, a thoughtful 13-year-old growing up in a backwater town full of strange neighbours and middle-school bullies. Throughout the year 1982, the reader witnesses Jason mediating between the various personae of his fragmented identity: Unborn Twin, his faint-hearted alter ego; Eliot Bolivar, the nom-de-plume he uses to write poems for the local parish newspaper; and, most importantly, Hangman, a malignant personification of his stammer. According to Garan Holcombe, David Mitchell's own experience of stammering has provided the novelist with a particular »sensitivity toward the formal necessity of coherence and structure« (Holcombe, 2013). The extract I have decided to focus on dramatises the onset of Jason's speech impediment and acts as a »high emotional intensity passage« (Toolan, 2012) within the structure of the coming-of-age narrative. A close stylistic reading of this particular text highlights the juxtaposition of Jason's pathological speechlessness and his bustling, bubbling inner monologue. This opposition elicits a physical reaction within the reader, caught between frustration and delectation. I would argue that the multimodal nature of the extract generates what Pierre-Louis Patoine has called a »somesthetic« effect on the reader (Patoine, 2016). Stuttering, according to Professor Mark Onslow, is »an idiosyncratic disorder.« (Onslow, 2017). Word avoidance has led Jason to create his own grammar and lexicon: his youthful voice and palliative strategies allow Mitchell to smuggle in moments of »accidental« poetry. The cognitive exploration of Jason's stammer stands both at the core of the reader's response and at the centre of Mitchell's powerful poetics-and it is, last but not least, devastatingly funny.