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Monthly Archives: June 2022

Close to heart: collaborative work and the practice of (heartbeat) listening in Heart Monologues

Close to heart: collaborative work and the practice of (heartbeat) listening in Heart Monologues

The power of ‘the Eye of the Heart,’ which produces insight, is vastly superior to the power of thought, which produces opinions” (E.F. Schumach)

“’Cause hearts are the easiest things you could break” (“Some Candy Talking”, Jesus & Mary Chain)

“Poetry is like the human heartbeat. It belongs to everyone” (Imtiaz Dharker)

The meeting (of) minds. In June last year I was invited by Terry Lamb to give a performance of my multilingual poetry (in English, French and Croatian) at the first University of Westminster festival on global culture “World in Westminster”, 15-17 March 2022, celebrating cultural and linguistic diversity. We had discussed the idea of the performance back in 2019 but were unable to develop it due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Terry is a fine scholar and his commitment to language teaching and learning, as well a s to multilingualism are exceptional; I was both honoured and extremely pleased to be able to collaborate with him on the festival and to be able to bring my performance to the stage as an alumna PhD student of Westminster University.   

Heart monologues / Les monologues du coeur / Monolozi srca. When presented with an opportunity to give a live performance after two and a half years in lockdown, I immediately thought of my multilingual poetry sequence “Heartbeat monologues” (HM). I imagined it as a multisensory poetry recital incorporating elements of live music performance, sound, and live and recorded voices. I had just finished rewriting HM after having done some important work on it as part of my one-to-one mentoring work and summer workshop with poet, artist, and writer, Caroline Bergvall. This latest reworking of HM coincided with Terry’s invitation, which was perfect timing. 

I want to say here that Heart monologues (HM) would not be the success it has been without Atau Tanaka’s and Delphine Salkin’s unique artistic input, and their dedication and expertise, the contributions made by Robert Šantek and Bridget Knapper, permanent members of my multilingual poetry Unbound project, and the voices by Daniel Loayza and Emma Macpherson, the pre-recorded readers, as well as the voices of so many others that came to life in Delphine’s audio piece “HeartCoeurSrce”. Last, but not least, Jonathan Pigrem, sound technician from the Centre for Digital Music, Queen Mary, Martin Delaney, free-lance photographer and musician, Richard Woodford, Regents Street Cinema technician, and Ying Man, Regents Street Cinema Manager, all contributed to the success of HM by bringing their enthusiasm and expertise to the HM project.   

Heartbeat matters. I have known Atau Tanaka professionally for several years now and I have the greatest respect for both his cutting-edge scientific research and his avantgarde performance work. Atau’s “Heart Beat Monitor” is a track from the CD, Biorhythms (Caipirinha Music, 2001). It used a stethoscope to record the heartbeat and has been mixed and processed in an analogue electronic music studio to create hypnotic polyrhythms.  I heard “Heart Beat Monitor” some years ago almost by pure chance; my first thought back then was that it would work perfectly with the HM poems I had just finished writing; however, I was not sure how to take the idea of a collaboration further, nor what form it would take; I let this feeling sit with me thinking there would come an opportunity at some point in the future to get in touch with Atau. When I finally invited him to collaborate on HM and he agreed, I knew this was a very good sign. 

“Faites que le rêve dévore votre vie afin que la vie ne dévore pas votre rêve”. After my preliminary chat with Atau at the Mughead Coffee in New Cross in October last year, I started thinking about the artistic direction of the performance and how I would achieve a sonic integration of my multilingual poetry with music, sound and voice.  I knew that I did not have the necessary experience to put such as complex and multidimensional piece on stage; so, I reached out to Delphine Salkin, a Belgian-born theatre director, actress, sound artist and author currently living in Paris, and my best and oldest friend. I know Delphine since we were 12 years old and when I was living in Brussels with my family; we were spending a lot of time together daydreaming as teenagers and on one occasion she left me a note: “Faites que le rêve dévore votre vie afin que la vie ne dévore pas votre rêve / / “Let your dream devour your life, not your life devour your dream”, a quote from the Little Prince that stayed with me until the present day. Delphine’s artistic work on the human voice in performance, and her own very personal journey as an artist and woman who lost (literally) and recovered her own voice, an experience narrated in her autobiographical theatre piece “Interieur Voix” (2015), made her the perfect fit for HM. When I asked Delphine whether she would be free to collaborate with me and she accepted, I knew everything was falling into place. 

“I am muscle, vivant souvenir”.  Whilst the heartbeat sounds of “Heart Beat Monitor” introduced HM in poem 1, HM’s centre piece was Atau’s electronic music piece “Myogram” (Meta Gesture music, 2017) performed live; slowly entering the scene between poem 7 and 8, it continued throughout the second part of the HM recital including poem 9 with its opening line “I am muscle…” and intermittent play during poems 10, 11 and 12.  As Atau explains: “Myogram” is a concert work for performer and the Myo bio-electrical interface as musical instrument. The sensors capture electromyogram (EMG) signals reflecting muscle tension. The system renders as musical instrument the performer’s own body, allowing him to articulate sound through concentrated gesture. A direct sonification of muscle activity where we hear the neuron impulses of muscle exertion as data. Throughout the piece, the raw data is first heard, then filtered, then excite resonators and filters.” Interwoven with Atau’s electronic music were the verses of HM live poetry read on stage by three live readers (Bridget, Robert, myself), and the two pre-recorded voices (Emma, Daniel). The pre-recorded poetry verses and Atau’s music were mixed on his Mackie mixer and a stereo signal was sent to the front-of-house. The three live readers used wireless Sennheiser mics, and all this was mixed by our sound technician, Jonathan. After more than twenty years of practicing and performing his body and gesture work, there is no doubt that Atau has become a virtuoso at it; yet, he remains very modest about his art. 

Multilingual heart, multilingual voice(s). After doing a summary bibliographic review and speaking to an expert in theatre studies at Queen Mary University of London, I realised that the concept of multilingual voice was explored very little – if not at all – in theatre and voice studies. In HM, I wanted to explore the multilingual voice and its relation to the body through textual, sonic and musical expression. The public was invited to immerse her/himself in the different language sounds through the sonic and visual correspondences of the three tongues; I believe this approach to writing and performance allows the reader / listener to experience the multilingual poems without necessary knowledge of the three languages. The theme of the multilingual heart and the question of which languages the “heartsrcecoeur” speaks lie at the centre of HM; the heart is “monologuing” through a change of first, second and third-person narratives as a physical, poetic and philosophical entity. In the last two poems of the sequence (12 and 13) references are made to music research in heart arrhythmia and musical patterns, mixed with somewhat recent medical experiences. The final poem, poem 13 in which the heartbeats of “Heart Beat Monitor” return to the scene, is my poetic statement in which I fully apply the multilingual poetry method.

When trying to conceptualise my own ideas, the first question I asked myself was what does it mean to have a multilingual voice? Where in my body are the different languages I speak located? And more generally, what are the public’s expectations and perceptions of multilinguality? I cannot entirely tell how successful I was in treating these complex questions in the HM performance, yet there is no doubt that the poems in HM spoken out loud gained a quality that transcends any language, something that I believe was achieved through the sonic integration of sound, music and voice, and is the direct result of the collaborative artistic process we undertook as a group. Delphine’s sound piece “Heart Coeur Srce” played between poems 11 and 12 in which the sober notes of Pascal Salkin’s musical score are set against the voices of people (based on thirty different recordings) saying the word ‘heart’ in twenty-nine different languages is a celebration of, an ode to multilingual voice.   

Artistic practice and collaboration. As a multilingual poet interested in collaborative practice and interdisciplinary work my experience so far has been that still exists a view prevalent in the poetry establishment in the UK, and among the poets themselves, that we as poets are expected primarily to work in solitude; solitary work is valued positively as being one of the distinctive traits that defines us; at the same time, these perpetuating views and conditions create a space(s) within which we primarily compete against each other. Luckily, the perceptions and the ideal of the solitary artist have begun to shift in all areas (see, for example, the 2019 Turner Prize that was for the first time ever awarded to a collective of artists, rather than one individual artist). It is true that the artistic creative process in collaborative work can be confusing, messy, unpredictable, and authorship can be difficult to assign. During an interdisciplinary collaboration, we are constantly being confronted with the question of what it is we as artists are willing to concede to give space for other possible modes of expressions to develop; yet, we learn also how to free ourselves up from our own artistic egos. We learn to negotiate our own identity, views, ideas as artists in relation to other existing identities and practices of the other artists we collaborate with. As Bridget, HM reader and group member, observes about HM: “What was noticeable [in the HM collaboration] was the harmonious, egalitarian nature of the group. There was a total absence of competition between the participants, no hierarchy, no directing leader. The author and director held their knowledge and competences lightly, creating a space for us all to navigate the text, the sound, the space.”

Since I became involved in interdisciplinary artistic collaborations through my multilingual poetry performances (I use the word performance here in the broadest of senses), I realised that mutual trust is one of the most important ingredients (if not the most important one) that defines whether such a collaboration fails or succeeds. The second most important ingredient is the right chemistry between the collaborators. Finally, the third one is the ability to trust the creative process, to “let go”. It is true that each collaboration is different, and that each participant has their own views about what makes a successful collaboration; it would therefore be wrong for me to assume we all share the same ideas and goals; however, it is safe to say that all successful collaborations (artistic or other types) invite a specific type of listening, quality of dialogue. 

Collaboration and the practice of listening. Having attended a couple of Caroline’s collaborative practice workshops – most recently the 7-week “Practice conversations” course last summer with nine other artists, (as part of the newly founded Solitary + Solidary Arts Lab) – one of the things I learned is there is both an interdependency and a subtle balance between solitary and solidary artistic practice; an ecological equilibrium. In the messiness of today’s world, a solitary artistic mode of working can no longer function fully without the solidary mode, and the other way around. Embracing collaborative work as a method for the development of one’s own artistic practice not only enriches one’s own development; it also enables the community and work of other artists through the range of active listening practices; listening can become a key element of artistic practice, a “part of a two-way dialogue”, an “action” that leads to change (Farinati & Firth, 2017). It takes heart, openness, and courage to show our own vulnerability as artists before we are ready to embark on any kind of collaborative artistic voyage

A few final words.... The work on HM coincided with the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. In the first days of the invasion, my memories, and images of the war in ex-Yugoslavia rushed back. I was stunned, speechless, incapable of articulating my own feelings, ideas; the horror of war is unfolding daily in front of our eyes more than 100 days later; so close to the heart of Europe; only three and half hours from London. In that context, any gesture, however small, counts. For me, HM and the collective sound piece “HeartCoeurSrce” represent that very small, but necessary gesture. To have heartcoeursrce. To have courage.

I wish to thank the Centre for Poetry, Queen Mary University of London, and the University of Westminster for co-funding Heart Monologues, 16 March 2022, Regent Street Cinema, University of London (Part of “World in Westminster” Festival, 15-17 March 2022). I also wish to thank the Centre for Digital Music, Queen Mary, for their continued support.


Materials from Heart monologues:

Bolfek-Radovani, Jasmina, Heart monologues (2m 47s), 2022, Youtube.
Bolfek-Radovani, Jasmina, Heart monologues (33 m), full audio recording, 16 March 2022, Regent Street Cinema, London, Soundcloud (recorded by Richard Woolford at the Regent Street Cinema, 16 March 2022). Bolfek-Radovani, Jasmina, Heart monologues, moving poster, 2022, Vimeo. 
Salkin, Delphine (1m19s), Heart Coeur Srce, Soundcloud.
Tanaka, Atau, “Myogram”, Meta Gesture, 2017, Youtube
Tanaka, Atau, “Heart Beat Monitor”, Biorhythms, 2000, Youtube.

Related references:

Bolfek-Radovani, from Heart monologues: 1. & 3., The Fortnightly Review, January 2022.
Cavanero, Adriana, Towards a Philopsophy of Vocal Expression, Standford: Standford University Press, 2005. Farinati, Lucia & Firth, Claudia, The Force of Listening, New York: Errant Bodies Press, 2017.
Inchley, Maggie, Voice and New Writing, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
Konstantinos, Thomaidis, Theatre and Voice, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2017.
Salkin, Delphine, “Interieur Voix”, (first created in December 2015) Rideau de Bruxelles, December 2019 (With and by Delphine Salkin, Pierre Sartenaer, Raymond Delpierre, and Isabelle Dumont).
Practice Conversations, seven-week summer course led by Caroline Bergvall, 17 June – 29 July 2021, Solitary + Solidary Arts Lab.

Jasmina Bolfek-Radovani 29th June 2022

sounds between trees by Peter Larkin (Guillemot Press)

sounds between trees by Peter Larkin (Guillemot Press)

Are the sounds between trees a kind of conversation? The wind? Or silence? Or is it an abstraction, even at times a personification, ‘to save us from / what is formless’? Peter Larkin’s new book, a beautifully produced volume by Guillemot, evidences an arboreal religiosity, ‘a thud of spirit’, rooted in a landscape of prayer and seeking.

The hundred small poems here (each two or three short lines) are small-scale devotions-come-observations, verbal snapshots of a world of verticals, ‘[t]rees above trees’, shelter, storms and ‘noises in rain’. Within the ‘[t]ree chaos’, it seems that nature itself prays, perhaps to itself, in a self-contained cycle of erosion, displacement and ecology. 

The final line asks ‘is this how the wild calls?’ I truly do not know; the words – pared back to a minimum – are more ‘a stumble into the uncondition’ that Larkin seeks, a hoped-for escape from human formlessness into a new world which celebrates and facilitates its own natural forms. 

Words like ‘abnegation,’, ‘abdication’, ‘grief’ and ‘penury’ suggest a sense of loss and pain, but this book is also infused with hope. Phrases such as ‘the cycle of increase’ and ‘towards wholeness’ speak of a future, perhaps an overgrown world where humans have no place, or at the very least know their place:

     Tree chaos amid
     greyed-out (us) of harm,
     a forest of counter-calms

These compressed, thoughtful and thought-provoking miniatures are evidence of a complex engagement with the world around us, disturbing and insightful moments of possibility and potential, a quiet forest of words, ‘a place of return / racks of outlook at rest’.

Rupert Loydell 27th June 2022

Poems by Lydia Tomkiw (Universal Exports of North America)

Poems by Lydia Tomkiw (Universal Exports of North America)

Lydia Tomkiw is probably better known as half of Algebra Suicide, an inventive and eclectic post-punk duo which found Tomkiw declaiming her lyrics over drum machines and electric guitar. If you’re lucky you might find their albums secondhand, otherwise some of this music is still available on a couple of Bandcamp compilations.

Tomkiw was also an accomplished poet – although many poems were used as lyrics – and was championed in the UK by Martin Stannard and Geoff Hattersley, who both undertook a reading tour with her, whilst the latter published her book The Dreadful Swimmers through his imprint The Wide Skirt. Otherwise, Tomkiw’s publications were pamphlets and chapbooks, some self-produced, all now impossible to find. Until, that is, the publication of this 409 page book, which I have only just come across, although it bears a 2020 copyright date.

The band and poet both came out of Chicago in the late 70s/early 80s, part of a widespread surge in independent cassette and record labels, mail art, makeshift venues and mostly attitude. I first came across Algebra Suicide on tape anthologies from bedroom labels, often swopped for other tapes, and was immediately seduced by the sexy vocals and piercing guitars on their mostly short, sharp ‘songs’. Many are emotional recollections or declamations, apparently confessional memories; others seem openly sexual, full of lust and longing. An impression encouraged by the title of one of her chapbooks, Ballpoint Erection, and those of various poems such as ‘Desire’, ‘The Hips of a Woman’, ‘Boys in Bed’ and ‘Lazy Sweat’.

On the page, the words are sometimes simplistic, but always frank and open. In ‘True Romance at the World’s Fair’, the text moves from the opening ‘A whispered remark changed a girl’s life. / Make no mistake there was a difference.’ to ‘mother-in-law trouble’ and ‘A jitterbug wedding and an itch that started quick’, before the subject of the piece goes walkabout:

     Dressed in the most attractive of rubber suits,
     Posing as a young girl, unmarried and unkissed
     She set out to answers questions.

One of which is ‘what brings out the beast in man?’ However, she soon discovers that 

     this ain’t no musical romp, 
     No screwball comedy; 
     This is just dog-collared loneliness:
     The world,
     The world is not a wild place.

Is that last line about disappointment, failure, or just a frank summary and conclusion? At the risk of confusing author and poems, Tomkiw in person was in many ways wild. Post-divorce from her musical partner and husband, Tomkiw took to drink and despair, only starting to come out of it when she and her friend the poet Sharon Mesmer moved to New York City in 1994. There she tried to make new literary and musical connections, undertaking readings and holding a launch party for a solo album, before she ran out of steam and faded from view. In 2004 her widowed mother asked her to move to Phoenix, Arizona, which she did. Little is known beyond that date: there was no public presence, only the news that Tomkiw had died – of natural causes – in 2007.

Thankfully, designer and advertising executive Dan Shepelavy took on the task of assembling and editing Tomkiw’s collected works. This beautifully put together book gathers up 180 uncollected poems, an introduction by Paul Hoover, a personal recollection by Sharon Mesmer, a detailed and factual history of Tomkiw by the editor, and a musical overview of Algebra Suicide. Each of the four chapbooks reprinted here are re-presented as they were originally published.

It’s clear Tomkiw was interested in reaching an audience with her poetry. Shepelavy writes that she ‘utterly rejected poetry’s endemic tendencey towards the insular and hermetic, craving connection and engagement.’ He claims that ‘[e]mboldened by punk’s example, Tomkiw helped redefine the boundaries of poetic performance’, suggesting that the ‘[n]ow established form like slam and spoken word, the promiscuou intermingling of music and verse’, can all be traced back to ‘those raucuous Chicago nightclubs and basements’.

There are elements of both hyperbole and truth there, which in a way dodge the real issues. Riding the zeitgeist of punk and post-punk always meant you were going to be left behind when musical fashions changed, whilst wanting to be taken seriously as a poet is never helped by being popular or populist – you get your fame perhaps, but rarely do you get ‘literary recognition’ or critical acceptance, however wrong that might be.

It feels hard to separate ‘connection and engagement’ from the notion of fame, although Shepelavy argues that ‘Fame was a diversion all along’ and that ‘Lydia Tomkiw’s work remains precious proof of imagination taking hold of reality and bending it to requirements – reality made to rescue, reclaim, seduce, exhilarate, amuse, and transcend.’

He’s not wrong, and although Tomkiw seemed to want fame as proof of her imagination, her poems and songs, she was also aware it might not happen in the way she wanted. ‘Sometimes’ ends with a verse of both resignation and hope:

     Sometimes, things are heinous and torture us to tears
     And we want everything we could possibly imagine,
     And we want it to be glowing and pretty,
     But we settle for something that
     Might shine bright in years to come.

And here it is, a book shining brightly. In ‘Coup de Grace’, Tomkiw declares that

     You won’t forget me:
     I’ll be warm and wet in the thin winter air;
     I’ll be the murmur, the secret like crazy. 

As another poem says: ‘It’s time to reap the fun we’ve sown.’ Poems is seriously fun, seriously engaging, disturbing and enjoyable. You should buy it and share the secret.

Rupert Loydell 26th June 2022

Plans for Sentences by Renee Gladman (Wave Books)

Plans for Sentences by Renee Gladman (Wave Books)

These sentences are isolated outgrowths on the page, declamatory black islands on the sea of white page.

These sentences are accompanied by, perhaps arise out of or derive from, drawings. These sentences are unsure if they are words or images, are what arises from asemic writing, from figures, plans and imaginary architecture. These sentences ‘inscribe their own topography; make their shape with their shape’ (fig. 23).

These sentences ‘both fog and chart the rising structure’ (fig. 45) as they gesture, dome, tower and broadcast. These sentences are active participants in the construction of a shelter for the reader, built in their own individual way.

These sentences ‘balance the question of movement against that of enclosure’ (fig. 7). These sentences take risks, do some pretty heavy semantic lifting, and sometimes collapse under the weight of their own intentions and possible interpretations. 

These sentences are carefully built temporary shelters, and can be rearranged into other dwellings. These sentences imagine possible future sentences, as purely text, at the end of the book.

These sentences are dream structures, buildings made of language arising from sentences which are drawings. These sentences ‘will up and flutter and through’ (fig. 60), ‘will not know space’ (fig. 5).

These sentences explore sentence construction and the nature of language, ‘and will not always say what they mean’ (p. 127). They often self-destruct but ‘will open when they fail’ (fig. 47).

These sentences are both tentative and self-assured. These sentences cluster and work together, but also stand up for themselves and elbow each other aside. 

These sentences are hollows of meaning, are moments of illumination.

These sentences are some of many.

These sentences have no closure

Rupert Loydell, 24th June 2022

but first i call your name by Hadassa Tal Translated by Joanna Chen (Shearsman Books)

but first i call your name by Hadassa Tal Translated by Joanna Chen (Shearsman Books)

The collection is composed of seven short parts each with incantatory titles that together could create a poem of their own:

within the whirlpool of your loss

run away, leave the poem

one instant – you’re gone

I will not be able to lift you

the one with no name


the purple rose of Tel Aviv

Poems in ‘but first I call your name’ are elusive and ambiguous and based on paradox. Loss hovers between the binaries of beauty and pain: ‘apart from everything/nothing has changed’ says the epigraph on the opening page. The spirit of the lost ‘you’ wanders along ‘in the opposite direction/to laughter’. There are motifs of silence, birds, roses, music and dreams but pain is ‘nailed’, one title is ‘lacerations from an unsent letter’ and there is reference to ‘the crimson bond of blood’ while angels are warned to ‘take caution/with a slaughtering knife’. ‘Silence’ is a key word in these poems but, in the nightmarish ‘finito la commedia’, Pierrot cackles ‘A bird will scream tonight’.

Poems about loss – but the reader is offered no further information. There are references to motherhood with ‘nipples and honey’ and to a child, ‘a girl running in a field’, to a ‘morning star and a girl’ falling,  ‘scattering through the air’, but details are not intended for the reader, loss is conveyed through images, there is no name and the lost one is always referred to as ‘you’ or, symbolically, as ‘beauty’.

Poems in this collection are filled with yearning. One is titled ‘how much yearning does time weigh’ and begins ‘You yearn from within me/passing a shadow over my words, pushing/towards the source of light.’ We have the description of ‘running along stone platforms/ chasing you’ (‘Crumbs’). In ‘leave these words’ the narrator runs ‘like a broom through the city streets’ asking ‘Was it my yearning that created the rose you gave me/in a dream or was it yours –‘. In the poem ‘baby, you’ve got a snow-white coat with blue-red stripes’, yearning is described as ‘wafting like a wind,/whirling’. ‘Hold, let me hold you’ is the plea, ‘don’t slip away’.

This is a deeply philosophical collection. Time, as the instigator of grief, is interrogated throughout.  The ‘you’ has been ‘emptied of clocks yet time happens’. In the poem ‘silence’ Time is personified when he hears his own words and looks up ‘startled’ only to repeat the dreadful word ‘Nevermore’. In ‘twist’ we are offered this:

there’s no death, she said.

the spirit doesn’t die, is not born.

the sternum, a cage

of ribs, life before and after, all is one.’

Earlier I mentioned paradoxes and binaries and an essential one exists in the swing between the sublime and the void. In ‘but first I call your name’ the void is ‘emptiness/filled with itself’. The lost voice jingles in a bell ‘polished by the void’ (‘that’s that’). ‘o g-d’ begins ‘imagine voiding yourself: visibly absent./no present no sign. nothing. all shuttered … white recedes into darkness.’ The most chilling line, or fragment of a line, ends the wintry scene in ‘silence’:

‘Rain lashing a willow branch will be the only tune,

the world tethered to these words: you are no’

And the sublime? The poem ‘guesstimate’ offers some consolation perhaps, or at least a slight movement towards resignation:

they say your loosened curls are the wings of the bird of fate

that you were already who you would be

that you wouldn’t have been eternal

if you hadn’t been transient

This is an outstanding collection of poems, exquisitely written by Hadassa Tal and translated with empathy and delicacy by Joanna Chen. The book is haunting, in every sense, lyrical and innovative, both enchanting and painful. 

The poems end with a promise: ‘at daybreak I’ll release you to dawn’ and with an image of ‘the purple rose of tel aviv’ which the narrator, with pain holding her hand, will ‘dream into being’.

Mandy Pannett 23rd June 2022

Met Obs by Lizzi Thistlethwayte (Waterflag Press)

Met Obs by Lizzi Thistlethwayte (Waterflag Press)

Met Obs is a large pamphlet, lovely to hold and look through, with superb black-and-white photographs by Jen Lindsay. You are encouraged to take your time over these poems: even a four-line poem will usually be in the centre of an otherwise blank page. And they need time: they have a fullness which allows for sudden new directions, jump-cuts, and startling changes of register. There is a strong presence of what feels like rural Suffolk, a particular house and garden, and its surrounding natural world; of night; and also of the sea and seashore. There are other human presences. The idea of a world in endless transformation is there in the first poem, ‘Moly’. The middle stanza has a steady focus on sleet on a ploughed field until, in its third and last line: 

‘a seethe   capsizing me   unmoored strangeness of raw’

Through its characteristic patterning of sound (seethe/me  moor/raw  caps/ness), we feel the plough and the sleet moving under us. The last stanza is prayer-like (‘shelter me night   the roots of the mind are tender, frail’), the wind is ‘in the earth’s rigging’, and ends with almost homely directness: ‘I am out of true’.

     Voyaging is explicit in the very enigmatic title poem, ‘Met Obs’. Short for ‘meteorological observation’, a nautical term, referring to a reading or record, as the epigraph to that poem has in brackets, ‘mid-atlantic 0200 hrs’. Night time, at sea, a wondering alertness…very much the provenance of these poems. 

     A lover is openly present in ‘Scatter’, which introduces the ‘we’, ‘We climbed that storm’, continuing with the poignant ‘mostly hope, mostly bent towards/the other…’ , adding the evocative and positive ‘slipping our moorings’, and ending where characteristically the erotic (‘your hand round me in me’) meets a tiny shock, the surprise of  ‘you/crackled…’ And there’s the delightful ‘Below 0 ° C’:

the birdbath is moon, cold niche, midwinter

stash, icefield, clamp, pent, chock of sky.

There are flaughts in my ribcage

rips in the skylid. From a spent

maize strip rook-black ejecta sling

which ever way the wind.

Below 0° C I’m not my own light, cariad,

as I cup my smithereens to your keelbone.

The music of association, the sound of one word suggesting another, pent/spent, rib/lid, cage/maize, sling/wind, etc. helps create the sense of an openness to a winter’s night and to the beyond, and though there’s cold outside, there’s the warmth of the lovers’ bed in the extraordinary last line (‘cariad’ is love or sweetheart, a word of Welsh provenance).

     At the end of ‘Horizon’, the characteristic images of earth and sky are also suggestive of the explosive physical effects of human encounter:

No one utters a word for, on some days, the violet

violence of that meet place, the power load, the tightrope.

But it gets dark it rains and there’s that sweet

unseen pulse-point no you were my heart, and we did touch.

The voice breaking in, in italics, with the poignant ‘were’, ‘did’, unsettles the poem even as it completes it. 

     The relation between text and photo seems to be one where each is allowed to speak for itself: only ‘Stilts’ seems to take one as its starting point, where vaguely stilt-like old iron stanchions protrude from a grassy hillside. 

     The book finishes with ‘The Angle of Dip’, but its first line is by this stage probably not how you expect even a Lizzi Thistlethwayte poem to start!

         Life is a massive con, hurrah…

especially when four more lines start with ‘hurrah’ (including both ‘hurrah for rain at last’ and ‘hurrah for a roof that doesn’t leak’!) Nevertheless, the casual ‘what-the-hell’ freedom here is characteristic. Once the speaker confesses to the ‘sin of a veerable soul’ and continues with the playful charm of the adaptation of the 23rd psalm, ‘for even though I walk in the valley of sensible shoes/I cry like a child’, the poem ends with

Q. Should I appear nonchalant or full of holes? 

A. I am here, under the rain, already miles away

both possibilities still open, the protagonist not to be pinned down, elusive, as her poems are, as the world is.

Martin Hayden 2nd June 2022

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