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Trouble by Alison Winch (The Emma Press)

Trouble by Alison Winch (The Emma Press)

Trouble explores intimacy through a range of different relationships, from that of a lover, polymorphous lover, wife, granddaughter, during the breakdown of a relationship, pregnancy, and in moments of fantasy. The poems are played out against a past and present London backdrop filled with betting shops, a horny marriage counsellor, ballrooms, male attraction and power.

The wife narrator pretends to be ‘one woman’ and has in her head ‘a pack of spaniels so dense they are a mind. And they fawn over men.’
Driven to Eastbourne, which is like ‘a day trip to Seven Sisters, without the bookies’, her ambivalence is revealed:

We’re the youngest guests at the Queen’s Hotel
and you’re 52. It’s the summer solstice and we’re breaking up

except we’re making love on the fifth floor
in an evening light as yolky as an afternoon.

The sexy doom of the split
is like falling in love and a stay of execution.

At the collection’s core is the sequence ‘Alisoun’s’, which uses material from the medieval pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome and the figure of Alisoun from Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale to further explore of female sexuality and reproductive power. The spirited ribaldry is counterpointed by material quoted from key medieval texts, by Marbod of Rennes, St. Thomas Acquinas, Galen and others, attacking or denying female lust and disobedience positioned on the right side margin. The sequence has a wonderful wanton sensuality and period feel ‘Of Wykked Wyves’.

Spanking! he bondaged to feel the passiun of muscle my myt without murder – Dirty Dog!

he pelts my mind – Nicholas – as May’s cuckoo spyt pysse-drys to June

below the river’s a pour of mellow wine that cools the caterwaul cockles of my bihynde

There is, as Sarah Howe notes in her introduction, a great deal of tongue in cheek humour mixed with affectionate lyricism. Many of the poems, such as ‘from Expecting The Gourd’, are extracted from larger works. The poem deals with pregnancy in a direct and visceral way:

Note polycystic ovaries and oleander bushes. Remember the ovulation cycle, wonky uterus, the way you circled your tongue around the salt prod of his cock.

You’re puking cabbage-green skies like a drunk without romance
ulcerous anus, swollen tits, a snatch no one wants –

Winch’s language use and metaphorical thrust has an undercurrent of sexual desire and nourishment. The poems dealing with her dying grandmother are counterpointed with life enhancing images of pomegranate, magnolia, potato and hops. There is an overriding sense of female power and voice arising from various states of intimacy, and that chimes in well with other recent works by Dorothy Lehane, Sophie Mayer, and Sarah Howe. I greatly look forward to reading more of Winch’s poetry and warmly recommend this debut collection. The pamphlet has a great cover by Sophie Herxheimer and is beautifully designed by The Emma Press.

David Caddy 13th July 2016

Umwelt by Dorothy Lehane (Open House Editions, Leafe Press)

Umwelt by Dorothy Lehane (Open House Editions, Leafe Press)

Umwelt, a term in biosemiotics theorised by Jacob von Uexküll and Thomas A. Seboek, unites all the semiotic processes of an organism into a whole. Each functional component of an umwelt has a meaning and so represents the organism’s model of the world. These functional components correspond approximately to perceptual features, and thus to understanding. Dorothy Lehane’s Umwelt takes the semiotic parameters of the body in trauma as its impulse and uses this frame of reference as a way of exploring patient experience, clinical measures and embodied phenomenological practice.

Umwelt begins with a strong sonic and rhythmic surge into the abyss
of the traumatised body with ‘verbal machinery annexed’ as ‘the body still roams’ and ‘is a throne of abuse’ delineating a split between body and speech. There is a clash between an impersonal use of medical language, as in ‘social pleasures rely on the pineal gland’ or flowing backwards / from the alveolar ridge’ and the implied problems of dysfunction, and a personalised anger leading to a ferocious rant with witty asides. This clash of register is at the heart of the poem’s momentum and success. The poem is both personal and impersonal, being imbued in medical language, emotionally and linguistically powerful as shifting attitudes and understanding of the self and the body’s condition change over time. This produces a powerful testimony, as it is both detached and emotionally charged. The reader feels each attack on the body as they are liberally spread throughout the poem’s 424 lines.

The poem charts the ebbs and flows of the illness, tussles with a surgeon and impending surgery, and how it impacts upon the tongue:

The throaty oesphageal tissue dislodges
as if to say here be nourishment & battle
Keep going & Peer at the womb that haemorrhages post-coitally
Remove the tube & it’s still a sticky mess

The sense of struggle around the mouth, tongue and throat is palpable and leavened by the constant reminder that the female body is specific and under attack.

A comparable recent work might be Sophie Mayer’s (O, 2015), where a series of traumas are registered against the female body and voice. Lehane, though, has her own distinct poetic approach and utterance to the point of rage:

At times I called out MONSTER
We never talk body fluids
The couch & my vicarious trauma
“informed” breach

Much of the poem turns on the concept of ‘disfluency’, a term from pathology meaning ‘impairment of the ability to produce smooth, fluent speech’, or an interruption by a pause or the repetition of a word or syllable. The poem starts with a disfluency in the repetition ‘so tongue in throat’ / ‘so tongue in heart’ / … ‘so tongue in rouge’ / ‘so rouge in ruin’, and favours disfluency as an act of disobedience, which the poem in turn embodies. This embodiment comes through its enjambment, shifts, repetitions and returns, as well as all the internal arguments and self adjustments, which serve to register changes to the body and gives the poem its narrative twists and turns.

What has happened to you is everywhere on the lips of strangers
tiresomely
& I’m never sure if they are talking about my faith or my body

Umwelt imprints on the memory through its linguistic force, strident defiance before and after surgery, and the sheer number of striking lines.

David Caddy 27th June 2016

Tears in the Fence 63

Tears in the Fence 63

Tears in the Fence 63 is now available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry, fiction, non-fiction and translations from Peter Larkin, Laurie Duggan, Geraldine Clarkson, Kathrine Sowerby, Mélisande Fitzsimons, Rethabile Masilo, Sally Dutton, Hugo von Hofmannsthal translated by William Ruleman, Cristina Navazo-Eguía Newton, William Ruleman, Nathan Thompson, Richard Foreman, Melinda Lovell, Charles Wilkinson, Caroline Maldonado, Colin Sutherill, Colin Winborn, Jackie Felleague, Basil King, Eilidh Thomas, Paul Rossiter, Alda Merini translated by Chiara Frenquelluci & Gwendolyn Jensen, Michael Ayers, Helen Moore, Rachael Clyne, Elizabeth Stott, Caitlin Gillespie, Alice Wooledge Salmon, D.N. Simmers, David Ball, Cherry Smyth, John Freeman, Linda Russo, John Brantingham, Roy Patience, Denni Turp, Lesley Burt, Natasha Douglas, Sarah Cave, Valerie Bridge and Steve Spence.

The critical section features Frances Spurrier on Eva Gore-Booth, Dorothy Lehane on Sophie Mayer, Mandy Pannett on Out Of Everywhere 2, Ben Hickman on Tim Allen, Ric Hool on Chris Torrance’s Frinite, Fiona Owen on Jeremy Hooker, Seán Street, Oliver Dixon on English Modernism, Joseph Persad on Maurice Scully, Mark Weiss, Ian Seed on Jeremy Over’s prose poems, Kat Peddie on Marianne Morris, Kelvin Corcoran interviewing Peter Riley on Due North, Belinda Cooke on Antonia Pozzi trans. Peter Robinson, Paul Matthews on Fiona Owen, Mandy Pannett on Pansy Maurer-Alvarez, David Caddy on The New Concrete, Anthony Barnett – Antonym: César Vallejo, Notes On Contributors and Ian Brinton’s Afterword.

Copies are £10. UK Subscriptions £25 for three issues or £40 for six issues.

9 April 2016

A Touch on the Remote Linda Saunders (Worple Press) Delineate Gemma Jackson (Lightning Source)

A Touch on the Remote  Linda Saunders (Worple Press)  Delineate  Gemma Jackson (Lightning Source)

Two events, one past and one to come: on Monday 4th April I was fortunate enough to hear Gemma Jackson read from her recently published sequence of poems, Delineate, in the Templeman Library at the University of Kent. On Thursday 12th May I intend going to the launch in Bath of Linda Saunders’s Worple publication, A Touch on the Remote. Both of these collections of poems deal with loss, its historical and geographical context, and the bridging quality of language that can make anguish appear both in its immediacy and in its more lasting ache. I wish that I had known of these two publications when I wrote about the phantom limb syndrome for Dorothy Lehane and Elinor Clegg’s neurological issue of Litmus in 2014…my loss!
Gemma Jackson is just completing her third year of a course in Creative Writing at the university and Delineate is her first chapbook publication whereas Linda Saunders has already published three volumes of poetry and been included in the New Women Poets anthology from Bloodaxe. Gemma Jackson’s work jumps off the page and stage in the manner of performance poetry but it also possesses a reflective quality which haunts one long after the performance is over. The opening piece catches the tone immediately: ‘I was just a little girl why didn’t you / stop me little girl stop why stop just / stop stop stop just j us t stop I was I / I iiiiii’. This fumbling towards expression brought back to me Barry MacSweeney’s ‘Pearl Alone’:

‘In good moments
I say smash down the chalkboard:
let it stay black.
Shake my chained tongue, I’ll fake a growl – a – a – a – a – a ’

MacSweeney was concerned with giving utterance to the trapped mind and Jackson gives voice to the stratum spinosum which can appear as a stain of ‘Human / whispering on hems’.
Linda Saunders’ forthcoming book from Worple Press is divided into four sequences, ‘Listening to Stone’, ‘A Touch on the Remote’, ‘Inflections of the Light’ and ‘The Sculptor’s House’. The epigraph, standing as an introduction to these linked sections, is from Ezra Pound’s version of Li Po’s ‘Taking Leave of a Friend’ and it opens with the words ‘…Mind like a floating wide cloud’ in which the word ‘wide’ is suggestive perhaps of the distance envisaged in John Donne’s ‘A Valediction: forbidding mourning’. In Donne’s poem the geographical sense of distance between two lovers can be bridged by contemplating the use of mathematical instruments, ‘stiff twin compasses’, or by the width of hammered gold beaten ‘to airy thinness’. In the language of Saunders’ ‘Thin Air’ this palpability of absence becomes

‘It’s the utter thinness
of what or who has gone,
the air less thick with presence –’

It is not by mere chance that another voice behind these poems should be that of Basil Bunting whose Briggflatts closes with the statement

‘Fifty years a letter unanswered;
a visit postponed for fifty years.

She has been with me for fifty years.

Starlight quivers. I had day enough.
For love uninterrupted night.’

One of the most effective of these poems of loss is in the title sequence in which the poet seeks ways of touching an absent son ‘across the latitudes / and lapse of years’. The very consonantal emphasis on the ‘t’ in the first noun is softened into a resolution of absence felt in the cadence of ‘lapse’ and the stretching out of time in ‘years’, a word so close to both ‘tears’ and ‘yearns’. The poem I am thinking of is titled ‘Twice as Far = Twice as Fast’. After referring to the Big Bang theory of universal expansion the poem asserts that

‘It’s only that space is growing.
All the atoms remain the same,

but are moved farther apart
by space ballooning outwards.’

The conclusion is that ‘as distance increases so does the speed // of parting’.

As if nodding to Bunting’s stonemason who had scorned ‘Words!’ on the ground that ‘Pens are too light. / Take a chisel to write’, Linda Saunders places steps of stone throughout her four sequences: from the opening, ‘Underfoot, it’s limestone’, to the concluding poem titled ‘Stepping Stones’ we are lead with deft confidence through a terrain that is receding. Pound’s epigraph closes with the words

‘Sunset like the parting of old acquaintances
Who bow over their clasped hands at a distance,
Our horses neigh to each other
As we are departing.’

Linda Saunders’ ends her volume with a child who finds the ‘foot-shapes of stone’ and wonders ‘Where will they go?’ A question to which the notes at the end of Gemma Jackson’s sequence give one type of answer: note to page 19, ‘6570 – the number of days in 18 years’.

Ian Brinton 5th April 2016

Tears in the Fence 62

Tears in the Fence 62

Tears in the Fence 62 is now available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry, fiction and essays from Simon Smith, Nancy Gaffield, Patricia Debney, Andy Fletcher, Michael Farrell, John Freeman, Afric McGlinchey, Anamaria Crowe Serrano, Anamaria Crowe Serrano & Robert Sheppard, Sarah Connor, Samuel Rogers, Rose Alana Frith, Michael Grant, Charles Hadfield, Mike Duggan, Dorothy Lehane, Vicki Husband, Hilda Sheehan, Andrew Darlington, David Miller, Karl O’Hanlon, Amy McCauley, Rupert Loydell & Daniel Y Harris, Sam Smith, Rodney Wood, David Greenslade, Lesley Burt, L.Kiew, Graheme Barrasford Young, Andrew Lees, Michael Henry, James Bell, Rhys Trimble, Sophie McKeand, Haley Jenkins, Alexandra Sashe-Seekirchner, Richard Thomas, Alec Taylor and Steve Spence.

The critical section consists of David Caddy’s Editorial, Anthony Barnett’s Antonym, Jennifer K. Dick’s Of Tradition & Experiment XII, Alan Munton on Steve Spence, Andrew Duncan on Kevin Nolan’s Loving Little Orlick, David Caddy on Gillian White’s Lyric Shame, Robert Vas Dias on Jackson Mac Low, Laurie Duggan on Alan Halsey, Chris McCabe on Reading Barry MacSweeney, Mandy Pannett on Angela Gardner, Mary Woodward, Ric Hool on Ian Davidson, William Bonar, Steve Spence on John Hartley Williams, Linda Benninghoff on Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability, Notes On Contributors
and Ian Brinton’s Afterword.

21st September 2015

SNOW 3 Spring 2015, edited by Anthony Barnett & Ian Brinton

SNOW 3 Spring 2015, edited by Anthony Barnett & Ian Brinton

SNOW 3 is a cornucopia of international delights and quite unlike any other UK literary review. There are translations, musical scores, drawings, writing paintings, original poetry and prose, essays, extracts and stills from Rei Hayama’s film, The Focus, based upon a Nathaniel Hawthorne story, extracts from the correspondence between the Dutch writer, Cees Nooteboom, and Anthony Barnett, sketches by Harold Lehman, and a photographic essay on the artists and musicians at the Grand Terrace Cafe, Chicago, in early 1941.

The poetry translations include Simon Smith’s Catallus, Emilia Telese’s Erika Dagnino, and Barry Schwabsky’s Pierre Reverdy. Anthony Barnett translates the poetry and prose of Gunnar Ekelöf. Christina Chalmers and Concetta Scozzaro translate Andrea Zanzotto’s essay ‘Infancies, Poetries, Nursery’, Ian Brinton translates Philippe Jaccottet on Francis Ponge, Jørn H. Sværen translates his own prose from the Norwegian. Konrad Nowakowski writes on Busoni’s Letter to Verdi and Bridget Penney writes about the literary and artistic connections of Abney Park Cemetery, north London. The original poetry, less than usual, comes from Caroline Clark, Dorothy Lehane, Yamuph Piklé, Alexandra Sashe and John Seed.

This extraordinary mix is beautifully designed and presented by Allardyce, Barnett, Publishers. 14 Mount Street, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 1HL.

http://www.abar.net

David Caddy 3rd March 2015

Dorothy Lehane’s Places of Articulation (Dancing Girl Press, 2014)

Dorothy Lehane’s Places of Articulation (Dancing Girl Press, 2014)

http://dulcetshop.ecrater.com/p/20993248/places-of-articulation-dorothy-lehane

Hot on the heels of her debut collection, Ephemeris (Nine Arches Press, 2014), Dorothy Lehane’s Places of Articulation (Dancing Girl Press) continues her exploration of the physiological body by looking at various neurological conditions that effect speech. I admire Dorothy’s poetry because it is both experimental and about something worth exploring. Here she is broadly concerned with conditions of, such as irrealis and echolalia, or impediments to, speech from a neurological perspective. It is possible to argue that such impediments are also borne from social conditions, and indeed Lehane immediately locates aphasia in a social context:

erase bashful in stutter, or erasure
in cortex
yours, yours, a monstrous infancy
trespass careful, or fathers will

Lehane’s poem exploits the double meaning of aphasia as an inability to understand speech and an inability to produce speech, and is thus able to gesture at a range of possible associations and connections to produce a beguiling poem. Her pithy poems encompass concerns with phonetics, semantics, prattle, brain asymmetry, broken syntax, as they focus upon places of articulation and words formed and undone.

seems the world rebounds
words run their course
long organic death proliferates
for all the wrongs
said to be still surviving
your dead Latin
in your dead mouth

Lehane’s language work is strong. I would like to read more stretching of words to convey rupture, displacement and the struggle towards utterance. Sufferers of, for example, cerebral palsy and motor neurone diseases have speech disorders, show environmental and sensory awareness and do effect sonic and other responses within a wide range of understanding. Her poems are sinewy and effective. ‘Aleph’ is particularly strong with its musicality and rhythm effortlessly taking the sense, and reader, forward:

how poor in brushed poverty
acoustic ways to find all morning we kill

for a little letter privilege
fervent inceptions we strain to hear
by divine name this aleph so long to sage
recall in all its plexus in all its cursing

The final poem in the sequence, ‘goodnight, Malaysian three seven zero’ is a collage, rich in language play, of the last utterances of dying people. Part of the fun of the poem’s arc comes from assigning dying words to someone from the list of cultural figures footnoted at the poem’s end as it seamlessly unfolds.

This is another wonderful chapbook from the Dancing Girl Press.
Lehane is a poet well worth following.

David Caddy December 3rd 2014

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