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Hyena! Jackal! Dog! by Fran Lock (Pamenar Press)

Hyena! Jackal! Dog! by Fran Lock (Pamenar Press)

I’ve only recently become acquainted with Fran Lock’s work, mainly via a few poems on Alan Baker’s online magazine, Litter, and through her uncompromising and passionate review of Martin Hayes’ recent collection Ox. This substantial book is a mix of prose, poetry and prose poetry and questions almost everything about our preconceptions of ‘civilization’ from the viewpoint of an outsider expressed through the personas of Hyena, Jackal and Dog. As she says in her introduction:

Hyenas are, according to most classical sources: loathsome and savage, insatiable of appetite, offensive of smell; they are cowardly but vicious, morally and spiritually unclean. 

Her works clearly has theoretical underpinnings, if in response to ‘academic authority’ and she references creative artists/writers such as Leonora Carrington whose – ‘I’m like a hyena, I get into the garbage cans. I have an insatiable curiosity.’ – could almost be a prescription for Lock’s own work. Her writing is challenging in terms of its blend of eloquent authority and its discussions around notions of ‘inarticulacy’ expressed so succinctly in the following sentence: ‘When words won’t do, we recruit gesture, the body, guttural non-verbal noises.’  If I’m looking for reference points in recent British poetry, then Sean Bonney’s poetry comes immediately to mind where issues of class and ‘politics’ are to the forefront. Lock’s work is clearly also concerned with gender and with notions of transgression though her poetry also has a strong lyrical association which reminds me a little of Barry MacSweeney where the mix of beauty and disgust holds together really well even as it shouldn’t.

     From ‘Hyena Q&A’ (Hyena) we get the following:

          Q: And what’s it like being a hyena?

          A: It is withdrawal, trembling its traces all across the

          splendid belly of the night. It is ecstatic and mechanical,

          a kind of sanguinary prickling, to be made spectral with

          adrenaline, to stream raw light through your fibre optic

          veins. It is holding the ice of his name in my mouth until it

          cools. Until, I mean, it thaws.

          Q: How has being a hyena affected your employment


          A: Imagine having a clubfoot. Except it isn’t your foot, it’s 

          your whole body. Imagine a woman’s face eaten away by

          radiation. That’s how people look at you, a cheesy fifties

          pinup, her thighs tempered with ugly ragged holes.

          Q: But do you work? 

          A: I practice walking upright. I type with a hollow wand

          between my teeth, a tango-dancer’s wilting rose.

There’s a mix of streetwise elegance with something very questioning and assertive about this writing which reminds me of Sarah Crewe’s poetry and both writers seem to be at the forefront of an emerging poetics/politics which responds to current situations with a steely intent.

     I like the mixing of analytical prose works with a more-heady, often incantatory form of writing and the interrelation between the two suggests a combination of mind and body which is often missing in contemporary work. There’s a very visceral thrust amid the ‘out-loud’ thought processing which is very attractive, filled with energy and a distinct rawness which nevertheless has an intellectual impetus. This may be ‘outsider thinking’ but it has an authority and clarity based on experience and on reflection. Take this opening sequence from ‘On taking leave’ (‘Jackal!’):

          london, my dirt baptism.

          where sweat settles into jelly.

          where I am a hollow chocolate

          rabbit, a bond girl dipped in gold,

          for you. london, your moneyed

          immersions. your eyes like belly-

          dancers’ jewels. disney supremacist.

          a bloodied shovel, turning greedy

          oncers into loam. you are a serial 

          killer’s scrapbook, a million

          weathergirl mutilations.

          the suckling cabaret of sex

          and junk. we cross the bridge,

          and i sink back into your hurt

          perfume. london, you stink 

          like a whore on expenses.

     There’s no easy dichotomy between country and city either as expressed in this short extract from ‘To disappear into’ (‘Jackal’):

          the forest does not care.

          the forest is a keyhole. the forest

          is a clenched jaw.  is anything

          tight against the world. the forest

          has hollow bones, ice caves hostile

          to hibernation. It does not soil itself

          with tigers; is a cold kiln casting

          animals in glass, and me among.

I’m simplifying of course in placing these two extracts side by side but it’s a way of giving a new reader a flavour of the material. Probably the best way to approach this work on an initial reading is to go with the flow, take it all in or as much as you are initially capable of doing, meshing the ‘essay aspects’ with the more ‘immediate’ poetry sections where you can enjoy the imagery and onrush before a slower and more thoughtful reading. It’s certainly a book that demands a re-read if you’re in tune enough and want to explore these creations. The piece entitled ‘Jagged little pilot’ provides more ‘resistance’ which may well be its intention, partly down to its footnotes, but its dark materials are well worth engaging with though it’s a harrowing read. 

The final section, ‘Dog!’ includes a strong element of autobiography and reveals a personal philosophy based on instinct, reason and experience and a reworking of mythologies which provides a challenge to received ways of thinking:

          Dogs, my own and others, feature heavily in my work, as

          subjects and as speakers. But more than this, I connect vari-

          ous modes or positions in writing to jackals and to dogs. The

          jackal self is connected to the work of both judgement and

          grieving, her landscapes are often shaped by war and depri-

          vation; she reckons with heritage, she mourns her dead.

                                  (from ‘Animal Affinities’)

     This is a substantial book which requires a more in-depth review than I’m able to give it here, but I hope that I may have whetted a few appetites for the work of a poet, new to me, who is seriously at the heart of things, whose questioning of poetic discourse and of societal norms feels very appropriate at the present time.

Steve Spence 3rd February 2022

Sarah Crewe at the Tears in the Fence Festival

Sarah Crewe at the Tears in the Fence Festival

I am thrilled that Sarah Crewe will be reading at the Tears in the Fence Festival, on Friday evening, 24th October. (

Sarah is rapidly emerging as a strong poetic voice. Her uncompromising poetry has a distinct musicality, draws the reader into strange worlds and creates a wonderful fusion of vocabulary and identity to probe, irritate and celebrate. She gives voice to a range of identities and produces a wide range of poetic effects. Ian Brinton has noted her eerie and uncomfortable voice. S.J. Fowler has described her work as a stone’s throw from Maggie O’Sullivan and Geraldine Monk.

Her collections include Aqua Rosa (Erbacce, 2012), flick invicta (Oystercatcher, 2013), sea witch (Leafe Press, 2013) and Signs of the Sistership, with Sophie Mayer (KFS Press, 2014). Her work has also appeared in Shearsman, Tears in the Fence, Molly Bloom, Peony Moon, Litter and Litmus magazines. She co-edited the anthology Catechism: Poems For Pussy Riot (2013) with Mark Burnhope and Sophie Mayer, and the anthology Glitter is a Gender (Contraband, 2014) with Sophie Mayer.

Her poetry, rooted in the Port of Liverpool, which features as a backdrop to her contrary visions of the social world, is characterised by its stunningly luminous language use. She inhabits and lavishes
concentrated sound and language work with vibrant identities.

My wife is the Devil!

tap.rain metal reverb.lost boy daddy-o.
kiefer/brandon/russell raise wax stained
glasses to my branded breath.tap. did
someone say brandy?don’t mind if i do. part-pantheon
homage to the wettest
boldest broad echo runs
12 feet deep.tap.a slash could make
this city toxic.dix-huit soixante-quatre.
tease my tongue i’ll scratch your skin.

Note the distinct and precise notation, recalling early Bill Griffiths, and the unencumbered fluidity of this poem.

Her musical sense is gritty and sparkles with variant female figures, identities pouring forth in splendour to arrest and beguile the imagination. She has a strong sense of the value of Liverpool’s women over time, her heritage, political warriors and goddesses, and speaks from a space of pride and indignation. Her work inspires, has presence and force. Her poems matter and resonate in their intensity.

tap.the sandstone blast sets off my eyes.
cyan circle matches my’s winter
but you wear a spring dress with heels.I
stroke at the walls while you wait
on barbed wire.

I can’t wait to welcome Sarah Crewe to our Festival.

David Caddy 7th October 2014

Tears in the Fence Festival

Tears in the Fence Festival

Tears in the Fence is delighted to announce that we will be holding a Festival, in celebration of the magazine’s Thirtieth Anniversary, at the White Horse, Stourpaine, on 24-26 October 2014. There will be readings, talks, discussion, bookstalls and displays, a Festival Supper, music from No Fixed Abode and open readings in a large Marquee situated next to the White Horse. Among the speakers will be Ian Brinton, Sarah Crewe, Jennifer K. Dick, Carrie Etter, John Freeman, Cora Greenhill, Lucy Hamilton, Jeff Hilson, Peter Hughes, Norman Jope, Dorothy Lehane, Pansy Maurer-Alvarez, Chris McCabe and Steve Spence. Others will be announced in due course.

We will also be celebrating Dylan Thomas’s centenary, and looking at future poetic developments. The pub will be open all day for refreshments from Friday morning onwards. The spirit of the Festival will be in the tradition of the international Wessex Poetry Festivals 1995-2001 and it is hoped that this event will lead to a new series of annual Festivals.

We will be running a bookstall throughout the weekend. Please bring your books, pamphlets and magazines. There will be two sessions of open readings during the Festival. Please book a slot.

Advance weekend tickets are £50, including the Festival Supper from a choice of meals on Saturday evening. Please send a cheque, made out to Tears in the Fence Festival, to David Caddy, Portman Lodge, Durweston, Blandford Forum, Dorset DT11 0QA.

It is also possible to pay directly through BACS:
Bank: HSBC
Account name: Tears in the Fence Festival / ‘TITFF’
Sort Code: 40-46-37
Account number: 31501534

A full Festival programme will be announced shortly. There will be regular updates to the website’s Festival page.

Litmus Magazine issue 1: the forensic issue

Litmus Magazine issue 1: the forensic issue

This is a short blog to promote what I think is one of the finest new magazines available on the market and I write it to encourage those who have not come across it to buy a copy and to subscribe to its future. Magazines (and here Tears in the Fence is a prime example having existed for thirty years through the efforts of David Caddy and without any support from the National Institutions)




only because there are enough people out there who want to read something that is more than the pre-digested regurgitations of the ‘accepted’ market. Issue 1 of Litmus contains work by poets of significant renown such as David Marriott, Simon Smith, Geraldine Monk, Sarah Crewe, Aidan Semmens, Ken Edwards and Mario Petrucci but, most interestingly , it contains work by new poets and by those who have been closely involved in the world of contemporary poetry in recent years: Jeff Hilson, Richard Price, Anthony Mellors. And…it contains an essay by me about Prynne and his French translator Bernard Dubourg!


You won’t find this work anywhere else and Dorothy Lehane’s editorial sets out the challenge for you in uncompromisingly clear terms:


‘The resulting work is not easy material; it does not always attempt to educate and does not promise to add to your comprehension of science. Rather, its complex processes require the reader to explore some parallels between linguistic construction and forensic science. The reader is invited to embark upon a journey involving botany, metempsychosis, massacre and even fairy tales.’


The magazine can be ordered through either the editors:



Ian Brinton 4th June 2014.


It’s Open House: Leafe Press

It’s Open House: Leafe Press

Three very attractive chapbooks from Leafe Press arrived in the post as an example of Alan Baker’s fine new pamphlet series:


sea witch by Sarah Crew, Newton’s Splinter by Simon Perril and Chapters of Age by Peter Riley


When I read Sarah Crewe’s poem ‘bridge’ in her Oystercatcher volume flick invicta last year I was immediately aware of an eerie and uncomfortable voice, which came from the depths. This is a poet who listens ‘on ocean floor’ and whose sensitive awareness ‘tells me / you are near’. Opening this new volume of electric seriousness I realise that she is even nearer as ‘a cruising white american / king sized drag submerged / from bathing / to thrashing / to screaming / to nothing’. There is a clear sense that these poems matter: they explore the personal world as it segments with ‘silent glide’ into a social scene.


When Michael Schmidt wrote the blurb for the back cover of Simon Perril’s Shearsman publication Archilochus on the Moon he suggested that Perril’s eighty poems were themselves ‘shells and fragments that constitute a haunted narrative’ and as I leaf through Newton’s Splinter I can see again what he means by this. The two sequences here come from a larger manuscript called A Soft Book and they possess a thrusting forward movement which seems to catch at the reader as the words fly past


says pawn to dawn

break on, brag

at baize we’re snookered upon


The urgency of ‘on’ contradicts the slowing pun on ‘break’ and yet complements the morning shift between past night and new day, a new dawn which is shadowed by history as the American Space Shuttle Programme flew its final mission in July 2011 and reminded us of the connections between ‘then’ and ‘now’.


And as if to explore this theme with the measured depth of understanding that Peter Riley’s work invariably offers us we have Chapters of Age with its subtitle placed inside the book, ‘Stone landscapes of Inishmore and Burren, May 2010’. The photography by Beryl Riley on the cover gives us crag and grass, age and growth, and the opening poem juxtaposes ‘Ruins of small monastic settlements’ with ‘Dull pain to right of middle back.’ This is a hauntingly beautiful book of poems in which the reader, walker, observer contemplates not only those relics and remnants of another world but also, inevitably, the questions which are ‘flying at us every day’:


What is the plant with dark green leaves and

Tiny white flowers? What is the answer to fear?


These are beautifully produced chapbooks and are well worth getting from


Ian Brinton December 20th 2013





Tears in the Fence 58

Tears in the Fence 58

Tears in the Fence 58 is out and available from and features poetry and fiction from Paul Kareem Tayyar, Giles Goodland, Robert Vas Dias, Sarah James, Rupert Loydell, Simon Turner, Anamaría Crowe Serrano, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Kat Peddie, Tim Cresswell, David Andrew, Jeffrey Graessley, Simon Zonenblick, Jay Ramsay, Lydia Padellic, Alice Wooledge Salmon, Malcolm Povey, Carrie Etter, Ian Seed, Nicky Mesch, Michael Sforza, Hilda Sheehan, Richard Evans, Alice Lyons, Mike Duggan, Michael Grant, Sheila Hamilton, Andrew Darlington, Dorothy Lehane, Aidan Semmens, Dan O’Brien, Rosie Jackson, Lisa Mansell, Simon Currie, L.Kiew, Matt Haw, Jennifer K. Dick, Sarah Crewe, Michael Henry,  Peter Dent, Norman Jope and Sascha Akhtar

The critical section includes Jennifer K. Dick on Habib Tengour, Peter Hughes on Ed Dorn, Norman Jope on Gertrude Kolmar, Laurie Duggan on Gig Ryan, Oliver Dixon on Jorie Graham, David Caddy on Jim Burns, Jennifer K. Dick, Dzifa Benson on Linda Black, Fani Papageorgiou, Cora Greenhill on Sally Goldsmith, Jay Ramsay on Simon Jenner, Ian Brinton on D.H. Lawrence, selections from the Ian Brinton / Andrew Crozier Correspondence, Brian Hinton on David Caddy, plus regular columnists David Caddy, Rosie Jackson, Anthony Barnett and Ian Brinton.

Copies are available in the UK at £10. Please make cheques payable to Tears in the Fence, and send to David Caddy Portman Lodge, Durweston, Blandford Forum, Dorset DT11 0QA. Copies elesewhere are £13 and available through the website. Please pay through the Donate button.





New from Oystercatcher

New from Oystercatcher

Three very different books arrived on my desk within the past few days and all are worth serious attention.


Robert Rowland Smith’s On Modern Poetry, From Theory to Total Criticism, gives a serious account of how we engage with reading poetry. In the introduction he points to the difference between poetry and prose as being demonstrated by poetry’s camera-obscura genius not just for focusing on the tiny and projecting it on a larger screen, but for turning it upside down:


‘Where a prose narrative keeps going with the pinpricks—and then this, and then that—accounting for every line in the budget, the poem takes us inside its own endarkened shoebox cinema and shows us a little scene, some magic theatre, of luminous non-sense’


The concluding chapter in this book is titled ‘The case of J.H. Prynne’ and it provides a fascinating close reading of ‘A blow on the side of the mouth’, the last poem in the sequence Word Order which appeared in 1989 from Peter Larkin’s Prest Roots Press.


Two new Oystercatchers


The Liverpool-based poet Sarah Crewe and the London-based Richard Parker both have excellent new chapbooks out from Peter Hughes’s Oystercatcher Press and these can be obtained by going to the website


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