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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

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. (https://tearsinthefence.com/festival)

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.
tap.you heardme.in part-pantheon
homage to the wettest element.tap.in
boldest broad daylight.my 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 lips.tap.it’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

Derek Jarman’s a finger in the fishes mouth

Derek Jarman’s a finger in the fishes mouth

A facsimile edition of Derek Jarman’s only poetry collection, A Finger in the Fishes Mouth, originally published by Bettiscombe Press, Bridport, Dorset in 1972, is due to be published by Test Centre, with a new Foreword by Sophie Mayer and Afterwords by Keith Collins, Jarman’s partner, and Tony Peake, his biographer.

 

Postcards from Jarman’s own collection, here gorgeously reproduced in an evocative green, preface each of the 32 numbered poems, written when he was in his early twenties. The impact is at once beguiling, light and playful. The original printers refused to reproduce an image of a priest being pleasured by a nun before the poems, ‘Christmas 64’ and the image has not survived into this edition.

 

The book will be launched on Wednesday, 19th February at the London Review Bookshop, twenty years to the day since Jarman’s death. It is a fascinating insight into the mind of the film director, diarist, gardener and gay activist just after he left King’s College, London having studied English, History and History of Art to study painting at the Slade School of Fine Art, London, in the early Sixties.

 

http://www.londonreviewbookshop.co.uk/events/2014/2/a-finger-in-the-fishes-mouth-the-legacy-of-derek-jarman

 

This collection then stems from a time when Jarman was immersed in the wide range of historical, literary and cultural references, which inform his provocative films, and when he was in the process of finding his own sexuality and providing a tradition with which he could align himself. Jarman has his feet firmly both in Renaissance tradition and Modernist experiment.

 

On first sight of the front cover, Wilhelm von Gloeden’s picture of a young boy with his finger in the mouth of a flying fish, I anticipated a collection of absurdist poems from the era of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell and their artistic pranks defacing library books.  It is in fact more of a travelogue of loosely linked postcard images and words and in part has a Beat connection. This is perhaps Jarman’s version of ‘On The Road’. Jarman loved Beat poetry and visited San Francisco and City Lights Bookshop in the summer of 1964 to pay his respects.

There are also poems here that come from Jarman’s immersion with painters from Rembrandt to Rothko, poets such as Coleridge, as well as cities from Calgary, New York to Venice and Greece.

 

One of the strongest poems, ‘Death Comes Through Mirrors’, is prefaced with a Twenties Riviera hotel interior and dance room,

and has an easy conversational style complete with a Jean Cocteau poem quotation:

 

Death comes through mirrors

is a blind man with a violin

collecting grudging offerings

I ask you’, is the hat

full yet

and you reply

‘Consider the fiery red

cherubims in the blue sky

or those empty cavernous

spaces where the image

scatters on the silver’

no his hat is empty

he is a young man

with violets in his eyes

he is blind and sings

 

It is thought that Jarman destroyed the majority of the first edition and so the new edition fills in a missing piece in Jarman’s extraordinary oeuvre.

 

 

 

David Caddy 5th February 2014

 

 

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