Sunday, 21 June 2020

Review: Of memory and furniture by Bron Bateman

Before we go any further, this is one of the best titles that I have seen for a while: it resonates right through to the end. A killer blow.

Australian poet Bron Bateman's latest collection develops through 4 parts and is described as exploring "experiences of female embodiment, sexuality, and relationships with family, lovers and institutions...concerned with expressions of female sexuality in its myriad forms – heterosexual, lesbian, and experiences of non-normative sexuality – as well as issues of maternal subjectivity, mental health and abuse and, throughout, the role of memory in enabling healing."

This is a collection that has a whole ecosystem of vividly realised friends, encounters and locations that ground and validate its often intense bodily and sexual language from the dedications to many of the poems in Part 1 to its lovers, family and transactions through to demeaning medical interventions. The poems' sequence is knitted together with motifs especially blood and piercings to the body. For adornment for example in the poem bars-

you could hang chandeliers from
these he says eyes half-closed
taking my right nipple between
his thumb...[]
I watch him redesign my body in his head.
we can pierce you here...

And pleasure - the intense Needle Play - to the painful self blame transfixing the sense of self in one of the brutal and self-healing concluding poems of part 4 Talisman:

be less serious not think I was a cut above use big words be so sensitive if I were special he would not have dared."

Everything that life throws at the poet in the end can be spoken and makes her voice and sense of self stronger. This is a collection that doesn't shrink from naming the casual diminishing sexism of institutions but also the power of healing available in situations that the poet's sensibility controls - even against what might appear to be the odds. For example in the poem Language

Either my blood, or my baby's.
Never mind, he'll say, his back to me, they're a dime a dozen.
Meaning miscarriages.
This is my first.

Later in the same poem:
I tell him. Tie me up all you like. I'm still a feminist.

The cuts are balanced by a lush sensuality of language and experience which are at times breath-taking; from the opening lines of the same poem,

At twenty, I have: my first child,
bruising, soft and black as summer plums...

to the loving "loll and sway of her thighs" in Catching up and hungry joy for example in PDAs

...I've searched and failed to find a word that adequately
describes the texture of your thighs,
or that my mouth against you
reminded of the peach I ate yesterday, its
tender fuzz against my lips...

The poems build to an understanding of sexual, body image and physical control and naming in the context of past life experience for the reader; glimpsed in poems such as shape of a girl that transforms a submissive sexual role into the powerful place inhabited by subs:

the longing to open your lips
feel the shape and weight
of that word
in your mouth

A visceral recasting of life experience of immense strength, this collection reclaims a body space long overlooked. A gift that repays study. You can find out more about Bron Bateman here @BronBateman and order the book here from @FremantlePress.


Cover is also very pleasing but no credit discoverable.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Review: This is virus by Joe Williams

This timely pamphlet from the poet and performer Joe Williams is described as a "sequence of erasure poems made from Boris Johnson’s letter to the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic". The poems reimagines the coronavirus communication from the prime minister sent to the public in April 2020 by redacting information to create a new commentary on the relationship between those "leading" the response to the crisis and the rest of us living the lockdown (with, as we now know, more strength, consistency and conscience).

Redaction as a technique is very effective - the story of the source material's underlying meaning is glimpsed in a faceted retelling. Its appearance as a key component in tales of political scandal and message manipulation is turned on its ahead to reveal truth.

The poet questions the official tone and message pulling back the underlying assumptions - for example on herd immunity - as we have journeyed through lockdown and its aftermath. Verbal repetition, contradictions and and an underlying simple visual beauty as words get less and less to the final poem. The full effect is gained from a reading rather than quotes or snippets which we are keeping to a minimum in this review.

Like pyschobilly for John Peel, p&g feels the lure of visual techniques like cut up, distortion and erasure very strongly; and applauds the latter's use here to place strong focus on the message while simultaneously presenting the reader with shape and structure that goes beyond the poetic. In this case asking the deceptively simple question what is missing? What are we missing? What void lies within our so-called leaders?

You can find out more from @JoeWilliamsPoet and purchase the pamphlet from Joe's website here - an investment of £4 p&g would recommend.

Sunday, 7 June 2020

Review: Sacrifice Zones by Samuel Tongue

I was rereading Kathleen Jamie's book of essays Sightlines while I was reviewing Samuel Tongue's ambitious and gratifying first collection Sacrifice Zones. In Jamie's well-known essay The Hvalsalen she visits the whale hall at the Bergen Natural History Museum in Norway and works some of her magic to reset the whale skeletons - even as they are being restored by museum staff - and our view, our way of seeing ourselves in relations to the whales, in this world we share.

We work through something of the same process in Sacrifice Zones. The book is described as an exploration of "the meshwork and mess of living lives dependent on 'sacrifice zones'; places, peoples and animals that become expendable in the maintenance of civilised society." A view of the small isles with electricity pylons captures a pivotal debate:

Everything can change direction: the bee at the salvia
are newly political and the swallow swerves
into the gnat like a current jumping its cable

The collection looks closely and challenges our perception of animal and environment. Like the viewer's stance in the whale hall, we are implicated. Indeed human is so very close to animal that convict transforms into kangaroo in Not Government Issue:

A long tongue slides between his teeth, licks
his blue tattoos, tasting ink. There was a woman,
once, a child too - their names smudge under his hot rasp.

It is a recurring theme; we see gulls who "laugh down the chimneypots" until street is seashore in the full-throated What is it like to be a herring gull; and in the retelling of a Cheyenne/Navajo legend of Coyote It's long been on trend to turn your eyes into an I... the poet tries many forms of new eye/I while joyfully riffing through animal viewpoints; and transmigrates the very shape of things human, vegetable and animals in Mountain Hare

today, i catch a mountain hare in its form under frozen fists of bracken, eating the last of the snow. as if eating the snow will keep it white.

This poem also features one of the many lovely shifts throughout the collection between form and free verse which echo the sense of perceptive dislocation. And there is much to savour from the austere animal trials sequence to the pleasing inclusion of machine, technology and data. In Carhenge commodity is a already returning to earth

New car smell rammed into the roadbed until it stinks
of the earth's gut: muddy leaves,wet dog, plum-cake.

Its final lines "there are ugly gods - bitter in stomach, black in the lung" might describe the collections dogged questioning of the creed we have defaulted to - in an apparent absence of formal religion - connecting our faultlines spiritual and liminal by looking beyond.

Sacrifice Zones is available from Red Squirrel Press here and learn more @SamuelTongue. Enjoy!


Cover is superb - amazing work from Gerry Cambridge. And one small gripe - I don't like ALL CAPS headings for poems as used in this collection as I find them hard to read but trivial and maybe just me!