Presence : Absence : Silence

Three new poetry collections from the small presses
Moonrise is a beautifully hand-bound book of poetry from small press As Yet Untitled. Editor Rosie Sherwood is a poet, photographer and book artist, whose care and attention to the book as an object in terms of structure, sequencing, materiality, quality and beauty means that every copy of Moonrise – in this numbered edition of 150 – is created in-house from quality inks and papers, and hand-tied to finish.
Ella Chappell’s poetry speaks in fearless, open and tender-hearted reflections – juxtaposing the loss of innocence with the increased knowledge and understanding of scientific study, and creating resonances that ask readers to consider how both might contribute to our understanding of what it means to be in the world right now. Interleaved with the poetry is a set of Sherwood’s poetic photographs printed onto transparent layers that offer alternative perspectives or contact points.
Chappell clearly revels in the opportunity to play with sounds and the textures of language in her poetry. For example, encouraging the mouth around the deliciously mellifluous Honey: ‘You’re all in my mouth / just after I say your name: / syllable syllabub – kinda runny – / I wake up from dreams laughing these days.’ While in other places there’s a depth of presence in the precision of well-chosen words: ‘a scarab carved with a prayer from the book of the dead.’ The present absence is the longed-for simplicity of innocence and magic which permeates every page.
‘Shul.  She’s grateful for this language that names the silent weight of you.’ A testament to silence, to absence, to shul – the traces left behind – Envies the Birds is the debut poetry collection of Angelina D’Roza, poet in residence at Bank Street Arts. Published in satisfyingly weighty hardback by Longbarrow Press, this collection names the silent weight of absence in the traces that are left behind of ordinary and devastating encounters. The surface of Breech, in its seven sets of couplets, recounts receiving a phone call, while leaving only absent traces of the ‘ruptured words’ at its heart.
The archival research and broad ranging stimulus texts open and undo the fixity of the lyric ‘I’; in these poems, I has a shifting and migratory identity becoming another absent trace of something or someone that remains nevertheless present. Like the birds, this collection effortlessly crosses cultural boundaries and is enriched by language and ideas from across the globe, such as the Tibetan word shul, the letters from Zelda Sayre to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Aesop’s Fables, and the work of Marina Abramovic and Ulay.
This collection speaks in silence of the weight of absence:
‘Don’t ask lyrics to change the world: / a mouthful of gnarled syllables, dry / as branches. All there is to say / is what we’re not, what we don’t want.’
‘    :      this land is a memory of wind without wind’
Plainspeak, WY creates and energises the semantic potential of spaces and silences that poetry is best-placed to explore and exploit.  Joanna Doxey’s poetry occupies space on the pages and throughout the book as a whole, as phrases are fractured and fragmented across lines or pages with careful attention to spacing and location, resulting in a profound shift in pacing too.  Visual spaces read as silence between phrases, words and punctuation, slowing the reading and giving time for pauses between thoughts.  The location of words on the page plays out as a landscape, echoing the theme of present-absence in a landscape shaped by the memory of wind, snow and ice, even after those meteorological events have ended.  The poetry in this collection enacts an experience that is both temporal and spatial through the interactions between words and silence in both its themes and its aesthetic.
This collection creates a visual record of silence as the spaces between the visible words, just as the landscape it describes creates a visual record of absent meteorology in the presence of sculpted plains.  In this poetry, the plains speak as the record of memory, the landscape of time.  Yet Doxey also asks us to consider future time, as well as the past, and inscribes the sense of loss and absence that comes with knowledge that the earth is changing, and the landscapes we thought were constant will also soon be gone.  There’s poignancy in the description that
‘Core samples taken from glaciers show bits of atmosphere, air bubbles that tell of ages past, ages before humans, ages that are disappearing from history as these glacial bodies melt and calve to their terminal end … a body of melt releasing an ancient atmosphere.’
Ultimately what Plainspeak seems to evoke is ‘A beautiful extermination of mass and time.     /    This is my work.’  By energising the spatiality – and thus the temporality – of the text on the page, Doxey creates the poetic paradox of both inscribing mass (materiality as spatiality) and time (the silent spaces that generate pauses) into the poems and describing the poignancy of their ‘beautiful extermination’ in her work.  The tension between the creation of mass and time within the text and its extermination in the physical landscape vibrates throughout the words and silences of this collection as presence and absence become relative and intertwined.
Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow is researching for a practice-based PhD in utopian poetics and experimental writing at the University of Westminster, where she also works as research assistant for the Contemporary Small Press.  Sally’s poetry is included in the #NousSommesParis anthology from Eyewear Books; and the experimental collection The Unfinished Dream by Sally-Shakti Willow and Joe Evans was published by Sad Press in October 2016.  @willowwriting

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