Thursday, 16 December 2010


... by the Paxmanesque Jenn Ashworth

Monday, 13 December 2010


I was drawn to Taropoetics by Anna McKerrow (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2010) because of the description of "an ongoing pschyopoetic landscape". For a lover of dreams (and occasional tarot card reader) this idea appealed enormously. It'd be like reading the cards, drawing narratives and dreaming all in one.

I had come across Knives, Forks and Spoons Press earlier this year through Adrian Slatcher's Extracts from Levona. A strange, oddly compelling book. It's a small press that specialises in 'linguistically innovative poetry'. You could argue that all poetry should be liguistically innovative, but let's not.

What you wouldn't argue is how gymnastically innovative Anna McKerrow's landscape is. The Tarot works to cycles and so it's apt her book works to the cycle of a year - weekly readings form the basis of the text. She spent another year collating the weekly pieces to produce the poems in the book.

Not that the pieces feel constricted by rewrites, deadened and deanimated by cutting and tinkering. They pulse on the page. Each respond to five randomly chosen tarot cards, and each create a bauble of shadowy images, filched from streets, the natural world, the body, art, religion and mythology in a bubbling chemistry. Together they make a crazy make-believe laboratory, full of vapours and coloured liquids I was a little wary of at first.

It took me a while to adjust to this world, to learn its language to get over the culture shock of unfamiliarity. I'm a lover of narratives. And this book, a cross between Jane Graverol and Carrie Ann Baade, requires a double take, a step back, a step forward.

Then a slow sinking under, a relaxation of comprehension and an open mind brings a different consciouness, a change of light:

"heart sink/barb cruel/soft eye risk/shadow sword stack cut/glass words/cut like a cat/thick pane/even the strongest men/soft spooled/fur will rip/dire musicality..."

Sensuous, edgy and funny. The path these poems take is narrow and foggy, in the sense that I didn't really know where I was going at any given point in them. This makes for a destablised read, but also a vital one, my senses fully alert as to what may rear up.

Because of the Tarot element, there is also a sense of the imperative:

"...buried skull/space waits to be filled/jewel cries victory/through rubble/ignore naysayers/their mouths are stopped up w/rocks/exploded/rare sunset..."

- a commanding overview, the seer remaining hidden behind the images. Again this distance is unnerving, but it somehow it feels safe enough (once I've accepted the jamming and spacing of punctation that inhabits this lawless landscape). Safe, if I am safe, that is. Reading and rereading the unpredictable scape made me feel exposed to suggestion, imagery and connections I don't normally make within my own life experiences. Stumbling between play and dance, I get the feeling Anna wants us to open new pathways. It is one of the roles of the Tarot.

Anna has managed to balance between the spiritual and domestic, the unsettling and safe, so keeping me reading through her year. As a lover of narrative I did feel the absence of shape to the book, but this is not a collection interested in creating form, this is an expansive book, its form is bound by our Gregorian calendar, but even that isn't evident, there is no neat seasonal references as we pass through the year. The expansiveness is generous in its welcoming spirit, calling you to enter.

Go on ....

Tailormade Poems

A week ago myself and three poet friends sat behind a paper-decked table at Storey Gallery's Vintage Winter Fair and gave rise to Tailor-Made Poems: Whatever the occasion; whoever the recipient; we can write the poem...

We had a steady stream of customers throughout the day, wanting poems for their daughters, sisters-in-law, partners and wedding anniversaries. The deal? We asked them a ton of questions, elicited a bunch of information, went off to write it up into a poem, they got the chance to change a line or up to five words if they wanted before the poem was printed off onto a card with matching envelope ready for them to give to whoever. All for the bargain price of a pound a line. That day all our profits when to Amnesty - over fifty squid, so that was good feeling enough.

But I discovered two other great spin-offs from the experience:

1. The joy in 'letting go' a poem. We gave ourselves two hours to write the poem, so we couldn't get overly complicated, we had to keep to the brief, keep it tight and hold the essence of the giver's emotion in our care. All the poems we wrote we shared with another one of us for that objective overview before giving it back to the giver. All the poems did their jobs admirably.

2. The joy in giving poetry. When people returned for the poem, they were visibly moved and delighted by what they read - their words spun into a form; their emotion made manifest. It felt all the positive atributes of poetry were tangible in those few minutes. The weight of its value and power to connect.

We're planning more in the new year...

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Anna McKerrow on Host

Host has been treated a very contemplative review by the poet Anna McKerrow.

This is how she ends, but (and I guess I would say this) the rest of it is just as considered.

" ... These poems do not just host or reside; they make a connection, a highway of energy between the physical, the limits of the body and the indefinable other. The thing I like most about this collection is the so-much-more-than landscape they offer: more, they are a being-in-ness, being-of-ness, that I very much enjoy."

Thanks Anna