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Melanie Hayden

SALLOW by Frances Presley; UMWELT by Dorothy Lehane; THE SORRY HISTORY OF FAST FOOD by Paul Sutton (Leafe Press)


These three pamphlets deal with change; the politics, landscape and its effects on how we see, remember, adjust and feel in our environs. Though very different, the themes of grief, of memories, growing older, seeing nature bent to fit the human race and greed, are feeding through Umwelt in the body, Sallow in the trees and The Sorry History of Fast Food with urban development. They all direct a confident and clever challenge of the relationship between language and environment.

Presley’s Sallow is the language of trees written on location, in the wetlands, her work is framed in outlines of branches, botanical terms, of seeing against a skyline, from a train, in the distance. This collection perfectly paints a sunset at the start, the ‘Willow’ against the layered colours down to the plains in flood water. The title poem reveals division in society, the splitting of a small shoot rears up a gremlin, a danger, something that will block unity. The human race is divided in parkland, allotment and the National Trust. For me, it felt on class division, ending with “sally hoo” echoing like a fox hunt’s “tally ho” and reminding that the countryside is class war, the floods, the damage, the selfishness so often perpetrated by the “owner”, yet the trees still speak for themselves. 

Lehane’s Umwelt takes you out from nature and into the body. The starting point is a couch and “my vicarious trauma” and “worries about the real world”. The authorities create grief in the body, in a “throne of abuse”. There’s something quite suffocating in the lines, the tension of language, communication and the physicality, “I didn’t steal your tongue”, a body held in contract that silences. The poem flows effortlessly through medical terminology and conflict with surgery and lack of control without creating distance, not unlike Presley’s Sallow where the botanical language achieves a similar balance of the personal and impersonal.

Sutton’s The Sorry History of Fast Food is a familiar tale of gentrification sweeping cities, in an almost tragicomedy of the change in landscape, in pubs, in cafes, crime and property prices. The way Sutton writes the ripping out of the heart of a city is a journey of nostalgia and truth, the loss of vitality and the slums selling for millions. Like Presley and Lehane he has woven a politic into his work without compromising the artistry. ‘My work on Tripadvisor’ pokes at the hipster phenomenon with humour as pub culture is eroded by identikit gastro pubs and “infinite goatees, gorging on brick or slate”. There’s a thread of loss through these poems as memories disappear and the city is losing its grimy self, its criminal history and its mind, for the more modern and superficial. 



Copyright © Melanie Hayden, 2018