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Clark Allison

"An Intensified Area of Ink"

‘High Cut’ by Patricia Farrell (Leafe Press 18 14pp)

Though the pamphlet ‘High Cut’ does not do so, there are a number of things one might wish to know about our author either prior or subsequent to reading this text. Farrell has had a lengthy association with the innovative poet/critic Robert Sheppard. Notably she was involved in setting up the cottage industry Ship of Fools imprint with Sheppard which tended to publish quickly and to a small readership developments in their writing and art. She was also involved in curating the SubVoicive reading series in London. Her dissertation addresses poetics and philosophy. She is also the author of ‘Seven Bays of Spirituality’ (KFS 11) and ‘The Zechstein Sea’ (Shearsman 12 88p).

The cover of ‘High Cut’ is striking, a drawing, plainly no more than a sketch, of a society woman, one might say, flush in reverie, maybe a floozy or a flapper or a liberated suffragette. The publisher’s blurb is not here but says at the website, ‘a dizzying ride through the pleasures of language’, can’t argue with that. It may be worth noting that Farrell contributed to a collaborative piece involving dance, ‘A Space Completely Filled with Matter’.

I have to say I suppose - venture a comment or two - this does not strike me as a derivative kind of writing, though, curiously, I know the font well from Word, where it is as a default, and by presenting it as an unbroken ten page scroll, in lower case, without punctuation, there's not a lot in the way of overt, narrational signage. It does seem to me to be quite 'relational', addressed outside itself, a display of conscious writing/thought and play, at times, conjuring a behavioural persona. 

There are some significant coinages for me, eg 

          there is no point
          at which to stop
          not even if we close our eyes
          write it off
          or walk it out (p6)

There are numerous references too to dance, and, among other things, a mouth shooting ball bearings, a physicality of language, 'is this/ an arena' (p5). There's an interesting progress to the conclusion which includes the lines

          here today
          should be so sounded
          as to not tomorrow
          the extreme falling
          inflection (p14)

The 'explosion' of the opening mouth, and 'mistaking an abstract air for shyness' (p9). I guess it strikes me that we're getting impressions of quite a socialised milieu, by which even three is company. These may bond together, split apart, reform into niches etc. 'perhaps/ thrown words/ or things', 'delicate ground'. 

Well perhaps it makes a refreshing change from the bucolic and pastoral or political satire. Must one think again of Woolf with her emphasis on 'one's own room', the facility to feel, the embodiment of multiple roles or Kate Bush's deal to swap places ('Running Up That Hill') ['the conversation carries on'], or Steve Winwood's 'Back in the High Life', and perhaps, from fiction, even Angela Carter. This seems to me much less close to some of the obvious role models for women poets like Plath, Dickinson and, neither, Sappho. 

Perhaps a pressing point of critique might be, things *do* stop, they transit from one kind of condition into another. What we sometimes experience as tension or pressure is this tendency to resist, refuse or redirect the stopping of one or the onset of another. Meanwhile the cover image exudes an effortlessness, an embodiedness if not also an inattentiveness.

If places shift we have to try to remember who we're talking to. I moved on. Oh, did you?

Anyway, some impressions of an intriguing, unusual and inventive (to borrow a verb from the first line) pamphlet. Good to see it.

A rather interesting formulation catches the attention on page 10,- ‘styles draw lines/ within things themselves/ illusion of a class already’. And a little later,-

          and I’m not afraid of losing it
          highly cut
          I look at you with half-closed eyes
          there is a beauty in the pattern of your shadows (11)

‘High Cut’ is, curiously, also, internationally, a Korean fashion magazine aimed at a youthful audience. One tends to be careful speaking of high anything, high art, high modernism, high time, high life, ‘shoot high aim low’, high hopes. High but not exclusively so,-

          your voice needs to start low
          go high
          and go back down again…
          trois types d’operation de voix…
          indicating your mouth with the thumb
          in a repetitive gesture
          this is an affectionate alternative for
          I don’t know I don’t care
          you shrug (p10)

Somehow it is as if Farrell is not exactly embracing a ‘high cut’ sensibility, but retains an awareness and curiosity about it. A sense of the poet’s inclinations occurs early on,-

          the conversation carries on
          in a speeded film
          I am listening’ (p5)

An activity of listening and indeed sometimes intervening (‘if I push you hard enough/ you will make a sound’). One might surmise that the poet is somewhat drawn to ‘high cut’ because it’s there, around us. On page 14 she contrasts music and oratory as somewhat antipathetic. What we’ve got is maybe a critique of women’s behaviour and wardrobe selections and attentive hearings, though the cover would seem to claim this as a ‘women’’s book, but no I think it exceeds that, ‘there is no ironic contrast’ (p9).

I think the pamphlet can bring about some addressing of behaviour, thought, attire (dress up, dress down), the aesthetic sensibility and what it means, how or where it is tenable. ‘Language is the dress of thought’ (Johnson ‘Lives of the Poets’), ‘the grammar is complete’ (p14) even if the thought is not and yet the grammar does not entirely convey this use of language nor fully represent it. There’s a critique of language generally going on, though no resort to disjunctive posturing, or collage, nor indeed of hauteur. So it is no doubt of particular relevance to women wondering in some many ways about attitude, about tactics, plays and ploys. This is then not exactly an easy read but it rolls along and if you can follow the thread(s) and stay with it you may have cause to reconsider how you identify yourself in language.


Copyright © Clark Allison, 2018