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Steve Spence

"Called to the Edge", edited by Lucy Lepchani, pub. Crafty Little Press. 62 pages

Here we have an anthology of six Plymouth-based poets whose work is varied and accomplished. They are: Abigail Robinson, Jane Slavin, Jo Ball, Melisande Fitzsimons, Rachel Gippetti and Rosie Barrett. Abigail Robinson sadly died shortly before the collection was published and apart from Rachel Gippetti I don’t think that any of these writers have yet published an independent collection. I feel however that several are probably on the way to completing a book of poems and look forward to seeing these in due course.

Melisande Fitzsimons’ poetry is full of interest as exemplified by the intriguing opening stanza from her first poem here, ‘A Detestable Profession’:

          ‘My head is shaped like a bullet’
          wrote Charles Baudelaire in a letter to Gerard de Nerval
          but that’s a lie, it’s so easy to lie about your heroes.

She mixes autobiographical notations with significant historical events, as in ‘A Reckoning’ where we get ‘… . Paris was burning . / The day I was baptised, cobblestones / rained down on the Powerful.’ So we get a wider political perspective, allied to a strange recollection of childhood: ‘I spent my teenage years inside a dragon. / I was disgorged from his mouth, more or less intact. / On an Easter egg hunt, I found my sense of humour.’ 

In ‘One Morning in January’ the enigma of an ‘everyday experience’ becomes charged with emotional intensity yet remains oblique and penumbral in terms of its literal meaning, an aspect of her poetry that I very much like. The changed perspective of the final couplet is near perfect, conclusive but open-ended at the same time: ‘The crumpled car watching us getting / smaller and smaller in the young light.’    

Jo Ball’s’ work here is mainly to do with her role as a parent though these poems are not the standard domestic fare which often dominate such a ‘genre’ and are full of arresting phrases and oblique diversions: ‘We lie in a lobster pot knitting our nudity together with / frayed rope.’ (from ‘Marriage after Children’).  Jane Slavin’s poems are often more ‘out and about’ and work as well in performance as on the page. In ‘Not a Resort’ we get the following: ‘No rock-pool rambles / but deep-water gambles / of science, discovery. / Depth readers, bottom feeders. / We don’t do buckets and spades.’ Regular rhythms and a refrain although not all of her poems fit into this category.

Abigail Robinson’s poems here are lyrical and mainly affirmative, endorsing the natural world in response to global changes and advanced industrialisation. From ‘Wolf in Missoula’ we get the following:

          In this place that used to be the largest of glacial lakes, where
          Native Americans once made ceremony, she is wild against
          concrete, eyes rolling a laughing contempt at the cop car, its
          long pole and large noose left trailing as she turns into the five
          sided edges of the wilderness.

I particularly liked ‘I was the first creature and the last, knowing myself as joyous / dust.’ (from ‘Mud Enstacy’).

Rosie Barrett has a knack for encapsulating cliché and giving it a new twist, as with ‘My town has blossomed, been bottled and / now ferments in its own bank Holiday fiction.’ (from ‘It’s Easter at the Seaside’). Likewise with ‘Cat’ where we get ‘Leg / up behind my ear / I show / my bum to the world.’
The final stanzas in this otherwise topical ‘domestic’ subject indicate perhaps something a bit more ‘red in tooth and claw’ and perhaps even slightly sinister:

          I rip the belly
          from the
          shrew and leave the gall.

          I find the baby
          In its

Much of Rachel Gippetti’s work has an experimental feel which avoids easy interpretation or analysis and I like this aspect of her poetry. There’s a strong musical element in her writing and also at times a dreamy, surreal quality which I much admire. From ‘Ocean Sounds’ we get the following:

          sloshing room, a broken boat
          the window open, moon floods tight folds
          sheets rubbing ice feet, the night
          steps over as I tumble the dark wheel
          crushes a chance for blue smoke
          sleep /

‘They Chopped Down the Trees and Now I can see Everything’ is a prose poem perhaps, a block of text taking up two thirds of a page and riffing on repeated words at the beginning of a sentence e.g. ‘Distance as smoke from the chimney. ….. Distance as France beyond the trees. ………  Daughter as rust.  ………………..  Daughter as chimney on this cold / morning blowing smoke onto the seagulls.’ It’s a piece that I’m sure works as well read out loud as on the page and its structure, which has the feel of being a mix of improvisation and minimal ‘rules,’ aids this overall effect. Terrific stuff.

Six new voices then from a flourishing scene in Plymouth which looks set to continue with younger poets taking up the baton and moving the whole show onwards. It’s good to see some of these poets getting into print.              


Copyright © Steve Spence, 2019