Tenter, Susie Campbell and Rose Ferraby
Guillemot Press, 2020 £8.00
A book to share
Guillemot Press books are beautiful. Each one is a balance of poet (in this case, Susie Campbell), artist (here, Rose Ferraby) and production values that include specialist paper (e.g. Mohawk Superfine ) to create a book that’s entrancing to look at and a joy to handle. Technically the length makes it a pamphlet — but its handling, and the physical weight and substance of it, give it the feel of a book. Words alone can’t do it justice.
Campbell’s sequence, Tenter, is in a mix of different voices as befits a collection with the Bayeux Tapestry at its heart. A ‘tenter’ is the framework for weaving a tapestry (we may be more familiar with ‘tenterhooks’ — the fixings for hanging tapestries, often in a church), an appropriate image for how the woven cloth, along with subsequent darnings and patchings, is held together.
The Bayeux Tapestry tells a story — the Battle of Hastings — so well-known that its reality can be overlooked. This embroidered linen (and it is embroidery rather than weaving) is a conflict, with blood, injury, mutilation and death among its subjects. It was worked on by women; subsequent repairs have brought different hands to the work. These are like plural voices, overlaying the older ones. Language has changed through the centuries; Middle English is now intelligible only to students of the subject.
Death and loss are central; the high-born are commemorated but the unnamed foot soldiers were also mourned within their unnamed families. In that, nothing has changed between 1066 and the wars of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This is what Campbell’s voices show. The text includes the experience of a wounded soldier in World War II, one who was ‘left on a slag heap’ —
these memories start in the scapula a flexing and a stirring
in his clavicles and deepening down into the breastbone
Why did I share this book? The main poem is ‘Et Aelfgyva’, one of the few female figures named on the Bayeux Tapestry. The mix of Latin and English, and the play with dictionary definitions throughout would delight a lover of language — such as one of my oldest friends. Her excited email in response is, for me, another thread in this tapestry.