Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

For Mary, Marie, Maria, Lucy Rose CunninghamThe jacket is deep dark blue. All text is left justified. First the title in yellow-orange lower case, each word beginning with a cap. This is right at the top and the lettering is clearly visible but not huge. Below this, perhaps very slightly smaller, another line that reads 'after the nectar, pyre and linden tree', all lower case, no caps. Below this the author's name in  the same font but italicised and perhaps a shade smaller again. The name of the publisher is in the bottom left hand corner, same colour and smaller again.

Broken Sleep Books, 2021              £6.50

Space for white space

In this long poem, split into five segments, Lucy Rose Cunningham makes a range of experiments with form and format.

Cunningham opens with the right-aligned ‘oh M/to launder love’, which is both italicised and grey-faded. There’s an impressive fragility to this stanza. It feels and looks as though it could recede back into the page at any moment. The risk here, which Cunningham does well to avoid, is that the text might actually fade away, hardly noticed by the reader.

The same faded text crops up throughout the pamphlet, often divided by asterisks and offering narrative insight: 

                                             And in tears you held and and, in tears
                                                            my ampersand.

In a pamphlet dedicated to all mothers, the ampersand is a striking choice of image, evoking body contact. Most interestingly, we’re never shown an image of an ampersand, only the word it’s reduced to. The white space has a choking effect here, the silence or hesitation before the persona can speak the word.

Section three sees a ‘heart-/-break’ across the page, the word itself broken up by space.

Photograph of the page showing the lines 'Only the goddless can / preoccupy hymns house heart- / -break.' The 'break' half of 'heart-break' is on the next line but shoots right off to the right-hand side of the page. 

The same section begins with a call and response:

Nominal voice                                                                                 my dermis is all that remains


breathes, sighing                                                                                                        unchanged

The use of space here seems to me breath-taking, allowing for multiple readings.

This poet has received praise for meaningful use of space (Manchester Review of Books) and it was this aspect that I was keenly anticipating when I first opened the pamphlet.

I was not disappointed. Cunningham does explore intriguing possibilities in her space formatting, and it’s a practice that’s more-ish. 

In section four, subtitled ‘Spoon theory’, the persona’s own mother weighs in with her concern:

 My mother asked why;
we all have our reasons.

This moment is deftly handled, with the text centre-aligned. The formatting choice allows for empty page space to envelop each line, almost as smothering as the question itself. Fascinating.

I confess I found myself wondering, however, if Cunningham could have done even more with this idea. There may be opportunities to go further still.

Scott Lilley