Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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Woundsong, Annie FanThe jacket is white in background. The author name and title, in the same line, are centred near the top in small pale blue caps. The imprint name, same size and colour, is centred at the foot of the jacket. In the middle is a large square design of coloured dashes running at a sideways angle in dots and dashes like rain. They are pink, yellow/mustard and black. The left hand corner is a white empty shape that could be a human head.

Verve Poetry Press, 2021    £7.50

Difficulty

These poems challenge the reader in the same way that they challenged the poet. Annie Fan is searching for a new way to examine the place of pain and how it connects with human living. She’s describing ‘the slow work of dying’ (‘Vespers’), something that goes in parallel with the growth of physical desires and appetites.

Finding pathways for writing about the undefined edges of experience means pushing at language, making it behave in new ways. The poet is ambitious and the reader has to trust her and work with her. We have to reach forward — and that’s worthwhile. The title poem, ‘Woundsong’, opens —

supposing, instead / that it was not the
end of things, that it was not supposed
to be a means to circle the wild thing
with ash, to tame it and tame itself
out of it, it. it followed me back home
and stomped about in its dark, plastic boots
shaking the whole foundation apart from
its roots

Separately the words are familiar but the syntax isn’t. That slash in the first line (and she uses it similarly later in her penultimate line) — what exactly is it doing? Perhaps another poet would have used, say, five spaces as an indicator for a long pause. Read the line aloud and the effect is of a pause for thought, a moment of searching for words to pin down method (‘a means’) and what the feeling is.

Words are repeated but used differently; while I’m typing out the quotation my fingers notice them — supposing/supposed; things/thing; tame/tame. Then ‘it’, three times in succession, after appearing before. I have to untangle the sense, to try to tease out what the unnamed ‘it’ might be. It has a physical presence. It ‘stomped’; this gives bulk and awkwardness even before it has shaken ‘the whole foundation’. The ‘dark, plastic boots’ are sinister and somehow menacing.

Although I don’t know what ‘it’ is precisely — and Fan’s choice of ‘Woundsong’, a made-up word, only appears in the title — the deliberately difficult syntax brings it close, almost recognisable. The poem is confronting what’s difficult and unsayable; finding words for this is why poets write.

D A Prince