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Briar Mouth, Helen Nicholson

HappenStance, 2018     £5.00

Texture and layout as a form of experiencing

‘The mind speaks at a pace I cannot match in my speech.’ This feeling describes the experience of many people who struggle with speech. Often the pain of articulation is caught between the tongue and the teeth. Sounds cannot find their way out of the mouth in the intended shape or with the force the speaker imagines in their head. Often strategies include kinesthetics to support the articulation. This comes alive in ‘Speech Therapy’ as Nicholson vividly expands: 

Most times the ‘k’ sticks in my throat, won’t
slide past my lips without a kick under the table.

In the title poem, ‘Briar Mouth’, the poet uses the layout to create a visually startling representation of this experience, making it real for even those who have never struggled with it. The reader can imagine the texture of the bramble punctuating speech with nicks and bloodied space colouring the landscape of thought and feeling as the speaker explores this pain and effort:

Had I been     granted           pebbles in my m      outh
I would have     dis   bursed my                  g       ift long agoThe jacket is printed on cream card. A circular wreath of brambles, with leaves flowers and berries, occupies most of the centre of the space. Inside this is the title of the collection, one word above the other, in large caps: BRIAR MOUTH. Below the wreath the name of the author appears in fairly small black italics, and below that in tiny caps the imprint name.
But I was         granted                     brambles

Thorns n          icked   but it      wasn’t all
b    loody         Occasional soft dark         fruit
p        ushed      past  the alveolar          ridge

Having myself worked with students who have had such challenges, I thank Helen for writing these two poems and providing strength.

Shalini Pattabiraman