Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Brain Fugue, Claire TrévienThe pamphlet is white as background but most of it is taken up with a very bright and fluid depiction of a human brain. The shape is instantly recognisable outlined in white, but this is against a panel of brightly coloured stripes: turquoise, mustard yellow, bright prink and black (these are the house colours for this pamphlet series). At the top, above the brain on one line is the author's name and pamphlet title in grey caps and exactly the same size. The press name is centred at the foot of the jacket same font and slightly bigger: so VERVE is the biggest word on the page and below it in tiny caps 'poetry press'.

Verve Press, 2019   £7.50

This is a set of poems in which a poet is thinking about her brain. She speaks to her brain, and about her brain, and out of her brain.

Not, however, out of her mind. The word ‘mind’ appears three times in the back cover text but never (so far as I can see) inside the poems. This must be, I think, because a human being can think of herself as separate from her brain (that biological mechanism) but the mind is the person, or at least it is to most of us.

It seems to me that the point here at which brain and self come closest is in imagery of cars. In ‘Brain Freeze’ the speaker is literally in a car, ‘Putting my hands on the wheel, lights on’, and then the car and herself partly merge:

                                                ease the gas
and park, handbrake up, body cranked shut,
your bellybutton boxing you to the seat.

It’s not the car that’s ‘cranked shut’, it’s her body. And it is really interesting, isn’t it, how drivers come to feel that a car is a kind of instinctive extension of themselves? It’s illogical to identify with a ‘cold container / of a car’, but still people do.

In ‘Storm Brain’, the word ‘car’ seems to stand eerily where ‘brain’ might have been:

A wreck of wasps falls from the sky,
unnerves your car. Your eyelids can’t
swipe fast enough

And in ‘House of Brains’, where the ‘I’ of the poem goes to live in her father’s converted garage, she says

Each night I unlock doors wide enough for four wheels
and drive my brain inside

In the title poem, ‘Brain Fugue’, she has an ‘in-built satnav’, while in ‘Code-Switching Brain’, switching between two languages is described in motoring terms:

We start off in one lane, eyes on rear-view,
develop arms to switch gears better, increase
awareness of obstacles, of figures in darkness,
of squirrels dashing before our sentences.

The imagery here seems to me dynamic — ‘develop arms to switch gears better’ to describe increasing skill in language is somehow both disjunctive and intuitively ‘right’.

These are thinking poems, tricky and interesting. And complicated and funny and also sad.

Helena Nelson