All of the spaces, Maria Isakova Bennett
Eyewear Publishing Ltd, 2017 £6.00
The white of the words
As you can tell from its title, one of the things this pamphlet is interested in is the spaces in poems. The back cover tells us that it ‘explores the use of white, blank space and gaps’ and that is about (presumably fairly sparse, minimalist, though I haven’t looked it up) ‘modernist sculpture’ as well as ‘marital unrest’ and ‘rigidity in personal relationships’.
The poems are generally lineated so as to leave a lot of white space on the page — lots of long couplets and indented lines and half-lines, long gaps within lines, some interesting forms that move in and out of parallel columns. Just the forms make me picture the sculptures as loose, light mobile things, with elements joined by wires.
But what really interests me is the use of ‘white’ as a word, and the sparing use of other colours. Coupled with the whiteness of the pages, highlighted by the open and spacious forms, this creates a pleasing balance. For example, the first poem is ‘The white malin vase will break’. In the third poem we have both ‘a blank canvas’ and ‘a white rose’; the poem’s last line is ‘white white white’.
In the seventh poem we have ‘tracing paper’ ‘in a room I have made white’, ‘this solace // of white’. This dazzling backdrop works to great effect when the poem introduces ‘pink roses / with an abundance of leaves’. The poem ends ‘it is because of the white // that the roses are here / [...] under a candelabra of white papers’.
It seems to me that the whole pamphlet explores the idea of a choice in art and self-expression — the choice of either ‘Self-erasing’ (as another poem is titled) or of conscious use of art/colour against a white backdrop: ‘I make my marks in black.’ (‘Antidote’). This is particularly framed in the context of looking back at a childhood amongst parental conflict, as described in poems including ‘They fought’, which ends ‘… do not write this down.’