Albion Sheaf, Simon Pettet

Mica Press, 2017  £6.00

Where once was syntax

It’s strange that this pamphlet should carry an endorsement from Alice Notley. Strange, simply because I happen to have been reading and thinking about poems by Alice Notley, for the first time, this week too. Trying to think about how poems that break the normal rules of sense and syntax work and when they’re effective and when, for me, less so.

The first poem in this pamphlet – listed on the contents page as ‘Poem (“popular fear…”)’ – begins ‘popular fear bad taste all of us glued / to a centralized rectangle // expectations, metaphysics, / out the window’. It’s clear the work isn’t conforming to ‘proper’ sentences. On the other hand, I don’t find it too difficult to follow (or don’t think I do). Maybe, ‘all of us glued / to a centralized rectangle’ – of what a poem, or a sentence, or indeed a rational argument should look like – is one of the things being challenged:

what moment
(there must have been one)
when (inside)
the ball dropped
the glass shattered

and it all got
so particularly and irrevocably


I don’t feel too much is being asked of me, and find especially those last two lines – and the contrast, and space, between them – satisfying. I like that word ‘ugly’ floating alone, without necessarily understanding why, in the sense of rationally grasping something. And so, by the time I get to a poem beginning ‘Sleep fitful wake grumpy go down stairs cold in dark still morning fill kettle tin can’, I’ve relaxed into this style of writing (or rather, reading).

The pamphlet also has a lightness of touch, and gentle humour throughout, that for me leavens things. It’s quite quiet – speaks to ego at times, but tongue in cheek, not taking itself or its artistic endeavour too seriously. I like that too: 

Drink no more
From that pool wherein your
Fat face stares
back. What is this

pompous self-regard. It is


Charlotte Gann