Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Article Index

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

Caring for a brain

The poet seems to have charge of a particularly tricksy brain, a brain that sometimes comes off the tracks and misbehaves. She talks about the brain as something separate from her, a thing she needs to care for, like a small child. She takes this responsibility seriously — in ‘Orchid Brain’, we find her searching for information about how to keep it alive.

It is also an entity she doesn’t fully understand: she talks of the existence of ‘The School for Brains’. In ‘The House of Brains’ her temporary home translates from Breton to The House of Mad. The idea of translation — without full comprehension — is a strong theme in the collection and is reflected in a number of places. There are Celtic and French phrases interwoven through the poems. For example, ‘Je bois des etoiles’ (I drink the stars), in ‘Bubbly Brain’ — where the brain, like a vintage champagne, seems always in danger of exploding if moved. And she meditates on her bilingualism in ‘Pigeon Brained’: ‘which one swears the best?’; ‘Do I sweat French?’

The energy of this brain is also reflected in the variety of forms deployed in the collection. Flicking through the pages we see unusual shapes — e.g. ‘Flaneuse Brain’, with its fractured lines. We have to tip the pamphlet on its side to read ‘The Brain at Home’ — only at home when half slant?

‘Daytime Drinking Brain’ edits out the words it doesn’t want to hear in squared brackets down the right-side margin. ‘Orchid Brain’ takes the form of the plant, and ‘Brain Fugue’ the form of a formal (doctor’s?) report. ‘The Ouija Brain’ speaks back to us, and we are told of forgotten footnotes that run across the page in ‘Spider Brain’.

It feels like hard work containing the words, calming the capital letters. I feel the constant pressure and energy needed by the poet to keep the brain contained, keep it from going awry: uninstalling itself into another fugue — which is just what does happen in the closing poem.

Jane Thomas