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The jacket is a full colour photograph, and at first that's how you see it -- as a photo, not a jacket. It shows a 1970s type room, or one side of it, with lit panels in the ceiling, one green wall, one highly patterned on, a rather nasty green plastic couch, a long one, with a coffee table at one end. Two lamps, and a low wooden cupboard. The carpet is that thin hard-wearing carpet you used to see in some offices. There is a clock high on the end wall. The title of the pamphlet is left justified and runs vertically upwards bottom left. The letters are not huge and appear over the couch. The author's name, also in caps, but paler and smaller, runs horizontally at the foot of the jacket (on the carpet.)

Yield, Lydia Unsworth

Knives, Forks & Spoons Press, 2020     £6.50

Starting point

How and where do poems start? Lydia Unsworth explains the origin of these thirty prose poems in her Notes & Acknowledgements, along with the role that the Tupelo 30/30 project played in bringing them together.

This online project asks a poet to commit to writing a poem a day and sharing it with the online community. So the poet is simultaneously working under pressure and engaging with online feedback. It’s not for everyone but it clearly suits a poet like Unsworth who has a large range of reference — and life — to draw on.

She writes of the method:

These poems are a call-and-response with the Tao Te Ching, a stretch back and spring forward between, across, and within the texts and my own sensory overload. Mashed together with fragmented lyrics from past Eurovision Song Contest winners and phrases from traditional English-language folk songs …

In her hands, this immersive process results in intense and energetic writing, where the daily round meets the unexpected. She enters her poems at full speed, and that’s the way to read them, enjoying the rich linguistic wordplay, the puns and half-puns as words race past.

Sometimes a title will connect to the previous title; sometimes a phrase is echoed from the previous poem; but the whole drive is onwards. Footnotes would have impeded the flow, so I take on trust the role of the Tao Te Ching in shaping the totality. Here is the opening of ‘Much Talk’ —

I crawled to confession early today. Crept through the half-closed slat to learn my tyres had been slashed. I was on the wrong side of the door. Silent as a sine wave, I corkscrewed into the core of your business ventures, your video conferences, your seasonal promotional pre-packed packages. […] If you drop your wife in a car park, spin her round three times, and make a run for it, you can paint what you like.

The Eurovision Song context and the folk songs elude me (lack of knowledge) but the wordplay sparkles. Working under pressure, in public, can bring results.

D. A. Prince

Authentic patchwork

This complex series of call and response prose poems grew out of a fundraising project for Tupelo Press. The project started, last year, as a thirty-day creative jumpstart of daily practice in writing. Responding to a daily Tao text, Unsworth has composed mash-up pieces using material from, for instance, song lyrics and newspaper articles to examine the world from different angles.

She seems interested in the flow of the universe and how life might be ordered in better ways — with some poem titles setting out golden rules such as ‘We Will Not Hurt Each Other’. In ‘Doors and Windows’ she ponders how ‘loops of inefficiency stir us tighter together in spaghetti-inhale’. Stars ‘gasp’, and we read of ‘the pathetic flicker of a new moon’. The lines orbit around each other as the conventional world recedes behind a confusion of being, an uncertainty around ‘who’s coming back’, and the loss of endangered animals.

In ‘The World Comes to You’ we find ourselves at the coast. Here the narrator meets (possibly) another person (a ‘you’). The poem is packed with ambiguity:

I can give you a thing – a patchwork, thousands of
precious names that the tide can take away 

Doubt creeps in as the piece develops into a rephrasing and correction of expression with a run of bracketed corrections: ‘I am hurt / (broken) amplified (leave it) each time anyone (anyone) (wait) (!) walks.’

In ‘Whatever is Contrary Will Not Last Long’ the images are rich and seductive. Velvet upholstery, a fork of lightning in a splitting road, and a silent song engage us in this search for wisdom. Finally, the poet suggests a way through:

Reclaim a little wasteland.
A slow breath without mention, a gathering momentum. A trick. The ends are
taught to meet; meaning we’re all one thing

These lively poems play with white space and surreal connections in a pamphlet which startles the reader into exploring how to live an authentic life. 

Maggie Mackay