Multicoloured cover with a circle and beams motif; title in red lettering, author name in blackWedding Grief, AC Clarke

Tapsalteerie, 2021     £5.00

Inducing the shock factor

It’s no easy thing to write a line of poetry which forces your reader to do a double take before they can digest what they’ve just read. In Wedding Grief, it seems to me, AC Clarke has perfected the art. She uses it to startle and intrigue.

This pamphlet tells the story of Elena Dimitrievna Diakonova (known as Gala, and later married to Salvador Dalí) and poet Paul Éluard’s relationship. The pair met and fell in love whilst inpatients at the TB sanatorium of Clavadel in Switzerland, 1913. In 1915, Éluard enlisted to fight in the First World War. AC Clarke’s collection draws upon surviving letters and poems.

The horrors witnessed on the front line are of course familiar; still I was shocked by the opening lines of ‘Battle’:

His heart hangs on a tree exposed
like soldiers blackening on the wire.

And by these lines in ‘Sunset’:

His comrades will deafen night with songs,
with boasts — the men they’ve rammed with bayonets

the girls they’ve pushed into.

The stanza break is used to powerful effect, drawing attention to the almost more shocking, if less expected reference — to sex on the warfront. And that horrible parallel between these two images of invading other people’s bodies. The word ‘pushed’ is creepily vague: I hesitate, then clarity strikes.

‘Foreboding’ uses a different method to impel my second reading. The poet’s lack of punctuation and strange use of line endings makes a jumble I momentarily paused to unpick before the final three words hit home:

The slope of letters on an envelope
the shade of paper the weight in the hand announce
before its mouth is slit something is wrong.

Away from the battlefront, the poet is just as good at grabbing my attention with disturbing surprising lines, such as this picture of childbirth in ‘Gala en voyage’:

Her daughter falls out of the nest
between her thighs
like a tile falling off a roof

This image, followed by the description in ‘Child’ of ‘a parasite / fattened on her waning blood’, seems shocking and detached, to me. As I read, the room around me turns a shade darker.   

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