Anatomy of a Honey girl (poems for tired women), Liz HouchinThe jacket is orangey -- perhaps honey coloured. The main title is in large lowercase black letters, over four lines, each indented slightly from the one above, so the diagonal shape of the title extends over more than half the jacket. The subtitles in in small black print inside brackets below this, all on one line. The author's name is in the bottom third, centred in white lower case. Below this, smaller again, the series name (New Irish Voices No 6) and the white Southword editions logo.

Southword Editions, 2021   £6.00

The things we form

We touch things to assure ourselves of reality […] We touch the things we form’, wrote the Bauhaus textile artist Anni Albers in her 1965 treatise, On Weaving.

The figure of Albers is present throughout this collection. The artist’s presence is felt not only in the poems, which are dedicated to her, but also in the principles of form that Liz Houchin investigates.

The speaker of the opening poem (The Droste Effect’) disappears, we are told, ‘inside the recursive / image of ourselves’. This omission serves as a sentiment for the publication as a whole. Much like the Droste effect itself, as each poem repeatedly attempts to render an image of the speaker within its lines, that image becomes more detached and hard to perceive. There are consequences, the poem implies, to giving form to art.

In ‘the measure of a woman’, the reader is invited to measure-up the female speaker’s anatomy:

inch your way round her cage
decide what dress will fit.

Here the act of measuring is intrusive: it does not take the subject on her own terms. Instead, the poem’s subject is fixed into the dress’s ready-made shape and, as such, she is trapped in a ‘cage’. In giving something a permanent form, therefore, the poet also risks its entrapment. As Houchin writes in ‘Erasure’:

every time I dare / think
I am drawn in permanent marker

you take something away

Yet in turning to Albers, Houchin supplies an alternate mode of representation.

In ‘Anni’, for example, the speaker discusses the act of description as ‘feeling my way / — like a horse in fire —’. The poet has borrowed Albers’ highly-tactile technique. Houchin thus ‘feels’ her way around her subject matter, and the poem — rather than imposing any preconceived interpretation onto its depiction of the artist — instead becomes an act of exploration. The poem’s lines mirror this, darting across the page like the threads of Albers’ textiles.

It is in such a way, Houchin implies, that form and subject-matter can be reconciled — albeit fleetingly.

Katy Mack