Leafe Press, 2008 £3.50 / $8.00 - www.leafepress.com
The only thing predictable about Yet is that nothing is. Carrie Etter writes here in an experimental style which often opts for the non-sequitur, poems built line on line with little obvious reliance on narrative or syntax; though on occasion a rather strained syntactical progress can be imposed until it’s lost—like on Escher’s staircases. Four prose poems have a more obvious flow rather than narrative: one would never confuse them with flash fiction. However, in the main the effect comes from a montage of words and images, working on the ear as well as the eye, as in ‘Divining for Starters (29)’ which opens beautifully with “In the illuminated curtains, in the room’s convalescent light.”
The blurb on the back explains that Etter has not one but two full collections forthcoming, from Shearsman and Seren, one of which will be Divining for Starters. About half the poems here share that title, qualified by out-of-sequence numbers. The subject matter, insofar as one can make assumptions—there are probably layers of meaning I’m not yet picking up—is mainly musings loosely based on nature. Any more personal interventions hint rather than reveal, as in the longest prose poem, ‘Paternal’, which I took to be about a father’s illness. It ends:
“ICU” means I see you connected to life by wire and tube. A geologist can explain the complexities of erosion. The third week comes with liner notes already becoming apocryphal. Look at this old map, where my fingers once stretched across the sea.’
The eighteen or so poems here vary in structure, intent and layout—sometimes it seems perversely so, but Etter is a poet who knows exactly what she is doing. This isn’t in any sense an easy collection and I mean that as an endorsement. I was intrigued, impressed and ultimately bowled over by its hard-won lyricism, as in these closing lines from ‘Painting the Marsh’:
Almost satiated: amorphous swathes of
persist among fuller and at the marsh’s edge
sunstruck and quiescent
Cormorants atop (get this right)
The Young Reader adds:
This chapbook is very grey—grey cover, abstract grey image. Inside are startling black endpapers. The paper’s a bit thin, but the text is clearly printed.
The poems are abstract to the point that it is impossible to make any sense of them at all. I spent a while trying to see if there was a sort of code hidden inside them that made them make some sort of sense, but I couldn’t find one. It wasn’t just that there was no continuity between paragraphs, either – lines were left unfinished and topics jumped around even within sentences, which made them unreadable. For example:
Divining for Starters (19)
Before the sentence
Bluebells on the mantel
Whippoorwill the call to
In the dew in the yet
Into itch and ache into
The field whereby
Seeds aloft declare
Declare whatever the soil.
I tried taking the number from the title of each poem in this group, finding the letter or word in the poem that corresponded with it and seeing whether they perhaps made sense together, but they didn’t. I tried much more complicated codes, too, but none of them worked and I gave up. Apparently the poet has had pamphlets published before and two full-length collections to come, and she’s also a lecturer in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. Oh.