Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

The Knives Forks And Spoons Press, 2012 £5.00
Sphinx seven and a half striper

 

Reviewed by Maria Taylor, Helen Addy and Helena Nelson

 

Maria Taylor:
At her best, Meredith Andrea’s work has a richness of style which is sensual and evocative without being flaccid or self-indulgent. The front cover features a wallpaper design by William Morris, an apt choice for the elaborate range within. My only gripe is that the colours might have been bolder. Nevertheless, Andrea’s first poem, ‘Giotto’, is a banquet of colour, taste and smell:

..............the gazes of his citizens
grounded in the fresco; as garlic, cattle
or our portaging of boats, tea, oatcakes, soap and candles

There’s a marked contrast between the richness of the artwork and the monochromatic nature of the everyday. The narrator (who I assume is a restorer) prises open a skylight and is at once “waist deep in a field of slate.” I enjoyed that sense of giddiness and sudden change, with the outside world grey in comparison, a place of “cold fog, sea-breath, seagulls” and “larks”.

Another poem that stood out for me was ‘My Good Glasses.’ Here, the narrator has been given a new pair of glasses, which dramatically alter his or her perception of the world. The conceit is a strong one, giving the poet free rein to look at the everyday with—quite literally—new eyes:

I must trust in them.

I can see your house from here, surely. And a bill-board:
I could have lessons in a boxing gym.

That eccentricity of perception and style gives the poem energy and freshness. The concluding stanza sees the bearer of these new glasses preferring the vagueness and comforting “coloured fuzz” of the old world to which he or she has grown accustomed.

The philosophical definition of “organon” is “a tool for investigation”. It’s easy to see Andrea is using her poetry as a viewpoint for exploring the world, art, and love without coming to any direct conclusions. There are some interesting moments along the way. In ‘Remnants of a library of Russian classics,’ a grand Russian family lose their home in a fire and are forced to move on. There’s a sense here that lives are only understood in retrospect, and this supports Andrea’s consistent enquiring approach throughout Organon:

Everything that happens, happens afterwards.

 

 

 

Helen Addy:
Organon is from the Greek word for tool or instrument; it’s also the title of Aristotle’s six works on logic.

 

With its cover detailing the faded beauty of William Morris wallpaper and the publication’s delicate, barely-black font, my mind was ready to be seduced by Andrea’s poetry. What I experienced was a series of visions through a painter’s eye, with images wrapped tightly together like a roll of paintbrushes. The pamphlet has Mediterranean flavours and an unnerving sense of immediacy.

 

In ‘Giotto’, Andrea compares the “sightlines” experienced in viewing one of the painter’s works, with the taking of supplies to her “butt and ben”, and what happens when she opens the skylight. Her touch is light but the images are achingly memorable:

 

Wind bansheed all night, the moon smutted
by flying clouds.

 

For me, ‘Sneck’ is the stand-out poem in the pamphlet, with its plucky Scottish taste (I read that Andrea was raised in Scotland) and beautifully pitched couplets. I found myself marvelling at how her poetry is simultaneously grounded and transporting:

 

Sometimes each second on the flywheel of the day
snags like briars or a staple-pin for vermin

 

I also enjoyed the poem’s emotional intelligence, where Andrea has to “push/ past the same hard old thoughts here” in order to reach a realistic peace with the world.

 

‘My good glasses’ wryly narrates the experience of getting used to a new pair of spectacles. I love how the mood is celebratory and enriched with stunning detail, and yet ambivalence is apparent throughout:

 

My legs are very long.
My feet are far away and numb.

 

[ . . . ]

 

I must trust in them.

 

For me, Andrea’s voice feels confident but also open to different ways of experiencing the world. I love how she can communicate a full spectrum of emotions, and layer images upon each other to transport the reader. Like keys to unexamined experiences, even the shapes of the individual poems feel thoughtfully constructed: tools and instruments indeed.

 

 

 

 

Helena Nelson:
I didn’t understand all these poems and I didn’t like them all equally well. However, the more I read them, the more I was persuaded that they are good, really good. Meredith Andrea knows what she’s doing and therefore nothing’s happening by accident. She has an excellent ear and, as a result, many of her lines, are delicious in the mouth. The last two lines of the title poem, for example (a mysterious text, one I like but don’t begin to comprehend) are:

 

 

It makes no noise except a dryish cough
beside the used-shoe skip, the bottle bank and paper hop.

 

The transition through the vowels here is lovely: I said this over and over to myself like sucking a sweet. And it is so mischievous – it contains a skip and a hop; and a “used-shoe skip” is not a million miles from a soft shoe shuffle; and the short ‘o’ sound in “cough” and “bottle” lead so neatly to that “hop”, and that’s without the consonantal relish of the ‘p’s and ‘b’s.

 

 

She does visual detail brilliantly too. ‘My good glasses’ is about suddenly seeing everything alarmingly sharply, and its humorous touches are beautifully handled: “Daisies at the bottom of the precipice have grown particular/ about their petals” and there’s “a magpie from a book of hours / eating a tub of coleslaw by the farthest goalpost”. The twist at the end involves the poet preferring her old way of seeing things “so everything will work in/ the way it always does”. If I read this poem in a magazine I would like it and remember it for its familiarity, its universality rather than originality. But in the context of this pamphlet, I think it's more than that.

 

 

Because the pamphlet as a whole struck me as surprisingly sharp. It made me see things with different glasses; in fact, I think Meredith Andrea has a talent for doing this. To borrow a term from cinema, these poems are in 3D. Weird and disconcerting. I’m not sure I’ve read anything quite like them before, though once or twice she reminded me of something Michael Mackmin does, a way of combining lightness with intensity.

 

 

‘Sneck’, for example, is one strange poem. The sneck is the latch or lock that leads to a memory (I think) of something, a difficult something. The central metaphor is of experience as a river turning between “black rocks” where “anything else but water would be trapped”. And perhaps something is trapped down there, neatly locked away. She evokes the river, the “cry of geese in the near-dark” and the unlocking effect of that sound; then the sound of latch and its movement is in the phrasing and its hesitations:

 

 

or the worn latch-click – wood lifting – tap up –
falls back – tap down – stays good.

 

She talks about latches, locks, triggers, even a “staple-pin for vermin” (a staple pin is another locking device). Vermin is a hint. Vermin is trouble.

 

The last line is the most dark and nightmarey. I’ll quote the last two couplets to give the sense:

 

 

Sometimes each second on the flywheel of the day
snags like briars or a staple-pin for vermin

yet passes all the same in secret twist and flow
let go by the pedlar with his fell plisky.

 

 

That pedlar gave me a horrible shudder, and I didn’t know ‘plisky’ meant trick or stratagem (had to look it up), but I got the message of something dark and dangerous. In fact, at first I visualised a black pony with red eyes. This is a powerful poem, one that will stay with me. I trust the poet: it’s about something real and personal, and it’s tricky, because the experience is tricky too. I don’t need to know what is being repressed: the poem is about the difficulty, the undercurrent, the dark danger that goes with existence.

When I got to the last lines of ‘UF10’, I thought them so lovely that the pamphlet must end here:

in this little theatre the sound is woodpigeons
wishing soothing; wishing soothing. This is what’s left
when everything I’ve said about meaning
or thought, packs up and goes home.

 

But this wasn’t the end. There were two more poems. ‘Lost Lake’ is lovely (and not hard at all) and the very last piece, ‘Amsterdam’, is a cracker; it is like a painting—fabulous detail and the more you look at it, the more you see in it.

 

 

I have few reservations about this poet: my only real caveat is that here and there I think either a lack of, or an inconsistency of punctuation, makes things more difficult than necessary. I have read poems by Meredith Andrea in magazines and frankly I have skimmed their surfaces and not seen them properly. I don't intend to do that again.