Field Notes, Anna Selby
Hazel Press, 2020 £10.00
Poetry of water
In a note at the end of her pamphlet, Anna Selby informs us that many of these poems were
written on waterproof notebooks with pencil, in and under the Atlantic Ocean whilst free diving, scuba diving and snorkelling.
And these certainly are watery poems. In their imagery, their punctuation and their use of shorthand symbols, they embody the rapidity of a wave-tossed sea.
The imagery can be disconcerting too. In the opening piece, ‘Sea Cucumbers’, for example, sea cucumbers are ‘fat, thick, huge as porno cocks in the greasy water’. A trip to swim in the ocean is accompanied by memories of
a film I saw
accidentally when I was eight
where a woman gets gang-raped
on a pin-ball machine.
‘Everything is inconsistent’, the poem concludes.
Even the poems that aren’t specifically about water contain turbulent imagery. In ‘Watching the Nestbox’, ‘newborn swifts / look more like they’re dying’. Dark, contrasting images wash up regularly on these poems’ shores.
The publication is split into three sections, the second of which is called ‘Notes from the Water’. Here, regular use is made of mathematical features such as arrows, double tilde signs and ‘@’ symbols. The texts here are written in incomplete sentences — for example: ‘Sardines. Hundreds of them at one point’ (‘San Blas’). The style is as choppy as stormy waters.
Selby also uses punctuation to create a feeling of tides and waves, crescendos and withdrawals. This is most notable in ‘Where Light Cannot Follow’, where double dashes lend intensity and urgency to her lines: ‘this deep / deep -- jut -- cliff -- jaw’.
‘Field Notes’ truly is a poetry of water, or, perhaps more accurately, underwater. Selby claims many of these poems had only minimal editing. Perhaps that’s what lends them their immediacy. They bubble darkly with all the turbulence and energy of a murky sub-oceanic world.