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John Dust, Poems by Louise Warren, illustrated by John Duffin

V. Press, 2019  £6.50

Indoors, outdoors, stitched from language

In this lovely pamphlet — beautifully illustrated too with prints that complement the poems well — the poet, Louise Warren, creates a vivid world where indoors and outdoors bleed into each other, and this mythic figure John Dust gallops about his business. This is the start of ‘The Marshes’:

In the barn, my sofa stands in its puff of white breath,
heavy, patient, packed in tight with the herd

Later, in the same poem:

You fetch each room, one by one, back to the marshes.
Plant forks and teaspoons, chairs for the heron’s nest,
propped up and broken

Or here, in ‘Owl Strike’, where our protagonist is sheltering in a bedroom — but is she still altogether human?

He spied my small bones wrapped up in the bedroom dark
but the window stopped him —

he spilt his white heat onto the glass

Throughout, this spectre, John Dust, part man, part ghost, part atmosphere, darts between poems — as in this, from ‘The Drowned Field’: ‘Something like a man in there, / face down, coat spilled open.’ Or in ‘Contoured Road Map of Exmoor. Popular Edition.’, ‘some kind of man is trapped here — his back to me smoking —’.

The poet achieves her effects — stitching the particularities of this strange land — in language packed with echoes, half rhyme and alliteration — like this paired then reversed initial ‘l’ and ‘c’, in ‘Winter Bathroom’: ‘Out of the tap runs a long cold evening, the colour of lead’. Or here, in ‘Swifts’, the echoing ‘t’, ‘m’, (on top of all her other tricks):

Tucked in, a skinned hare, turned milk, tinned meat,
a sink full of onion skin and hair.

The result is a rich, stitched mesh of a world captured on — or more precisely in — its own terms. ‘Come up by coach, by train, come up by Jack the Treacle Eater’, she invites in ‘Town’; sure enough, her language winds me in.

Charlotte Gann

 

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