Soundswrite 2005 Anthology of contemporary poetry (Soundswrite Press) £3.95
Soundswrite 2005 gathers four poems each by twelve participants in a women-only workshop based in Leicester between 2003 and 2004. The introduction tells the reader that the poems were originally gathered into explicitly themed groups but the titles of the themes were removed because the ‘names of the themes seemed to interrupt the flow’. The result is that there is a very satisfactory trajectory through this slim book. In addition, because the standard of the writing is usually so high, the poems resonate against each other not just in terms of their ‘themes’ but in terms of approach and technique. So this book is rather more than the local anthology designed for slight and familial audiences.
It seems wrong to pick out individual voices from a book that is so carefully orchestrated. However, there are some writers here whose work leapt out from the page. There is a sweetly surreal intensity in the work of Elizabeth Rogers that is particularly beguiling. The poems start with a small, often domestic image and expand into something much wider and odder, and carried through with adroit and snappy technique. This is ‘Blue feathered owl’ in full:
In those days we all wore clothes our mother made
out of hanks of wool/knitting in an itch with garter stitch
finished off with buttons eight to a card
twigs on the path/a dusty lavender bag green felt
strings of orange caught in your mouth
or a blue feathered owl
quieter than the creak of cotton wool
Rogers’ avoidance of punctuation and that small additional space between ‘bag’ and ‘green’; her willingness to leave the rhyme of ‘itch’ and ‘stitch’ and the assonance of ‘caught’ and ‘mouth’ and ‘owl’ and ‘wool’ signal a poet of technical confidence and care.
Rogers’ pieces tend to be short and lyrical. Helen Jayne Gunn and Alice Beer are both adept at slightly longer pieces. These pieces carry narratives that blend a sure control of story line with an ability to undercut the story with details that suggest disquiet and ambivalence. Alice Beer writes with a clear eyed vision of the sinewy details of relationships and the slippages that occur all too easily. Helen Jayne Gunn also looks at the way relationships have byways and rhythms that cannot be controlled. Of the two Gunn’s version of the sex war is slightly more positive.
It seems a travesty to pick out three writers from this fine book. Any one buying this nicely produced booklet would find writers that they could identify with and read with deepening pleasure.