Over the last few years I’ve seen quite a lot of it.
I'm talking about poetry that isn’t prose but isn’t quite poetry either (whatever ‘poetry’ is). Something in between. I don’t say this as a criticism. I like it when text slithers in and out and won’t be pinned down.
Poets sometimes propose work that is like this. And several times people have suggested I might publish a pamphlet of poems with complementary art work. HappenStance doesn’t do illustrated work (Diana Gittins’ Bork! has been the only exception), so I say ‘No’ to that. Simples.
But I don’t by any means rule out a mixture of text forms, morphing in and out of whatever you might want to call them. Clare Best’s Treasure Ground had prose sections at start and finish, and there will be a pamphlet by Kris Evans next year that will mingle its forms magnificently.
And although I don’t personally publish art work with poetry, I like the idea. I like the way Ambit has always done this. I like the mixture in The London Magazine. So when people ask about it, I always want them to find a way to make it happen, even if it’s not through me.
So I was specially interested to read Estuary by Lydia Fulleylove, with artwork by Colin Riches. I published Lydia’s debut poetry pamphlet, Notes on Land and Sea in 2011, and knew something about the collaborative work that has underpinned this new book. It’s a paperback volume from Two Ravens Press (an imprint worth supporting) with eight laminated colour plates in the middle. The text itself, to quote the introduction, ‘has three elements: diary observations, poem meditations, and voices of those who work the land’.
The narratives in their various forms weave several threads into the whole. There’s the life of the farming world – human, plant and animal. There’s the poet’s father, who is ill. There’s the river estuary – the water, and the water creatures. There’s the weather, and the movement of the day from light to dark. There are the inmates in the prison, where the author is working part-time, and they too are writing and responding to the environment. There are people in the local community, which whom the author is also working: the High Tide poets and the Drawing Ahead artists. It sounds an impossible combination!
However, Lydia has cracked it. It works. This is a fascinating, moving, unusual piece of art. It is not expensively produced, nor without some minor flaws, but it is a marvellous demonstration of a project achieved. Matthew Stewart’s recent review on Rogue Strands gives more quotation and more of an insight into how it works.
Anyone who is interested in cross-art projects, or poems with pictures, or poems that aren’t necessarily ‘poems’, should take a look at this. It can be done. More people should think outside the poem-a-page book. More people should be determined to find a way to bring it into print. A pleasure to read, and to recommend.