Book Review

POETRY MONTH: Caviar by Sarah Fletcher

intellectual poems that don't become impersonal

Sarah Fletcher is a poet whose work I have discussed on this blog before, and her writing is being published in increasingly prestigious publications. Caviar, her third pamphlet, is published by Out-Spoken Press and boasts a dizzyingly impressive blurb from Chris Kraus!

As I’ve said many times this poetry month and before on this blog, I usually much prefer poetry written by women (or feminised individuals), as – to use a broad strokes gendered generalisation – perspective, poetry by the masculinised community tends to be more – for one of a clearer phrase – up itself: it tends to be more obtuse, less direct, more digressive and poetry for poetry’s sake, rather than for the sake of the poet.

Does that make sense?

My favourite poetry is poetry that feels like it needed to be written, not poetry that the poet wanted to write.

I know exactly what I mean by that, but I don’t know if it translates onto this post here: I like poems that the poet needed to write, not poems that the poet wanted to write.

If it sounds like I’m saying I exclusively like automatic writing or writing that feels like it could be automatic writing, that’s not what I mean either, because I don’t like things that are too loose, that feel too much like a-

I like things that feel like they’re exactly what they’re intended to be, so that means-

I don’t know.

I’d like to write a poem about how cute my dog is, for example, but if I tried to do that, it wouldn’t happen: and the poem I ended up from that writing process (about being depressed and suicidal or whatever like all my writing yawn), would still require a close edit before it was ready to be shared.

Does that make sense?

Maybe.

I don’t know…

///

Sarah Fletcher’s writing falls towards (but not beyond) the sharp precipice of the plain of poetry I enjoy, in that it is more lyrical and imagistic than most poetry I would read for pleasure, but because its use of simile and metaphor is always tied to a direct expressions of emotive human experience, I like it!

What I look for – as I’ve said before – is the poet, not the poem. Or the narratorial “I”, the character of the protagonist. I would not presume anything a poet said using an “I” was the truth, nor be surprised if it wasn’t a lie. The voice, right; it’s about the voice.

Fletcher has a real skill at creating neat images and making unexpected comparisons and connections. This evidences a great originality, yet never comes at the expense of meaning. I don’t like poetry where the reader is expected to work as hard as the writer.

If I wanted to engage a with a poem as if it were a chore, I’d write one, I wouldn’t read one: I’m not into puzzles.

These are not poems that read like puzzles, these are poems that read like engaged, deep, lyrical excavations of the experience of living.

There’s discussion of love, of sex, of intoxication, of creativity, of travel, of movement, of failure to settle or feel grounded, of the slow feathering out of youthful optimism…

Images in the text include:

  • “glittering like the piss of a baby rabbit”
  • “I pursue you like a diagnosis I do not believe in / but still am interested in the medication.”
  • “Gowns as melting candles.”
  • “So bored, I tend the moon’s aquarium. / Tears turn to teeth of serpents / When they reach the water.”
  • “It was the year vanilla became more / Expensive than silver”

There’s also a lot of humour here, too, e.g.:

  • “I take comfort in the deaths of species.”
  • People should feel more ashamed!”

and, combining simile and a solid joke:

I told him that he has a sleazy face.
He didn’t even know who Serge Gainsbourg was,
which I tucked into my accumulating hatreds:
a useful took for later,
like a plastic knife in an asylum.

Though there is no fundamental reason for Fletcher’s images to feel fresh rather than clichéd, I suppose the result speaks to what I mean about this selection of poems arriving in a space where I – as a simple-minded reader of poetry – am still able to enjoy Caviar despite it coming from a more intellectualised and “high cultural” poetic tradition than I can really handle.

It doesn’t feel like any of these images are unnatural or forced: Fletcher’s writing doesn’t feel like it is yearning for an intellectualism it lacks. (This is something I feel can happen in obtuse poetry, treating poetry as a game for the intellectually initiated, rather than as an art form suitable for empathetic catharsis and human connection.)

Fletcher’s images and imagery feel totally appropriate and clear, no matter how unexpected.

Caviar contains poetry that is full of a) ideas (from a literary, creative, perspective), as well as b) emotionality/humanity, the second of which I’m (personally) more interested in, the former of which many poets – especially more masculinised ones – seem to care about more.

It’s thought-provoking, it’s intellectual, and Fletcher is definitely more articulate, more verbose and more intelligent than I am and than most of my favourite writers (with the exception of Anne Carson) are, but there remains a distinctly recognisable and human voice within (and of) the elevated poetry poetic stylings, meaning that Caviar is able to pull off the very difficult challenge of being both intellectual and interpersonal: this is poetry that should appeal to readers of the form from various parts of the poetic spectrum.

Or, I could be completely wrong and Fletcher’s poems may well be too intellectual for some and too emotional for the rest… what do I know?

Order Caviar directly from Out-Spoken Press via this link

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