The cover shows a brick wall with a faded zero, in the centre of which is a blank, white ampersand with a squiggled outline suggestive of clouds. It is as if the poet is inviting readers into the space to create their own images based on the poems, a little like watching clouds and shaping them into pictures. The poems focus on the moments between drama, the aftermath of something happening or the anticipation of an event. In “editing her poems”, the poem’s “you” is reminded of the dangers of misplaced focus,
“every morning another poem, another correction;
your words printed over hers; bonfire of the diaries;
scrubbing your fingers over the kitchen sink
to cleanse the black stains of ink from your fingers.
but here she is awake in the bed again,
eyes already open and cold in the thin morning light,
her mouth drawn like a line break. you blink, slow,
accidental as pressure on the backspace key,
the papers you knock to the floor and try to reorder,
a misplaced comma. she rolls her stockings up
her legs, faces you as she walks out of the door.
orpheus, the trick was not to look away.”
The editing doesn’t just change the words on the page but also alters her voice, pushing her into conventional expressions and erasing the original intention. The final line in the first quoted stanza is an echo of Lady Macbeth’s washing her hands and being unable to remove the stains of her deeds. It’s noticeable that the editor is using the kitchen sink rather than the bathroom basin which suggests a loss of intimacy and stains won’t wash with hand soap but require a stronger cleanser that might be found in the kitchen. The editor doesn’t appear to notice that he’s lost the writer because he doesn’t seek her opinion on his corrections.
“anton yelchin” concerns the young actor who died in a freak accident when his jeep’s brakes failed and he ended up pinned by it to a wall. It ends,
“and i am thinking how some things
can creep up on you, like a jeep rolling
backwards down the drive,
whilst you’re facing the other way.”
The language is colloquial and casual in composition but allows the reader space to engage and feel the lung-crushing weight of something like bereavement, which, even when expected can still be a shock.
Towards the end of “&” are two longer prose poem sequences. One, “iterations of self”, is dedicated ‘for jonathan, who could have been’. There’s no explanatory note as to who Jonathan is or was. Part 13 is titled “self as ampersand:”
“only say the word. body & name, each of these are yours to unmake & make again from their constituent dust. this time i will be right. i have considered foundations, blueprints, inevitable floods. this time i want to stand. this time i want it enough. even the gods have built imperfectly, stumbling towards completion; look at us.”
It stands as a good description for the human condition: you can make yourself, reinvent yourself and work on improvements or begin again. The poems in “&” ask questions and encourage readers to engage without judgment. They are both cerebral and compassionate.
& is available from Indigo Dreams Publishing. This review was originally submitted to Sabotage Reviews in April 2018. It has not been published and I’ve heard nothing since. It’s unfair to the poet and publisher for the review to go unpublished.