Poetry review – Astéronymes by Claire Trévien

Asteronymes cover cropClaire Trévien is adept at gloriously unexpected turns of phrase. Signs of early life include “collapsed/ arks, kicked in the groin.” History has been shoaled and mouths “left unzipped.”

Reading the poems of her latest collection, Astéronymes, published by Penned in the Margins, makes me feel we’re embedded both in modernity and in the past. At one point she mentions: “There’s a spectator in my boot”, bringing to mind contemporary paranoia and the more innocent species of bug in one neat line.

Asteronymes by Claire Trevien coverMore obliquely, she comments: “The grass here is the kind of green/ that can only exist after rain/ or a monitor failure.”

The collection title works beautifully with the dense and varied contents, referring to the asterisks used to hide a name, or disguise a password.

There is a sense of Trévien playing games, not only with words or sentence structures, but with our expectations, as in Azahara [edit] and The Museum of Author Corrections. In the latter of these, we’re presented both with a poem and a response to it, which is at least in part critical. It’s disconcerting and amusing, as well as giving the illusion of insight into the poet’s process.

A series of Museum have taken up residence on the pages, offering glimpses into ponderings on sleep (including a magical line in which “selkies bump against the hull”, waiting, shared meals and more, reminding us that every element of human life is worthy of examination.

Continue reading

Poetry review – Beautiful Girls by Melissa Lee-Houghton

beautiful girls coverHalf truth, half dare, Melissa Lee-Houghton’s second collection, Beautiful Girls, carries you through a landscape of secure hospitals, red light districts and bedrooms where little sleep seems to happen, through adolescent yearnings, childhood dread and adult regrets piled together in a disconcerting, fragile heap that seems likely to topple over at the slightest pressure.

Sinister undertones give way to outright panic, and Lee-Houghton unflinchingly casts grenades in our midst, strewn with lines so tightly wound they may well explode.

In Jade, the opening lines can refer to nothing good: “They called me at three o’clock in the afternoon to tell me/ you’d no longer be able to call me at three o’clock in the morning”.

Couplets like these bound from poem to poem, each so original I want to copy them down, savour their sly promises. (In Sundown by the Abattoir, “Nobody trusts a blue sky./ I am too good to be true and you are too good to be true.” Irresistibly damning.)

Continue reading

Theatre review – The Shipwrecked House

The Shipwrecked House cr photographer Josh Redman3How do you turn a poetry collection into a stage show? If you’re Claire Trévien, it seems, with incredible poise and power.

The collection behind Claire’s touring show is The Shipwrecked house (read my review of that here). When I learnt that Claire was taking the poems on the road in dramatic form, I was agog to find out how she would transform it for the stage. And I was far from disappointed with the results.

The Shipwrecked House cr photographer Josh Redman2

The Cube is definitely one of Bristol’s quirkier venues. Entirely volunteer run, it has, in the most charming way, a curious sense of being a bit of flotsam washed up by storms itself. As we entered the building and waited to enter the theatre space, we heard piped recordings of seabirds lilting overhead. An atmospheric start!

Laid out with a set comprising ropes, nets, buckets and buoys, the play opens as Claire stumbles through an old familiar home by torchlight, where memories sit shrouded by tarpaulins and old suitcases contain unexpected treasures (some of which may make you jump). Water drips resonantly, and Claire exhales the words of her poems supplemented by sparing quantities of recordings in English and French, plus the sounds of the elements, as a storm closes in.

The Shipwrecked House cr photographer Josh Redman

There are whispers of a blissful childhood, opening shop on an imagined café where the pudding may have “crawled away, but we have seeds/if you wish”, and heart-aching memories of a grandmother, whose “house is dragged apart by the fractures/of your smiles – the thought of its absence echoes.”

Visually, this is a stunning, atmospheric creation conjuring up hints and imaginings where a suitcase can reveal hoarded shells, or tiny coloured bulbs ablaze. Trévien steps nimbly through it all, spilling into grief, nostalgia, humour and charm with apparent ease. Both poet and performer, she uses every inch of stage and prop with an explorer’s hunger, rediscovering her own stories so we can share in them with her.

The Shipwrecked House cr photographer Josh Redman1

Both sound and light are orchestrated by Penned in the Margins publisher and director Tom Chivers, presenting an ocean of a play, with tides and waves, moments of stillness, and beauty by the bucket-load.

And yes, there are whales, “making the hinges rock,/ splitting cups and cheeks./ Stray socks melted in their comb-mouths”, reminding us of the strength of things unseen but suspected.

Find tour details for The Shipwrecked House here.

All images in this post are by photographer Josh Redman.

To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Poetry review – The Shipwrecked House by Claire Trévien

the-shipwrecked-house coverSome poetry collections seem to have a life of their own, and, I swear, The Shipwrecked House rasps and shudders with every thought it contains.

The overarching concept is endlessly alluring, drawing you into a world where air and water merge, and you’re as likely to discover a whale with your socks melting in its “comb-mouth” as you are to find “An anchor on every roundabout/ weighed down by corroding flowers/ to remind us that the sea will rise.”

That seems to be the message throughout, the idea that the waves have only loaned us the shore temporarily – and the poems amble inland and back out to sea, mirroring the pull of the tides.

Trévien’s love of, and adeptness for, language saturates the text throughout. The imagery is arresting, bringing to mind the wildest, wickedest kinds of fairy tales. A voice “falls like a coin to the ocean’s floor”, “breath opens like a stiff drawer”, and even the weather must decide “whether to burst/ or rapture itself away.” Irresistible. Continue reading