For Real – Edward Doegar / Savage – Rebecca Tamas

Review by Shoshana Kessler

Clinic, a poetry and arts platform founded in 2009, prints small pamphlets of contemporary poetry alongside a magazine of the same name. Recently, Clinic brought out two new pamphlets: Edward Doegar’s For Now, and Rebecca Tamas’s Savage.

The design of both publications is delicately catered to the individual poets. Doeger’s sparse work is presented in a thin green stapled book, the title and author name presented in bold capital letters. It is twenty eight pages in length, with no illustrations. The poems within the book are printed in a simple serif font, and titles of pieces are capitalized. In comparison, Tamas’s book is wider, the paper is of a thicker gsm, and the type is smaller and slightly grainier (a benefit of using risograph printing). There are no illustrations as such, but the cover shows an abstract image – a silhouette of grass, or wheat, or something vaguely pastoral – and there are small intricate markings on the inset and cover page. Savage also comes in at twenty-eight pages.

It’s hard to compare these two pamphlets, and unnecessary. Other than the immediately noticeable shared qualities: publishing house, publication date, and price, the books are vastly different – though both are well worth the expense (£5.99, less than a premium supermarket lunch).

There is a consistent form maintained throughout Doegar’s work here – the language is simple and sparse, suggestive as opposed to didactic. The pamphlet consists of 15 poems; some take on a personal tone (examples including ‘LEAVING’, and ‘VOYEURS’); others are more opaquely narrated. ‘HIGH’, a short poem consisting of brief and fragmented couplets, is a case in point:


The true

Nutritional

Value

Of a cake

Of soap

Could be

The solution

To something


These sort of jocular aphorisms are interspersed throughout the work. Another example, found in the pamphlet’s first poem ‘ANON’, reads:


Its fair to say I’m partial to a diamond of baklava

But I wouldn’t want you to think

I’m a slave to any one recipe


Innocuous and informal, these personal snippets go some way to offset the later and more directly impactful observations . In comparison, the final stanza of ‘ANON’:


Which is slight comfort

Which is another way of saying

He preaches doubt to practice devotion


It’s a kind of norm-core/philosophical hybrid that frequents contemporary UK poetry (and the alt-lit scene in general), a gesturing towards the personal-quotidian as a means of sneaking-in sincerity. In this way, ‘baklava’ works to counter ‘devotion’; ‘shampoo’ balances the ‘era of faith and reason’. Here, the humour that justifies philosophical or moral investigation is like a new take on base materialism, but less base (sex) and more basic (soap). It’s an effective maneuver, and leaves a certain intimacy between author and reader. The lack of grammar and punctuation throughout the pamphlet – in lines such as: ‘Too me me me’ (‘ANON’), and ‘The removed particulars/of lips nose eyes’ (‘THE SANCTIONED STATE’) – works to reinforce this intimacy;  it’s twenty-first century confessional, iMessage speak.

A personal favourite in the pamphlet is ‘CARYATID’. A caryatid is a female sculpture, built with the specific function of acting as an architectural support for a building. One famous example would be the Erechtheion on the Acropolis. A lesser-known example is Rue de Provence in Paris. There are countless caryatids supporting countless buildings worldwide, the nondescript nature of the short poem alluding towards this anonymity. Doegar’s exploration of woman-as-pillar is captivating. The use of ‘Burden’ immediately aligns the unnamed woman with Prometheus, Atlas: male carriers of the world’s needs. And indeed, the implication is that the muted women is a dual bearer: not only physically carrying the house, she also maintains – within her posture – the ‘house/Needs’, the intimate domestic activities protected by histories of silence. One can think of Idith (Lot’s wife, turned into a pillar of salt for looking back when she left her home), alongside an entire heritage of stone women.

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Rebecca Tamas’s Savage is full of emotional intensities. The content of her poems is less elliptical than Doegar’s, the language more visceral. The pamphlet is divided into two sections: the first consists of three poems: ‘BDSM’, ‘Volcano’, and ‘Penis Hex’, and the second, subtitled ‘Mystics’, features six poems named after various female mystics, ranging from Julian of Norwich to Joan of Arc.

The pamphlet begins with the staggering ‘BDSM’. The poem meanders between instruction and obedience, small pleas of vulnerability offset by small witticisms:


yes girls have sperm

but we call it feelings


Obsession and desire saturate the pamphlet. The body trembles, vibrates, shivers, moans, cries – all manner of physicality simply and powerfully expressed. ‘Volcano’, in particular, demonstrates this: ‘Hot death’, ‘acid arousal’, ‘messy organs’. Tamas’s language is clever. It scurries and jumps, not only formally within the typography but through syntactic and grammatical play, generating unbidden associations. The constant movement between hard vulgarity and soft romanticism leads to interesting skim-reads; on first flicking through ‘Hildegard of Bingen’, for instance, I immediately read ‘curt hyenas’ as ‘cunt hymens’ (I don’t think Tamas would mind). This sort of concurrency forces a slow reading, and an appreciation of this precise and deft usage of language.

In relation to her previous pamphlet, Tamas cited Denise Riley, Anne Carson and Kate Bush (among others) as various inspirations. But these influences still seem apt for Savage, especially Carson in light of Tamas’s classical references. Personally, I also read Keats as an influence. Though this could be my bias projecting, the poems are riddled with food, ingestion, and imbibing: the language of consumption. Tamas’s ‘damp redness between her legs’ (‘Julian of Norwich’) is reminiscent of Keats’s ‘purple stained mouth’ in ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, for instance.

Aside from the clearer motifs of sex and pain, there are other recurring images and symbols: the colour blue (azure, cobalt, a memorable ‘holiday destination blue’ – recalling, in my mind, Thomas Cook, or chlorine), eggs (especially blue eggs), fruit/puddings (‘orange, peach tartlet, grilled pears, cream, stewing fruit’). In ‘Joan of Arc’, Tamas’s use of colour startles: the egg, having been repeatedly invoked across the pamphlet, finally breaks, and reveals ‘god’s yellow eye trickling gunk’ (l.16). Abject and wonderfully bitter, this poem concludes the pamphlet, its final lines calmly bringing the work to a private close:


In the thunder

and night time

it is just me

and god.


Shoshana Kessler is a printer and publisher at Hurst Street Press, based in Oxford and London