The sparkling Poem Brut

Poem Brut is a colourful and stimulating celebration of what lies at the intersection of the poetic page and the artwork.  Curated by SJ Fowler, it’s a series of events, exhibitions, and publications – but here I’ll focus on some of the 29 works (so far) represented online in 3am magazine. 

What’s impressive is the reach of the community that Fowler has assembled and is playing an important part in creating, from Tallinn to Toronto and Trinidad.  Trinidad is the source of Andre Bagoo’s compelling ‘Scarlet Ibis’, where the placing of bright red rectangles over what we might assume to be lines of experimental text seems such a simple act, but invests the page with an animate quality, a jauntiness and inscrutability that may or may not be features of Trinidad and Tobago’s national bird. The work compels a kind of double longing, both for the text beneath, and for the identity and energy of pure colour, in what may also be a metaphor for (resistance to) the blood and erasure of a colonial past.

Rosaire Appel’s ‘Airport’ particularly caught my attention: a shimmering, unstable bird’s-eye view of airport structures, revisited and decentred in what seems like coloured ink.  Here letters and other faint traces of possible meaning emerge, perhaps as signs of our own lives, written into, by and at the mercy of vast architectures.  I loved the curlicue hieroglyphics of Kate Wakeling’s ‘Three Asemic Poems’: it’s tempting to get lost in them forever at the interplay between figuration and signification.

No account of this playful collection should be without reference to Kristian Carlsson’s ‘Beard Maps’: the shiny curls of dark hair, with a hint of ginger that suggests vulnerability,  feel like a meta-play on our capacity to ‘read’ anything as an asemic poem – with their hipster associations, these images luxuriate in a kind of hip-tease.

An evocation of our own projections is similarly evident in Susanna Crossman’s ‘The Diverse Colors of Needlework’, but with a far darker outcome.  In a first image, ‘draw it through’, it appears that a needle has driven a strand of twine beneath the surface of a pillowcase or sampler already decorated by a torn letter: the strand bulges like a nerve and its ominousness is heightened not lessened by evidence of stitching at places across it.  A second image, ‘the judge deborah song’, evokes the spatter of blood on a nearly translucent film of cotton, beneath it an obscured text of which the only noun I can identify is ‘ladies’, suggesting menstrual blood or perhaps, in the context of needles, a backstreet abortion. 

Imogen Reid’s ’56, 189, and other poems’ really make me want to see them in the flesh: even online, they draw attention to their physicality.  In one, a small white oval almost covers each of the letters of a page in an old book.  The sheer white contrasts with the browned edges of the page; there’s an almost marching quality to those ovals taken collectively: but above all, what the negation of the main part of each typed character releases most beautifully is the hooks and tails and crowns of the font (no doubt there are better technical terms), conducting their own wayward and electric dance across the page.  It’s somehow reminiscent of the intensity of markings made by Gerard Manley Hopkins on his own poems, a hidden prosodic life flowering into desire and confidence.

Jonathan Catherall