(REVIEW) Marine Objects / Some Language by Suzannah V. Evans
Miranda Cichy plunges into Suzannah V. Evan's double wave of a pamphlet release, Marine Objects / Some Language, navigating its material (eco)poetics of barnacle, call, vibration, echo and cry.
> I’ve been thinking about waves again: what they are, how they work. It’s difficult not to see a wave as individual, in the way that it flings and breaks, but also overlapping, in the way that the suck of one merges into the swell of the other, and that into the swell of the next, and so on, until each wave is one thing and every thing (and everything). I’m no wave expert, but I know roughly that waves are the transfer of energy, and pressure, and tumbling layers of water, and that doesn’t diminish the dizziness I feel watching them. Reading Suzannah V. Evans’ poems I feel similarly hypnotised, reeling forwards and backwards, carried by their individual and collective energy, by language both frothing and silky.
> Eileen Agar’s 1939 sculpture Marine Object is composed of objects that the artist found on various seashores: a Greek amphora, a starfish, a ram’s horn. It is a beautiful thing, which Evans carefully unpacks and explores in the ekphrastic Marine Objects – itself a beautiful thing, as is its interlinked pamphlet Some Language. With their red stitching and bright end papers the two are much like ‘twin halves of a soft razor shell’, mirroring each other in a palette of earthy red and deep ocean blue, which is used for both the text and Chloe Bonfield’s exquisite illustrations.
> Evans takes us through Agar’s sculpture and its origins, dismantling the fragile parts and drawing us into their fragmented and uncertain pasts. She unfolds the astonishment of their discovery, not simply that ‘lips once touched the lip of this jug’ but also that the sea has marked and now gifted them to the artist, the poet, and us. Bonfield’s drawings echo their dual fragility and solidity, breaking the amphora to its parts but also rendering it complete, the ram horn poking suggestively above its rim.
> Even when we become the sculpture on its white plinth we are transported to the shore (welcome any time, but particularly during lockdown), with sibilance that is wrung to its limits – ‘Spiny, salty, spindly, spumy, submerged’ – but never feels forced. The ending of ‘sea-wrung, sea-wracked, time-speckled’ leads directly to ‘Starfish Balancing at Your Throat’, where ‘a how though?’ gives the title of the following poem. The deft repetition here and elsewhere carries you along under the waves, submerged but comfortable, feeling akin to Agar’s sculpture, that saltwater ‘has poked its tongue into your hollows.’
> Agar viewed her sculpture as a form of collage, and Evans borrows her description of this for the opening of ‘Balancing and Barnacled’, which is bellowed through the amphora: ‘A form of INSPIRED CORRECTION / a DISPACEMENT of the BANAL’. These are poems that invite participation, that encourage a three-dimensional encounter with both text and sculpture. In ‘Give Me Your Two Hands and I’ll Show You an Amphora’ – its only words the title – the space offered between square brackets reflects our palms reaching round the invisible object.
> Marine Objects tells a story of not simply human/non-human interaction but also non-human/non-human interaction, where amphora handles and barnacles voice their agency, the latter ‘cementing myself, gluing myself down / with my tiny briny antennae’. This continues in Some Language, which I enjoy reading casually as 'some language', and in deeper awe as 'some language.' Here, Bonfield’s illustrations echo those from Marine Objects, but at times so subtly that they feel familiarly strange, a face to which you can’t quite put a name. Bonfield has described the process she used for this in a feature on Guillemot Press’ website:
Working through the illustrations made for Marine Objects, I re-drew them through grids of graph paper, making turns of ninety and 180 degrees of the drawings, imagining them as travellers to be paired seemingly randomly with Some Language.
The result is a sense of reverberation and fracture. I felt this mirrored in Evans’ delicate poems, in their preoccupation with language and echo, their marvelling at the small and particular: ‘stone stone/ cigarette butts on the ground, stairs leading to doors.’ The sea returns as a would-be protagonist, laying out seaweed on the sand ‘like a bookmark, / like the sea marking its place in the order of things.’
> Words take on the precious solidity of the sculpture components from Marine Objects. Language is a means of delighting in the world, as in ‘The Loop’, where the poem’s I is ‘looking for the words with intricate sides, pale as shells.’ Words are corporeal, tangible, nettable. In ‘Fisherman’ the man hunts in rock pools, ‘looking for the word light’, but finds instead a technicolour of marine life: ‘Scarlet, satin, prickling petals, frond, polyp.’ The darting fish deposit names at his feet: ‘dogwhelk, otter clam, acorn barnacle, tusk shell, little cuttle’, revelling in our tendency to use aspects of the natural world to relate to others.
> Evans is also expert in non-human language. The rendition of the gull’s cry, ‘caw-caw-ha-ha-mouette/-mouette-mouette’ is the best I’ve seen, supported by the gull whose call rolled around my living room’s chimney as I was typing this. Elsewhere, even the seemingly untranslatable finds a textual form, starfish as * and a seaweed frond as ~- - ~--- ~ ~ --- ~ ~. The swell of the sea and wind in ‘Creaks and Sighs’ are offered through cadence and repetition: ‘blue sighs, boat sighs.’
> There were aspects of both Marine Objects and Some Language that reminded me of Alice Oswald in Dart, attending to the river’s ‘foundry of sounds’, translating its ‘blunt blink glint’. Returning to Evans, the deceptively simple and lilting ‘Silk, Poets’ concludes ‘Swimming, the brave / Braving, the poets.’ These are brave poems which oblige you to put your head beneath the water.
Marine Objects / Some Language is out now and available to purchase from Guillemot Press.
Text: Miranda Cichy
Image: Guillemot Press