(SPAM Cuts) ‘southern gothic’ by A. K. Blakemore
This week’s SPAM Cuts is A. K. Blakemore’s poem ‘southern gothic’, read here by Maria Sledmere and taken from Blakemore’s second full-length collection, Fondue (Offord Road Books, 2018). You can also view the poem here, in the LRB.
> Fittingly, I first read A. K. Blakemore’s second collection, Fondue, on the train. A dead train, mid-afternoon, a rattling carriage; alone with four seats and Blakemore’s book, moving between two cities. I wasn’t so much hurtling towards something as finding myself, steadily, bound up in it already. When Blakemore opens her poem with ‘riding trains makes me think about death’, she’s not affectless exactly, not shaking off the weight entirely. She means the deaths that happen around us, that suck us into some kind of ‘specificity’ beyond the ambient unsettling of ‘southern gothic’. A proximity you’d notice between familial and familiar, the othering that occurs in concentrated strangeness. Why bring up death in the garden of England? Does she reference our country’s neoliberal, south-easterly heartlands, while conjuring the American whorls of a pastoral darkness?
> With razored irony, Blakemore soon scorns a bordered, Brexited pastoral: ‘just enough blue sky / to make a noose’. The choke is occurring, my throat is dry. How far have we cut ourselves apart; in the poem I drift, an almost gothic heroine, pacing the lines like corridors. The speaking ‘I’ is light, precise, but otherwise there’s a slowing out of sync, a sensation of watercolours blurring in nasty, derisive contrasts: ‘sun scrapes along the half-spent cloud, / union jacks sinuate on satellite dishes’. Sinuate: a botanical word for a sinuous margin with rounded notches, like the ones found on oak leaves. The shift between end-dashed lines and enjambment performs this in form, allows us to glide or hold out on a breath.
> Throughout Fondue, Blakemore’s voice is at once a foliating sprawl and sharp incision. ‘Sinuate’ plunges us through serrated histories: Orlando, Woolf’s most vividly English (and yet, how not English) son & daughter, anchoring identity among the flickering ages, ages of selves. Is the flag here England’s flimsy existential backbone, does the oak lose anchorage with climate change? What might tauten within the noose? There is the moving train, then the static garden. We pass drolly between scenes, the ‘I’ coming in but just as small-caps, typically casual and slightly, skirting edge zones of passing days. Unfinished chores mark imminent hours, then again perception signals a wasteful tide in our pleasant romantic enclaves, the quotidian ugliness we’ve given up hiding: ‘throw my cigarette ends at the cat / who comes to shit in the daffodil patch’.
> Enjambment slips through sparse and wisping scenes, a resistant languor that denies brash colours their high fidelity; something distasteful always silently lingering—‘a nitrous quality’—sardonic emissions of poison or laughter. Then Blakemore hones her end to a point, makes of her speaker ‘a knife-carrier’. Irresistibly, she voices a mature vigour for imagery alongside a millennial scorn of symbol, the old aromas of a stuffy poesie, a cluttered media, shuffling. She parses and traces, pares the flesh of the present and carefully slices, slips between irony and sincerity.
Text: Maria Sledmere