“Footnotes to Water”

Zoë Skoulding’s “Footnotes to Water” is somewhat obsessed with its subject. Water flows through the poems, washing inexorably over you in wave after wave. Which is fine, though a little more variety – if only to better demonstrate the poet’s linguistic skill – might be nice.

In many of the pieces I struggled with the form. In many, it wasn’t an issue with the spacing or broken lines, but rather its execution gives the reader little clue in terms of where they should mentally pause for breath. Often I found myself reading on and the words not making sense because I knew I’d missed a pause, had to go back, find the logical breakpoint, then re-read. Inevitably it interrupts the flow.

And there are pieces that are just blocks of text. I still can’t get my mind around how non-poems can be regarded as poems – and not just in this collection.

There are a few highlights. One is the splendid “Gull Song” which succeeds through its observation, readability, accuracy, persistence; and even though the narrative form is common with other poems in the collection (a form called out above as potentially ‘non-poems’!), here I would argue it works, and we are able relate to the gulls, recognise them and their behaviour from our experience. Perhaps it’s having this head-start which aids accessibility.

The section ‘Teint’ is interesting. Not in the poems per se, but rather in their somewhat kaleidoscopic and repetitive examination of the same subject. I was reminded of Picasso’s multiple attempts at Las Meninas, where he revisited the same image over and over again. ‘Teint’ is a little like that in poetic form. I liked it for the idea, the notion behind it, rather than for the individual pieces.

Note: in my Poetry Book Society Recommendation edition there is a massive error by the publisher / printer. The beginning of the section “Heft” – effectively pages 33-36 – have been printed at the very end of the book, after page 68 and the acknowledgements. Someone needs to be very embarrassed…

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