For Mary, Marie, Maria, Lucy Rose Cunningham
Broken Sleep Books, 2021 £6.50
Space for white space
In this long poem, split into five segments, Lucy Rose Cunningham makes a range of experiments with form and format.
Cunningham opens with the right-aligned ‘oh M/to launder love’, which is both italicised and grey-faded. There’s an impressive fragility to this stanza. It feels and looks as though it could recede back into the page at any moment. The risk here, which Cunningham does well to avoid, is that the text might actually fade away, hardly noticed by the reader.
The same faded text crops up throughout the pamphlet, often divided by asterisks and offering narrative insight:
And in tears you held and and, in tears–
In a pamphlet dedicated to all mothers, the ampersand is a striking choice of image, evoking body contact. Most interestingly, we’re never shown an image of an ampersand, only the word it’s reduced to. The white space has a choking effect here, the silence or hesitation before the persona can speak the word.
Section three sees a ‘heart-/-break’ across the page, the word itself broken up by space.
The same section begins with a call and response:
Nominal voice my dermis is all that remains
breathes, sighing unchanged
The use of space here seems to me breath-taking, allowing for multiple readings.
This poet has received praise for meaningful use of space (Manchester Review of Books) and it was this aspect that I was keenly anticipating when I first opened the pamphlet.
I was not disappointed. Cunningham does explore intriguing possibilities in her space formatting, and it’s a practice that’s more-ish.
In section four, subtitled ‘Spoon theory’, the persona’s own mother weighs in with her concern:
My mother asked why;
we all have our reasons.
This moment is deftly handled, with the text centre-aligned. The formatting choice allows for empty page space to envelop each line, almost as smothering as the question itself. Fascinating.
I confess I found myself wondering, however, if Cunningham could have done even more with this idea. There may be opportunities to go further still.