Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Rosie Miles – CutsA photo of the pamphlet, on a red background and angled towards the right. The name of the author is centred, lower case in the top quarter. Below this in very large caps CUTS, the title of the collection. Below this is a large graphic of a heart shape, but this is made up of shapes of knives and blades, and scissors. Below this in small caps, HAPPENSTANCE.
HappenStance Press, 2015     £5.00

Not the depiction of violence but . . .  

Rosie Miles’s debut is shot through with the subtle but firm implication of violence. The poems leave carefully controlled incisions.

The pamphlet itself begins with two unsettling, deftly rendered memories. ‘Every Saturday Morning’, a scene of prejudice and sexual violence set in a butcher’s, becomes more menacing when you read it a second time and notice the ‘metal trays / floating face down in stale meaty water’.

‘Knives’ recounts a childhood incident: a mother’s mental breakdown, a father hiding the knives, trying and failing to hide the whole thing from the child:

Perhaps I don’t remember after all
about the knives. The
bread knife. 

Miles uses a number of voices and many of her characters speak powerfully about pain and dignity. In the Greek myth, Zeus turned his lover Io into a cow to escape the wrath of his wife Hera. I don’t know how to communicate the achievement of ‘Io’s Lament’ other than to say: here is the voice of a woman stuck inside the body of the cow. It is utterly compelling and completely beautiful. Miles strews Io’s name throughout the poem, through the repetition of ‘I’

I was the jewel…
I was so lovely…
I am the fool…
…a hundred eyes
…I moan, I drool…

The effect of the long, low vowel sounds is so consistent, so overwhelming, the poem becomes a pure cry, the ‘brute sound’ described in the penultimate lines. The poem plumbs the depths of what it might actually mean to ‘give a voice to the voiceless’. It demands your attention.

As does ‘Wragg’, the factory girl waiting to hang for killing a baby she could not keep.

As does the daughter in ‘My Daughter’:

Every few weeks she’ll drop by
to throw a brick through the window
or set fire to the gate again.

It’s Miles’s unerring feeling for what it is to be an individual subject to the violence of the world, rather than the depiction of violence itself, that is at the heart of her success. It’s that rare thing: sensitivity.

‘Question’ and ‘The Door Has Been Open Some Time’ exemplify this wonderfully. But you will have to read them yourself.

Jeremy Wikeley