Review: Philip Gross reviews Utting’s Fair’s Fair

If you subscribe to the Poetry Business’ magazine, The North, you may have seen a review of Susan Utting’s collection, Fair’s Fairin The North, issue 54, Autumn 2015, in which the reviewer, poet Philip Gross writes:

Fair's Fair Front cover

Utting unashamedly loves language, and it seems to love her back. This is not a careless rapture. There is method and consideration, in a whole book structured around poems led in two by two on facing pages (‘creatures coupled in a strange ark’) – sometimes mirroring, sometimes answering each other, sometimes simply exchanging a nod. There is a jouissance in the sheer enumeration of things.

The original review is a longer affair. The part dealing with Fair’s Fair follows, and is reprinted with permission. You can also purchase copies of The North, issue 54, from The North’s own website for the full review.

 

Susan Utting, Fair’s Fair, Two Rivers Press
(reviewed with Helena Eriksson’s strata, translated by Jan Teeland and Wendy Klein, Shearsman Books)

…where Eriksson mistrusts, almost shrinks from, her language, Utting leaps into the heart of it and rolls it around.

Look at her flirt in her flash-vivid bolero,
lash flutter, hair-flick and kiss-me-soft smile:
she’s wearing the sequins and satin, gold thread
embroidery, pleated-sleeved, edge-to-edge moiré
coatee, that was bargained for, haggled and smuggled,
swaddled in khaki, shouldered by kitbag through
mud-fields and cart-track, held river-high ocean-dry…

I am ending this extract in media res, so as not to be carried right through in one breath to the end. As much as Eriksson’s Elizabeth, this ‘Picture of my Mother as a Young Woman’ is historical (Second World War), and is a poem of a picture, representation of a representation of a deliberate performance of a self. Utting unashamedly loves language, and it seems to love her back. This is not a careless rapture. There is method and consideration, in a whole book structured around poems led in two by two on facing pages (‘creatures coupled in a strange ark’) – sometimes mirroring, sometimes answering each other, sometimes simply exchanging a nod. There is a jouissance in the sheer enumeration of things. One poem riffs on Cornelia Parker’s exploded shed, and Utting’s procedure can seem like self-fuelling fission, an implosion, even. The energy produced, though, can be as questioning as Eriksson’s. The young woman celebrated in the lines above could be equally the victor or the spoils of war. One of the most moving of this manner, ‘Lament for Susie Green’, is as much a pibroch as a rhapsody:

No more the wicked tongue, the lizard skin shoes,
the cerise and black, no more the oyster and blue;

no more the filthy look, the thrupenny bits, no silver
or bronze, no more sixpence-suspenders, no lash-glitter.

[…]

No red hat, no fur coat, no Chantilly lace, no pins in the mouth,
no grosgrain or petersham frogging or darting, no snowing-down-south.

No more the dog-see-the-rabbit, no go joe, no rabbit, no cricket, no score,
no peplum or jabot, gadget or slingback, no hip-shimmy heel spin; no more.