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We Should Probably All Read Francesca Lisette’s Teens

By Harriet Staff

Nice one: Brebrowed reviews innovative UK poet Francesca Lisette’s new (and first) book, Teens. Straightaway: “I wrote last October extolling Lisette as one of the finest younger poets writing at the moment and I’ve now bought ‘Teens’ from Mountain Press which collects most of her stuff in one place.” The book is described at Mountain’s site:

Teens is deeply influenced by the intellectual climate and sea-charged air of Brighton, where Lisette lived whilst studying at the University of Sussex for five years. Approximating feminist phenomenology through a syntax of borrowed and misheard phrases; saturated with code-language, its philosophical outlook pre-savaged by the Frankfurt School & Situationism; this work traces a geography of body and spirit encountering battles both within & outside itself. At the centre of this collection is “Casebook”, straddling the boundaries between performance text, prose poem and lyric. Lisette’s first collection is reprinted in full alongside poems addressing the student protests of late 2010, and previously unpublished poems.

Edmund Hardy once wrote: “The Lisette poem field is one of untranscendable quasi-objects, in the best sense: an unbridgeable and indeterminate distance sets off the kind of malaise which strengthens the practises of integration.”

Back to Bebrowed’s review:

Just as the literary English novel comes from a world of bourgeois disappointment and rain in the afternoon, Lisette’s work can be thought of as coming from the body or bodies. I’ve said before that Lisette’s tone is of ragged defiance and there’s more than a little of this in the way that bodies are in the work. Although Lisette’s poetry is both dense and oblique (withdrawn) these bodies bring something tangible to the readerly experience which works in a number of ways.

The term “somatic,” applied often of late in work by and about certain energies of U.S. poets/poetics, appears here approximately zero times, despite Lisette’s poetry potentially being, or not, “about bodies but…the body and body parts are used as a kind of grounding.” A closer read on this:

It occurs to me that young children have an unfettered and uninhibited interest in their own bodies until what we call socialisation and this ‘fits’ more than the obvious butcher / operating table / morgue places. I don’t however think this childish place is altogether happy, there’s too much violence in the work for that.

I now want to turn to the use of ‘ash’. I’m of the view that this is a word that needs to be treated with immense care in the wake of Celan’s ‘Aschenglorie’. This might be a personal foible but I can make a case for that poem’s insistence on care and precision. This is from ‘What Continues’- [Ed. note: Please see full review for correct formatting.]

all festooned where half-fashioned

rooves have crept: mantra dies off

in the bed of living up we rose

caulked and feckless,

brimming over with ash we die

and knit itches into permanence

bloody hurricane fighting brow

vacantly suck.

Before proceeding, I want to note the brilliance of ‘caulked and feckless’ which must rank alongside ‘relinquish flounce’ as proof of Lisette’s invention and skill. It’s not entirely clear that our death occurs because we are brimming over with ash but I’ll take this to be the case, our bodies are filled (to the brim) with ash and we die because everything is blocked up. ‘Permanence’ relates to something that doesn’t die and we, the dead, tie itches or irritation into it. This is very strong stuff and does treat ‘ash’ with the care that it deserves.

Richard Owens also gave Teens a fine study, looking closely at the central poem, “Casebook”:

Split into seven sections, “Casebook: A History of Autonomy & Anger” sits at the center. Here, in the first page of this section, are some of the most startling lines in the book, and if these lines are at all moving it is the blunt force trauma leveled by their irreducible simplicity that enables their emotive force:

We shall be scholars of real pain
In a golden age of suffering
Nothing to do with courage
Nothing to do with sacrifice
Nothing to do at all

That we respond to the conditions of the specific conjuncture under which we live, this “golden age of suffering,” demonstrates neither courage nor sacrifice so much as necessity. The final line of the stanza resonates with a troubling tone of fatalistic despair, but it also seems to gesture toward the needlessness of the suffering we must bear witness to and endure. Throughout “Casebook” are a series of prose strophes and antistrophes that generate an unstable oscillating movement between confidence and skepticism, the poems turning against themselves precisely through their architecture, asking more of themselves than any poem can reasonably hope to offer:

Can a poet expect the fabricated clashing of demons like image hegemony to culminate the hell-on-earth function switch? Hopeless leisure purrs in daylight autonomy knee joke, and behind the scenes work is equally labour, but with passion. Does that make everyone’s true calling politics? Fulfilling June prophecy steel is internally maiming, we failed green stem flesh; air dances around the perfume of achievements’ solo merry-go-round. Funereal the bomb-site is local the parallels unstable conflictual residue threatens to crack DREAMY money-bags vomit roll authority, out of sight preps junior future as just one more knock jaw flop heels impoverished, the essence of negation pushes barrel floats in re-enabled clarity socket.

More about the poet!

Francesca Lisette’s published work includes Tarorchid (broadside from Grasp Press, 2009) and as the rushes were (Grasp, 2010). Extracts from “Casebook” can be found in Better than Language: An Anthology of New Modernist Poetries (Ganzfeld, 2011). Her poetry can be listened to and read at Archive of the Now, and watched at Openned’s archive of the Greenwich Cross-Genre Festival. Her work has appeared in magazines including Damn the Caesars, Axolotl, Hot Gun!, Cambridge Literary Review, Holly White, hi Zero and Signals. She organised the Chlorine Reading Series in Brighton from 2009 to 2010, and has an MA in Critical Theory from the University of Sussex. She currently resides in London.

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, May 10th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.