Hannah Copley, Speculum
(Broken Sleep Books, 2021)
Helen Seymour, The Underlook
(The Poetry Business, 2022)
‘Tell all the truth but tell it slant’ wrote Emily Dickinson, famously. ‘Slant’, according to the dictionary, can mean a gentle, undulating hill or a ray of light. In shipping terminology, it’s a breeze or a short spell of wind; not one strong enough to blow off course but to provide pleasant relief from the heat or from the monotony of travelling through open water. Where history-makers have had their own ideas about ‘truth’, however, ‘slant’ has meant something much less benign to female poets, whose job it has been to straighten out the slants of others and to create her own in revision and creative response. Hannah Copley, in her latest collection Speculum
, answers to this legacy in the title of one poem: ‘Emily Dickinson keeps writing me love letters’. Baffled by Dickinson’s tightly bound theology, as dogs bark outside and ‘another dried sprig falls out of the dictionary’, the speaker remembers ‘just how far there still is to go’. Going anywhere in these poems relies on asking questions about etymology in order to find the right angle for the telling. In ‘Speculum ’, another speaker begins the search by asking:
What is the appropriateness of fistula
to describe the hole in the archive
between the body of writing and the body of the patient?
Fistula is an abnormal connection between two organs or vessels and its appropriateness is vital in Copley’s writing, given that histories about ...
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