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Coteries. Prudence Bussey-Chamberlain (Knives, Forks and Spoons, 2018)


I love the title of this book! Read cover to cover by me, after lunch. Its weird challenge of the plural + the full stop: it's like it is daring you to start easy off-the-peg thinking about what a coterie aesthetics might or might not be. It dares you to start pitting a dream of universality against a reality of plural particularities and intimacies. I recently met a potter who ran a pottery and her T-Shirt said "Waste my time". That's what this title does - it challenges and charms all at once. And, the cover image just reinforces this challenge. The cover image, a protest, with a pink sky, and a placard that reads:"Fight Small Mindedness". Protest as Coterie? This image reminds us that the etymology of coterie itself is from tenant-organisations collectivising to negotiate with landlords in rural medieval France. The stunning cover image, too, is the product of a special kind of coterie, if the names are any indication,  the work of Kimberley Bussey-Chamberlain and Elke Bussey.   

The text is made up of a series of longish poems, preceded by a prologue. This sequencing draws attention to how a poetics of coterie is a relational poetics, a poetics that puts front and centre the intimate constellating orientations of people to other people, and objects, and works of art, and cities, etc. There is much here for the New York School All Box Set (I mean Generations) Junky to get excited about, from the epigraph from Eileen Myles' School of Fish to the use of the word "cuntry"... "because it's a bit Kath Acker", to John Wieners, "a wraith who crosses time" to an encounter with the Polish Rider in the Frick, of (of course), 'Having a Coke with You' fame.


I mean, the starting point of this book is not "my heart is in my pocket it is poems by Pierre Reverdy" but "There is a dead female poet / in my pants"! 

But Bussey-Chamberlain's excursions through and engagement with coterie goes further than the New York School. The poems are an intimate game of reveal / allow in / hold at arms length / tease / get to know / confession / negotiation:

"Our shame in London

is not the same as shame

in Paris            which is


          & like a duck reading

Sedgwick & being eaten

by Peter's Wolf

          which is Polari for those

who don't know better"

We're reminded (who am I kidding? I'm reminded) how coteries can function for resistance and solidarity - also for kink, for flippancy, for flirtation, for retreating to the private as much as asserting in the public sphere. One poem languorously weaves in and out of "The sexual act / of eating / tomato soup" All the way through these poems are moments of delicious wit and playfulness with language. A really rare daring. They make me "hum like a tuning fork", as O'Hara said of Char and Eluard and Lorca.  


In Frank O'Hara: The Poetics of Coterie, Lytle Shaw puts forward a radical, provocative aesthetics of intimate coterie as the basis of O'Hara's work. Not merely stylistic, an aesthetics of intimacy and particularity "hijacks universality". These poems constantly do that; they puncture the grandiose, and the pompous. I love this book a lot!

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