Alice Tarbuck, GRID, (Sad Press, 2018)
It sounds abstract, maybe, school-bookish - use grided paper not lined! - but in this mesmerising, lyrical, kaleidoscopic suite of poems, grid becomes energised (and not in the sense of on- or off-grid). These are poems that know that the most precise, the most apparently clear, can be the most fervent, the most agitated, the most affect-laden. These are poems that also test grids, as any articulations of structures do: they unpick, unravel, uncover the sedimentation of fixities. "You've had enough", the opening poem begins.
In one poem, '6am', a grid becomes a shimmering combinatory texture, a catalogue that reveals how we are constantly overlapping, bordering, pushing up against things, against time, against the world, in a grid-like fashion. Grid comes from grid-iron and griddle, before it comes to mean network of transmission lines, but here, both of those associations are at work.
"Shoes in hand and birds all out the bushes" - what a gorgeous line! It's like the poem as a grid is conflating an image of shoes as little chirping birds. "feet cold, cold cobbles" - you can almost feel the little semantic and lexical currents coursing through this knit. When you get to "mint imperials leave the red handbag", the intensity of semantic saturation becomes palpable: "kicked/ along with the merest teaspoon of 'blood' onto / the white jeans of every teenage girl in every / tampon advert ever". This is poetry of heightened awareness to the way that signs and signifiers grid patterns of thought and behaviour.
You can probably guess how brilliant a poem called "Viol-" as a prefix is then, as it sashays through Viola from Twelfth Night, Violet flowers, and the colour spectrum? Very brilliant. Ultraviolet brilliant.
Throughout this collection, one of the grinding patterns across which Tarbuck's language unfolds is the work of the artist Agnes Martin. The great abstract artist, whose interest in abstraction, for all its concept, was wrapped up in affect: "what we make is what we feel", she said in a rare interview. One of Tarbuck's poems begins "Agnes Martin is really about something", and then in a series of formulations and reformulations, she asks us to wonder what it is Agnes Martin is about. For me, this, and Martin's other pronouncements on abstraction and affect, is akin to Denise Riley's assertion in Impersonal Passion that "There is a forcible affect of language which courses like blood through its speakers. Language is impersonal: its working through and across us is indifferent to us, yet in the same blow it constitutes the fiber of the personal". Yes, the way we are gridded in language - pressed into its gridiron - and the way we grid our language - "constitutes the fibre of the personal". Tarbuck's book tracks these processes with delicacy, wit and precision.