Book Review: Santiago by Cheryl Follon

I should start this by stating that I don’t pick up anthologies by white men. I’m sure their poetry is fine and that they have plenty to say, but poetry is one area of art and life where the distinction is obvious and it’s easy to make a choice about it. It’s even an area […]

Helena Buchanan
25th March 2019

I should start this by stating that I don’t pick up anthologies by white men. I’m sure their poetry is fine and that they have plenty to say, but poetry is one area of art and life where the distinction is obvious and it’s easy to make a choice about it. It’s even an area of poetry where you have more power over this (the last reading I went to looked like the line-up of a maths SATs paper in an attempt at diversity, the white man was probably going to be wrong about how to split the pie, but he was undoubtedly in charge).

There is an area of the library which I visit frequently (read: when procrastinating) which contains the Bloodaxe poetry anthologies, and I would highly recommend a perusal. The best I have found so far (possibly the best there, I don’t know, I’m yet to make it through them all) is Santiago by Cheryl Follon.

The poems capture moments, picked and examined and rendered beautiful

This is a collection made up of vignette-style poems of continuous verse, on a variety of subjects which do not feel like subjects but rather moments, picked and examined and rendered beautiful. One of the best examples of this is the opening poem, Insomnia, where the speaker and her insomnia get waffles, so insomnia can tell her of its plans. Another is Ear Canal, where the speaker describes a spice root moving through an ear-canal. What makes these poems beautiful is the mix of images which range from classical to contemporary and are placed not so much to juxtapose as to surprise. In a poem about a girlfriend, the speaker states that the woman uses “the words grave and clit in the same sentence”, as though that is more notable than her own imagery; in a later poem the speaker states “It is as though the Pineapple fell in love with pure instinct itself”, which I think is far more lovely and cool.

I find Follon fascinating because of her commitment to form, or perhaps more accurately the lack of it. People (myself included) become easily wrapped up in the question of what poetry is, and frequently fall back on form as the indicator of something being a poem. In this case, however, these are clearly poems despite their free form. There are no stanzas, no line breaks, apparently no formal choices made, except the choice not to make them (apologies for getting paradox-y, the poetry brings it out…)

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