Friday 31 January 2020

For 2020, the StAnza Blog is hosting DURA – the Dundee University Review of the Arts – who as reviewers in virtual residence on the StAnza Blog will post excerpts from their selection of reviews of titles by poets on the StAnza 2020 programme, including this one in today’s blog. The full review can be read on their website at  https://dura-dundee.org.uk/category/poets-stanza-2019-reviews/. Written by staff and students, DURA is keen to promote the diversity of artists and art forms in the UK context, supporting especially (albeit non-exclusively) independent cinema outlets, exhibitions, theatre, film and publishing. 

Jen HadfieldByssus, reviewed by Beth McDonough

Byssus – strong, tenaciously anchoring; the mussel’s beard, all delicate multiple fibres, with the capacity to be woven into highly desirable cloth. Jen Hadfield’s title for her first collection since the Eliot-winning Nigh-No-Place is a near-perfect metaphor for her attachment to her adopted Shetland, and for that land’s own bedrock hold.

Byssus challenges with its extraordinary range and more than justified ambition. Hadfield tackles many forms and guises: subverting nursery rhymes, chaining couplets, writing free verse, list, shape, concrete and prose poems fluidly. Shetland’s landscapes, and more pertinently seascapes articulate the collection, and she salts her relationship with the place beyond the easy and obvious, without ever sacrificing her innate lyricism. Her influences are myriad; there are textures of Heaney, not only in her close observation of shorelines, but in the threading through of a self-reflexive exploration of her language and poetic processes.... Conversely, when she speaks of language rather than landscape...

Already I can only noun
about its shores
and surfaces [.]

Her language is both richly evocative, yet aptly spare.... 

Reviewing Byssus, it is hard not to gush.

[A]djectives salt, parch and wizen it.
language abdicates
but you
in your stocking feet
stand a chance.

This collection stuns.