Ammonite: Poems from the cliffside by Sarah Acton, Review #21

-Reviewed by Claire Trévien-


Look, I love self-publishing. It’s a great opportunity to create something not possible otherwise, whether through an innovative format, or content too experimental to fit elsewhere. See this review from earlier in the month for instance. In short, I really wanted to like Sarah Acton’s Ammonites, her poems based on the cliffs of East Devon. Unfortunately, it strikes me as work that would have benefited from an editor, or at least a proofreader (‘Ammonite choses not’, on the first page) before being printed or sent out for review.

Let’s concentrate on some positives first. Acton’s appreciation of Beer’s Jurassic coast is evident, and the poems that do concentrate on this aspect are its strongest eliciting observations like:

Ammonite, turned over and over
lightly by a thousand hands


The undercliff slides down the shore,
a miniature version of the larger part before


dislodged chunks
of chalk fisted down
into gravity’s cup

(‘Waiting for God’)

In one poem, she is literally ‘grounded to pebble daughter’ by the environment, which is a beautiful way of expressing the ways her experiences have shaped her. Concentrating on one object of study, as in ‘Blink’ also yields great phrases: a lighthouse becomes a ‘shadow turbine’, helping others to navigate ‘the drone-storm’.

On the less positive, greater thought should be given to content, with weaker poems, such as ‘Birdsong’, ‘Submersion into Knight’, and ‘Spider Binder’, not fitting into the overall concept of the pamphlet, and generally lowering the tone:

but he’d
have to knock on every door
to find her again without
her address which he’d forgotten.
So remiss! and rotten luck,
but he passed the test
and succeeded, eventually


And he, eloquent, strong, generous,
before long, approached with the divinity of
a priest taking sacrifice, and when
humility of the after-burn ceased,
surrendering in quivering embers,
she lay shivering for his return.

(‘Submersion into Knight’)

How to you love me,
your close friend and neighbour?
I do not say Fly,
I just want to pass by.

(‘Spider Binder’)

Elsewhere, the images just haven’t been thought through, chosen because they feel ‘poetic’, take ‘swimming the flooded tears / of dreaming deserts’ for instance, and ask yourself how tears can be flooded?

I was intrigued by Acton’s notes at the end of the pamphlet, the numbers seeming to be anchorless. In not trying to be ‘poetic’, the notes actually feel like an independent endnote poem, an approach that might be worth exploring in future work. Overall then, there is promise here, Acton has the raw skills and material, and her subject matter is appealing, some judicious editing could go a long way towards polishing her work.