-Reviewed by Suzannah Evans–
Amy Hollowell‘s Peneloping is published by Corrupt Press, a small press based in Paris. For the most part they publish work in English by writers from non-Anglophone countries. Director Dylan Harris’ mission statement on the press’s website is encouraging; ‘Those poetry sects…I don’t care for them. I do care for interesting poetry, high quality poetry, from anywhere. I do care for different poetry, doing things well I’ve not seen done before. I do care for traditional poetry, doing the same again, very well indeed. I want to be excited by poetry’.
It is fair to call Amy Hollowell’s pamphlet ‘exciting’ by any standards. Short even for a pamphlet at a mere 19 pages and delightfully produced, the contents are somewhere between Harris’s definitions of the different and the traditional, but both are achieved.
The influence of James Joyce is evident in this collection even before you begin reading. In the book’s epigraph Hollowell honours ‘the Bringer of Plurabilities’ in the words of Joyce, taken from Finnegan’s Wake. This is a book of plurabilities, if we can use such a word; the poet displays a love of wordplay and puns to rival Joyce himself. Invented words spring from these poems; ‘wildwombeness’, ‘nightdark’ ‘gentling’ all surprising and effective; Hollowell mines out language in a journey to the source of expression. She uses words as physical sensation and the effect is visceral, somewhat reminiscent of the poems of Valerie Rouzeau; the reader has no choice but to allow its strangeness to inhabit them.
Hollowell’s poem Back Window Bloom is a morning-after episode, a sequel to the Penelope chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses. Joyce’s attempt to express female stream-of-consciousness includes almost no punctuation, but thankfully Hollowell sees its necessity. The poem’s images and phrasing are among the strongest in this collection; lines such as ‘Remains a rosy condom on him, his thumb in a ripe tomato,’ and ‘Brown bird on a bare limb perching / songs it, off and on’ resound with joyful newness that is greater than mere novelty and rewards repeated reading. The expression of female sexuality here is lush and colourful, and a touch more believable than Joyce’s.
There are times when Hollowell’s unusual phrasing works better than others; the last poem in the collection, Vita Nova, lost my commitment, at times seeming overly whimsical; ‘a red alarm beepbeep beepbeep beepbeep beepbeep / bebe bebe bebe bebe/ be up be up’. The poet also makes use of some slightly over-used cultural concepts; the use of a cavewoman as an expression of female sexuality seems a bit predictable and the ‘answering back’ element is there too in Song of Herself with a nod to Walt Whitman.
With an abundance of intertextual references, this collection is quite demanding for the reader in terms of prior knowledge and I am certain that there are references within the pamphlet that I missed; I love Hollowell’s re-imagining of Molly Bloom but I’ve never attempted Finnegan’s Wake, for example, which would perhaps enrich my reading of it. However at its best this collection is daring and sexy and there is the potential to enjoy and trust its playful language without reaching for referential certainties.