-Reviewed by Claire Trévien–
The temptation with this kind of challenge is to compare each poet to the one reviewed the day before, and maybe the day before that. I think this might lead to a final review on 31st December with each of the previous 30 poets breathing heavily down that poet’s back. It’s a little inevitable in a way, but it’s not terribly helpful when the styles are so different. Yesterday, I reviewed Warsan Shire’s pamphlet, which was so full of life that it felt like a collection. Today, I am reviewing Sophie Essex’s pamphlet Objects of Desire which simply contains three poems.
I had the advantage with Shire of following her work for a while, of having seen her perform, of knowing some of her ‘hits’. I know nothing about Essex, whose pamphlet landed here because her publisher found out about my challenge. It’s quite exciting to read someone new, but it also makes me wish I had more context.
Thanks to the magic of internet, I know now that Sophie Essex manages an alt-lit magazine and press, and is a fan of surrealism. I’ve found her reading one of the poems (‘Her’) online too, it’s the first one in this video:
Yeah, yeah, but what about the poetry? I hear you.
Here are a few observations about Sophie Essex’s poetry:
- it feels vulnerable, but in a brave, not cloying way. There is a sense of the object(s) of desire being out of range, but without this being set up as a negative contrast:
“When I said I like you this way:
- reading this feels a bit like watching a montage on a TV show when a character suddenly semi-coherently puts together all the pieces of a puzzle. I’m not sure what the end puzzle looks like here but I got a vibe of lust and longing.
- there’s a theme of BDSM. That could be me reading too much into it, but submission and resistance occur throughout:
‘When I said I like you this way
I meant milk lapped,
you begging for what I couldn’t,
vulpine & submissive in the only way’
‘her body a forest
of echoing submission?’
‘K says I can’t do this alone
some things she can’t swallow’
- Essex likes lists. Dash lists open and close the pamphlet, with more integrated lists occurring in between to juxtapose objects and ideas, such as ‘incoherence’ and ‘tense’ or ‘orbital’ and ‘clenched fists’. I’ve tried to resist reading them as to-do lists, but again for me that feeds back to the control vibe.
- I felt a certain frustration while reading this that there wasn’t more. Yes, that’s probably because the pamphlet is so short, but it’s more than that. The poems felt like shadows of themselves, cut short just as they started to go interesting places. The final poem ends with ‘expectation is where we begin‘ – I hope this also works as a promise of where her writing will go next.
Physically, this is closer to my idea of a pamphlet than Shire’s, its pocket size reminds me of the Annexe Introducing series (they even share the same printer I believe, Footprint Workers Co-op). It’s beautifully designed, and the stiff cover elevates it, makes it feel non-disposable. The alt-lit style isn’t really one that speaks to me, so I would have preferred longer than a day to digest it, but on first impressions I woul say that this isn’t disposable poetry either.
This December, I have given myself the task of reviewing one pamphlet a day to raise money for next year’s Saboteur Awards. You can help by donating, or sharing the link using the hashtag #pamphletparty. I am not sure how this month is going to go, some pamphlets will be easier than others. I have given myself the aim of writing at least 300 words for each, a lower word-count than the usual reviews on Sabotage, in the hopes of making it more manageable!