The Misplaced House by Josephine Corcoran, Review #4

-Reviewed by Claire Trévien


Josephine Corcoran has been running the wonderful poetry website And other poems on which she’s been sharing poetry since August 2012 that’s not necessarily available easily (for instance, in a poet’s collection, but not online). Sometimes, it’s a bit awkward when someone doing such tremendous work for poetry is not publishing terribly exciting poetry themselves, but thank goodness that’s not the case with Corcoran.

[I have to admit to having heard her read previously, and online, so some of these poems weren’t new to me.]

Nevertheless, I still made some assumptions about what The Misplaced House would be like based on the title and cover. I imagined anecdotal lyrics concerned with childhood, but the opening poem, ‘Stephen Lawrence isn’t on the National Curriculum’ destabilized this immediately, announcing that this would be a more politically-charged pamphlet than expected.

Take the poem ‘You say “drone”’ for instance, which starts as a word association exercise (‘I think of bagpipes / refrigerators /aeroplanes’) and builds up a pile up of noise ending in ‘one continuous note // a low moan’. The domestic is present in both poems, reminding us that no act happens in a vacuum, that no space is apolitical least of all your home.

Each time you turn the pages of the pamphlet you feel you’ve entered a new room in a house that’s been built like an exquisite corpse (incidentally, the title of one of her poems). Homes in Corcoran’s pamphlet aren’t pristine and stable, mattresses can be a ‘mildewed sponge’, and newlyweds ‘rolled like screws in sideways jars / on shelves in locked-up sheds’. A sandcastle is seen from within, ‘Dead crabs are coming in through our windows!’

The aforementioned ‘The Exquisite Corpse’ set in a writer’s workshop brilliantly exemplifies the pamphlet. Corcoran’s ‘shelf for a spinster’ elicits ‘a clucking chicken’ from her fellow writer when she:

wanted to write about life
before an explosion, an air attack –
life around a kitchen table –
holding spoons instead of pens.

That poem resonates particularly loudly to me in the aftermath of the MP’s decision to allow more air strikes in Syria, here’s how it ends:

Whose daughter will telephone
first to say she didn’t make it?
Which one of us will lie for days, unnoticed?
Who will be blown into a million pieces?

A surprising pamphlet overall, perfectly accessible while being perfectly disconcerting in the best possible way.

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! Here’s a link to the previously published reviews in this project!