The Interpreter’s House – review of Drawing a Diagram by Aoife Lyall

Issue 65 of The Interpreter’s House has an amazing review by Aoife Lyall of Drawing a Diagram

Edit: I’m delighted to be able to publish the review in full – many thanks to The Interpreter’s House.

‘Drawing a Diagram’ review by Aoife Lyall in The Interpreter’s House, issue 65, June 2017

Rosemary Badcoe’s debut collection, Drawing a Diagram, is meticulous and multifaceted, creatively engaging with intricate scientific concepts and theories from utterly original and thoroughly satisfying perspectives.

The first of three sections, ‘The Wiring Plan speaks to the essential. ultimately hidden, components of things. ‘On the Movements of Bodies’ is a sentient exploration of the difference between fact and truth, between plan and finished product. The facts tell us that the dodo is unviable as a creature,’how its sternum lacked the strength’ and `that gravity would… dislocate the stubby wings’. And yet, truth will out and life will and a way. ‘The Star Goat Reaches for the Earth’, is a playful and profound consideration of a constellation and its earthly namesake; demystifying the heavens and elevating the animal, it creates something both fantastical and homely as `His limbs of hydrogen and nebulae/ twitch to learn of trees and growth’.

The section finishes with ‘My Arguments; skilfully high-lighting the human disposition to compartmentalise troublesome truths. The speaker laments that their belief  ‘for consciousness in cephalopods/ won’t prevent you from slicing and frying’, and petitions for recognition that ‘its preoccupations are yours’. Her protest resonates beautifully in the final lines, ‘I write you a note, and like squid/ use the ink to depart’.

Following from this, The Director’s Cut’, is built upon the twinned ideas of revelation and change. ‘Please Hold’ speaks to the quagmire of inessential tasks we accept and perform with a ritualism bordering on the perverse. The poem reads not as the options on an automated system, but rather the reactions to those options; and just as stars are composed of disparate particles of matter, so the poem works two ostensibly disjointed concepts together to create a sublime celestial ending, ‘You’ve higher things to do than listen here./Go fulfil your destiny. Press star.’

Likewise, ‘Nocturne for Suburbia’ is an invocation to the reader to take their children `to the woods where the birch and the bilberry/ drift, half-aware, in the low-lying mist’, away from a restricted, controlled life where things happen, not like clockwork, but according to it; ‘You can hear last Tuesday, the way it bent/ Four o’clock back and forth till it snapped’. The observation is sharp, and sharply felt. The same may be said of ‘The Minoans’, in which we are told `We do not hand our fate to those we cannot touch’. Our life is ours to claim and control, Badcoe reminds us: too often we are guilty of handing it to a higher power; too often we let someone else call the shots.

With this is mind, ‘The Last Act’ delivers poems that are raw and unapologetic. Where ‘Wake’, is unsentimental and unequivocal, informing the reader that ‘others spin the pattern built by cogs/ in their internal worlds and have no time for yours’, other poems in this final section are purposefully ambiguous. In ‘One Down’ a mental mis-step causes the speaker to see ‘from the corner/ of my sight… a tartan slipper droop from a foot’ that isn’t there. The poem is not about the absence itself, the nature of which is undetermined, but rather how the brain habituates to the point of fabrication in order to protect itself. The final poem, ‘The Last Act’ speaks to a sense of having missed out, the feeling that all great things have happened and passed the speaker by, as they wait for someone else to pass judgement. A resignation against the defiance of earlier years perhaps; perhaps the regret that we have not done enough, seen enough, understood enough, in our lifetime.

This is a collection to be read wrapped up in blankets and silence and time. With each poem standing up to robust analysis and dissection, be it crossways in sections or lengthways across the book, they invite and reward serious consideration.”

I shall now stop gazing at it in delight and read the rest of this great publication. I’d urge you to do the same – TIH is a well-established, beautifully produced publication that always contains work of value (and this issue has their competition winners too, so extra good!) Many thanks to editor Martin Malone and to Aoife Lyall for taking the time for such a careful read.


Orbis review

Very pleased to have a review of Drawing a Diagram in the new issue of Orbis, #179. The review is by DA Prince, whom we have published in Antiphon, but I don’t know her – it’s lovely to see that she very much enjoyed the book!

Edit: I’m taking the liberty of reproducing the review here. Orbis is a beautifully produced magazine that’s been going for ages, with a wide variety of poetry. A great feature is the reader awards – subscribers write in and comment on the poems they like best in each issue. Find out more here.

SCIENCE ISN’T SO FRIGHTENING: REVIEW BY D.A.PRINCE Drawing a Diagram by Rosemary Badcoe, 80pp, $14,  Kelsay Books (Aldrich Press),

This debut collection brings together poems which circle in various ways around the ever-engrossing theme of time. More than most poets, Rosemary Badcoe is willing to tackle scientific and astronomical aspects but, helpfully, she knows how to keep readers on side. The book is divided the collection into three sections: The Wiring Plan; The Director’s Cut; and The Final Act. This last is a nod to the way in which the on-line magazine Antiphon, of which she is co-editor and designer, is elegantly arranged into a series of acts and intervals. In her writing, diagrams feature as metaphor and as a way of comprehending how human lives fit into the larger scale, with the title rising from the terrifyingly-titled ‘′. – ‘… the brain that peers inside itself, / sees life happen, and draws a diagram.’, an abstract idea made accessible. Besides, we’ve already encountered diagrams in the opening ‘On the Movements of Bodies’, eased into the science almost without realising it:

About the time that Newton wrote Principia
and every spinning object settled down
to orbit in its newly designated way

the dodo died.

Her science isn’t so frightening after all. Instead, it brings an energy and fresh intelligence to a theme that can often be predictable. The examinations of where we, as humans, stand in relation to the timescale of our own planet and the solar system are inventive, always keep human comprehension in the foreground. All the information readers need is in each piece: she doesn’t weigh down the final pages with notes but takes our language, our knowledge, as starting points. In ‘The international Celestial Reference Frame’ she shows us how a quasars are part of how we live –

We map our satellites against their constant spin.
Their distant calls become the frame
for knowing where we are, like crickets form
the soundscape for a poem of the moon.

She has a lightness, too, and with a pleasingly metaphysical approach. ‘Please Hold’ takes the form of a telephone automated menu: ‘To hear this message again, press one.’ It’s not an obvious starting point for a poem but the language of machine guidance is used to map our human needs: ‘Press four to indicate you’re searching for a meaning.’ And I defy any reader to stop reading at this point. At the end, it jumps free of the constraining form, and affirms that ultimately, we have choice:

… Press hash to indicate that that

is what you’ve made of things. Now cease
to give a toss. You’re born of stellar nucleosynthesis.
You’ve higher things to do than listen here.
Go fulfil your destiny. Press star.

Jumping, affirming: that’s what these poems do, adding up to a very enjoyable collection. The USA-based Kelsay Press, an enterprising publisher, with a website well worth a visit; is lucky to have this title on their list.