When I was a child I grew up near the sea, I walked on beaches that were littered with old fashioned bottles, scattered with sea coal and pink puddles of pollution spewed out by the nuclear power plant at Hartlepool. Whenever you looked out into the murky grey sea you always saw tankers carrying oil, fish and coals to Newcastle. The lifeblood of the rivers of Tyne and of the Wear had been silenced by neo-liberal policies, those policies did what the Vikings hundreds of years earlier couldn’t possibly do, vanquish a way of life, at least the Vikings had the good sense(eventually) to integrate into the local population and work with it to survive in a harsh world. I followed the long roads marked ‘Salters Lane’ and the ‘Great North Road’and ended up on the small Island of Jersey and spent much of the time looking over the sea at Brittany, eating freshly caught fish, crustaceans and drinking Stella Artois lager. I never cared what was under the sea until the first time I saw the tide go out there, it was like the surface of the moon and you could see the danger for ships should they get too close to the jagged rocks.This memory was flagged up when I heard the title of ‘The Shipwrecked House’ by Anglo-Breton poet Claire Trévien.
I went to the launch of the book in Oxford, feeling like I had no business being there as I’m not proficient in the genre of poetry, my curse/blessing of dyslexia means I have the concentration span of a ……A small book shop crammed with interesting things, intelligent cool looking people and red wine, not the best time for me to listen to readings , that’s why I hardly go them. This is why I can’t really can’t comment on Claire’s reading, but I do remember throughout the reading that she reminded me of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, throwing out a few clues but constantly double daring me to explore her world through her words.I was the least deserving person in the room so naturally I won the raffle which consisted of a bundle of poetry including The Shipwrecked House.
When I first read the book, it reminded me of this scene from Doctor Who , I could see words in front of me , but I didn’t have a clear perception of what they were, so I scanned the book again to see what I could make sense of . The first was ‘Introduction to My Love’ , a funny , clever, faux thesis piece drawing on Treiven’s academic background , never have the words “This research has been peer reviewed..” made me laugh out loud apart from the time I read a story about a academic who decided to to test where all the missing teaspoons were going.The title poem is an altogether different affair, based on the writers experience of domestic abuse, you can almost hear her childhood self trying to make sense of her world ,the real visual clue is there in the line “My Mother twists her wedding ring like a weather vane, east to west; still the sun refuses to set” The theme is revisited in ‘Whales’ where the beast of violence hides in the house , under the carpet and prank rings the front door. The whole semi-surrealist tone reminds me of ‘Venus as a boy by Bjork , the baseline reminds me of the soft clinking rhythm going on in the background of the writing, the soft , slightly eccentric voice that can can sing over the harshest of backgrounds and still leave you wondering what she’ll do next.
There is a lot here to explore, when chatting to another poet about ‘not getting poetry’ he said, the beauty of poetry is, when you find good poetry which you don’t fully understand , whether it be because you are unfamiliar/unlearned in writing rhythms, you feel compelled to go back to it until you are satisfied, I’m not satisfied yet, I think I’ll be going back to this book time and time again.
Claire Trevien is an editor at Sabotage and Verse Kraken. She also co-organised a series of collaborations between perfumers and poets named ‘penning perfumes’. The Shipwrecked House can be purchased here and here.