Seven Ways of Reading Gillian Allnutt

I just happened to come across this post again. Thank you Anthony for thinking this through, and blogging about it. I think Gillian Allnutt should be a superstar too. Her work is full of spaces, I read her again and again, always finding more in the ‘what’s not said’.

Anthony Wilson


Seven Ways of Reading Gillian Allnutt:

How The Bicycle Shone: New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe; 216pp; £12)



It’s the Saturday Evening of the August Bank Holiday Weekend. We’re at the Greenbelt Arts Festival, on Cheltenham Racecourse. We’re indoors, in a long, low-ceilinged room. It is extremely hot. People wander in, shuffle nervously to a safe distance from the microphone, then slide quietly to the floor with their belongings. There are three very small windows, no chairs. This being Cheltenham, the room is called The Foxhunter Suite. And this being a poetry reading, we ‘give it five more minutes’ in case there’s any stragglers. It turns out there are. It’s a good sized audience. People lie down to listen. They hold hands, sip from water bottles, settle in. In the same room earlier that day there has been a film about the genocide in Rwanda  Gillian Allnutt begins reading, and…

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On Strata, and the Poetry of the Periodic

An interlude of reading: I’ve been really enjoying some new anthologies.  Here’s the first one, Map, published by Worple Press.
Map anthologyTwo hundred years after the publication of the first geological map of an entire country, Michael McKimm has edited this anthology which collects new work by over thirty poets inspired by William Smith, his revolutionary map, and the foundation of a science.

I love the variety of starting points in these poems.  There are poems which deal directly with the remarkable life of William Smith, who was a working engineer, and not a gentleman.  Here’s Alyson Hallett:

He’s walking through buttercupped fields
near Timsbury, two bare feet pressed

to grass, to the upsurge of land beneath

Or broader musings on what’s under our feet: here’s Jane Commane:

What is any place built upon but
accumulated silt and memory?
National bandwidth of clay, shale, coal
and lime, industrial curse-blessing.

National bandwidth – oh, I like that.

And here’s Jonathan Davidson on the colours and then words of that extraordinary map, created almost single-handedly by William Smith:

The colours are the accent of the land, the roll
Of language – languorous or clipped – is scarp
Or dip slope, hogs back, vale.

I’ve nothing like finished fathoming this collection.  Highly recommended.

And then there’s chemistry.  My Dear Watson: the Very Elements in Poetry is the latest anthology from Beautiful Dragons Press, and the most ambitious, tackling all 118 Elements of the Periodic Table through the contributions of 118 poets.  It was organised largely through Facebook by the indomitable and delightful poet Rebecca Bilkau.

My Dear Watson

I’m learning stuff here, since my grasp of chemistry is truly slight.  But poets are to be found tackling the elements from every angle – so Angela Topping explores Iodine (I) through the memory of bleeding knees, that ‘dripped into white socks‘; Anna Crowe does Cerium (Ce) ‘used for making arc lights/ in the motion-picture industry’; Norman Hadley does Neodymium (Nd) via Impermanent Magnetism – ‘An ingot hoiked from Earth, comprising all/ the North and South of it’; Pippa Little does Antimony (Sb) in a sinister acrostic: ‘Do you kNow me yet?/ I sparkle, crumpling, while// I slip sleek through Your bloodstream‘; while editor Rebecca Bilkau takes on Europium (Eu) in a staged concert: ‘One swift flare – a shimmer of sherbet/ sweetening the dusk – and the stage/ was free for us.  Oh god and we believed‘.

Altogether, it’s a joy, and every day I’m still finding new and wonderful poems in it.  Also, I’m proud to have a poem in there.  It’s Bismuth (Bi), and it took me ages to work out what to do with it.


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