Sophie Robinson read at Diverse Deeds at short notice, together with Francesca Lisette, when illness prevented Erín Moure from leaving Canada. Both the poets are young (under 25), live in the South-East (Robinson in London, Lisette Brighton), academically situated (just submitted Ph D; embarking on postgraduate studies), both interested in the performance of poetry (Robinson very much through other artistic practices which involves film-making & theatre-direction, both of which feed into her presentation of her texts; Lisette organising the very successful Chlorine Reading series in Brighton — as much nightclub as trad Poetry Reading). Their writings are fiercely playful — full of energetic parataxis splintering and manipulating language in ways which are on one level powerfully expressive, with emotion, gender, embodiment & sexuality exploding out like fireworks — but with a coherency & poetic power coming from an informed & thought-through avant-gardist poetics.

Sophie Robinson indeed may find herself one of British Innovative Poetry (to use a label now being applied)'s cross-over stars, with inclusion in the new Bloodaxe anthology Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century, edited by James Byrne and Clare Pollard (as well as the avant-garde's favourite, Reality Street Book of Sonnets. The dreaded Faber scouts may be eyeing her already — but the complexity and performative character of her writing are playing a different, far more sophisticated and important game than anything the death-kisses of "rising young poet" or "new emerging voice" can vampirise and destroy. Her early writings are wonderfully elusive, largely micro-publications like yt communications' Killin'kittenish, (day, even place, eg 55 bus, of assembly on each booklet), and my copies with different texts (xeroxed language cut-ups). They exist as performances, not commodities, as human utterances not putative cultural (or careerist) monuments.

Her recent book a (Les Figues Press, Los Angeles) approaches monumentality, with a solid, stylish and beautiful production — the best a very well-financed West Coast cultural institution can manage indeed. It is a complex and moving work, which mourns a friend's death, and does so through specific and individual poetic strategies, involving Gertrude Stein-inflected lists of possessions, images from a photo-narrative and complex linguistic/graphic collages. Formally, it is an anti-elegy: not response fitted to form and concomitant appropriate emotional structures, but a complex and unique form created from the emotional structures that acted through Robinson's own creative choices and makings. The beautiful game of poetry played out for the highest stakes, and winning. The whole thing is bookended by academic encomia, that do, indeed, say good and worthwhile things; but like the pundits on Match of the Day are irrelevant to the appeal of the inventive grace and skill of the main action, and its effect upon us.

Sophie Robinson on the Internet


Francesca Lisette on the Internet

Peter Philpott, October 14, 2009