Elisabeth Sennitt Clough reviews ‘Gaps’ by Jenny Danes





Gaps is the debut pamphlet from Jenny Danes, a winner of The Poetry Business New Poets Prize 2015/16. Comprised of 17 poems (23 pages of poetry), Danes’s pamphlet corresponds to the dictionary definition of ‘gaps’ as differences between views, situations, or ideas (Collins).

The following lines from the title poem encapsulate the self-conscious choreography of steps through each other’s language that the speaker of the poem and her German partner undertake. These lines serve as an abstraction for the entire pamphlet:


…What is this complete

chance that you and I were brought up in different tongues?

How is it that we would name the same object or feeling differently

and always have done?


There is an assuredness of voice and technique at work here, which results in many of the poems interrogating the world in which the poet finds herself – never more so than in the aptly titled ‘Moving to Another Country.’ The poem opens with an image of ‘rough beaches,’ where


From my sand-filled mouth

clauses trip and fall.


Dislocation is a key theme throughout: the reader is witness to the constant play between the insider and the outsider. As such, it is perhaps hard not to view these poems without the uncertainty of a post-Brexit Britain in mind (at the end of the pamphlet, the poet returns to England). It is no accident that the poems open up into white space – there are very few full-stops at the end of Danes’s poems.


Like many of the poems, ‘Moving to Another Country’ is full of surprising twists. The humour of lines such as these


I make three faux pas in a row

that are all to do with drinking


hints at the stereotype of the drunk British tourist abroad. Danes is keenly alert to the nuances and comedy of translation and cultural intersection. In the penultimate poem, ‘Things I Left in Germany,’ three of the items the poet lists are a ‘thicker skin,’ ‘a nostalgia for England’ and ‘a language I’ll slowly forget.’ There is a refreshing clarity and honesty at work here.

At the end of the pamphlet, the poet’s playfulness reaches its pinnacle in ‘Deutsch,’ a poem that riffs on untranslatable English idioms and sayings:


Oh but come and chat out of the little sewing box!

How deep is the sea? I am as happy as a snow king,

I’m on cloud seven, tousled and cosy with my tootle sack


Not only does Danes have a sharp ear and eye for detail, but her poems are what Helen Mort, judge of The Poetry Business 2015/16 New Poets Prize, describes as ‘anthropological.’ These are ‘elegantly-crafted poems that stand back and take a good, hard look around the room, finding a fresh language for what they see’ (Mort).

Gaps is a startlingly assured debut and is available to purchase now from The Poetry Business.




Order your copy of Gaps by Jenny Danes (Smith / Doorstop, 2017) here: http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/shop/942/gaps



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