Andrew McMillan reviews 'Low-Tide Lottery' by Claire Trevien

Claire Trevien Low-Tide Lottery  (Salt Modern Voices, 2011, £4.99)

The Salt Modern Voices series is turning out to be very interesting, with highlights so far including a beguiling debut by J.T Welsch and an accomplished offering from Amy De’ath; Claire Trevien’s is the latest in this series that I’ve read.  The very talented Kate Killalea seems to be an unspoken influence through a few of these poems, such as ‘The Laundrette’ and the language of Breton and the geography of Brittany is infused into much of the work.
    ‘Sing Bird’ is an intriguing opening, inverting the expected pagination straightaway and creating an extension of the idea of the columned poem; as should be with this form, the poem works as two vertical offerings and one horizontal one and some of the lines are highly accomplished; “Violins steal the voices of women to put in their cage of shoulders and hips” for example.  ‘Journee des Brouettes’ is beautiful because of its allusion and elision, because of the spaces it leaves for the reader to move in and, by comparison, ‘The Swan’ can feel a little too tightly packed, particularly in the imagery-led first stanza; that being said there are still very deft moments, such as the play on “hunt” and “haunted” in the second stanza.
    It takes a skilful, mature poet to be able to handle the personal and historic together and it is a rare skill to be able to conflate the two without seeming hyperbolic or misguided. Trevien proves herself with ‘His story’, a poem which conflates personal memory with larger historical strokes and does so deftly and to a highly successful degree; this poem might not have quite worked in the hands of another young poet, Trevien proves it with a beautiful lightness of touch.  ‘Ties’ is a beautiful poem and the titular work, ‘Low-tide lottery’ contains the great phrase “to know it could fill as much as it could shrink”, it seems an intriguing metaphor for this pamphlet collection as whole. Trevien seems just as comfortable with the stripped back, bare poem as she does with the image-led fuller poem and to have both skills in the arsenal is certainly going to serve her well as her career progresses.  
    The Salt Modern Voices series is a highly eclectic and refreshing movement and Trevien is right up there with De’Ath, Welsch and Hasler as the best the series has brought to a wider audience.  Trevien’s work comes as a breath of fresh air, a sea change from a lot of contemporary poetry which sees itself as a vehicle for interesting or odd imagery with nothing underneath it. Trevien’s work is laden with accomplished images, but behind it is wealth of personal, historical, literary and linguistic detail which elevates the work and makes the pamphlet well worth reading. Trevien is evidently well read in English and French literature and history and it is to her credit she wears this learning lightly, using it to enhance and inform her poems rather than using her poems as a grandstanding opportunity, as some other contemporary poets do.

….reviewed by Andrew McMillan

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