REVIEWS of Incense
"My view is that the entire sequence is a minor revelation - an almost outrageously blessed
ravelling of traditional form and contemporary subject. The subject is treated with truth and
respect, yet the old form is given fresh tone and turn. Although Crowther follows the form’s
strictures to the letter, she is shrewd too, carving her own patterns.... Crowther uses scientific
terminology to cunning poetic purpose, and she also uses that precise language accurately. Like
Marianne Moore, she is able to locate the poetry asleep in the language of science, even dare I say in the language of weight management."
David Morley, Poetry Review, Autumn 2011
"Claire Crowther’s Incense in its formal incantatory sequence of poems examines the nature of our attitude to body fat — not merely the industrialisation and pathology of being fat — but almost the spiritual and historical nature of fat itself. This extraordinary meditation uses the fatrasie form, made popular as nonsense poems in medieval France, but Crowther’s treatment is far from nonsense, these poems shift from indictment to sympathy, exposing us to our bizarre modern horror of size and weight in poems that are exquisite, memorable and deeply poignant."
Chris Hamilton Emery, March 2011
REVIEWS of Mollicle
"I once wrote of Claire Crowther that she can create pleasure with a single word. Mollicle is one such word. Mollicle is Crowther's own invention and means daughter; it seems to describe exactly the act of mothering, the intimacy and friction of the relationship. Crowther writes about female situations, experiences and especially relationships better than any other poet I can name."
Emily Hasler, Warwick Review, March 2011
"...the author presents a range of female characters, moving through the trees as we read (literally, in the case of the final poem, 'A Wanderer in End Erring Wood'), including the mother and child of 'Mollicle', multiple 'Alices', tragic heroine Alcyone, Dickensian matriarch Clara Murdstone (eschewing the giveaway 'Copperfield' for the name determined by her second husband) and anonymous women, posed with their tools, adventuring or captured, even addressing herself directly in 'Self Portrait as Windscreen'. Characters are presented as individuals and we are invited to examine them not as a group, or as women, but as unique personalities, following different paths through a troubled thicket."
Kirsten Irving on Dr Fulminares Questionable Arts, Jan 2011
REVIEWS of The Clockwork Gift
'Grandmothers are the true heart of this book. In poem after poem Crowther pays them attentive tribute and, more generally, gives lyric expression to the lives of middle-aged and elderly women. ..the women here have experience but also a kind of residual youthfulness which can help in the most unlikely and sometimes sorrowful circumstances. In the poem "Mine Then" Crowther focuses on the continuing AIDS crisis where those grandmothers who have lost their own daughters inherit their orphaned grandchildren....The sequence "St Anne's Apocrypha" is arguably the culmination of Crowther's theme, the Anne here being the grandmother of Jesus. That Anne bore Mary late in life is a muted oblique premonition of Mary's own extraordinary pregnancy. Crowther is seldom merely a storyteller, however. While her poems can be crystal-clear, more often they are riddling, veering, mysterious; deadly serious or quietly funny.'
Richard Price, Times Literary Supplement, October 16, 2009
'Crowther's line in tangy natural detail with a mythopoeic edge (not to mention the odd burst of Latin, too) can be evocative of Geoffrey Hill's Mercian Hymns, which I feel licenses my detection of a Roy Fisher influence too, notably in its description of parks and public spaces. But this is not to pl ay spot-the-influences in the usual way of explaining why the author of a first or second collection has yet to achieve artistic autonomy. The Clockwork Gift comes just two years after Stretch of Closures, Crowther's distinctive debut, and between them they add up not just to a promising first collection and a speedy follow-up, but a real and achieved body of work by a striking talent. The Clockwork Gift is a pleasure to read.' David Wheatley, New Welsh Review, Autumn 2009
'Crowther’s bizarre but acutely perceptive description is like that of Selima Hill, while her ear for the texture of Anglo-Saxon words and canny knack for skewing poetry to incorporate informal phrasing recalls Geoffrey Hill.
...Crowther’s great skill is to evoke a definitely modern world while using a range of language and reference that stretches back into history... I feel I have barely begun to explain all The Clockwork Gift has to offer. Crowther’s craft is masterful, she is commendable for her inventiveness and humour. I cannot record here all the small delights it brings in single poems, single lines, and even single retrieved or newly-coined words. Having read this book you are entangled in it, lured back to its enigmatic world again and again.'
Emily Hasler, Warwick Review, 2010
"Very few poets create their own unique world. Claire Crowther does, and it's all the more rich and strange for being made of language. She's one of the most original and imaginative poets now writing."
Matthew Francis 2008
"the Herebefore sensitively describes the poet’s grandmother in her youth,
[…]her lover lifting
an empty crash of raw silk, a gorgeous
light mass but she is aged by the sun
far into rut and root. No one would know her.
Crowther writes with visual brilliance elsewhere of female ageing, describing in ‘Woman, Probably One of the Fates’ a wrinkled “inner arm” in terms of “Fate holding her drapery The comparision with artworks and marble in that poem makes the point that women have been traditionally turned into objects to look at, and this is why their ageing is a taboo subject – unless it can be transformed into a symbol. Against such impositions, ‘the Herebefore’ re-asserts a natural continuity which gains its strength from the poet’s questioning of her own artful procedures. By the time we reach the triumphant declaration at the end of the poem – “No skull but a new-coined queen” – elements of Heaney and his gendered bog poetry have started to show through, but they’ve been reclaimed and re-oriented." Poetry Review, summer 2009
"Claire Crowther’s second collection, The Clockwork Gift (Shearsman Press, 2009), shows its intent from the outset. In the first poem, ‘Petra Genetrix’, there’s the precise, economic language and emotional resonance that characterises her imagery:
Lines get broken.
All I see in museums
is the frozen watchfulness of a previous home.
The poems fuse the past and future together, meditate on the nature of memory and on how one generation finds its echoes in another – the child becomes an adult, the adult becomes a child. ‘Sleeping on a Trampoline’ juxtaposes impressions and images to build up a mysterious scene, inhabited by both threat and humour. The imagery is vivid and sensuous. Coming down from a mystical trampoline bounce that lasts a few minutes, the narrator’s feet
plunge into sturdy skin, the palm throws me
back at a long day’s sky like a duck, shuttlecock,
bee, the smack of body against my bones,
not-hug, not-massage, not-relax-you’re-cared-for,
only a continent moving by my right shoulder.
The sounds, the timing, the clear sense of poetic line – the craft is top-rate. It’s an astonishing poem, which concerns a ‘thike’ (a mythical, small, furry animal, which features in several poems) somehow in human form. Claire Crowther weaves fragments of imagery together to create a picture which is strange, sinister, and haunting. The layered repetition and variations require attention, several reads, and illustrate why this is not the kind of collection you can rush through and pop back on the shelf.
‘Age Refuses a Grandmother’ concerns a ‘tower woman’, alluding to the Rapunzel fairy tale (‘My turret captures girls with long hair/ and longings to be locked up in’). The woman looks out at her father and at (I think) a child. The poem refers to grandmothers who are long gone and yet somehow still present (‘There they sit, full of tea, as young as you.’). The conclusion is typical of poems in this book. It doesn’t try to sum everything up neatly. Instead, it moves in to deeper, discomforting territory and lodges itself in the mind of the reader:
Turret room, it’s not easy to make it cosy,
its back against the wall of a tower house.
A playground swing. It swirls its iron round
your head. Dangerous rocking.
If there is any justice in the world, this book will be on the shortlists for all the prizes this year, not just the usual suspects."
Rob Mackenzie, May 2009
Online at http://robmack.blogspot.com/2009/05/clockwork-gift-claire-crowther/html
"Not one to maunder about wearing a purple hat, Crowther turns a weather eye on women and ageing in her second collection. In poems that are at once metronomic in their deft rhythms and syncopated in their tripwire vocabulary and image-making, Crowther presents a paradoxical vision of the clockwork gift: that the passage of time brings with it both repetition and entropy, with seasonal cyclicity as the balance between.
The poems bloom not with polite garden flowers, but ruins, rust and inflorescence -- all treated lovingly, disinterestedly, rather than as an Iain Sinclair-esque baroque of disintegration. The book's various careful, and often witty, approaches to age remind me of Agnès Varda's wonderful documentary about what's thrown away and the people who retrieve it, Les glaneurs et la glaneuse. The lucite clock without hands that Varda keeps on her mantelpiece, and which she cuts to after a shot of her ageing hands, might stand as talisman for Crowther's recovery of the discarded, the way that she sets decay back into the natural cycle.
That's a radical move against our current cultural fear and exclusion of that which ages. She finds in age exactly the glow produced by late blooming, the fire of energies that have been banked and are flaring up. Of her grandmother she writes:
She would have been in her element, arc-lit
in gold water, being filmed on stage
reading poems about sun, flanked by flowers,
her face a gleam of all her profiles projected
No skull but a newly-coined queen.
That which is devalued is "newly-coined" in a luminous account of memory and inheritance. It's a triumphant conclusion to the poem "The Herebefore," a title that suggests some of Crowther's subtle play with time, memory and age as cultural -- and specifically narrative -- constructions. This is most acute in a startling central sequence, "St. Anne's Apocrypha" that brings St. Anne and St. Joachim into the twenty-first century, with Joachim coaching a team of elementary particles and Mary having acupuncture, hinting at contemporary tales of older mothers conceiving by IVF and (in Joachim's Kaons and Pions) the scientific redefinition of the miraculous.
More playfully but equally astute, "Unexpected Goal" finds "St George / overlooking a grey-haired woman striker playing / with a boy among bikes left where they fell, mid-roar." The overlooked (in its dual sense) among the abandoned, the striker and the roaring -- it's a juxtaposition that gets at the uncanny fear and fascination of another game invoked in "Street Football," that of Grandmother Wolf. Crowther is and isn't the wolf in grandmother's clothing: hungry for language and its scenes, she essays an appetitive poetry that is inspiring in its openness, its generosity in giving time -- and its effects -- to the reader."
Sophie Mayer, Delirium’s Library, June 2009
REVIEWS of Stretch of Closures
"The best poems in the book work through their self-possessed oddity: quirky without being fey, not troubling to reassure the reader, they give the impression of an uncompromising intelligence at work...Crowther presents an attractively poised voice, calm but withholding, presenting a world that is uncannily fractured, but not entirely fragmented."
"These are poems which demand close attention from the reader: they are rather like those old-fashioned puzzles where you might see a vase or two people kissing, an old woman or a young girl. Despite their referencing of the everyday, they are hard to pin down and consequently provide a sophsiticated dynamic.
April Warman, Times Literary Supplement, May 23rd 2008
She has an arresting eye and ear, always happy to explore the urban landscape, and manual labour: in 'Wyvern', the narrator, like a female dragon, hammering down the the roofs above the Carphone Warehouse carries a 'hose of fire.' ...And look at 'The Purchase of Rhythm' - the slow careful observation of each roofer (how I should love to quote the whole poem as it gains in authority line by line):
yellow gloves, takes a wooden measure
from his full pocket, marks, removes
the ridge tile, shifts back, turns
red hair against grey...
at the new rhetoric of the roof
In her own work she is as careful as the roofers and the end 'is a slow smile, held as long as a step.
...These are not poems of comfort: they throw you off balance (a good place to be - to observe from a different vantage point). Look at 'Motorway Bridges': the narrator's diagnosis of an unpleasant illness (cancer perhaps?) and her drive listening to the radio which announces nothing but death 'my body similar ...but there are words/now. Morning unwraps a bolt/of hedge in dark lengths..a word I'm thinking of is (irrelevant) 'henge'/because fogged concrete looks like stone...' The process of assimilation of hedge/henge/stone henge is brilliant. As is the title - the bridges which muffle the sound of the radio but from which one could hurl oneself...
But the survival instinct prevails as the ironic 'Forthcoming Titles' ...announces 'I shall make an attempt to fill the void'. Crowther has transformed void to cornucopia; Stretch of Closures is a book I shall continue to absorb."
Emily Dening, Seam, Issue 28, Spring 2008
"Claire Crowther's poetry feels quiet and studied, with that curiously European sensibility, an understanding that poems can be deeply intimate, speaking as it were to one person only, yet broadly discursive and abstract at the same time. Her debut, Stretch of Closures, brings history and geography alive on its pages, hints at the supernatural in the everyday and…dips provocatively in and out of languages, making that sense of otherness part of the integral structure of her poems.
This is endlessly-shifting language which surprises, tricks the eye and invites rereading…Cryptic, disconnected, in love with enjambment, these poems readily suggest more than their surface meaning…
Crowther’s poetic vision examines the paradoxical qualities of endurance: the patience and mutability of the feminine versus the seeming durability of stone with its susceptibility to erosion… Her poetry deals with female personae seen against a patriarchal backdrop - wives, daughters, lovers - yet her language and syntax are so hard-edged, she often seems to be subverting the feminine into something far from yielding, almost non-human - "My breasts, salt quartz" - or vice versa with such marvellously conceived lines as "They’re millinery, roofs, pined with cranes". This collection is quietly ambitious, not showy, but Claire Crowther is a poet whose confident, highly sensuous explorations of language and gender deserve to be read and recognized."
Jane Holland, Poetry Review, summer, 2007
"Reading this collection is like coming out into sunlight after spending too long indoors; the poems have the capacity to astonish. ..The language is peculiarly alive; the poems are set very much in this world, and they celebrate it….This is an ambitious and excellent first collection. It sold out after the launch…I'm not surprised."
Cliff Yates, The North, 40, 2007
"…this Shearsman collection…I am excited to say, is stunning. This is not an easy book nor is it quick reading. Claire Crowther is a sharply intelligent writer, in full control of her moods, swerves and poetic effects. Nothing less could enable the reader to feel secure as she experiments with form/meaning connections - never just for the sake of experiment - always to delve into meaning, and difficult meaning at that.
And that takes me back to the obscurity issue. Crowther is often oblique in her approach to a subject and yet, in her case, it is possible to read a whole poem …have little idea what is going on and still not mind. In fact, the intrigue is part of the attraction. Each poem also draws meaning from its context because the structural divisions in the book have a purpose. One is never in any doubt that something is going on and that all the poems are thinking about what that thing may be…
This is a superb writer in whose poems nothing happened by chance. Each line is carefully paced; each word precise and measured. It’s a book to live with. Reading it - and I do recommend this - requires quality time and attention. The pleasure of puzzling out what is going on will last for years and years."
Helena Nelson, Magma, 38, 2007