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She Inserts the Key

Marianne Burton
ISBN-13: 
9781781720387
Format: 
Paperback
Publication Date: 
Monday, April 15, 2013
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This is a startlingly good debut by Marianne Burton. Often dark, but with a sharply concise and compelling style, these poems draw you in with a ‘look at this!’ urgency. This is a collection of voices: dodos and wallpaper chant obsessively, a cheese weeps for the calf whose milk it stole,  a woman turned into soap dreams of her apotheosis as she washes into the sea. Uneasy yet fruitful juxtapositions abound: poems of war are set against poems of the natural world, a glimpse of a sparrowhawk is offset by a wider vision of the ‘River flowing under the Bank of England’. The series, ‘Meditations on the Hours’, that highlight the domestic and the personal, is at the core of this group of lyrical poems. The poet’s language is both keen and voluptuous, contemplative and passionate.

'Marianne Burton's poems combine grace with intelligence, toughness with delicacy, and thoughtfulness with sensuality.' – Andrew Motion
 

REVIEWS

Jenny Herbert, Artemis Poetry

Friday, June 3, 2016

"Marianne Burton's first collection She Inserts the Key offers talent and more than talent in striking abundance. Strong features include observation, narrative skill, playfulness, inventiveness and variety of form, also the way the book is organised as twenty-four meditations over twenty-four hours with interspersed poems. She is the mistress of dense descriptive writing: a dead Fieldfare is "the discarded fletching of its own arrow" (Fieldfare); "Then, sucking back like a tide, it unstuck, flew / straight as a catapult's slug, sharp past the gate" (Sparrowhawk). The range of work is the contemporary critic's dream. She can be down to earth, enjoying the sluttish details of domestic life, and also copes with the outre (The Woman Who Turned To Soap, The Woman Who Fitted The Sidney Opera House), the sinister (The Singer and the Catch, about domestic violence) and the horrific (Head on a Desert Road). I suspect that Burton is naturally drawn to drama, pathos, the 'literary' and the 'poetic' but she tells herself to undercut, following the line she argues in her poem Pissarro's Orchards: Fruit trees are beauty in themselves. I shall ban / anacondas seducing Eve...". There is some tension here regarding approach, style, and language. Jokey confession ("declarations of love / for soft-muscled balding men who drank", 5am: London: I have held conversations) are credible per se but also an aspect of fashionable undercutting. Some 'straight' narratives, in language that makes scarcely any concessions to the word on the street, make a stronger emotional impact (For A Plain Man, Child Reading, On Envying Exile). A choice of riches, therefore: a rewarding book, a must-have, seething with different approaches and styles; and perhaps doubly interesting because Burton may be still looking for the synthesis she really wants.

Review by Meirion Jordan, Lighthouse

Friday, March 21, 2014

... Marianne Burton’s collection in particular deserves praise for her inventive but restrained rapport with the sonnet form, spinning out twenty-five of these variations into her sequence Meditations on the Hours. As in so many of Burton’s poems, there’s a deep-seated intelligence governing her verse’s interaction with the conventions of the form, so that the sequence begins with the juxtaposition between the more conventionally-structured Hallaton: Before the Storm and the looser Lille: Night Walk with Falling Television. In the former, the well-oiled apparatus of octave and sestet is out in force, yet the rhymes of the sestet weaken into echo:

Now, in the owl-stirred blackness –
moon in the birdbath, wind in the grass –
something is getting up, filing its iron nails.

On the garden bench, a book flicks its leaves
over and back, as if being re-assessed,
as if being read by a critic not easily pleased.

The magnetic images of the first tercet disguise a deft formal movement, as the terminal sounds of the lines are gradually swallowed up in an internal music, culminating in the delicate alternations of b-d-p sounds in the final two lines. Comparing this with the final lines of its companion poem gives us a sense of where we are being led:

We are x-ray white, in as many pieces
as the punched stars, demanding narrative
where none exists, raging at the stones.

There is a moment of remarkable freedom here, an instant of realisation that comes as much from image as it does from the music of call and response Burton builds across each caesura. It is as though we are being offered an image of the sonnet broken open and being found to contain whole constellations of nuance and variation. For me, this moment, so early in Burton’s collection, has come to define the work as a whole; it is an apt demonstration of her rapport with the form, and her ability to turn this gift to the serious business of injecting the otherworldly into the mundane.

Burton’s engagement with the various species of mundanity, however, is where her collection begins to lose ground. Despite the consummate craft on display here, there is an ingrained dependence upon certain registers that do as much to work against Burton’s skills as it allows them to shine. This can lead to lines that, though well structured, still have the capacity to make me hesitate – as at the beginning of Four Village Poems From the Chinese:

Halfway through the midden of our years
we bought a house in a Midlands valley.

Now when depression hits I wade with hares
through wheat, or walk in pasture with Charolais;

My objection to this is partly that its engagement with the pastoral doesn’t appear to have much behind it beyond that melancholic twist; but, more pressingly, it’s that it feels like a path a little too well-trodden. The poem’s talk of Charolais and horse-ploughs seems to lead directly into some quaint tea-room, right down to the (locally) hand-made armchairs and an (organic) plate of scones. When Burton’s attention slips for a moment, I find that her work begins to exude a tacit acceptance of these registers, unquestioningly adopting the veneer that our language has put on this rural landscape.

Luckily there aren’t too many of these moments, and Burton’s craft shines throughout. There are flashes of a more widely-tuned poetic radar, too, as in Head on a Desert Road, where Burton explores a wider sense of place and emplacement:

It sits propped like a bollard
by the unmade roadside,
its dark hair
neatly trimmed

a triangle of skin
stripped off its neck,
sinew protruding
in rags of sea wrack.

What fascinates me here is that Burton, confronted by a subject that exudes challenge from every morbid pore, has retained both the inner poise of her craft and the faintest echo of those unquestioned registers. The ‘rags of sea wrack’ sit in tension with the stark realism of the other lines, an almost unbidden nod to the safer hinterlands of nature poetry that occupy so much of the rest of the book. It also points towards a solution to Burton’s difficulties with the pastoral, connecting these distant landscapes with our own lived-in, gentrified environments of afternoon strolls and wistful looks at the ocean. Rendering the two co-present through this image, Burton both reveals the weaknesses of her work and its marvelous potential: Head on a Desert Road doesn’t come across as her most successful poem, yet in tying together the distant and the near-at-hand she indicates the territories of complicity, danger and alarm that she can discover for us.

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Review from Eyewear Blog

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Maria Taylor reviews
She Inserts the Key
by Marianne Burton

In her debut collection, She Inserts the Key, Marianne Burton explores an extensive range of theme and subject matter, from the urbane to the surreal. Despite the varied content her style rarely wavers from writing which is thoughtfully constructed. Elizabeth Jennings once wrote ‘only one thing must be cast out and that is the vague,’ and Burton’s poems are often full of concrete images and experiences, of things which can be pinned down and described – such as a sparrowhawk caught by thorns while pursuing its prey ‘pinned wide open for our inspection’:

For fifteen seconds it lay crucified –
wings museum-fixed, spread eagle by thorns –

as we watched our exhibit twist against
its pivot, its spine pull against the pinioning

Burton’s poems have a sculpted inventiveness about them and often allow for a sensual engagement with her subject matter. Both production- and content-wise, the book feels very well-made. Seren’s choice of cover art is particularly striking and features a woman with an updo of clockwork hair, as if the head were full of cogs whirring away. This seems quite fitting when so much of the book is preoccupied with reflection and time.
The book features a series of poems appearing under a re-occuring title of ‘Meditations on the Hours.’ These are interspersed throughout the book and they allow the collection to cohere very well.
Not only do Burton’s poems take us around the clock but they also take us on a journey of experience. They show us life in its many different aspects, from the early morning regrets of ‘lovers lying in strange beds,’ to mothers giving night-feeds to babies described as ‘warm-lipped fishes,’ and to gangster wannabees stealing from parked cars in the afternoon.
One of the most striking features in Burton’s work is her eye for the extraordinary. In one of the earlier poems in the book, ‘The Woman Who Turned to Soap,’ Burton gives a voice to a deceased woman. The subject of this poem is a woman who bemoaned her obesity in life, but who in death cherishes her decomposing and therefore thinning frame. Death offers a new found independence from the demands of existence: ‘All my life I was dutiful.’ She now has an opportunity to escape and meld with nature, to experience ‘fusion with the sea’ and ‘to lick clean the toes of pink-footed petrels.’ The saponification of the body after death may sound fairly disturbing and perhaps not the most obvious subject matter for a poem, but Burton manages to secure a measured and even tone that makes decomposition a more elegant process:

I shall choose my own colouring,
a delicate raspeberry ripple, sucrose red,
and my own perfume, from orris and anise

What I like about this is the flavouring and perfume set against the background of death and rot. It’s not the ‘surprise’ aspect that appeals, more the luxuriance of the imagery which satisfies. 'Luxurious’ is probably a good adjective for Burton’s style, especially in terms of how she applies a sense of luxury to mundane situations and characters. Burton’s poems make the best out of normality. A man may be ordinary, but his handwriting may suggest exquisite things, as is shown in ‘For a Plain Man’: ‘Your letters clasp hands to dance galliards / throw each other through the air…’ Even ‘plain’ men can harbor secretive and delicious ambitions revealed through ‘rococo scripts’ and a hidden taste for the decadent to ‘spite’ his own school teachers. The reality is that something of the overlooked, ‘tight-lipped’ child who wears ‘cheap clothes’ still persists into adulthood, haunting the grown man who is now ‘important.’ These insights into personal insecurity stay with the reader. Here the images are powerful and memorable enough to make a mark.
Burton also explores the need for independence and how individuals react against daily drudgery. She reflects on work and routine and her characters often seek escapism. The tone is sometimes lighter than expected and humorous: ‘By 2 o’clock evolution is in decline / By 3:30pm we resemble the sloth’ (‘Noon: Liverpool Street: The Bank of Desks’). Elsewhere a naked man irons in Camden, snatching a few quiet moments before his working day begins. The poet becomes the voyeur, noticing how his hands move as if he ‘were making love’ to ‘an unseen body. ’ Burton makes even mundane actions seem more alluring.
The poems possess a filmic appeal which makes them feel as if they are being directed and the images are carefully controlled:

Street lights and little moon. Our shoes
Echo on the cobbles as old Lille sleeps.
Ducks ruffle on the steps by the city pond.
(1am: Lille; Night Walk with Falling Television)

The atmosphere which has been studiously established is then violently broken. A television, ‘eighties weight,’ is thrown out of a window and ensuing wreckage showers the walkers’ path in ‘glass powder’ and ‘plastic splinters.’ A reader can almost hear the crash on the cobbles.
She Inserts the Key is an impressive first collection. I had come across many of the poems previously in various publications and I didn’t expect to be disappointed. I will be very interested to see where Burton goes next in her poetry. Midway through the collection I noticed some of the poems seemed a little more vulnerable than their more confident predecessors and focused on personal relationships between mothers and daughters. I liked this varied range of experience throughout the book. Burton is a strong poet who articulates and explores the vagaries of existence in a way which makes us recognise something in ourselves.

Maria Taylor lives in Leicestershire and is Cypriot in origin. Her poetry has been published in a variety of publications including ‘The Rialto,’ ‘Iota,’ ‘Agenda’ and ‘The North.’ Her first collection Melanchrini was published by Nine Arches Press and has been shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize, 2013.

Full review:
http://toddswift.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/guest-review-taylor-on-burton.html

18/11/2013 - 12:41
Anonymous's picture

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"This debut collection is remarkable not only for its assurance of technique, but for the poet’s ability to make incisive connections with the things in life that somehow exist at the periphery of our vision – that we too often miss, or sometimes simply prefer not to see. This poetry seems to look two ways: on the one hand to be anchored in the tradition and the lyric, while on the other to look forward to the experimental." – Frances Spurrier

See the full review here:
http://www.writeoutloud.net/public/blogentry.php?blogentryid=37875

07/08/2013 - 11:53

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Anonymous's picture

Write Out Loud Review

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"This debut collection is remarkable not only for its assurance of technique, but for the poet’s ability to make incisive connections with the things in life that somehow exist at the periphery of our vision – that we too often miss, or sometimes simply prefer not to see. This poetry seems to look two ways: on the one hand to be anchored in the tradition and the lyric, while on the other to look forward to the experimental." – Frances Spurrier

See the full review here:
http://www.writeoutloud.net/public/blogentry.php?blogentryid=37875

07/08/2013 - 11:53
Anonymous's picture

Review from Eyewear Blog

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No votes yet

Maria Taylor reviews
She Inserts the Key
by Marianne Burton

In her debut collection, She Inserts the Key, Marianne Burton explores an extensive range of theme and subject matter, from the urbane to the surreal. Despite the varied content her style rarely wavers from writing which is thoughtfully constructed. Elizabeth Jennings once wrote ‘only one thing must be cast out and that is the vague,’ and Burton’s poems are often full of concrete images and experiences, of things which can be pinned down and described – such as a sparrowhawk caught by thorns while pursuing its prey ‘pinned wide open for our inspection’:

For fifteen seconds it lay crucified –
wings museum-fixed, spread eagle by thorns –

as we watched our exhibit twist against
its pivot, its spine pull against the pinioning

Burton’s poems have a sculpted inventiveness about them and often allow for a sensual engagement with her subject matter. Both production- and content-wise, the book feels very well-made. Seren’s choice of cover art is particularly striking and features a woman with an updo of clockwork hair, as if the head were full of cogs whirring away. This seems quite fitting when so much of the book is preoccupied with reflection and time.
The book features a series of poems appearing under a re-occuring title of ‘Meditations on the Hours.’ These are interspersed throughout the book and they allow the collection to cohere very well.
Not only do Burton’s poems take us around the clock but they also take us on a journey of experience. They show us life in its many different aspects, from the early morning regrets of ‘lovers lying in strange beds,’ to mothers giving night-feeds to babies described as ‘warm-lipped fishes,’ and to gangster wannabees stealing from parked cars in the afternoon.
One of the most striking features in Burton’s work is her eye for the extraordinary. In one of the earlier poems in the book, ‘The Woman Who Turned to Soap,’ Burton gives a voice to a deceased woman. The subject of this poem is a woman who bemoaned her obesity in life, but who in death cherishes her decomposing and therefore thinning frame. Death offers a new found independence from the demands of existence: ‘All my life I was dutiful.’ She now has an opportunity to escape and meld with nature, to experience ‘fusion with the sea’ and ‘to lick clean the toes of pink-footed petrels.’ The saponification of the body after death may sound fairly disturbing and perhaps not the most obvious subject matter for a poem, but Burton manages to secure a measured and even tone that makes decomposition a more elegant process:

I shall choose my own colouring,
a delicate raspeberry ripple, sucrose red,
and my own perfume, from orris and anise

What I like about this is the flavouring and perfume set against the background of death and rot. It’s not the ‘surprise’ aspect that appeals, more the luxuriance of the imagery which satisfies. 'Luxurious’ is probably a good adjective for Burton’s style, especially in terms of how she applies a sense of luxury to mundane situations and characters. Burton’s poems make the best out of normality. A man may be ordinary, but his handwriting may suggest exquisite things, as is shown in ‘For a Plain Man’: ‘Your letters clasp hands to dance galliards / throw each other through the air…’ Even ‘plain’ men can harbor secretive and delicious ambitions revealed through ‘rococo scripts’ and a hidden taste for the decadent to ‘spite’ his own school teachers. The reality is that something of the overlooked, ‘tight-lipped’ child who wears ‘cheap clothes’ still persists into adulthood, haunting the grown man who is now ‘important.’ These insights into personal insecurity stay with the reader. Here the images are powerful and memorable enough to make a mark.
Burton also explores the need for independence and how individuals react against daily drudgery. She reflects on work and routine and her characters often seek escapism. The tone is sometimes lighter than expected and humorous: ‘By 2 o’clock evolution is in decline / By 3:30pm we resemble the sloth’ (‘Noon: Liverpool Street: The Bank of Desks’). Elsewhere a naked man irons in Camden, snatching a few quiet moments before his working day begins. The poet becomes the voyeur, noticing how his hands move as if he ‘were making love’ to ‘an unseen body. ’ Burton makes even mundane actions seem more alluring.
The poems possess a filmic appeal which makes them feel as if they are being directed and the images are carefully controlled:

Street lights and little moon. Our shoes
Echo on the cobbles as old Lille sleeps.
Ducks ruffle on the steps by the city pond.
(1am: Lille; Night Walk with Falling Television)

The atmosphere which has been studiously established is then violently broken. A television, ‘eighties weight,’ is thrown out of a window and ensuing wreckage showers the walkers’ path in ‘glass powder’ and ‘plastic splinters.’ A reader can almost hear the crash on the cobbles.
She Inserts the Key is an impressive first collection. I had come across many of the poems previously in various publications and I didn’t expect to be disappointed. I will be very interested to see where Burton goes next in her poetry. Midway through the collection I noticed some of the poems seemed a little more vulnerable than their more confident predecessors and focused on personal relationships between mothers and daughters. I liked this varied range of experience throughout the book. Burton is a strong poet who articulates and explores the vagaries of existence in a way which makes us recognise something in ourselves.

Maria Taylor lives in Leicestershire and is Cypriot in origin. Her poetry has been published in a variety of publications including ‘The Rialto,’ ‘Iota,’ ‘Agenda’ and ‘The North.’ Her first collection Melanchrini was published by Nine Arches Press and has been shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize, 2013.

Full review:
http://toddswift.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/guest-review-taylor-on-burton.html

18/11/2013 - 12:41
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