Understudies: New and Selected Poems

Anne-Marie Fyfe
Publication Date: 
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
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Anne-Marie Fyfe - as is apparent in her Understudies: New and Selected Poems - is a subtle and engaging poet. She has developed much like a painter, spare themes moving towards a deeper complexity. Her earlier work includes quite a few domestic interiors; rooms recalled from an Irish childhood and stories told by parents and grandparents. Later poems often feature crucial or pivotal moments in her life and the imagined lives of others: a significant conversation, the look a woman gives herself in the mirror when she’s about to leave her husband, the odour left in the air by a certain perfume. All this eventually evolves into her characteristic poem, a cityscape wrought with careful observation and melded with flashbacks of memory, both her own and including her family, and others, beautifully imagined. Her voice is direct, with a conversational tone that invites you into the narrative. This volume includes selections from her previous books: Late Crossing (1999), Tickets from a Blank Window (2002) – both from Rockingham Press, and The Ghost Twin (Peterloo, 2005).

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Understudies (Seren, 2010) is "new and selected", which draws on Fyfe's previous three excellent and well-received collections but also includes about thirty new poems. 'Synchronicity', the book's opening poem, quickly introduces some of Fyfe's favourite themes. In the lines ...the former trapeze artist surfaces / nightly to a dangling premonition we fin her fondness of performance and performers (which elsewhere includes the trappings of make-up and make-believe); her regretful awareness of people and things becoming obsolete; and her sensitivity to unease about a future.

A little further into 'Synchronicity' comes a line the mynah preens on its clawed perch which reminds me of Fyfe's splendid Cardiff Academ prize-winning poem ‘Curaçao Dusk’ (which also appears in this book) with its chaos of tethered cockatiels in the plane's hold. The injection of the exotic and sightly sinister - birds that may appear to talk - seems another typical Fyfe flourish.

02/11/2011 - 14:18
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Review from Magma

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Anne-Marie Fyfe's collection, Understudies, her first from the Welsh publisher Seren, contains both new poems and selected work from her previous three volumes. Fyfe, until recently Chair of the Poetry Society, is a writer concerned with the close work of poetry, the tight dance around the lyric moment and the precise stab at capturing details:

I flick small hurried rainspots
from the windscreen, pursue
a snaking recent skid-line
for half a mile or more, alive
to the nearness of ditches and death
(Uniforms of Snow)

While Fyfe's work roams the globe, from Curacao to Novgorod, the selected poems gathered here establish her a primarily a poet of domestic observation, and as an Irish writer her poems have something of the spirit of the short stories in Joyce's Dubliners. There is the same sense of lives being lived on the threshold of something, of bittersweet disappointments and a certain paralysis, be it that of the poem-narrators or of time itself - "timeless night, in a week without time" (Before Clock Time).

Given this evolution in style, now is a good time for readers to be reacquainted with Anne-Marie Fyfe and her work in this handsomely produced New and Selected Poems.

Andrew Neilson Magma 49

15/02/2011 - 09:46
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Review from Eyewear Blog

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If Understudies were two people, she’d be wearing a floral 50s frock and he’d be wearing a gabardine trench-coat. Both would smoke. She might have a Wyoming or Irish accent, he’d be Austrian or German. If I’ve conjured a film set, this is intentional. Anne-Marie Fyfe’s poems both reference cinema and – more importantly – are crammed with scanning shots, giving the reader both close-ups and a wider lens. Fyfe’s poems move back and forth in time and continent, from Britain and Ireland through central Europe to North America and beyond.


Understudies opens with a generous selection of new poems, including the filmic ‘Backlit Days’: ‘a woman knits in black and white/shaping a collar in flashback’; a fitting and highly moving homage toElizabeth Bishop with ‘The Filling Station’; the tidal ‘Meteorology’, in which: ‘a dolls’/found voice-box floats, released, to the low horizon’; and from my favourite poem of the collection, ‘Ballad of the Corner Café’:



the last pegboard’s chrome hooks

lie on the faded window display’s

‘fifties holly-paper; a suffocating

wasp’s nest frets in the gusts

from a broken scullery pane;

a white rocking horse shivers in the yard.’


Poems from Fyfe’s three collections, Late Crossing (1999), Tickets from a Blank Window (2002) andThe Ghost Twin (2005) constitute the second half of the book. Again, the selections are generous and I was interested to see how this poet’s work has developed since her earliest publication. While I’ve no quibbles with her first collection, for my taste, Fyfe’s poetry has continued to build in its range and depth over time. I rated a good number of poems in her last two collections, particularly from The Ghost Twin, including the Academi Prize Winner ‘Curacao Dusk’, and ‘Novgorod Sidings’, which was commended in the National Poetry Competition. Yet, for my money, many of the outstanding poems in Understudies are to be found among Fyfe’s most recent poetry, especially in her take on small (and big) town North America, which are delivered with a lingering shot of Noir.


Katrina Naomi, Eyewear Blog, February 2011

14/02/2011 - 19:33
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Review from Warwick Review

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Anne-Marie Fyfe’s new poem in Understudies show her clear interest in the city and its sets, theatricality and ephemera. The work reaches and dreams, moves inward and outward around the vernacular. Fyfe is a collector, an archivist of the symbols of contemporary life with the same drive as a photographer, She adds to the mix a sociologist’s fascination with behaviour and context. ‘The Mass of Men’ details the violence behind the mundane: “Tuesday again and motel guests/slide safety chains in Detroit dusk...” and leads us methodically to the final line: “ A woman, somewhere, fires the single shot.’ Like (Elizabeth) Burns, Fyfe is interested in suspension, holding moments for closer examination. She focuses on how the 21st century makes people rootless, separated from community by urban life. Her writing suggests influences far beyond the English pastoral and draws on the language of the US, of music, of acquired voices. Below her new poems in the hidden river of theater that allows Fyfe to keep her distance, allow others to speak and play. In ‘Full Dress Rehearsal’ the drama comes from a family gathered for Christmas: 

On unmarried aunt
clips a tortoiseshell cluster on black silk,          
gift from a once-promising           
new vet whose progressive tone didn’t
invite grandparental warmth. 

The collection shows Fyfe’s range – her poems of mourning from Late Crossing focus on moments defined by sound, sea crossings and coincidence.

The morning we buried him
there was a note in the hall
in his well-formed hand:
No-one sound
the clock that night.

Suspension leaks into The Ghost Twin and Understudies’ final poem, ‘Before Clock Time’, the the poet stops time: Vanilla sponges rise and rise;/babies arrive too soon; ageing lovers/ utter last words...” She suspends us too in trains, on long car journeys, directing headlights into the distance, sets us off the bus in unknown streets.   Fyfe’s style is condensed and measured. She demands attention and is as confident using with confession as description. Through it all are music and song, explained perhaps by these lines from ‘Tickets from a Blank Window’: ‘All the women of my family sing./ We have voices like honey.”

Jackie Wills, December 2010 Warwick Review

08/02/2011 - 16:17