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We Could Be Anywhere By Now

Katherine Stansfield
ISBN-13: 
9781781725672
Publication Date: 
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
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Katherine Stansfield has made a name for herself both as a wryly witty poet of the everyday seen ‘aslant’ and as a popular novelist of crime and fantasy. Her second poetry collection, We Could Be Anywhere by Now, is pointedly full of poems about placement and displacement. After a childhood on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, she moved to mid Wales, and this book explores relationships between these two places along personal and linguistic lines, as well as notions of insider / outsider in Wales and England, learning languages, and the languages of learning to leave places behind. New horizons beckon: we voyage to Italy, Canada, the United States. Stansfield is never eager to pronounce but always approaches her subjects in an oblique, artful way, carefully avoiding cliché and relishing the strange, the overheard, the marginal, the accidental comedy and tragedy of the everyday. 

“Katherine Stansfield writes poems that test language and our place in it, and show how the words that help us anchor ourselves in can suddenly cut us adrift. Perhaps that’s why, whatever her subject, her words are so well-chosen, the tones so deftly-handled. These poems are multi-layered and full of surprising transitions: we never quite feel at home in them, yet wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.” – Patrick McGuinness

“Katherine Stansfield’s imagination uses logic and rhythm to push her poems into surprise. She dares to tackle one of the ultimate questions: daring to make a new home. Generously, her poems provide beautiful refuge for her readers.” – Gwyneth Lewis

 

You can watch Katherine read her poem 'Talk of her' here:

 

REVIEWS

Review by Neil Leadbeater, Write Out Loud

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Novelist and poet Katherine Stansfield grew up in Cornwall and now lives in Cardiff. She teaches for the Open University and is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow.

The poems in We Could Be Anywhere By Now were written over a period of seven years and were inspired by her experience of moving to Wales, a country with its own official language, and recollections of her upbringing in Cornwall, an area with its own distinct language that, having once been almost forgotten, is now beginning to enjoy a bit of a renaissance.

The main themes running through this collection are interconnected: communication, language and identity. Each of the five parts that make up the structure of the book begin with a quote that is a ‘found’ form of communication: a comment posted on The Guardian online, a sign for a language centre in Heraklion, Crete, a poster on a community notice board in Cardiff, a sign on a tollhouse, and two signs on a lawn in Rhode Island. The subject matter is varied: Welsh language lessons, fear of flying, conversations on train journeys, a fire at the National Library of Wales, Yulia Skripal and the Salisbury poisonings, Tim Peake coming out of his space capsule after returning to Earth, a girl who wants to be the first person to walk on Mars, and a shopping trolley that is desperate to leave a supermarket to explore the wider world.

Despite the rigour with which Stansfield approaches her subjects, not all the poems work for me. Some of the poems in the fourth section of the book, for example, lack the gleam and polish to be found elsewhere. Having said that, there is plenty to admire in Stansfield’s poems which exhibit a quirky sense of humour and demonstrate considerable inventiveness that will delight many a reader of her work.

Stansfield is at her best when writing about language. ‘Welsh has no K’ sparkles with wit:

     If I bend I could be Catrin

     but I can’t, I won’t. It’s Katherine

     with a K. K as in cuckoo,

     K as in break-in. Upstart

     angles from the get-go

 

     having to make do, finding

     sticks to fashion my naming’s

     spine And legs. Gathering stones

     to strike the look of me.

 

In some of her poems there is also a throwback to Kerewek (Cornish), a backward glance to the language of the place where she has come from. In ‘Cornish / Welsh / space’ she positions a Cornish word and its Welsh equivalent between couplets that are, by and large, linked to the meanings of the words. In another poem she writes of a made-up word invented by her sister and, in others, plants the occasional Welsh or Italian word within her texts.

Stansfield’s experience as a writer of crime novels and fantasy comes to the fore in ‘The Suitcases’ – a mysterious poem that suggests how easy it is to lose one’s identity when, without clothing (a form of identity in itself) we are in danger of disappearing from sight altogether. With each search, the poem becomes more and more elusive until, at the end, we are told that “none of this happened” at all. Fantasy alone is particularly predominant in ‘Mars Girl’:

 

     She woke one morning and said she was going to Mars.

     She was twelve and wore kitten pyjamas.

 

     Her dad was over the moon & mars -

     halled the press …

 

Stansfield’s poem ‘FOG,’ a word whose letters are in upper case in the title and throughout the text made me wonder if it was being employed in one or other of its many meanings as an acronym (Fear, Obligation and Guilt; Fat, Oils and Grease; Feet On the Ground; Flat Out Guess; Field Operation Guide ... one could go on) but in the end I settled for weather. It is Stansfield’s way of coming at a description of a place obliquely. Her striking image of the fog on the pier at Aberystwyth being likened to “fifty years of wedding dresses / pressed to the face” was just one of many that I found rewarding in this collection.

Her style is conversational. I suspect that some of her poems, in particular, ‘Fear of Flying Course,’ and ‘Misdirection’ fare better in performance than they do on the printed page. Others, such as ‘Tick ONE answer only’ and ‘Ecoutéz la cassette,’ are better on the page. In the latter, she writes about three different things that are going on simultaneously: a conversation that is playing out on a cassette tape, a silent communication between two students and the observed action of a teacher. The effect is rather like seeing something in 3D. This ability to handle several things that are all going on at the same time is one of her many strong points.

In this volume Stansfield often surprises with a sudden turn of phrase or pivots us unexpectedly into another direction of thinking. By the end, we could indeed be anywhere but where we thought we were, at the beginning.

Review by Thomas Tyrrell, Wales Arts Review

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Back in the eighteenth century, before poetry collections had proper titles or handsome art deco covers, new poets would simply release volumes called Poems on Various Occasions. It’s a title that would still suit many collections of this most occasional of arts. Poems come prompted by the chance meeting, the word overheard, the workshop, the commission, and perhaps, if we are lucky, the muse. We can try corralling them by theme or subject, but the results are often mixed: the least successful part of We Could Be Anywhere By Now is its division of poems into five sections, none of which has a very clear rationale. It serves for a collection of amusing epigraphs, but these could have been whittled down without losing anything from the poems themselves. 

What are Katherine Stansfield’s occasions? Welsh lessons. Train journeys (a lot of these—she’s evidently a poet not plagued by travel sickness). Rebellions against university bureaucracy. Rewatching Grease. Gift shop conversations. Fear of flying. Visiting Tim Peake’s Capsule. Being asked to write the dreaded wedding poem. Italian lessons. A fire at the National Library of Wales. Yulia Skripal and the Salisbury poisonings. To read her is to be submerged in her experiences, to be offered a portal into someone else’s sensibility. But, as with all poetry, there are tricks and traps along the way.

‘Misdirection’ is a wittily gory poem with a self-aware conceit that writing poetry is a form of self-cannabalism: ‘and when I say feed on myself / I mean this isn’t a metaphor for confessionalism’. That’s in itself a misdirection, since there’s little else in the collection to justify this grand guignol description. More typical is the celebration of the poet as eavesdropper, listening as two women called Susan prattle on the train: 

they exclaim at the length
of the tunnel they’re in, wonder,
one Susan to another,

is this a mountain
we’re going under?

while miles above, the Severn
goes on being wide
and mysterious

and Susans go on
talking on trains

and Katherines
are quiet. Keep writing.

Language is another preoccupation. A compulsive polyglot, Stansfield is uneasy at being anywhere without committing to the local language. ‘Cornish / Welsh / space’, spanning the two Celtic tongues, shows Stansfield’s gift for perfect structure, and provides a rare moment of confidence and homecoming.

                   and though the stones

men
         maen

are not the same and neither are the birds
the sea’s the sea both here and there

mor
         môr

 
and I have found inside them, home,
inside these sounds, inside them: home.

The title, We Could Be Anywhere By Now, is another misdirect, or at the least in an ironic register. These are not alienated, globalist poems. They could not be written anywhere. They are firmly anchored in the places Stansfield knows, in the struggle to acquire language, to belong, in the people she has met and overheard, in the various occasions of their inspiration.

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