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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 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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