Elisabeth Horan: Odd list, Odd house, Odd me

This collection is an ode to Emily Dickinson – to her work, her themes and her poetry. In an interview with Twist in Time magazine, Horan highlights the similarities between her own work and that of Dickinson in terms of themes, but this collection isn’t simply a reflection of Dickinson’s work – in some ways, it’s an echo. In Odd list, odd house, odd me, we see the modern world through a Dickinsonian filter. 

From the opening poem, it’s clear that these poems will be heavy on female emotion “woman’s seethe”, yearning “soul less hollow” and death “a mildew stench.” The image of a “skin-wrapped present damp with a mildew stench” is unsettling – this unflinching honesty permeates the poems in the collections and placing such a disquieting image in the opening poem really sets the scene for the poems that will follow.

The second poem ‘At Night when I am alone’ is softer, full of yearning and lust with images such as “your cheek is the softest thing” giving a tenderness that brushes many of the proceeding poems. Here, the ‘you’ which is a constant throughout the collection is given a physical presence. However, despite the physicality here and in later poems such as ‘Something for to worship’  the ‘you’ is a spectral addition, never really taking a constant form. The addressee of many of these poems seems to change, which further heightens the sense of solitude and yearning as there is no anchor upon which to rest. 

From the “mildew stench” in the first poem, the image of decay runs like a seam through the collection, coming to the fore in poems such as ‘The Night Knows all my Hiding Places’ where the poet weaves together death, rot and lust in a way that feels modern yet rooted in the traditions of the past. Linking lust and nature together is a common device which is used to great effect in ‘Were I With Thee – and your Scepter’ and the wonderful ‘Amazing Grace’.

Many poems like ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Scant be the Blessings’ have a religious tint. However, although they may read a little like hymns, Horan’s skill is in weaving the formal lexicon with more modern language such as in ‘Winter Rose’, where Horan plays with punctuation to interesting effect. 

These poems are rooted in the visceral in parts. They reach out into the world. Yes, there’s introspection but it comes as part of a wider picture. There’s a lot of female anger, but like in Dickinson’s work, there’s also a tautness – in some respects created through the control brought by punctuation and the rhyme and rhythm, but also the lexicon. Some poems encompass the anger, the visceral and the control to superb effect –  like ‘Blood on Snow’ with its “taste of man/in his shell and casing”  and ‘The Son of God is my Son’ which has the fantastic image of “feel your wings/brush against my pox and/float me upon the wind.”

Nature also plays a central role and is the anchor for many of the images and the emotions. Some of my favourite poems are those with images rooted in the detail of the natural world, such as the prose poem ‘Prosegasm’, which feels very much like a modern translation of Dickinson’s work – but it’s important to remember that these poems exist on their own. They may have a filter, but they are very much their own image.

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