A Review of Robin Boothroyd’s ATOMISED
Briony Hughes is a AHRC funded doctoral researcher and visiting tutor based at Royal Holloway. She is interested in kinetic movement in language, water bodies, the archive, and site-specific writing. Briony’s publications include Dorothy (Broken Sleep Books) and Microsporidial (Sampson Low). She is a founding member of the Crested Tit Collective (2018 – 2020), and editor of Rewilding: An Ecopoetic Anthology. We should probably also mention that she is the editor of Osmosis!
Encountering Robin Boothroyd’s ATOMISED was a game-changer in my academic research.
During my PhD, I have been challenging Charles Olson’s ‘Projective Verse Manifesto’, a landmark text which proposes a high-energy ‘kinetic’ poetics as an alternative to the forces behind traditional poetic sequencing such as rhyme, verse, and metre.1 The text was previously hailed by two of my favourite contemporary women writers – Susan Howe and Kathleen Fraser.2 Though a key turning point in the development of innovative writing practice, moving American poetry away from closed, restrictive forms, Olson’s manifesto is increasingly viewed as problematic, as his keen interest in physicists such as J. Robert Oppenheimer of the Manhattan Project is becoming widely discussed in critical discourse.
Consequently, we are faced with the issue of an innovative poetics tied to human and ecological violence.
Due to this, I was initially taken down the path of adamantly renouncing Olson, ‘Projective Verse’, and a poetics centralised around molecular physics. I must admit that I have a bit of an all or nothing personality. However, Boothroyd’s ATOMISED has been one of the central collections in refiguring my approach to the relationship between poetry and the sciences. The project, which has been an ongoing process since 2014, offers an atomic poetics which emits a highly playful energy.
Boothroyd atomises language, reducing the poem down to groupings of letters, words, soundings, misspellings, and mispronunciations. The work is entirely restless in its form, offering a series of micro-poems which semantically reverberate against the static white space of the page. On the blurb, SJ Fowler notes, ‘the smaller poems get the more every single tiny gesture is exposed’.3 I believe that these ‘tiny gestures’, as identified by Fowler, are key to the necessity of the text.
Each poem consists of a linguistic micro-slippage, or series of micro-slippages – a wonderfully simplistic textual practice executed powerfully by Boothroyd. In poem ‘’, the ‘v’ of ‘revolution’ slips back and forth into the ‘s’ of ‘resolution’; a striking political assertion veiled under the guise of linguistic play.4 In poem ‘’, the reader encounters an ongoing fluctuation between the ‘pat’ of ‘cowpat’ and the ‘pat’ of ‘patriot’ [see image below]. I couldn’t help but smile at the intimate textual relationship Boothroyd establishes between the figure of the nationalist and a pile of cow shit – particularly in the contemporary context of the recent US Capitol Riots.
Though not all Boothroyd’s poems need be politically daring. Whilst entirely radical in form, the splicing of language, and the complexities of expression, a number of the collected micro-poems, such as ‘’ toe the line of silliness. This is not a criticism. The humour which surfaces from these micro-slippages or ‘tiny gestures’ demonstrates that Boothroyd is not afraid to shift expectations in a creative field which is all too often managed as a space for seriousness or intellectual epiphany. The revelations which emerge from the shifts in Boothroyd’s language (rather than evoking a sense of the sublime or an affect equally held at a high value) simply cause me to giggle. I believe this to be far more powerful.
With this in mind, I would like to draw our attention to poem ‘’, a piece which comprises of a single, spliced word.
The prophetic ‘omen’ becomes the declarative sounding of the poetic ‘o’, followed by ‘men’ – an equally sinister piece of language? This is my favourite poem in the pamphlet. I have no objective reason as to why this is the case – its simple, witty, and I am a fan.
I would highly recommend ATOMISED to anybody who is interested in wordplay, eruption, linguistic experimentation, and erasure. Trickhouse Press is open for submissions of visual and/or procedurally generated work until 31st March 2020. Check out the website for further details – https://www.trickhousepress.com.
1 Charles Olson, ‘Projective Verse’, Collected Prose [ed. Donald Allen, Benjamin Friedlander] (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997) p. 239.
2 I recommend reading Kathleen Fraser’s ‘Translating the unspeakable: Visual Poetics, as projected through Olson’s “field” into current female writing practice’, Translating the Unspeakable: Poetry and the Innovate Necessity (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1999).
3 Robin Boothroyd, Atomised (Lancaster: Trickhouse, 2020) [blurb by SJ Fowler].