‘You are so full of spit and blood and it is moving so fast’: Briony Hughes

A Review of ‘and we were so far from the sea of course the hermit crabs were dead’ by Lotte Mitchell Reford

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!

Lotte Mitchell Reford, and we are so far from the sea of course the hermit crabs were dead (Wales: Broken Sleep Books, 2021)

When I initially ordered Lotte Mitchell Reford’s and we were so far from the sea of course the hermit crabs were dead, I had no intention of drafting this review. I purchased this pamphlet entirely for my own pleasure. I hoped to read it on a sunny day and proudly display the text in my bookcase amongst my Broken Sleep Books collection. I have been in awe of Mitchell Reford’s writing ever since ‘South for Winter’ landed in the Crested Tit Collective Rewilding Anthology inbox – I knew her debut would be up my street.

What I didn’t know was the level of energy this pamphlet would set in motion. It arrived through my letter box this morning and, after reading the pamphlet from cover to cover, I am experiencing an overwhelming desire to talk about it, to write in relation to it, to read it again and again, and to draft this review. I have decided to run with this energy. I am not going to sit with and meditate on the text before writing – I am going to continue the momentum of my reading experience through this blog post. I am going to publish it online immediately. I do not apologise for any typos. 

When holding this publication in my hand, it feels different to previous Broken Sleep pamphlets. It is slightly bigger in size – possibly A5 – and therefore requires a different approach to reading. This is not a book that fits comfortably in a single hand, two are required, and the reader’s body is physically drawn into the space of the double page. It may be the case that the varied length of Mitchell Reford’s verse and prose lines account for this move away from the Broken Sleep house size. The poems are fast paced and lively, often running across the breadth of the page. I am excited by the possibility of these lines dictating the size and shape of the pamphlet. Poems such as ‘Today, I want to marry you’ and ‘Safe Sex’ push against the margins of the page, confidently occupying the width of the page as a high-impact block of verse. Other poems stretch then retreat in line length, flickering as you move through the text. Many take the form of prose. 

You touch the lamb on your plate – press a finger in
to watch the blood snake into your nail. You are laying on hands
you will think the animal back to life, imagine it coming together at the table, 
a surprised sheep wet from rebirth, wool matted

At page 23, at a moment where the reader feels she might be familiar with the shifting form this text takes, she is confronted by ‘Check Up’, a poem which spreads across the landscape page. Again, the reader is reminded of her own hands in relation to the book. The pamphlet must be reoriented, readjusted – the reader’s body and the described ‘body’ of the poem moving in tandem. ‘Check Up’ [originally published by Richard Capener’s Babel Tower] is a remarkable piece, occupying the conceptual space of both manifesto and lyric. The poem draws on anecdote, confession, and poetic theory. It is playful and serious. It is lively and demanding. 

A poem cannot want, 
Cannot itch, 
Cannot fall 

4. Of course it is a metaphor, the poem/body thing. What it means is that poems contain breath. They contain space and their shape must hold

Now it’s time for a confession from me. I tend to avoid poetry that tackles with the theme of sex – partly because I am a shameless prude, partly because sex writing is often done poorly. It takes a skilled writer to not make me cringe. Mitchell Reford is innovative and disruptive in her approach to writing about sex. The poems are teeming with affect and highly playful at times. Take, for instance, an excerpt from ‘BED-SUEY YOU CAN’T EVER HAVE ME”:

It is our first Christmas and our first New York and we had beer
for breakfast. She asks me to write an ode to her tits
and I ask her if she has read much Keats because odes
tend to be sort of depressing, for the most part
and he did all the tubercular dying shit,
and O’, I hope her tits won’t haunt me, but still
I tell her I will write about her when we break up,

and we were so far from the sea of course the hermit crabs were dead is an unquiet pamphlet. Lotte Mitchell Reford’s poems buzz with a voice that electrifies the form of the confessional lyric. 

You can pre-order and we were so far from the sea of course the hermit crabs were dead from the Broken Sleep website – the pamphlet is set to be released on 30th June 2021

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