Tom Chivers, Nine Arches Press. ISBN: 978-0-9560559-2-7. £5
Image (right) copyright © Emma Robertson, 2009
This chapbook is "...a sequence of imagined emails sent from the author to inmates at London's Newgate Prison incarcerted between roughly 1700 and 1760." When I first read that I suspected that it might be a little contrived or gimmicky. I ordered the chapbook thinking that if I didn't like it I just wouldn't mention it. I needn't have worried; it's excellent. The emails provides titles for the prose-poems, and a framing device, which then allows the poems to play with language: the mixing of registers and the anachronisms work well, and because we see just one side of the correspondence, the inmates have a kind of spectral presence. We get glimpses of the horrors (terrors) of their lives, which the chatty emails throw into stark relief:
"Barbara, is it true? They tied you to a hurdle, hauled you screaming from Newgate to Tyburn? If a woman kills her husband, right, that's treason: regal submission writ small Babs."
It's powerful stuff - one email says "I attach evidence of your crimes in high res jpeg" followed by descriptions of some nasty physical abuse. But it also has energetic language, knowing irony and the textual sophistication.
The chapbook is well-produced in a kind of old-fashioned style, and includes good line-drawings from Emma Robertson. John Bloomberg-Rissman has asked me to collect some UK pamphlets for him for when he visits in the autumn. This one will be on the list.