The ‘collapsed lyric’

Recently, I’ve enjoyed reading Nerys Williams’s interview with Alice Entwistle in the book In Her Own Words: Women Talking Poetry and Wales (published by Seren last year). Williams is an intriguing poet whose debut volume, Sound Archive, was well received by reviewers and had pleasing recognition in prize culture – most notably, it was on the shortlist for both the 2011 Michael Murphy Memorial Prize and the 2011 Felix Dennis Prize (the Forward Prize for Best First Collection). But Sound Archive isn’t in any way a straightforward read, as some of the reviews make very clear. Perhaps most notably, Leah Fritz wrote in Poetry Review about how Williams’s poems make music and ‘some kind of sense, perhaps’ – that perhaps being important. Similarly, John Greening, in The Warwick Review, expressed both bafflement and delight in his response to the collection. I think that Williams’s interview in the Entwistle book gives us some useful context for understanding the challenges of her writing when Williams talks about how she is engaged in producing what she calls the ‘collapsed lyric’: ‘You could think of [the “collapsed lyric”] as the expanding and collapsing bellows of an accordion, which sometimes produces a cacophony of dissonance and competing notes, and often only the insistence of one solitary tone.’ In other words, it seems that Williams is aiming both for a certain tonal simplicity as well as the confusions of ‘cacophony’ and ‘dissonance’. A fascinating challenge.

I’m currently in the middle of writing an essay about Williams’s work – which will hopefully form the basis for a Devolved Voices lecture later in the year. (Watch this space!) And it’s this notion of the ‘collapsed lyric’ that is directing my thinking.

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