Not an Essay and Instant-flex 718

Two books of poetry by Heather Phillipson

By Oliver Basciano

Falling between prose and poem, Not an Essay, a 64-page fragmentary text published in December last year, addresses Deleuzian ideas surrounding the body as object. Phillipson, whose writing complements her art practice, works through, in a series of not-always comfortable juxtapositions, the idea that our flesh and bones are alienated and indeed separated from the cognitive, social self. Meat is a recurring motif. In her opening pages the writer sets the scene: ‘Try as we might to have a creamy consistency, we are all in pieces. We are all people. People carefully not-looking/ looking at piggy’s torso, the butcher’s window.’ Conversely, further into the text Phillipson paints an image – ‘In the nightclub, people salute biology through pressed-up bodies’ – that asks us to consider ourselves as a collective, amorphous form. The body is discussed both as a ‘thing’ in the world and as a border to it.

The newly released Instant-flex 718 , while more accessible and humorous in tone, is formatted as a collection of poems that continue some of these ideas. Titles include ‘Birds in Inflexible Bird Bodies’ and ‘Judder Our Bones Like Dadaist Manifesto’. Phillipson again addresses the social and nonbiological strictures placed on our bodies, including their physical manifestation: from the rules and rituals of eating to the wearing of clothes. The wonderful, rhythmically repetitive ‘Heliocentric Cosmology’ is a giddy portrait of ‘my husband, eating mashed potato’ that spirals out into references to Copernicus and Galileo. ‘German Phenomenology Makes Me Want to Strip and Run Through North London’ and ‘Nudity of Cattle’ posits clothing as an absurd construction, a ‘fashion’ and nothing else. Where Not an Essay has a continuous streak of anger regarding our treatment of meat (both human and nonhuman), the work in Instant-flex 718 infuses a serious subject with a celebratory tone.

Not an Essay is published by Penned in the Margins, £12.99 (hardcover). Instant-flex 718 is published by Bloodaxe Books, £8.95 (softcover).