Sallow, by Frances Presley with images by Irma Irsara, 24pp, Open House, 2016,
from Leafe Press, www.leafepress.com £4.50 (inc. postage), £6.50 RRP.
Sallow continues a sequence of poems about the languages of trees, especially those used by or for women, Halse for hazel (Shearsman, 2014). Sallow is both a species of willow and dull skin: its dual meaning is found in the title poem, where ‘sally’ is dialect for sallow and a girl’s name. As well as local dialect, I use the languages of forestry and botany, analysing and reassembling them. I benefited once again from the guidance of botanist and poet Libby Houston.
Halse for hazel began on the hills of Exmoor and in Sallow I wanted to explore trees in low lying, wetland areas, such as willow and alder. The sequence maps political and environmental pressures, as well as recent catastrophic flooding: ‘willow’ was written on a train in the Somerset Levels when the surrounding fields were an inland sea. Many of the poems were written on site which can be hazardous, as it was in swamp carr at Ranworth Broad, but the trees have their own agency, and need to be experienced close up, whether in the wild or the urban edgelands of ‘grey willow’.
The reinvention of language and form is often shaped by the inventiveness of wild trees. Sallow explores the visual patterns we use for trees in the design of the text and visual poetics. ‘Crack willow’ is from a walk with Harriet Tarlo near her home in Yorkshire. I sent her my text, she interleaved a response, and our two versions are printed on facing pages.
The Somerset poems were part of a collaborative performance with Robert Minhinnick which gave them a sharp linguistic and political focus.
Sallow, like Halse for hazel, has been a dialogue with the work of artist Irma Irsara, my friend and long time collaborator.