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Sightings
by Elisabeth Sennitt Clough
(pub. 2016)

Elisabeth Sennitt Clough was born in Ely, Cambridgeshire, but spent two decades living and working abroad. She draws parallels between the influence of her home city and that of Fresno, California, where she lived for a number of years. Her pamphlet, Glass, was a winner of the Paper Swans inaugural pamphlet competition and went on to be a Poetry Society Young Poets’ Network Summer 2016 ‘pick’, selling out its first print-run in two months. Sightings is her debut collection.


Reviews

Sightings, with its stark opening line of the title poem, informs us that we’re entering a narrative of loss, ‘After my father died...’. From this powerful beginning, trepidation about the man who replaces the dead father is established. Sennitt Clough reveals terror as a consequence of menace, ‘...I bolt like a spooked horse / to the jackhammer of my father’s fists.’ (This Little House), and highlights menace through another image of a creature in ‘Portrait Of My Mother And Stepfather As Moths’. Creatures and nature are revisited to reveal how untamed forces are uncontrollable,

‘Even the river / puts on a sleek display
like a muscled creature / running dark
as a conscience / ...’     (Anguilla Anguilla)

The poems take the reader through the poet-narrators terrifying experiences which she faces, bears and overcomes and are uncompromising in exposing the brutality which is part of the men’s lives. But the men are also ruined by their violence, with the lonely and wretched end of the bus driver alluded to in ‘its body is covered in patches of rust.’ (The Bus Driver), or committing suicide ‘And The Moon Up Above’, as well as the descent into alcoholism recurring throughout the poems. Even the brutal stepfather had humanity in him, once. When he caught a linnet and was about to crush it,

‘but it was the small heartbeat
he felt through the gourd of his palm,
that made him set it free.’ (A Smallholding In The Fens).

This uncompromising set of poems can’t help but arouse anger, even hatred, at the dark forces they lift the lid on, as well as the bleak desperation which traps the women in the cycle of abuse. And yet, for all that it is an uncomfortable read, it is important. It takes an accomplished poet to take the reader into this area and for them to leave disturbed, but certainly not depressed. Sennitt Clough does this, and more with her startling collection.

Orbis issue 181 (Dec 2017)

“In between the neat black letters on the white pages of Elisabeth Sennitt Clough’s collection of poems, Sightings, crawl glowing beasts and scaled monsters, the ghost of a father, a fire-haired mother and the ‘small pink son she gave away’ as well as a brute of a stepfather. The poet tells of girls so inconsequential their own mothers forget about them, and boys with small gold hairs like tinsel on their arms. She brings her subjects alive through her use of rich sensory imagery and lines that are so precise they make your heart ache. This the kind of poetry you can’t help walking away from with goose flesh all over your body for its honesty, its rawness and the poet’s disarming willingness to bare all. Sennitt Clough, as she states so eloquently herself in ‘The Glass Collar’, brings her childhood to therapy in this collection of unforgiving poems. In ‘Threshold’ the art teacher remarks that the girl’s art contains a subtle anger, but there’s nothing subtle about Sennitt Clough’s anger. And yet, at the same time, it’s fragile too, ready to break into a thousand shards at any moment, like the glass collar in the poem by the same name. In the title poem ‘Sightings’ she tells of a peacock that is the rarest of gifts. Sennitt Clough’s collection is just such a peacock, the rarest of gifts, one you cannot walk away from unchanged.”

Ink Pantry, Dec 2016


Testimonials

“Beauty and risk partner together in this extraordinary new voice. Sennitt Clough is a skillful poet who has an ability to lure you into an often dark and unsettling world and quietly... abduct you.”

Mona Arshi

“This is a startling debut collection about family, trauma and girlhood. Unflinching, often troubling, Sennitt Clough's poetry is unapologetically female, precise and charged with grit and defiance. Each poem is expertly crafted and devastating in its restraint. Together, these poems create a world that is claustrophobic and familiar, new and ancient, with all the earthy truth of a root-vegetable; the terrible beauty of a glass collar.”

Ella Frears


“These poems are delicate yet raw, skilfully written yet genuinely startling. They cut through the reader and live long in the memory.“

Dominic Bury


“In just her debut collection, Sennitt Clough has already written the great psychogeographic poetry of the Fenlands. This region of silt, eels and flat horizons haunts ‘Sightings’, counterpointing an emotional landscape shaped by childhood bereavement and the ongoing effort to know a distant, damaged mother. A wonderful testament to the power of poetry as memoir and redress.”

Dai George

 

Potato Season


Gjergj didn't say child
or children, he said family – and it was soft
the way he said it, as if he were kissing
each syllable, making the word bigger
somehow, full of aunts and uncles
and cousins and nieces and nephews.
And when he said six weeks without pay,
he drew out the word pay so that it sounded like pain
and I knew we were on the wrong side
of Christmas and Mum was on the wrong side
of the desk. He held a pistol to her head, but all I saw
was sunlight slatting through Portakabin blinds,
making the black in his hand gleam.
The sun made mosaics of my mother’s eyes,
her whites snow, edged
with red runnels, as she told him,                  
go on then, son. But he didn't look at her
riddling her fingers on the desk
as if she were a girl playing the piano,
he tucked the pistol back into his grey coat,
along with the weight of her final syllable,
and stepped out into the fen.


(from Sightings)

Sightings

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