John Foggin on Caveat


Poet John Foggin features three of my poems – NocturneThe Green Vase Will Break in Transit, and The Forty-Ninth Iron Man on his blog. 

I want to share the poetry of Maria Isakova-Bennett, her first published collection, Caveat, and her current collaboration with Middlesbrough poet, Michael Brown, writing in response to artworks in Liverpool’s Walker Gallery. It helps that she is fascinated by Gormley’s iron men on Crosby Sands…I’ve written about one of them myself, as well as his unnerving army of small clay figures Field for the British Isles (I think that was an installation in Liverpool at some time, too).


I was knocked out by the poems she read from Caveat


You’ll be wanting to buy and read Caveat, not least for lines like these from Looking for the source of madder

I escaped while he slept. But every May / I make alizarin from his recipe – / and paint my body red

I suppose it helps too that I have a soft spot for art-trained poets with a penchant for hippy hats. Though this is not, you understand, a sine qua non. I first met Maria earlier this year in Leeds at an Interpreter’s House launch, and I was knocked out by the poems she read from Caveat which had just been published. Painterly poems. Passionate poems. Sexy and edgy poems in beautiful landscapes with big skies and seas, or in seedily glamorous cities, in bars and brasseries. Time you met her too. This is what she says about herself:

“Maria, from Liverpool, is an artist and poet. She completed an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University in 2012. Over this year, Maria has worked as Project Support Assistant for a charity working with people who suffer various forms of bereavement, supports a poet- in-residence at Merseycare, teaches English to Asylum Seekers, and is working collaboratively with the poet Michael Brown on projects at the Walker Art Gallery, the Lady Lever Gallery and on a river project linked to work at the Liverpool Museum.

She has been published widely in the UK, US, and Ireland, including work in Antiphon, Crannog, Envoi, Manchester Review, Orbis, and Southword.

During 2014 Maria was highly commended in the Gregory O’ Donoghue Competition, shortlisted in the Munster Literature Fool For Poetry Chapbook Competition, and awarded first prize in the Ver Open. In February, her first pamphlet, Caveat, was published by Poetry Bus Press, Ireland.

This year, in addition to reading in galleries in Liverpool and at launches of journals, Maria read at Heart Poetry Cafe in Headingly in January, as part of Poets and Players at the beautiful John Rylands Library in Manchester, at the Harris Gallery in Preston (as part of Korova), at UCLAN as part of The Wild and Rural poetry events, at the Bluecoat Gallery for Storm and Golden Sky.

If you’re anywhere near Calderdale, next month she will read in Todmorden as part of Kava Kultura . Here’s the link for more details .

She’s sent me four poems to choose from. Let’s start with this one:


In room ten you want to kneel to pray
but words won’t come
and the gallery is dizzy tonight–

the tug of a boat at Heurteauville,
flat sands, a low tide
a tumult of sky at Egremont.

You listen for his note
somewhere in the medieval room
or before Psyche,

consider a bouquet imprisoned in the corner –
each flower a white star,
the hapless grey of roof tops

offset by orange light;
take in the simple geometry –
a red cloth, and the quench of peaches.

See the painting here

Read the poem, really read it before you even think of opening the link that lets you see the painting. What it does for me, and it does a lot, is recreate the sensory dizziness of art galleries, that feeling of tipsy overload (it pivots on that word ‘tumult’) before you are quietly steadied, led to ‘consider’ the stasis of a still life, its calm balance of light and colour, the trapped energy of flowers like stars, and, satisfyingly, the utter surprise of a ‘quench of peaches’. Wow. Now you can click on the link and let the poem and the picture talk to each other, illuminate each other. I’m a sucker for colour, but there’s so much more to it than that.


The next poem is, by contrast, tactile. 

The green vase will break
                                 in transit

so smash it now;
                 either you will try
to carry your memento, and it will crack,
or you will refuse to leave it behind
                                  and never travel;

broken is the only way to carry
the vase,
        each piece a doll’s house saucer
of light,
        each a palm open
to the room where you pack to leave.

Beat the light into crystals
         so that you are free to move –
and when you travel,
        fold them in a cloth.

At your destination,
                   don’t try to reassemble
the vase;
          its old form has gone –

but in the workshop at the lough-side
         tip out the crushed pieces
and fuse them into something new.

Originally posted in Southwold Journal

The line spacings and indents of the original mime the fragmentation of the vase, the bits laid out but not aligned, but if I can’t recreate that, then just listen to the crack and rattle of consonants. And enjoy, as I do, a recipe which is almost like an incantation, for remaking. But you will need to be at a workshop, at the lough-side. I love the way that transports you to a place that seem specific and haunted. Not any lough-side. THE lough-side. You know the one. Of course you do. Close your eyes and make it.


The Forty-ninth Iron Man
(after Antony Gormley’s installation, Another Place.)
Over a mesh of sand, her bare feet tense
on ribs, and clavicles,
she listens for a foghorn across
the pitch of the sea,
unbuttons her coat for him –
cast in black under a Hunter’s Moon
his shoulder sheds metal scabs,
grates her skin as she strokes him
and tastes him; a tang of rust.

Together we are a beautiful performance,
he assures her,
but he holds her indifferently –
racing waves peak and trough,
the tide rises and the moon is lost
in churning clouds. She founders
but is fastened to him –
at high tide they will drown –
only to resurrect.

I’m caught straight off by the physicality of bare feet on the hard cold corrugations of lowtide sands..ribs and clavicles. Yes. I wasn’t expecting clavicles but the texture and dance of it are exactly right, I think. It’s a haunting story; like tales of the selkie, and all hopeless loves, the indifference of the crusted, scaling iron man, the vulnerablity and desire of one who ‘unbuttons her coat for him’ under a scud of cloud, a wavering moon, and the melancholy warning of a foghorn across the cold drowning flats. So there we are. Thank you so much Maria Isakova Bennett for being our guest and sharing your poems.