ANNIE FREUD and ‘THE REMAINS’, published 2015

Posted: July 4, 2015 in Chat
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Every so often a poetry publisher comes along with a list you really feel at home with. For me it is Picador Poets. Probably followed by Enitharmon and Peter Owen.
Not that the others do not list writers I value most highly, because they do.
But with Picador I always feel ‘These are my people.’

Annie Freud is on the Picador list. She first published ‘A Voids Officer Achieves the Tree Pose’, a pamphlet, on Donut Press in 2007. Later that year her first full collection came out: THE BEST MAN THAT EVER WAS. The book gained the Dimplex Prize for New Writing, and was Poetry Book Society Recommendation.
Her editor on that book was John Stammers, another of my valued Picador ‘friends’.

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This first book brims over with riches and abundance. There may even be too much. Either that or the layout makes it seem so. It is a treasure-trove of poems of all sorts and kinds, from the brief lyric, to full narrative poem. It is a very stimulating read, and a book you find yourself keep going back to.

Annie Freud studied English and European Literature at Warwick University. She lived most of her earlier life in London, with wide travel experience. She also worked as a talented embroiderer, and tutor.

The first book is steeped in place, and that place London. Having said that, it does not hum with it like many London-centred books and magazines: the fractured lines, the deliberately mannered, opaque language. Her work has an angled take on the place. She is essentially, and this is another thing I love her for, a European. She is completely at home with the German language and French languages; she knows where she writes about, what it means to walk down a Berlin strasse, a French rue. Lived-in environments.
Hers is a London that is not the thing in itself, complete and self-referential/reverential, but part of a bigger picture.

Her subject matter is always angled, her subjects never static. She inhabits the world from the inside. The reader feels her great appetite for life: sensual, gastronomic, colour-responsive. A Caneletto Orange navigates cultural kitsch, and historical and gender eddies, shallows and sudden depths, by use of tone of voice, personal perspective, authorial voice, and the sudden interposing of personification.
She writes archly about encounters with psychological groups and theories. We are made aware of her background: prying public expectation vies with personal privacy, and her own passing interest in such subjects. She is her own self, one who just happens to have this legacy and experience.

Currently she is literature/writing tutor back at Warwick University (as George Szirtes wrote, you have to be very thick-skinned to teach. I have heard of such comments as “Hey, I just bought one of your books for penny on Amazon!” “Do you teach because you need the money?”). She relocated to Dorset some few years back. As a recent Guardian interview states, she now owns a small-holding with a few hens etc. Since moving to Dorset she set up her own poetry group. This is the setting for her latest two books, THE MIRABELLES and THE REMAINS.

THE MIRABELLES ventured out into newer styles of writing. An avid practitioner of traditional forms, she had gained the confidence to broaden her practice.

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Where before she had avoided The Name, and its legacy, even at one point going under a different name, in these two books she has confronted her part in it all. That is no small feat. But she has made herself room to move, to maneuver, to negotiate her self’s positioning in the world and the legacy.
THE MIRABELLES contained a last section of poems based on, formed from, her mother’s letters. Kitty Garman also brought her own legacy, she was part of the Jacob Epstein family.

Above, I wrote the first book was maybe too full. There is also perhaps a feeling in contemporary poetry that the format is beginning to lack dynamic. In THE DETAILS she tackles this by interspersing her own paintings among the text. This adds a wonderful cross-genre feel. THE MIRABELLES’ cover outside and in, is a lovely painting, The Wreathed Jug, by Kitty Garman. Hugely attractive.
This is a great new direction: she has the painterly skills and writing skills to make the whole enterprise work.

THE DETAILS, as the title suggests, has a close focus. Gone are the hugely enigmatic long titles, except perhaps for ‘Anne Bancroft Addresses the No-Name Ladies’ Lunch Club’.

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The book ranges over human experience as before, but she listens to the depths sounding when she speaks their names: Something Gallant, for instance, celebrates a new mother’s forging of her own life-balance and dynamic among the advice, expectation and normative pressures.
Celebration is the key to the book.
Another key is the novel by Goethe, ‘Elective Affinities’. The title refers to a nineteenth century phrase from chemistry to describe the varying relationships of elements in a set environment. Introduce another and the arrangement changes. Indeed one of the images used in the novel describes a petri dish containing acids. A blue circle can be seen; when another acid added the circle expands as if beyond the bounds of the dish. This is a metaphor for the setting of the novel, and the consequences of the actions of the inhabitants in the wider world. For Annie Freud the novel is valued for the meticulous way it charts the changing relationships of the main characters, and their positions independent of each other, and emotional dependencies and independence as she has encountered them.

Describing these things one has to summarise, edit in, effect leave out, the details of lives. This has moral consequences far beyond one’s intentions. Should one’s ideas and world view become based on such edited versions, then what worth have they in the reality of our lived lives? This the art of writing: hitting just the right nodes.

Annie Freud’s writing has a warmth and humanity to it; she takes the pains to chart the difficulties as well, but they are a part of the overall shape of lives.
With some writers the reader travels the journey with them. It is so with Annie Freud. They surprise us, maybe wrong-foot us at times, but they also challenge us: the reader must open up to appreciate the writing, and that opening up rounds us out as people.

Annie Freud. – I especially like this photo, it shows strength, vulnerability, and also a suggestion of wit and humour.

Anne-Freud

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