Review: Chokey by Rosy Carrick

A review by Rhys Lawrence

Dr Rosy Carrick is a poet, an expert in the works of Vladimir Mayakovsky, and a constant curator of poetic gatherings. Whilst Carrick is based in Brighton, she can currently be found performing her critically acclaimed one woman show “Passionate Machine” daily at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, and will soon make an appearance at the Small Press Showcase at this year’s SO: To Speak Festival. “Chokey” – the debut collection of this performance heavyweight – is available now via Burning Eye Books.

Review

One must never judge a book by its cover, but the strong black and white stripes that saddle up alongside each other on the cover of Rosy Carrick’s “Chokey” presage the themes of violence and sexuality that occur within the Brighton poet’s debut collection, clashing yet still moving forward holistically in a single and undisputable pattern. It is Carrick’s noticeable ability in narrating the corporeal which breathes life into these two themes; her brutal description of ‘a skeleton in skin’, and the skull ‘in all its severable sections’ speak to the biological machine, reminding us of our fragility and our own, often unacknowledged, ability to maim.

Chokey establishes itself with ‘Pig/Owner’, an opening poem that tolls a note of sadomasochism, allowed to reverberate throughout the text. Carrick at times draws this current to the surface and allows its dominance, before obscuring it once more for a page or so. Indeed, the first sentence of Pig/Owner establishes a vast amount in terms of the wider collection’s thematic and tonal principles. ‘One of us is the pig and one of us is the owner’. It is a bold declarative statement, the reader can’t help but feel as though Carrick is addressing them personally. There is something unflinchingly and refreshingly direct about the tone in which Carrick writes, stark but not harsh. The thematic content is equally direct; the poem is about power, power to inflict pain, the power of control, and of course the power of ownership.

‘Vanishing Act’ is a highlight of the collection; a poem I have revisited to such an extent that when I flick through the pages of Chokey my thumb will invariably catch the corner of its home on page 18. This poem is a ruthless deconstruction of Carrick’s physical being – a moment of sheer vulnerability as the poet stands ‘fully naked in front of a mirror’ narrating a relentless critique of her body. As with much of Carrick’s work in Chokey there is an earnest directness to this poem which lends it a resonance far beyond its brevity. The poet pokes and prods at herself both physically and mentally, in a way which is all too familiar to many of us. Being “present” at such a moment is at once unsettling and empowering – we are relieved to read of familiar struggles, but the feeling of voyeurism is intense. Vanishing Act seems to cut so clearly through this collection because one can’t help but get the feeling that the camera has lingered for too long. Whereas Carrick has so clearly been addressing her audience throughout Chokey, Vanishing Act seems like a conversation she is having solely with herself.

None of the above is to say that Carrick’s work resembles that overly-stodgy, mashed potato school of poetry. There is a sardonic lightness in her work at times rivalling even the most biting of her contemporaries. ‘Ferroequinology’ opens with a half-hearted defence of the titular hobby by former Lib-Dem Shadow Transport Secretary Norman Baker on the basis that whilst ‘trainspotting may be an activity of limited, and indeed questionable appeal it is not a criminal offence and it is not a terrorist threat.’ Having seen as much ‘Question Time’ as I have live poetry, I feel it worth noting the unlikelihood of a politician talking about trains ever getting such a laugh as these lines did at Brighton’s ‘Poets Vs MCs’ in 2011.

Like Burning Eye Books comrade Joseph Seigal, the poems in Chokey seem to yearn for performance. So inviting is the rhythm given to the cascading overflow of Carrick’s freewheeling observations, from line to line they refuse traditional constraint (perhaps related to Carrick’s stalwart presence in Brighton’s thriving performance poetry scene). As well as the aforementioned ‘Poets Vs MCs’ event, Rosy curated the well-known performance poetry event ‘Hammer and Tongue’ for seven years, as well as a regular cult film club night at Brighton’s famous Komedia. Brighton breathes through Carrick when she steps to the stage, and this outstanding first appearance is a notable example of a poet capturing that dynamism which is the essence of their performance and binding it all up in a paperback without spilling a single drop.

Don’t miss Rosy’s show Passionate Machine at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Rosy will be performing her work at the Burning Eye Books showcase. Get your tickets here >