The Glass Delusion by Abi Curtis

28th Sep 2012


In this collection, however, it could equally be read as the delusion of Alice’s looking glass – the world through Abi Curtis’ warped mirror is full of wondrous objects and morbid animals.

Curtis has a knack for the uncanny and examines nature from the inside out. Animals are ‘unzipped’, reality is gutted and laid bare and, like her ‘Jonah in the River Dolphin’, the reader is swallowed deeper into the mortal underbelly of assorted animal parts, captured so brilliantly in the cover image by Steven Wynn.

Curtis’ poems tentatively occupy the gap between their subject and the outside world, tracking the prints that humans and animals leave in their wake, from the trace of a hare in the grass to the mark of a mammoth in the mire.

Her animals are wonderfully transient, often dying or disappearing in the space between stanzas. In ‘Albatross’, Curtis articulates this change in perspective as her subject sails on the breeze: ‘The world soars through her –/ it is that way around.’

This remarkable anthology, Curtis’ second collection, is preoccupied with ‘quiddity’, the essence of an object, or its “whatness”.

Her punning poem ‘Squiddity’ then raises the possibility of a resurrected whatness, as the body of a preserved squid is re-rendered in an artist’s ‘briny ink’.

In ‘Morgellons’, named for the microfibers on the skin, Curtis returns to this theme at a microscopic level, taking as her eponymous subject the site at which human skin ends and the wider world begins.

Curtis’ stream of fresh similes enact the very relativity that she ponders as her creatures cannot be uttered without a comparison to something else.

Again, Curtis does not write in isolation – her poems interact directly with epigraphs from Joni Mitchell and references to Cornelia Parker’s art; they take their stories from the bizarre historical unconscious, from afflictions, delusions and philosophical conundrums.

The strongest poems of the collection are those that adhere closest to her interest in quiddity, ‘Hare on the Road to Malham’, ‘Silverblu’ and ‘Poltergeist’ among them.

In ‘Thought Bubble’, Curtis lends the metaphor a real rubbery membrane. As the narrator struggles to hide this bulbous embarrassment, within a scarf and behind the curtains, ‘it gently squeaked, but all its sudsy links// still grip me like a weightless chain.’

Winning praise from Daljit Nagra and Luke Kennard, The Glass Delusion excels in its exploration of the space between and the overlap of things. Curtis’ poetry enacts a kind of taxidermy, portraying a nature tracked, remembered and preserved, but not entirely alive.

The Glass Delusion was published in hardback by Salt on 27th July and is available from Amazon, Foyles and your local bookshop, priced at £12.99.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended for: Readers with an eye for the unreal, uncanny and cosmic in everyday life.

Other recommended reading: The Lighthouse by Alison Moore and Quilt by Nicholas Royle.

Eve Lacey