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The Hallucinogenic Effects of Breathing



The Hallucinogenic Effects of Breathing, Joanna Boulter.

£4.00 UK post free. (ISBN 978-0-9540913-5-4) Arrowhead Press, 70 Clifton Road, Darlington, Co. Durham, DL1 5DX

An extract from: Mslexia, the magazine for women who write.

PICK OF SMALL-PRESS POETRY 2003, Mslexia 19 Autumn 2003

The Hallucinogenic Effects of Breathing by Joanna Boulter (Arrowhead Press, £4)

I remember from sometime in the 1970s a condescending but very funny poem by Kingsley Amis that pondered the question of whether it was better 'to bicycle pump the heart' like women poets, or 'squash it flat' like men. Nowadays, though plenty of women poets still write with a bicycle pump, writing courses have encouraged too many others to weigh their poems down with slabs of 'real life'. The trick is to get the air pressure right: enough earthed language to carry actual experience, but enough air, too, to preserve that crucial aesthetic distance between confession and poetry.

I was beginning to despair of finding the right balance when I came across a trim little booklet from the Arrowhead Press in Darlington called The Hallucinogenic Effects of Breathing. The cover shows two drawings of the same cat, one curled up with its eyes open, brightly observant, the other curled asleep, or even dead, to illustrate a fine poem called Lament for Schrodinger's Cat.

Joanna Boulter, the author of this fresh, witty and wise collection is, like her wide-awake cat, both observant and comfortable: observant in that she writes about what she sees and knows, comfortable because she has mastered the knack of bicycle-pumping to just the right degree of tension, and then squashing flat at the critical moment. Take, for instance, the poem Over the Heart in which a woman who has for years worn her deceased husband 'like an old cardigan that still held his shape' finds in the pocket of his best suit a photograph of 'his long dead, never-mentioned first wife'. The last stanza reads 'So she still wore their years / like an old cardigan stretched out of shape, / clutched round herself and him; and her as well.' Lovely! You want to laugh and cry. Joanna Boulter, a founder of Darlington's Vane Women, is a delightfully unpretentious and intelligent poet. Major poetry publishers should seek her out!

Boulter's collection opens with A Visitation in which an angel 'comes tobogganing, / whee down over the arch of a rainbow...' and what do you do? You 'write him a flower, pick him a bunch of poems.'

Reviewed by Anne Stevenson in Mslexia, the magazine for women who write.

Copyright © 2004 Arrowhead Press
Last modified: March 28th 2005