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Marianne Morris – The On All Things Said Moratorium

(Enitharmon, London, 2014. Paperback, 128pp, £9.99)

Reviewed by Eleanor Perry 

The On All Things Said Moratorium brings together a mix of Marianne Morris’ new work, combined with selected poems from various previous small-press publications. As the note on the back of the book suggests, this is an exploration of culture as “a medium of resistance”. Morris explores the way that language creates “certain permissions and impossibilities in our own lives”. 
The title suggests a certain, if temporary, prohibition of speech, and this is reflected within the work. Readers who like their meanings lucid and easily accessible may find many of these poems deliberately dense and difficult. Others will find the oblique allusions, opaque references and curiously bizarre images (Freud in a “red / chicken-print leotard”; the Defence Secretary eating fish-eyes which breed and burst out of his skin) fierce in their eloquence and rich in their possibilities of meaning; a meaning which proliferates as much in what is said as in what is not. “This is the new language,” Morris tells us in ‘Cassette Tape in Anonymous Envelope’, “[t]his method is / not personal it’s just different to yours, ok. Don’t worry. / Just look at what I’m omitting.” 
Despite eschewing clarity, the poems have a sense of subtle and brutal intimacy. Morris “make[s] soup of [her]self through the pen”, relentlessly exploring the idea of body and its relationship to a culture that is both “the general sphere of / knowledge, and of representations of lived experience,” and “the only place where the repressed / can seek articulation”. It is the culture of the “Golden Globes 2010 WORST-Dressed”; of market research and Boots Advantage Points; of Twitter and Xanax and riots; of gang rape culture and global intellectual decay. It is a culture where “information travels / at the speed of death”; where one looks up at the sky “only to find it filled with Canary Wharf”. Morris is ruthless in her critique of this cultural space; a space in which “bodies are / struggling in the persistent potential of pointless agony.” Consequently the poems approach codified systems of belief via numerous angles of attack; through finance; through art; through gender identity and sex; and through the ways in which each of these structures intersect with one another. Thus we observe how “there is something inherently sexual about forward interest rate curves”; how a “rolled-up TLS” becomes an instrument for sexual pleasure; and how “the price for a bed is now a body”. 
All institutional systems of belief are subject to Morris’ unforgiving scrutiny: the hypocrisy of the Church (“the Pope wearing ermine, loving all / god’s creatures, except the girls, the boys, the ermine, the gays”); eco-politics (“[w]e talk about what / to do with waste, but / not how to avoid waste in the first place”); notions of self (“[w]ithout permission I am just narratives inside”) and enforced language (“[p]olitical correctness is wrong because / how is it political?). All are all skilfully taken to pieces. But it is “Twenty First Century amour” that Morris dissects most unremittingly, performing a searing analysis of intimate relationships both past and present; personal and public. Love becomes “fibrillated lust,” or rather “internalized as violence / done to the self”. With an honesty that is both fearless and, at the same time, heartbreakingly vulnerable, Morris inserts herself within her own analyses in order to illustrate how these cultural structures and value systems affect the individual. Thus, the collection opens with Morris as “the topless recipient of / [her] own love […] helpless to a certain sexual power / that is half impotence and half [her] volition to choose it”.  
Often the poems reach their most uncompromising in their assessment of modernity through the use of a humour that is both playful and wry. A sexual role-play that involves RBS Ship Finance Manager James Orr and radical 13th-Century Christian preacher Fra Dolcino (burnt at the stake for ‘heretic’ views which opposed the feudal system and hierarchy of the Church) deftly highlights gender power relations and cultural hierarchies, while at the same time mocking anodyne media representations of normative sexual dynamics: “[i]t will / be great. You’ll / be great in bed and / someone will write a song about it. It will be called ‘Jism Me Calm’, by the Beat Busters”. In HARMONY INC., we’re told “[y]ou think because it’s poetry it’s / funny, well it isn’t, it’s fucking serious”, a statement later playfully undermined by a segment in which the lyrics to The Police’s 1980 song “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” are replaced by the moniker of corporate agrochemical giant Monsanto.  
In addition to the cultural and the political, Morris’ collection is also concerned with how “language doesn’t fit / easily with / thought”. Her short sequence Cocteau Turquoise Turning—previously published by Bad Press—explores sexual relations through the breakdown of syntax, pushing language towards its limits of expression. These long blocks of text are quietly visceral, vividly musical and brimming with breakage, gently performing a “recklessness of order” through their carefully structured chaos. 
With its dry humour, merciless critique, and livid vulnerability, this articulate and accomplished collection not only permits but necessitates several re-readings. Such rich work is impossible to grasp in one sitting. And it is work that eschews easy access and comfortable reading; it is designed to challenge, to question and to contest. “[T]he point,” Morris tells us in ‘All I Have is the Body To Go On’, “is not to comfort or console, but to know how to approach living in the / eye of a permanent storm with as much grace and ease as can be / summoned”.
6 August 2014