Wreathing by Ali Graham

Note: this review was first published by Osmosis Press
Roger Moore in The Man with the Golden Gun, (Dir. Guy Hamilton) 1974

In a 2020 essay, Graham describes the illusion of film:

A film reel works by flickering; an image is shown momentarily, the reel moves, another image is shown.[1]

And this goes a long way to capture the experience of navigating Wreathing, a sequence of fifteen sonnets interspersed by 28 shorter verses.  One characteristically unsettled poem begins:

Small room in I have placed          absorbent
fingerprinted redpink of your hawkface

In spite of the syntactic shuffling and sound patterning, lines like these never feel playful.  Instead, Graham builds a sense of the uncanny throughout the sequence: each poem’s last line serves as the subsequent poem’s title, allusions and images recur, and while one poem asserts

from put upon through mirrors I escape

reading the sequence more often feels like plunging headlong through a hall of mirrors, Roger Moore-like.  The experience is only heightened by Graham’s various typographical tricks: the use of braces, the awkward right alignment of the interspersed poems, the jarring chasms which occasionally appear mid-line.  These are sonnets, but also distinctly not-sonnets.

Boy Bitten by a Lizard, Caravaggio, 1593-94 (on display at the National Gallery, London)

And while the poems sometimes appeal tenderly to an out-of-shot addressee, or immerse themselves in the landscape and elements, most often they veer violently back towards the speaker’s own image, reflected back, warped or distorted, as if in panels of concave or convex glass:

I go Boy Bitten By Lizard a bit
unsettled is which inversion is least

Both poems and speaker refuse to be still.


Tom England


[1] This Glint of Light on the Cut, Ali Gaham, 2020 (SPAM Press)
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