if the body is a great creation why wait / indoors with it?
About Heather Phillipson
An internationally exhibiting artist as well as a poet, Heather Phillipson received an Eric Gregory Award in 2008 and has since published three books of poetry: a pamphlet with Faber & Faber in 2009 (part of the Faber New Poets scheme); NOT AN ESSAY (Penned in the Margins, 2012); and Instant-flex 718 (Bloodaxe, 2013), which was shortlisted for the 2013 Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. In 2014 she was named one of twenty Next Generation Poets by the Poetry Book Society. As an artist, her recent and forthcoming solo shows include the Istanbul Biennial, Performa New York, Schirn Frankfurt and the Whitechapel Gallery, London.
In Phillipson’s video, sculpture and audio-works, she frequently employs and remixes live and recorded speech, song and other vocal noises, and the substance this practice can lend the voice – as both a distinct entity and a chorus, containing multitudes, and alert to profuse doublings, slippages and equivocations – is likewise palpable in her poetry. In Phillipson’s poems, this is a mind operating as a receptacle for the barrage of voices (verbal and visual) to which we find ourselves subjected, daily – ‘Duct tape, crude oils, minerals + multi-vits!’ – a reinvigorating of colloquial and ‘trash’ language which allows our means of meaning-making to be playfully confronted and questioned: ‘Who am I trying to kid? Excuse me while I peel my banana’, she writes in one poem, or in another, ‘I don’t know what I need. I need to get out of these wet leggings and into a dry Martini’.
If Phillipson has a talent for the deadpan one-liner (and by the way, she is very witty), her poems are also playing a longer game; their abundance of images, phrases and emotions build towards a sense of cosmic overwhelm, of human consciousness operating at the highest pitch. As Carol Rumens has noted, Phillipson’s poetry is ‘slangily alive’, demonstrating ‘a ranging, doubting, self-delighting, word- and idea-packed intelligence’. This energy and dynamism is made apparent not only through content but also visually (as, to use W. N. Herbert’s phrase, ‘befits a practising artist’) – typographically – through her skilful use of punctuation styles not widely used in mainstream poetry, such as caps lock, exclamation points, frequent full stops (or the opposite), and so on, an approach which can lend the poems the frenetic, seductive quality of Pop Art, though this is not to detract from their intellectual rigour.
Chris Emslie in The Edinburgh Review has described Phillipson’s work as ‘fizzy reportage’, remarking that ‘[her] poetics are manifold, and her poems an amalgam of every material the world throws at her’, while Dai George has called her ‘generous and humane’, quotations which seem to underscore a politics at the heart of Phillipson’s work, its spirit of non-hierarchical enquiry which strives to take into account ‘the whole planet’, occasionally ‘wondering if I’ve really considered EVERYone else’s feelings’.