My Last Book: Autumn Royal on The Complete Pocketbook of Swoon

Autumn Royal on Ann Vickery’s The Complete Pocketbook of Swoon
Autumn Royal on Ann Vickery’s The Complete Pocketbook of Swoon

Autumn Royal is the author of the poetry collection She Woke & Rose (Cordite Books 2016). Her poem, Mirror Stage, is the first part of our After Dark series. 


Whenever I have a craving, I reach for the ‘fun-size confectionary’ sitting on my desk, and strut into ‘the impracticalities of play’ and ‘womanly arts’ of ‘swoon technology’. I am, once again, infatuated, crushed by the pink pocketbook held ‘to a vicarious memory / an idea of love once hitched upon, / then précised through hook-fronts of intimacy.’


Of love and hooks Margaret Atwood writes:


You fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye


The following is a tiny, but not trivial, account of my feelings for Ann Vickery’s The Complete Pocketbook of Swoon, which will now affectionately be referred to as Swoon.


Miniature in size, concentrated in content, Swoon urges me to ask for ‘all the abecedary trimmings and bold revisions’. Being a woman and asking for things—it’s a difficult game, isn’t it? As Eileen Myles writes: ‘I have learned to ask for the things I want. Being female, and being working class, I didn’t always know how to do that.’ By way of instruction Swoon advises that: ‘Good girls know that golden rule…practice makes perfect.’ Within ‘all the theatrics of a pincushion’ Swoon offers and interrogates the politics of asking and of answering.


After reading Swoon I now think of poems as little pincushions. A pincushion can look small and unassuming—tends to be ignored and overlooked—but pincushions are tightly filled with material to hold sharply pointed matter. Like poems, pincushions can also be crafted and decorated with items you’ll find lying around the average home like chiffon ribbon, glazed glitter or perhaps some lace from a used wedding dress? Frayed edges or loose threads can be banished with the flame from a lighter.


Whilst love swept I’ve been known to inaccurately call Vickery’s poetry collection The Little Book of Swoon, but is this really such a mistake? I feel like my little Swoon is big enough to be two books. Identical twin sisters with similar sounding names—interlocutors—whispering about the ‘Exquisite control’ they hold over me and my inability to tell them apart. The Swoon twins sing in harmony: ‘Beautiful cliché! I would unpick you / if not so enamoured of your miniature affects.’


We tend to go under rather than over when it comes to estimating the concept of the pocket. To have and to hold, the pocket is always deeper than we assume. By the cuff of her sleeve Emily Dickinson had a customised pocket sewn into her dresses so she could always carry a notebook. I believe that Dickinson’s request for this dress pocket enacts this line in Swoon: ‘An ethics of care turned towards oneself’.


The profound and the shallow, the mythic and the miniature, the capitalistic beauties and beasts, the ‘Tiny anxieties / turned to your most tender frequency’. Please read me when I write that Swoon deftly toys with dualisms and intertextualities to reveal an erotics of language, the power structures we are forced to interact with and defy:


Tinkers dilemma: a finite knickknackery.

The awkwardness when a woman refuses

to take the iron in a game of Monopoly.

Objects arranged in strict proportion, life inside life.


In what I interpret as a reference to the domestic duties of housekeeping, an activity still mostly thrust upon women, Elizabeth Alexander writes that: ‘Poetry is what you find / in the dirt in the corner’. The poetry in Swoon makes me want to start from the edges and smudge grime across the kitchen floor before a routine house inspection.


With charged poetic entanglements Vickery’s The Complete Pocketbook of Swoon demonstrates the sensual and the oppressive possibilities of intimacy, language and gestures: ‘Body curling the world, bar the brace of syntax’.