‘Atha’ by Sally-Shakti Willow – Knives Forks and Spoons Press: review

atha cover 2

I have not in reading, and am not in writing about that reading, ignoring the poetics of this collection, that which explicitly makes up Part 1 of Atha but also necessarily/fundamentally informs all.

It is because I feel more comfortable writing about the poetry itself [with apologies for that glaringly paradoxical split] and it is the ‘comfort’ that is perhaps my most intuitive reaction to the poetics: the words that spread in fluid movements across the page are most yoga-like in my limited appreciation of yoga and complete physical/meditation inexperience of it. I think that is it by way of explanation/excuse – though as ‘reader’ reflected on in the Poetics I need not feel so contrite.

The control/comfort/oneness implied and achieved by the words and their instructions are, however, disrupted by the intrusions of the world outside – though, excusing paradox again, the poetics/poetry is all about being at one with all and everything – yet intrude it does because the world we live in is increasingly alienating and segregating. It is a destructive force to be reckoned with.

So at the beginning of Part 2 we have instruction [with another apology [!] for not representing here the exact fluidity of movement of the words on the page, as WordPress reformats what I type, even if I transfer out to Notepad, for example, and back again]*,

‘breathing is movement is / fundamental / of living things’

but throughout the opening there are physical realities that can restrict yoga’s and therefore ‘life’ processes, like

‘not advised / for people suffering’ // ‘high blood press’

and there are also other restrictions to this from the outer as opposed to inner world which are expressed ironically, like

‘freedom of / movement’ // ‘freedom of travel’ // ‘free movement’

and this results in the alienation/segregation and worse that these poems want to overcome,

‘You return & you are not /

one of

so while these poems are all about union and not excluding, there are forces [more than our own bodies] that can and will work against us. This is represented in spite of – though I don’t really mean that caveat – what the Poetics tells us: ‘IT DOES NOT SEEK TO CONSTRUCT FANTASY WORLDS’ and ‘UTOPIAN POETICS DOES NOT EXCLUDE’.

And there I am contradicting what I said at the beginning about not writing about the Poetics…and will continue to write so: one gets drawn into it naturally

Part 2 enacts this fundamental force against and recovery from alienation where at the close of its opening section Asana [though again unable to represent the fluidity of the writing], it states,

‘release / dormant energy / become light / creative / biorhythms of body / in positions that / cultivate’

In Pranayma the unity of poetics and politics takes on an homogeneous representation, the repetition of words/phrases on the page – emulating breathing in exercise/(life) – is interjected with that which works against it, those political acts of creating poverty and related poor health. So, repetitions of,

‘percussions / re/percussions’ // ‘breathing / forcing ‘

are assailed by

‘judicial instruction\\morbidity mortality “publichealthemergency”’


‘limits / phonation / worst affected / Birmingham / Brixton / inhalation / friction / mucous / mortality’

and for me another unity occurs which is the poetry embracing the polemic in a way which as/by reading we understand/experience it.

In Mudra a mantra of deeper explanation about yoga is given and this too is aligned to/contrasted with the outside/(affected inside) assault,

‘naked power / grab / by ministers’

In Part 3: Three Rituals for Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, a ‘ghostword’ is in many ways all the words that continue to explore the indirect world of these poems [and so by that determinate of being unified it also means all that preceded], a ‘nomenclature’ for tension/unity where ‘unconcluded exile’ is perhaps the existing hope.

This is a long piece and deserves reading rather than review, but what is interesting is how the poet enters more obviously the movement of the poem, the ‘I wonder / who…’ we now read about. It isn’t authorial so much as is.

There are visual representations to enjoy in the whole, by the way: the block writing of B&ha, the visual/found poems of Asana and infinite imperative [and others], and the faint text of Cha’s Hands, 1979 – this faint/bold typeface an increasing part of Part 4: Movement and Meditation [so often mesmeric] that closes the whole.

There are Notes at the end of the whole text to explain/offer citations and I haven’t read these [yet], my offering instead here a review/impression of a first reading. I have enjoyed/been affected by the symmetry/merging of the poetic and polemic in this work, noticing how my increased assemblage of words quite instinctively begins to emulate what I read and feel. It is very much a feeling/discovery rather than analysis and I want to leave it at that as the most organic reflection/celebration.

You can read more about and purchase Atha at Knives Forks and Spoons Press here.

*screengrab of the text from KFSP page to give [distant!] sense of appearance on the page:

atha image


1 thought on “‘Atha’ by Sally-Shakti Willow – Knives Forks and Spoons Press: review

  1. Pingback: Poetry Reviewed 2019 | gravyfromthegazebo

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