Life on Mars
Rosemary Norman
with accompanying video by Stuart Pound
Hearing Eye Press


This is a really interesting venture. I read the pamphlet first, then watched the video, then returned to the pamphlet to get an idea of the effects of these two works together and apart. The brevity of the pamphlet - there are just eighteen poems- is well-judged I feel because the nature of the material and its treatment are complex and not always palatable at first sitting, which is not to say the delicately-honed and sensuous surface of Norman's language is not pleasing, but that some of the ideas demand a deep shifting around of - at least - psychological furniture. For example, the cannibalistic theme in 'Eating Disorder', presented as it is in a language of eroticism:

I am the bone, sufficient.
Whatever is soft in you, and wants comfort,
I bite deep into it.

...Let your last breath lift you, light
as dust, into the nostrils
of sleek and slippery eaters.
I will coat their tongues with you.


The power of the writing here and elsewhere doesn't rely solely on tapping the energy of taboo, however, but it is also due to Norman's attending to the sibilant and fricative consonantal patterns, the silences and breath in the line. To a certain extent, this is lost in the video in the same way that in readings the physical voice, no matter how well the poet reads, inevitably destroys a word's silent sound, the "white bird in snow". But the video, intriguing in its own right, works closely with the poems' images and ideas, while maintaining a separateness. It juxtaposes and blends images and music from a variety of cultural contexts. Norman's anatomical and organic themes are there, but their presentation seems to draw on Islamic art, using repetition, symmetry and decorative patterning. The soundtrack is also eclectic, with music that in some sequences sounds North African - but I'm not expert - and in others like barrel organ music in a fairground. The final sequence, 'Grandmother is a Crab', involves the hypnotic image of a young girl on a beach teasing a crab with her bare foot. This works in parallel with Norman's humour which, though gentler than Plath's (whose ubiquitous presence is sensed from time to time ), is similarly witty:

Grandmother is a crab, crook-legged
on eight high-heeled shoes.

...she can dance
and not stop knitting. With a click
of leg-needles, she lifts off
into the oxygen blue...

Marita Over in AMBIT no. 164 pp. 84 - 85