Copy Medicine: Jenny Gough’s Mary & Shelley’s Fair Copy Book / going: Jen Bervin’s under what is not under (both Potes & Poets Press 2000)

Michael Farrell

[A Michael Farrell spied on Shelley for the English government.]

‘... if you think of art as discipline, the people that are interesting are the people that are exploring the structure of the discipline.  In that sense they’re breaking the discipline down, too, as they’re expanding it.’  — Bruce Nauman

I imagine Jenny and Jen at court with Susan Howe and ‘Pope’ Joan Retallack.  Their court would of course be a kind of library...The image — of four American women in a room — is for me an exciting one of poetry generation, Emily Dickinson to the power of x.  But should the library be a grand room of upholstery and green lamps, or a two-walled shack like that on the cover of under what is not under?  For the pioneer spirit is an easy connection to make...

(It’s Time)

Mary & Shelley’s Fair Copy Book’ is a page turner.  It opens with the vulnerability of a (Frankenstein’s) monster: ‘tearlessnest ... after I ... v the verrey o on blade ... after openly I/ resemble mysel who believed in my plote...’: or of Molloy.  And though my eye travelled anxiously on and off the lines and forward, I was aware that in each gap perhaps a soul dwelt foot in a trap, that what’s unsaid is perhaps even more heartbreak.  It exemplifies both Hejinian’s argued for ‘poetry of consciousness,’ and Oppen’s ‘being numerous’.  Mary & Shelley’s Far Copy Book collapses time...

‘ “Shelley was too fond of/ of the theoretical and the ideal’

They are both green books.  (Out of the frog pond.)  Books for princes/ses: don’t go under.

The cover of Mary & Shelley’s Fair Copy Book is a cooling green, like that of wheatgrass, Cottees’ lime cordial, or Pine-o-cleen.  All these drinks taste great to some people and vile to others.  And if you swallow the wrong one inadvertently, Dr Gough has your medicine.  This is not like voting for the wrong person.

under what is not under  is pistachio, whoever sewed the cover image on used pistachio cotton.  Baling twine is this colour / colours, like words, or fences, can be followed in different directions.

If Mary & Shelley’s Fair Copy Book is an episode of Twin Peaks, under what is not under is a commercial, one of the very rare, that don’t make up for the others, but at least give you a bit of your soul back.  (Ok, the commercial sensibility is very far from both these books, but I’d like to see a Potes and Poets shop at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport.)  No — under what is not under is a news break interrupting a performance of A Winter’s Tale in the woods.  Perhaps some of the words were blown away, but what remained...

Maintain Your Page

As Gertrude Stein made a rose red again, Jenny Gough reinvigorates a page, and Shelley; the radical approach can make anything its starting point: roots are everywhere.  (Romanticism never dies.)  Gough mocks the very notion of marginality.  Any imagined margin in Mary & Shelley’s Fair Copy Book is disregarded, written over, as are lines.  And lines over words... (which come first?).  It’s a book of shock: of being immersed in ice water — awake now?  A book that can be read; words aren’t images.  A working mind needs more than sugar.

‘Mary Shelley wrote “on the page.”’

The words of under what is not under can be read in a couple of minutes.  Is this the same as reading the book?  Sure, you can read the space, you can dwell on phrases such as ‘ahush teary hum,’ ‘a tent took tiro,’ ‘too much, too many, too little to be;’ but even though under what is not under is the most linear of books — its text is a broken horizontal line across its unnumbered pages — it invites an unordered reading: ‘hold time.                                                      
       hold time under,’ ‘green.                          hungry in the hold,’ ‘beneath the floorboards.’.  It is thin like wire is thin, ‘prays not for wind,’ ‘a sailor,’ ‘is’.

‘a pitch to the tune of the horizon’ (under what is not under)./ ‘Marplotting Mary’s projected life / “the great thing is I am so unequal” ’ Mary & Shelley’s Fair Copy Book

Both the production and texts of these two books evoke beginnings.  Poetry is still just starting.  Language is still being born in the Waldens of the human mind.

Bio: Michael Farrell is the Australian editor of Slope ( His critical writing can be read in issues 5,10 and 14; also in Cordite 8 & 9 (, Jacket 12 ( and La Petite Zine #8 ( He lives in Melbourne.

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