Geraldine Monk's Dream Drover

Gratton Street Irregular, 1999. 4pp.
(Published as a run of 50 by Kelvin Corcoran, 1 Gratton Street, Cheltenham, Glos GL50 2AT, England)

by Frances Presley

Geraldine Monk’s work is gradually acquiring the reputation it deserves. She was included in the anthologies New British Poetry, and Out of Everywhere, and I have attached a bibliography of her work. There has also been some recent critical attention, from Linda Kinnahan and Keith Tuma.(1)

To quote Linda Kinnahan: "Born in 1952 in Blackburn, Lancashire, Monk has been publishing and performing her poetry since the 70s, pushing beyond the boundaries of the written text that, on the page as well, investigates the conditions of its own textuality."(2) Kinnahan here raises the issue of the importance of performance in Monk’s work, and I feel sorry for those who have not heard Monk’s voice: her rhythmic energy, her timing, and unmistakably, her Lancashire accent. Dream Drover, this long poem, has many of the distinctive traits of her writing, including its emphasis on performance, and the sounding of the text.

If I have any argument with Kinnahan’s knowledgeable analysis of Monk’s textual innovation, it is that you could come away with the sense that her poetry is a rather sombre affair. ‘Dream Drover’ is an especially humorous ride, with the poet initially unsure of the controls. The front cover shows a VW Beetle looking very insect like, and the poem begins with some reworked clichés of the driving lesson:

  don’t grip the lip
      crossed arms breed a twisted

The left hand margin of the poems weaves in and out like an erratically steered vehicle which barely negotiates hair pin bends, until there is a final straight drop to the end of the poem. We are long way from the machine precision of Fordville, and these are the errant roads of ‘pure Peak scree’. There are even echoes of Manley Hopkins, in rhythm and word play. Like Hopkins, she also uses a lot of compound words. As the poem progresses, the driver or drover achieves the control of Hopkins’ windhover, and the movement of the margin is also like a wing:

  as the crosswinds
   blow-out stretches at a-glancing

   and you needn’t hold back

Monk frequently breaks words across lines, often to comic effect, as in the Hollywood screen star fantasy stanza:

       A’m doing dream time-big
     As tra-laa partial star sashays
    its hexy little bott

om down the mountill

Notice also the odd use of A’m, which evokes a dialect version of I, but is also a way of escaping ‘I’ into this fluid fantasy. In the same stanza she resurrects the Brontes via Liz Taylor! This juxtaposition is not as strange as it might seem, since in the 1943 film of Jane Eyre Liz Taylor acts the schoolgirl who dies of her punishment at Lowood school:

  scheming dreams
    of young Liz
      Taylor shimmying into
        Bronte skin


This is just a taster, and for Monk’s major work you must get hold of The Sway of precious demons and Interregnum. (3)



1. There were some earlier critical mentions of Monk’s work by British poets. Tony Baker reviewed Tiger Lilies (Reality Studios, 5, 1983), and Gavin Selerie included her in his essay on contemporary British poetry, (North Dakota Quarterly, 51(4), 1983). Keith Tuma takes Monk as an exemplar of British women experimentalists in his recent critical work: Fishing by Obstinate Isles.

2.Kinnahan, Linda A "Experimental poetics and the lyric in British women’s poetry: Geraldine Monk, Wendy Mulford, and Denise Riley" Contemporary Literature 37 (4), 1996. pp. 620-670.

3. Monk, Geraldine Interregnum London: Creation Books, 1994; The Sway of Precious Demons: selected poems London: North and South, 1992.

BIO: Frances Presley lives in London. Her most recent publications are Linocut (Oasis, 1997) and Hula Hoop (Other Press, 1993). 'Private Writings' will appear shortly from Maquette. She is currently working on a collaboration with the poet Elizabeth James.


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