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Claire Trévien’s ‘Low-Tide Lottery’: Review

Claire Trévien / Low-Tide Lottery

£3.99 / Salt / ISBN: 978-1-84471-866-5

Claire Trévien’s Low-Tide Lottery is the brilliant debut pamphlet of a poet some will know as the editor of Sabotage Reviews, & is “No. 8” in the pamphlet series Salt Modern Voices. She is “Franco- British”, & her great interest in Brittany is clear, most simply from the locations of the poems, but more generally, I think, in a sense through most of the poems (not least the ones about the beach) of the poet as a beachcomber. (I am perhaps a little too attached to finding the key to all mythologies.) Trévien’s grimy tactility, her eye for a sharp detail, & her ability to raise the significance of an individual object through memory & myth, all comes from this, just as one pulls strange & incongruous objects from the sand & out of a tangle of rotting seaweed.

The beachcomber-poet, the Breton flâneur, produces the unexpected imagery which characterises the best lines in the pamphlet, such as in ‘Beg an Dorchenn’: “The fields extend like an unshaven jaw.” All good poetry requires a fundamental & defiant strangeness, & Trévien provides this plentifully. (A poet should push this as far as possible, & Low-Tide Lottery contains poems along the whole spectrum of Trévien’s strangeness. The weakest poems are on either extreme of this spectrum; some, for me, are a little too straight-forward, & ‘His story’, on the other end, is incoherent. When judging them, difficult poems press themselves upon one’s self-confidence, but I think that ‘His story’, even with work, does not produce much more than the dazzle of its own strangeness.) The strongest balance of wild imagery with concrete detail is found in her descriptions of place, with the highlight being ‘Belleville’, which crawls with startlingly sharp & greasy images, such as: “the smile of the knife/cuts ripe pears in half”, & my favourite: “Rue de Belleville’s/shirt is open.” As can be seen here, line-breaks are used to accentuate the strength of these phrases. Trévien has certainly mastered ostranenie. In ‘Belleville’ we also see another, closely-related characteristic of the beachcomber-poet, in which objects are given extra significance amongst their surroundings by imbueing them with myth. In this poem, drunkards are minotaurs & “the glint of Avalon” is seen in a broken bottle. It is this mythical quality of objects which leads to another of the pamphlets themes: youth.

For the young person, everything has its own mythology. (Everything has “the glory and the freshness of a dream”, maybe.) This is, first of all, the mythology of memory & emotional connections. In ‘L’Air du Temps’ or ‘Love from,’ we have the special quality of objects. Trévien is fond of the verb “haunt” for this. We get a more matured picture of this in ‘Ties’, which is quietly one of the best poems in the pamphlet; the second half:

He finds the conkers too damp,
or thieved by squirrels; he finds
them too small to use, I find
their shape can fit in my palm

wholly — they captivate me
as if the key to all is
in their shape, their solid brown
arabesques, tied forever.

These ideas come together in the best poem in the pamphlet, ‘Mère’, which mixes a short narrative about a girl & her father with the Breton myth of Dahut. Having the girl at the centre, by a sort of free indirect thought, allows full use of the youthful strangeness of sensations, as discussed above, but, furthermore, provides an unsettling contrast to the myth of Dahut. The connection with Dahut appears, at first, in the guise of child-like myth-making, as using crepes for masks is a “tasty death”. The story of Dahut, however, soon accelerates to a dark conclusion which severs Jean Le Cloirec’s daughter from the myth but at the same time refuses to let her go. It is a powerful & nervous poem which shows the the pamphlet’s intoxicating strength to its fullest.

Low-Tide Lottery is an exciting debut pamphlet, alive to the sensory experience of the world to an almost feverish degree, & with a knack for the uncanny power of language. & it is only four pounds.


There is an interview with Claire on Caroline Crew’s blog Flotsam. There is another, linked above, on Dr Fulminare. Also, here she is reading a version of ‘Rusty Sea’ & reading ‘Beg an Dorchenn’. Finally, Claire has a free online chapbook, Patterns of Decay, at Silkworms Ink.