Shortlisted for Best Collection in the 2023 Forward Prizes for Poetry
Sennitt Clough’s twisty fen-Gothic narratives are filled with macabre imagery and sexual violence. Imagine a monstrous fair that has arrived in deepest Cambridgeshire, only to discover that the inhabitants are far more frightening than the carnival. Rich in symbolism and mythology, it’s a thrilling read that will leave your mind as black as peat.
‘Elisabeth’s My Name is Abilene is an effervescent fable-world of desirous bodies and broken-hearted people akin to Vasko Popa – linguistically wide-ranging and formally both bombastic and refrained, this tightly-wrought telling of in-between lands and in-between emotional states is a haunting.’ —Rachael Allen
‘Elisabeth Sennitt Clough has made a particular name for herself in Eastern England (she edits the Fenland Poetry Journal) but is a distinctive, musical voice in contemporary British poetry as my name is abilene confirms. This bold new collection is almost a verse novel, bewildering, mesmerising, powering forward at high speed, its tone and preoccupations constantly shifting. One moment we are at a Fenland cattle market or in ‘a four-dog yard with a flimsy chain-link fence’; the next we’re with the Romans or in the Bronze Age at Must Farm, and the verse adapts accordingly. It can be brutally abrupt, brokenly colloquial or lyrically expansive and there is constant attention to the sound. Sennitt Clough is in fact a superb performer of her own work and she knows that good poetry is as much about the language as the themes. But her often unsettling, sometimes shocking subject matter and the grotesques she summons are invariably presented under the big skies and within the merciless horizons of the Fens – still barely known today except for their peatlands and poverty, rich only in myth. It’s certainly time a poet reclaimed the area (‘try to remember a line by john clare’ she intones mournfully at one point) and Sennitt Clough is quick to mock the cliché picture of hovels and ‘savage minds’. Nevertheless, she shows us a deceptively benign world of maize fields, ditches, solar panels, ‘hollyhocks and chinese lanterns’, potatoes hardening in the black soil and chickens running loose, inhabited by characters who abuse and suffer abuse, who’ll chuck dead foxes in the back of a car and ‘don’t worry about the law/because it only exists in places like cambridge’. But Sennitt Clough is no Little Englander; she has lived in America and there is a powerful West Coast influence in the manner and presentation of her verse, though it is always superbly controlled. Whether you read my name is abilene as a filmic Modernist narrative or experience it like a vibrant stage drama (Jerusalem comes to mind) or simply select individual verses to enjoy, you will find here a thoroughly invigorating exploration of the universal in the local. These poems are anything but flat.’ —John Greening
‘Sinister and sweet, graphic and insidiously violent, abilene is a layered exploration of how a woman survives when pushed too far. Terrifyingly good, this is Sennitt Clough at the very top of her craft.’ —Sharon Black