Abi Curtis’s The Glass Delusion

Abi Curtis’s first collection Unexpected Weather was a winner of Salt’s Crashaw Prize in 2008. She received an Eric Gregory Award in 2004 and holds a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Sussex. She is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing at York St. John University.
The Glass Delusion draws on the power of animals, the strangeness of home and the mysteries of the future. Blending the mythic and the domestic, it is a book haunted by the lost, by buried objects and preserved creatures, unearthed memories and secrets brought to light. The poems in The Glass Delusion dwell on the meaning of where we live and how we live. They are ecologically aware, uncanny and speculative. Curtis brings to life such characters as Dr Who’s wife; Paul, a psychic octopus; a troublesome poltergeist; an orchestra of insects and an enchanted version of Essex. Sensuous, musical and shot through with wry humour, Curtis’s second book will move and surprise you.”
“These highly imaginative scenarios have the jubilation of discovery being made on the hoof. The poems are daring, wondrous and unexpectedly funny. Reading Curtis is like being blown offwards by a whisper.”

– Daljit Nagra
“If Abi Curtis’s first collection plotted a course through myths both personal and legendary, The Glass Delusion wanders off from the breadcrumb trail altogether and finds its own way home through the forest of our collective unconscious. Reading her is to be reminded of the mystery of every living creature, to awake from your own delusions to find that reality is even stranger.”

– Luke Kennard
“These poems playfully and tenderly blur the border between fact and fantasy, imbuing true stories with a melancholy magic and establishing fables which feel all too true.”

– Antony Dunn
“Tender, surprising, funny and sad, the poems of The Glass Delusion demonstrate a range of preoccupations, passions and interests unique in contemporary poetry. In its fascination with the who (wittily explored in ‘Marrying Doctor Who’) and the what (the quiddity of a giant squid in the stunning poem, ‘Squiddity’), with history and the everyday, Abi Curtis’s poetry has a strange beauty, a precision and reserve reminiscent of Elizabeth Bishop. This is a remarkable volume.”

– Nicholas Royle
I had a vision of the future: you
draped across the clavicle of this beautiful
woman on a cold New York avenue,
your fur like the touch of mist lipping a brook.

Your bones, your guts, your heart all gone,
turned inside out to leave a shadow
of their warmth and this tint that gives your name:
Silverblu. A freak among a litter of dark brown.

Sheen like a spider’s web or ice on a lake,
the slick, rained-on street. The hue
of low, shining planes in midsummer
humming low over the harbour.

They bred generations for your coat
but kept your vicious ways;
the rancher holds your thrashing body
tight and soft against his face.

And when they unzip you to your skeleton
and sinew, does your blood remember
an ancient shape made for slinking
along waterways, under a colourless moon?
Note: A type of mink bred in America. The name was coined by Harpers Bazaar magazine in 1941 to describe the distinctive colour of its fur.
El Pulpo Paul
‘Psychic’ octopus predicts Spain’s victory in the World Cup final.
Dolefully, he unfurls and rolls
through rocks and miniature footballs.
The crowd watches flagged boxes dip
into the tank, the soft flesh of a mussel in each.
Paul will choose. He knows. He’s known since
he hatched in a Weymouth aquarium
amongst the large, dark eyes of his siblings.
He drapes over the flag of red and gold

with a wry look to the paparazzi,
one poppered arm looping like a question.
He knows what they cannot,
a whole watery universe he’s never witnessed:
drifting plankton, clouds of ink,
whales calling from the lower darkness.
He doesn’t understand, but knows a thought
can flex and rumble through the blue.

But does he know his mother siphoned water
gently over ten thousand winking eggs
and guarded them until she shrivelled in her death?
Or that his end is written in his billowing, clever cells;
that this will be his last prediction?
He flushes grey to crimson, seeing, days from now,
the Spanish keeper wrap his long arm around
the beautiful reporter’s neck.

Paul caresses, eases up the plastic lid,
devours the mussel through his beak
to a burst of flashbulbs,
watching the future unravel:
the keeper, prickled with grass and sweat,
refusing to answer any more questions,
drawing her close for a kiss, on camera,
like a minor god acknowledging his fate.
Saint Fabiola’s Portraits
After Francis Alÿs
This room hallucinates our faces:
three hundred Fabiolas, draped in cauls of red,
canvasses spread with Rose Madder, Scarlet Lake.
One lost woman: multiplied.

We are doing penance on these walls
for a failure to keep our loves,
our profiles looking to the right
at a life we cannot trace.

Here and there, exceptions, striking in their frames:
a fifties starlet, hair curled; an emerald shawl;
one formed of beans and shells; one embroidered.
We are all unique. And just the same,

salvaged from the bric-a-brac of Europe.
One by one the watchers file in,
waiting for us to turn and face them.
We are in the corner of your eye,

a flash of vermillion and flesh.
He rescued us, so he must be in love,
but he doesn’t need to choose.
He wants to be surrounded by women

rising up the walls of the gallery.
We seduce him with the secrets
in our almost-smiles, so many,
gathered under this beautiful roof.
Note: In 2009 The National Portrait Gallery in London exhibited ‘Fabiola’, a collection of profiled portraits of the saint assembled by Francis Alÿs. Gathered by Alÿs from flea markets and antique shops around the world over a period of fifteen years, the images are all based on a lost 19th-century French work. Saint Fabiola was canonized in AD 537 and is revered as a protector of abused women. (Lynne Cook, Curator, Dia Art Foundation, National Gallery Leaflet: 2009.)
Glass Makers
To let them see and feel the ocean’s creatures,
Rudolf and Leopold heat the batch,
blending silica, lime and potash to molten

until it is an August sunset wobbling on a stick.
Rudolf fills his cheeks and his father
watches the glass draw a borrowed breath.

It will become a sea cucumber or jellyfish,
not lifted from the cool salt of the Baltic,
but pulled white-hot from the glory hole.

Leopold makes the eyes with delicate fusing,
Rudolf flutes the narrow grooves
and shapes the tentacles on wire scaffolds.

From copper, paper, wax,
the bellows work their light sea breezes
and bring about the fluid, pulsing bodies

of octopuses, coral, angelfish.
Oxides blend to tint the filmy skins,
violet, yellow, bristling green.

Cullets of blank glass are caught
in the spin of Leopold’s grind and polish.
Until he dies one evening.

Rudolf will continue alone,
raising sea horses from a wick and a tin cup,
archiving ever one in a padded box.

Years later, Thomas is searching the stacks,
when he hears a rush like a fall of books.
Finding no pages, he’ll unclip an antique case,

push back the shredded paper, swear
that the anemone he finds is moving,
until he stills it with his touch.
Note: During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, father and son, created glass flowers and sea creatures for educational use. Professor Thomas Eisner rediscovered some of their archived creations in 1957 at Cornell University.
from The Glass Delusion (Salt Publishing, 2012).
Order The Glass Delusion.

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