Formerly (Hercules Editions, 2012) is a collaboration between Tamar Yoseloff and Vici MacDonald, who share a desire to commemorate forgotten corners of a London now fast disappearing. The sonnet is the classic elegiac form, but Yoseloff’s are irregular, anarchic; the perfect companions for MacDonald’s grainy photographs of superannuated shop fronts, council estates and industrial sites – defiant structures left behind by the sweep of mass redevelopment.
Tamar Yoseloff’s most recent collection is The City with Horns (Salt, 2011). She is the author of two collaborative editions with artist Linda Karshan and editor of A Room to Live In: A Kettle’s Yard Anthology (Salt, 2007). She lives in London, where she works as a tutor in creative writing.
Vici MacDonald lives in London, where she works as an editor and art director. She is a founding editor of contemporary art magazine Art World, and author of a monograph on the Australian sculptor Rosalie Gascoigne (1917 – 99), renowned for her poetic assemblages of found text.
“Formerly is a direct and quietly urgent dispatch from a familiar but disappearing London, a lonely, seedy and dilapidated bedsitland of regrets and furtive longings, all covered by ‘the fine dust of misery’.”
– Owen Hatherley
“Formerly is a wonderful series of photographs by Vici MacDonald and loose sonnets by Tamar Yoseloff responding to London’s continual dissolution and reinscription of itself as a contemporary city. The poetry, though often humorous and with ephemeral subjects, is always fully achieved and as richly-textured as the photographs, making the nebulous tangible again, as Frank O’Hara suggested poetry should. This is the best collaboration between these arts that I have seen since Fay Godwin and Ted Hughes’ Remains of Elmet, and I cannot recommend it too highly.”
– Ian Duhig
“Tamar Yoseloff’s verse boxes shadows while Vici MacDonald’s surfaces change before our eyes. This is the London we have been looking for down the ages, from Dickens to Sinclair and Whistler to Kossoff. It is here and now but only for a moment, you have to be very quick and catch it while you can …”
– Josh McFadyen
Tamar Yoseloff on Formerly
“This project began with a mutual fascination for dereliction. I’m attracted to places that have been abandoned, forgotten, allowed to fall beyond repair, ‘places where a thought might grow’, to quote Derek Mahon. London is full of these locations, and mostly we walk past, too distracted to question what happened there and when. Sometimes just a boarded window or a ghost sign on a wall will be all that remains of human activity. I’ve always found a strange beauty in these places because they are the ruins of our modern lives, our great structures, our Tinterns. The city moves quickly, is unsentimental, so these poems are my attempt to capture what is already on the way out, momentarily halted in the photographs.”
Vici MacDonald on Formerly
“I am fascinated by the mundane poetry of commercial facades, and the images here result from decades spent photographing them. Things which attract my lens tend to disappear shortly afterwards, so most of these scenes exist no longer: only the uprooted gravestones and unreachable ghost signs linger on. Once, I saw such fading corners as poignant reminders of outmoded aspirations and long-lost good times. But of course it was the passing of my own time I was capturing – life flicking past with the speed of a camera shutter as the city evolves relentlessly on. London’s mouldering walls and windows, its gravestones and ghost signs, will long outlast me; and for generations to come, their poetry will endure, too.”
Fat chance you’ll ever break out of here,
this depository for great mistakes
you’ve made your home. Just enough room
for a bed and a stool, a cell of sorts,
for a man of thin means. Lean times.
But I’m a girl who’s capable
and culpable, who knows the value
of a pound. You can’t resist the give
of my carapace, my caterpillar lips,
my capacious thighs. I’ll never sell you
short. You’ll never let me down.
For the first time, you are full
to the very brim with the milk
of human kindness. Moo.
Quickie Heel Bar
Ladies, here’s the shit:
your skirt’s so tight you can barely walk,
your stillies clack clack like a ticking clock.
You strut to the bar for a rum and coke,
scan the joint for a bloke with a wad,
some blow to share, a flair for words:
I’m your Cyrano without the hooter,
your Romeo with a better future,
your Casanova with a Rolodex,
your Ronaldo with Italian treads.
I can go all night like the Duracell Bunny,
not being funny. I’m a bull in the ring,
I’ll make you ring a ding ding, no bull.
Ladies, get your coats, you’ve pulled.
You slumped into the night. That was it:
I fling myself at exits, breezeblock walls,
I haunt abandoned lots, urinal stalls,
anywhere that bears your mark (the flick
of the switch and then the dark, the quickie fuck),
any place you had me, any way;
like they said you’d do, you chucked me away
like trash; like shit on your shoe, I’m stuck
in the past; I’m pissed. Now I splash my tears
over the ragged towpath of your estate
and wait for rain to wash the morning clear,
and wait for love to incubate from hate,
and wait for spring to strip the sky of soot,
and wait for pain to crack your concrete heart.
Your memory’s turning tricks; a sudden
blush as you relive the bump and grind,
the slap and tickle. It was all a giggle,
didn’t care about the consequences, cold
light of day, and all of that: a dab of
La Vie En Rose behind the ear, a skinful,
and you were set. No regrets, that’s what
she sang, no regrets, but you forget
what it was like when you could clench
the thorny branch between your teeth,
dance all night for the boys. Your heart’s
playing tricks; the stop / start / stop,
that voice, clear as a bell in your mind:
Hurry up, gentlemen, please, it’s time.
from Formerly (Hercules Editions, 2012).
Read Tammy’s first Formerly post at Invective Against Swans.
Tammy writes about Number 13 Hercules Buildings, Lambeth.
Read about Formerly’s launch (and some thoughts on the olfactory properties of books).
Read about the Poetry Society workshop based on Formerly.