The Wear and Tear of Conversation: Charlotte Harker, Dempsey & Windle
Charlotte Harker’s The Wear and Tear of Conversation is an ironic and humorous account of the interactions between the self and its surroundings. The transgender poet and artist deals with depression and self-identity, and discovers parallel realities, observes and depicts objects in limited interiors. In her work she points out the equivocal and hilarious connections between inanimate objects and words, using an almost animistic perspective. Each poem is related to a picture by the author, which explains the written text in a figurative, simple way. This engages the reader in an intriguing double vision: realistic in the pictures, surreal in the poems.
Food has a symbolic quality, conciliatory in ‘Punch-up in a Cake Shop’, where her neighbours’ argument is solved reaching ‘for some cupcakes’. It acquires a subtler, unexpected significance in ‘It’s Not About the Fishcakes’:
it’s not about the fishcakes,
but that there are
below the surface
troubling your identity.
Harker takes up the theme of holidays in some of the poems, adopting an unpredictable angle on the idea having a break:
I’ve booked a week
in a part of my bed-sit
I’ve never explored.
in a five star corner of my room.
Passport up to date,
I will need to negotiate
the border at the end of the bed,
then it’s the long journey
across the carpet to my destination,
for a week of bliss and rest.
It is a seemingly limited world that opens up to new perceptions, a ‘reality’ that is as believable as any other. Irony exposes the absurdity of a single-minded vision in the revelation of other options, different viewpoints. There is a crisscrossing of concepts expressed in words and pictures, merging identities, genders, illusions and possibilities.
Language reveals the breakdown of communication, the necessity to ‘repair’ it in some way. Worn-out conversations produce worn-out relationships, a contact with the other which should be renovated or renegotiated:
I noticed two paragraphs
on a ramp.
an adverb dismantled.
Outside I could hear the wear and tear of
Dialogue in need of repair.
(‘Sentence Repair Centre’)
Objects are a haunting presence, speaking for themselves, as if alive at the crossroad between real and surreal, questioning gender and identities, revealing a rich interiority in “a multitude of subterfuge/and lies,/joys and tragedies.” (‘Curtains’) Their multi-layered characteristics mirror the unnoticed possibilities of being human:
But I’m standard,
a standard lamp,
you’ll see me unnoticed
except when I too am gone,
then you’ll long
for a standard,
off and on.
The collection closes with ‘Poetry Reading Group Tour Diary 2017’ which once more underlines the unsettling incongruities of ordinariness. However, it is considered a success as it becomes inspirational material for the poet. I’m reminded of Charles Baudelaire’s poem ‘To the Reader’ which translates as “Hypocrite reader, my likeness, my brother!” (“Hypocrite lecteur! – mon semblable, - mon frère!”). Harker heads to the exit “for personal reasons”, leaving her lines to the reader, her accomplice, her brother.
Carla Scarano D’Antonio obtained an MA in creative writing at Lancaster University and is working on a PhD on Margaret Atwood. She and Keith Lander won the Dryden Translation competition in 2016 with translations of Eugenio Montale’s poems. Her poetry pamphlet, A Winding Road, was published in 2011, and her work has featured in a number of anthologies and magazines