About Mandy Pannett
Buy All the Invisibles
ALL THE INVISIBLES
Light is threaded through Mandy Pannett's poems, along with a
tantalising sense of individuals captured momentarily in many
different landscapes, among them, the artists, Durer, Seurat, Monet
Her language is visual and athletic with metaphor, she's drawn to
lost traditions and phrases and brings them into the present with a
playful sense of inquiry.
This book moves through a range of emotional states - all of them
bittersweet: melancholy, change, curiosity - but Pannett is spare
with words and her lines feel charged as a result. Expect to be
startled by the images she creates, intrigued and excited by her
talent for description and the insights her poems offer you, like
delicious, rare fruit.
- Jackie Wills
Mandy Pannett is a poet who assumes a broad context for her work.
She looks closely at what is around her, but her gaze is widened
through the art of Durer, of Seurat, while many great ones of our
language sound through the words she chooses.
Her book starts with the Medlar – ‘a smutty fruit’, so she calls it.
It starts with sensual, with visceral things: knives, cooked meat, a
hawk ripping a feather. ‘Guts’ is a word that recurs, and strong
Saxon consonants accompany her engagement. The lyrical is always
hovering, but if she does bring daisies she makes us work for it.
Then the tone changes. Mythological and historical themes broaden
the rhythms. All the invisibles begin to be apprehended – the
message on a sundial, runes on a feather, aeolian rain.
- Paul Matthews.
In All the Invisibles Mandy Pannett brings a host of figures from
bible, myth and history to brief but vivid life. They step out of
the Bayeaux tapestry, from Shakespeare’s plays, classical and Norse
myth, along with beasts – hares, horses, foxes, flies – and are
fleetingly illuminated, for the most part in free verse, but there
are also sonnets and terza rima, before retreating once again into
their shadowy worlds. Mandy writes of the fragility of life, of
“…the pitch and lurch of survival”. Hers are uneasy, rather
disturbing poems, “…mottoes on sundials are frail”, “…dishes are
filled with motifs of death”; she reminds herself and us that Time
devours all his myriad creatures, their deeds and their desires.
Mandy is no optimist, offers no consolation, yet, while “…narratives
creep up and leap from gold designs of prophets, clutch at me
through jewelled patterns, clawing out of hell…” … finds a comfort
and delight in small things such as the misreading of a word (The
Starling Point), even in rot “…the medlar…best after frost”, in
words: the names of colours, stones, even the names on beer labels,
and the thought that
“Who was it said if you paint a small cage
then later the bird will fly in?
Here is a balcony ready for two.
I will draw chairs, a table with books,
a jug and glasses for wine.”
- Gabriel Griffin
There is real treasure in these remarkable poems for Mandy Pannett
relishes language: with Shakespearean exuberance in "Best after
Frost" where the medlar is a " smutty fruit... flesh and luscious
rot"; or with dark magic as in "Titania's Wood" which is poisoned by
"wolfsbane, hemlock, a low-hanging moon in a pool of frogs". Her
subject matter ranges from a Bayeux tapestry horse telling its tale
to the murky relationship of Thomas and Shade, travelling from
mediaeval romance to the blunt "street cred" of today. A rich
- Gill McEvoy
Mandy Pannett’s poetry is varied, original, magical and full of
surprises. I strongly recommend this book.
- Susan Skinner
‘Best After Frost’ was chosen by the Inter Board Poetry Community as
their poem of the year 2011, and quite right too. Medlars – who
remembers medlars? More to the point, who will be able to forget
this ‘smutty fruit’ after reading a garnet-red and delicious slurpy-slimy
poem that sets the tone for an extraordinarily vivid collection. I
would have been happy with a whole book of Pannett’s nature poetry,
could have sat back in a comfy chair and read through one brilliant
imagist poem after another, but it was not to be. By the second
poem, I was having to start googling references. This was not a
chore – this was a Good Thing. I will explain.
Pannett breaks us in gently with the word. ‘psychopomp’. Great word,
but I didn’t know what it meant so looked it up. The definition made
perfect sense. Pannett could have used an easier word in her poem
title, but why should she? Why dumb down? The chosen word is always
precisely the right word, never the one that is better known but
might not do the job so well. In ‘Psychopomp: a Guide’, Pannett
explores the fine line that is the meeting place between the
contemporary and the mythological. This theme runs through the
entire collection. Ancient and modern – are we really so different
from our ancestors? ‘Two For One’ is an age old tale of vengeance
told in a contemporary setting, so any doubts that we’re somehow
different is quickly dispelled. The ancients will have their say
later in the collection, and they go far, far further back than I
expected – but more on that later.
Pannett expects her readers to have a reasonable familiarity with
concepts from the ancient times through the dark ages to the
Renaissance and beyond. Unfortunately not all of us have her level
of erudition, but we no longer need volumes of Encyclopedia
Britannica weighing down our teak veneer wall units – we have
Wikipedia – and even if we didn’t, the poems stand by themselves
without the necessity to know all the references. Knowledge adds an
angle, a colour – but it’s not essential. We can read about the
traveller from the ship of fools as he explores dry land, and sense
the irony because Pannett has made it clear and has no interest in
veiling her message. You’d be hard pressed not to understand the
poem even if you didn’t know the historical uses of the image. I
became so used to looking stuff up that when I came to poems where I
was sure I was missing references, I actually emailed the author for
clues. As often as not, it turned out that the poem in question was
exactly what it said it was and I didn’t need a Masters in Classics
or anything else. Sometimes a hare in a field is just a hare in a
field. One forgets.
One of the most intriguing offbeat facts I learned from this
collection was that Catherine of Aragon brought sweet potatoes to
England as part of her dowry. Pannett was not making this one up. I
checked. And Henry VIII really did set a competition for growers in
England, none of whom managed to cultivate the plant successfully.
Out of this random historical fact, Pannett has built a powerful and
unusual poem. In ‘Trust the Sun’, Odysseus makes his first
appearance. He’ll be back – unless I’m misreading one of the poems,
which is always possible. They are so rich in ideas, it’s easy to go
off at a tangent and see tales that aren’t really there, but that’s
an undeniable strength as it brings out the story-teller in the
You think you know certain images, but you don’t, not really; not
until you’ve viewed them through Pannett’s eyes. What if a horse in
the Bayeux tapestry could speak? What indeed. The poor beast would
suffer ‘bowels of blancmange’ before experiencing the terrible
transitions of its brief history, assaulted by ‘arrows like
blowflies’. And what is really going on in Millais’ painting of
Isabella (she who loved a severed head) that arrived via Boccaccio
and Keats and ended up dissected by Mandy Pannett’s pen? Everything
is in precise Pre-Raphaelite sharp focus in the painting, and also
in the poem, but here it’s at an oblique angle. There’s probably a
doctoral thesis to be written exploring the difference in precision
between words and pictures with specific reference to Isabella.
In Durham Botanical Gardens there’s a block of marble engraved with
Basil Bunting’s famous lines from Briggflatts: ‘Pens are too light.
Take a chisel to write’. I thought of that line on reading ‘Mottoes
on Sundials’, as well as the more obvious ‘Time is. Time was. Time
is past’ which supposedly originates in Greene’s Elizabethan play
‘Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay’ despite sounding much older. Be that
as it may, Pannett has found inspiration in the mottoes engraved on
sundials. This is a lovely idea. She has taken each inscription and
turned it into a poem. Aulus and Lucius built their sundial in
Pompeii, so there is great resonance in the lines about voids in the
ash – but Pompeii is never mentioned. I find this theme of taking
scenes from antiquity and showing them from a different angle
refreshing and beguiling.
In ‘Stopping a Bunghole’, I can’t help but feel we have the complete
thoughts of Shakespeare (but mostly Hamlet) in one short poem. And
why not. This is certainly one possible reading. Pannett never lays
down strictures; never insists on a specific meaning. She gives you
the best words in the best order, but after that it’s up to you, as
should be the case with all literature.
I’m an art nut, so for me, personally, it’s the art poetry that does
it; that makes me want to read and re-read. If you want to know how
to seduce this particular reader, write about Dürer. I know the
artist, now show me the man. This is precisely what Pannett does.
Just as I’ve settled into the Renaissance, however, ‘A New
Cartography’ comes along and I’m yanked back into the present; a
present so removed from the past that this reads as sci-fi at first,
but no – it’s contemporary. This is real. This is happening now. I’m
back in the present and seconds later I’m addressing a ‘True Fly’
which unexpectedly takes me into DH Lawrence territory and made me
think of his mosquito poem. Then, without warning, we jump back to
ancient times with ‘Group of Eight’. Coincidentally, when I first
read this poem I’d just been looking at Neanderthal cave paintings
of seals looking weirdly like double helix DNA. There is something
about cave art that ties us together across the millennia in a way
words cannot. Language grows and changes. The owners of those eight
hands wouldn’t speak any language we know, but we know what a bison
looks like and we understand the concept of deer flying across the
sky – we’ve never lost that sense of wonder, of the numinous in
‘The Hurt of Man’ needs to be read with Sibelius playing in the
background to get into the right mood. This one sent me scurrying
off to find out who ploughed the field of vipers and to generally
renew my woefully slight acquaintance with the ‘Kalevala’. I like
poetry that says, ‘Look, here’s something that happened that you may
have read about – go and read more’. I did, and I’m glad I did.
The poetry of the potential typo is represented in the lovely
misreading poem, ‘The Starling Point’ where the dull little church
of St Olave Hart Street is transformed by the idea of ‘a word /
misread that ushers in rune-stones’, but just as the reader settles
into this comfortable place, Pannett throws ‘Stunted’ into the mix,
a searing poem of what happens when a child has to find some way to
survive a cruel upbringing – one of the most powerful and unsettling
images of the entire collection.
‘Later, All At Once’ is a wondrous bunch of snippets. No, snippets
is too mean a word. A time-traveller’s compendium of moments? Yes,
that’s closer. A veritable gallimaufry of images, all of them
precise, every one crystal clear. Another clear image sings through
in ‘Every Last Bell’. I’ve drawn that bridge with its ‘glittering
vertebrae’. This falcon’s eye view of the City zooms in on what
might not be immediately obvious, but is no doubt somebody’s prey.
When reading this one I couldn’t help thinking of Macbeth and the
bell that summons Duncan to heaven or hell. On the subject of sounds
– I want to hear the reconstructed fossil’s chirp. Read the
collection, and you will too, I promise.
Driftwood has so much more resonance than dust or clay. In
‘Woman-Tree’ I had to assume Pannett was channelling her Norse
forebears, and if she hasn’t got any, that’s quite bizarre. Of
course she’s got some. Must have. Without getting all Jungian about
it, there’s a strong impression of collective memory at work here.
Her ancestors could read this newly written poem and understand
every word, every reference and every thought. Stories – we all have
stories. We understand such things. William Shakespeare wrote many
of them down for us, which is handy. ‘Titania’s Wood’ takes me
straight to the 1935 Fritz Reinhardt version of ‘A Midsummer Night’s
Dream’, one of my absolute favourite Shakespeare adaptations for the
dangerous other-worldness with which he imbues the visuals. I’m
convinced that while the cameras were pointing one way, this poem
was happening somewhere else, very nearby.
There are so many more wonderful images in this collection. I wanted
to list them all, but knew that would be impossible. Read the book
instead, as that’s where you’ll find faces of foxes, whimsical looks
at the heart, achingly sad poems, and others that make you remember
how extraordinarily potent cheap music can be (thank you Noel
Coward). Then clutch your birthstone and hope for salvation.
Or visit Room 44 at the National Gallery. I’m talking ‘Seurat, It’s
a Long Sunday’ here. The Sunday picture is of course ‘A Sunday on La
Grande Jatte’. The picture on ‘the other side’ has to be ‘Bathers at
Asnières’ from the description. The poem tells the reader to go
north – the empty beach, I would guess, is ‘The Channel of
Gravelines, Grand Fort-Philippe’ and your boat can be tied up on the
river bank (The Seine at Asnières). I tend to go even further north.
I love Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s ‘Lake Keitele’, and if it’s not
mentioned in so many words in the poem, it’s only because we’re
concentrating on Seurat’s work. It’s still there. You can’t miss it.
Go and have a look. Does the reader need to be familiar with this
particular room in the gallery? I know these paintings so well, I
find it impossible to do a ‘new’ reading of the poem, so I really
have no idea.
After Seurat, we have Monet – his life in reverse through ‘A
Suggestion of Leaves’, a beautifully conceived and executed poem,
but before getting too comfortable with the French Impressionists,
we’re yanked back in time again. Mesolithic morphs into Neolithic,
but hindsight is unavailable to this stone age man. Is this
progress? He can’t tell.
Why didn’t I know the paintings of Eric Ravilious? I do now. I read
the poem, looked up the artist. Ah – a student of Paul Nash. I love
Nash’s work. I’m taking so long looking at the paintings, I’ve
forgotten about the poem. Go back to look at it. This is an artist I
should explore further, but before I do that there are a few gentle
poems and then suddenly we’re back to pre-history and crossing the
land bridge that brought people from Siberia to America. ‘The Kelp
Days’ is a stunning poem. Vivid and real and immediate. I’m not
surprised to find it won first prize in the Wirral Festival of
Remember Odysseus? His father was Old Laertes. Did Odysseus dream of
the artichokes and olive groves back on old Ithaca when he was far,
far away? I certainly think Pannett dreams of the South Downs. That
distinctive countryside pervades much of the collection,
particularly the title poem, ‘All the Invisibles’. At this point the
reader is nearly at the end of the book. Just a few more intriguing
facts to learn ‘Ignatius of Antioch Looks for Stars’. He does? Okay,
I’ll look him up, and also try to find the Peckham Rye reference and
– good grief. In 1767, William Blake visited Peckham and had a
vision of an angel in a tree. I didn’t know that. Oh yes – the poem.
What was that about? I return... I’ve a feeling the music of the
spheres is going to link this poem to the last: ‘Aeolian Rain’. Yes
it does. Angels; this is all about angels – maybe. And everything
I’ve resisted talking about aspects of the poems that put one in
mind of the collective unconscious or archaic remnants mostly
because I don’t know enough about such concepts to say anything
sensible, but if I did know about them, I’d be able to analyse this
collection and explain its universality in a very technical way. As
I don’t, I’m relieved to be able to suggest you read the book
instead. I can guarantee that these poems are far more enlightening
than any essay I might be able to write. Ideally, take the
collection to an art gallery and read it there. You might suffer
sensory overload, but it will be worth it.
- Catherine Edmunds
These are poems of ripeness and rot, of abundance and re-growth, of
death and fertility. Mandy Pannett’s Invisibles are ‘silences moving
the air’. Her poems are textured by the ghosts of myth and fable, by
the shadow of the ancients, by poets and painters, Diggers and
Levellers – and the common housefly. We meet a defender of Canute,
Samuel Pepys, and Mother Goose in the space of a few lines.
Travelling through time is something that happens a lot in these
poems, but it is, perhaps, most fully realised in the linked
fragments of poetry and prose poetry that is ‘Later, All At Once’ –
a visionary work that takes us backwards and forwards through time.
Here we move in a non-linear way from pre-history to Sussex in 2010,
where the repetition of ‘less than an hour till night’ from first to
final stanza makes a rather sobering connection in a seemingly
endless sweep of history.
The binding themes of wealth and prodigality, dung, death and decay
are serious, but always handled with a lightness of touch, often
with a reminder of the absurdities of life in all its forms. The
opening poem ‘Best After Frost’ gives us a flavour of what is to
come. The medlar, an absurd fruit,
A smutty fruit: Shakespearian – seaside picture –
postcard rude, designed to raise a belly
laugh with hints of bums and holes
also resonates with decay and rebirth, blood and the ‘thundering,
tumbrel wheels’ of revolution.
All The Invisibles is an imaginative and intelligent collection that
rewards multiple readings. That isn’t to deny the immediate pleasure
of language and imagery, and poetic verve which is to be found
throughout. But just delve beneath the surface and you will find a
richness of thought that will resound long after the final page has
been turned. This is a book to be treasured and returned to.
- Marilyn Francis
Top / Buy All the
by Mandy Pannett
The Bridge Selection
Poems for the Road
by Nnorom Azuonye
Sentinel Annual Literature Anthology (2011)
Editors: Unoma Azuah, Amanda Sington-Williams, Nnorom Azuonye.