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Carol Rumens's poem of the week

Poem of the week: Cartography for Beginners by


Emily Hasler
Ambiguity and precision overlap in these very personal
instructions for map making

Carol Rumens
Mon 4 Nov 2013 10.48 GMT

53 301

I discovered this week's poem – and poet – in issue 76 of Michael Mackmin's


influential Norwich-based poetry journal, The Rialto . It was the tone of
Emily Hasler's "Cartography for Beginners" that particularly attracted me:
colloquial, playful, assured. The playfulness and assurance extend to the
way the poem remodels and subverts what a cartographer might call its
"ground-truth" – a lesson on how to draw a map.
That the speaker is only pretending to issue a set of useful instructions,
meanwhile creating her own myth of map-making, quickly becomes clear in
the ordering of priorities, beginning with that emphasis on "the correct blue".
When, in lines two and three, the speaker advises that the shade of blue
should not be "too watery" because "people do not like wet feet", the map
and the place mapped are suddenly fused, and we might even suspect the
tutee is in on the joke. A mock-didactic poem needs two people to play the
game.

Blue could be associated with feelings too, of course, and perhaps an


openness to feeling. Beyond its aesthetic potential, water constantly draws
the speaker's attention. It becomes so significant that, even if there's no
actual water to be indicated, she insists that the choice of blue still has to be
made. Later, she will go farther and say that, if the area has no water, "I have
to question why you are bothering". The most powerful image or symbol in
the poem, water connects, through baptism, to the church (listed in the
places of worship) and, of course, to the pub. Finally, the poem considers the
possibility of a completely submerged East Anglia. Its resemblance to "a
sodden Constable" suggests that the place is not so much a place as a picture
of a place – the converse idea of a map which causes wet feet.

Elements from both art and science, the disciplines the making of maps
traditionally employs are allowed to unsettle one another. That unsettling is
inherent in many kinds of mapping, of course. Perhaps the key reference is
to "the twin and warring gods of Precision/ and Wild Abandon". In
mentioning the coastline paradox the poem reveals an awareness of the
difficulty of exactly conveying complex spatial information on paper.

Precision, symbolised by Mandelbrot's investigation, is


burdensome, but cannot be jettisoned ("get a
stepladder"). "Wild Abandon" is hinted in "licence" (line
13) and, more resolutely projected at the end, when the
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Tensions exist in the antipathy of wet and dry, public and
Read more private. The map is interpreted as an act of
communication with "people", an intimate space between
friends or lovers, and a delightful playground for the solitary imagination.

Formally, there's a resistance to end-stopping. The many enjambed lines


create their own variable coastline – the line-endings – and flow gracefully
over the edge. There is a civility in the poem that recalls Elizabeth Bishop's
finely controlled, often ruefully humorous, navigating potentially dangerous
emotional waves.

"People do not like/ to be lost", the speaker remarks in lines 10/11, but, of
course, some discoveries can be made only when one is lost. This poem
disorientates us, but in a gentle and fruitful way. While we're not allowed to
find out, metaphorically, exactly where we are, some East Anglian locations
towards the end are reassuring. And they allow an affectionate poem of place
to emerge from an intimate address to a particular individual.

Originally from Felixstowe in Suffolk, Hasler has published work in various


magazines and anthologies, and her first pamphlet natural histories
appeared from Salt in their "modern voices" series, and is still available.
"Cartography for Beginners" is from an unpublished sequence of four poems,
"The Map Lover". I look forward to seeing this, and more of Hasler's work, in
a first full-length collection.

Cartography for Beginners


for CL

First of all, you will need to choose the correct blue


to indicate water. This should not be too watery.
You must remember: people do not like wet feet.
If there is no water to indicate, no matter,
you must still elect a blue. Let me recommend
eggshell, at a push, azure. Choose a symbol
for church/temple/mosque/synagogue. Choose
a symbol for pub. Dedicate your life
to the twin and warring gods of Precision
and Wild Abandon. People do not like
to be lost. Buy Mandelbrot's 1967 paper
on the coastline paradox, put it on the highest shelf –
but get a stepladder. Take a little licence with rivers,
especially their curves and estuaries. Add
an oxbow lake if at all possible. If the area you
are mapping has no seas/lakes/rivers/streams,
I have to question why you are bothering. You
won't get to use that lovely blue you spent so long
deciding upon. Do the Norfolk fens instead. Better
yet, East Anglia in its future state, quite utterly
submerged like a sodden Constable. Come on,
get your coat, I'll show you. You won't need your shoes.

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Topics
Poetry Carol Rumens's poem of the week
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comments 301
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Automaticslim 2
4 Nov 2013 11:39

Very nice! Deftly witty and the 'voice' is lovely - a tone of mock-stern admonishment as if the poem
is peering over its reading glasses and wagging a finger. "...put it on the highest shelf - but get a
stepladder..." could probably stand for the practise of writing poetry and its relationship to prosodic
rules (ie. enjambment) don't you think? Or any creative art, for that matter. Maps can be beautiful
but less so if they lead one to fall off a cliff.

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paleologue Automaticslim 1

Well its no good having a map if you can't read it or use a compass and if you can you'd need
to be pretty thick to fall off a cliff.

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Dowling1981 Automaticslim 0

Rather reminiscent of Grange Hill when Tucker bait Sadie roond the bike rails?

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Automaticslim 2
4 Nov 2013 11:49

I'm curious, however - and I'd like to ask Carol (and others) about this - regarding the recent 'vogue'
for very 'blocky' poems that do enjamb(?) in this way so that the result is closer to prose in
appearance than stanzaic, syllabic, metric work. Has anyone else noticed this? What happened? Did
I miss a meeting? What are the influences behind this? I suspect that Frost's "sound of sense" has
been disinterred, producing a colloquial, 'chatty', conversational voice in contemporary poetry, but I
can't really see why in terms of the cultural moment...

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ChampionshipGlory16 Automaticslim 4
yes, an interesting comment. this is certainly the vogue at the moment, both the line breaks
and the chatty style - this model for poetry somehow seems to have become all-pervasive
while in my view being counter-productive to poetry in general. i think this reads as prose
rather than poetry - here is the work with the line breaks removed:

First of all, you will need to choose the correct blue to indicate water. This should not be too
watery. You must remember: people do not like wet feet. If there is no water to indicate, no
matter, you must still elect a blue. Let me recommend eggshell, at a push, azure. Choose a
symbol for church/temple/mosque/synagogue. Choose a symbol for pub. Dedicate your life to
the twin and warring gods of Precision and Wild Abandon. People do not like to be lost. Buy
Mandelbrot's 1967 paper on the coastline paradox, put it on the highest shelf – but get a
stepladder. Take a little licence with rivers, especially their curves and estuaries. Add an oxbow
lake if at all possible. If the area you are mapping has no seas/lakes/rivers/streams, I have to
question why you are bothering. You won't get to use that lovely blue you spent so long
deciding upon. Do the Norfolk fens instead. Better yet, East Anglia in its future state, quite
utterly submerged like a sodden Constable. Come on, get your coat, I'll show you. You won't
need your shoes.

Share Report

Automaticslim ChampionshipGlory16 1

Yes, but I think CR gives a nice account of the coastline-like enjambments in this particular
poem, and it's actually possible to do what you've done here with any piece of free verse (try it
with Prufrock, for example).

I'm not too interested in demarcating poetry from non-poetry - your prose version seems to
retain its poetry anyway, doesn't it? - but in the long-enjambed-lines-in-a-single-block as a
seemingly increasingly common prosodic choice. I'll confess. I'm not particularly keen on how
it looks on the page, and when the verse is as free as this there must be a number of
alternative choices, surely?

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