[Review] The Shipwrecked House – Claire Trevien

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The Shipwrecked House, by Claire Trévien, is full of treasure. Eclectic in form and word-play, this collection takes us down to the ocean floor and sends waves crashing into the home, while whales play under the floorboards. Rich in imagery, musicality and wit – surreal maritime visions that sing of myth and magic.

I read the collection in Oxford, miles from any beach, but finished it with a sense of having been by the sea, and having perhaps even read bits of it under water. This owes in part to the hallucinatory quality of Trévien’s poems – her soundscapes and density of imagery, along with her scattering of surrealism, which encourages the imagination down to sea. Those qualities grow with time too, calling you back to the page so you can reread them.

Now your voice falls like a coin to the ocean’s floor
and the house is dragged apart by the fractures
of your smiles — the thought of its absence echoes
unbelievably — our breath opens like a stiff drawer.
(From The Shipwrecked House II, After Frank O’Hara)

As though capturing the many moods of water, The Shipwrecked House mixes tense domestic scenes, moments of violence and loss with those of merriment and light. There are powerfully conjuring lines like ‘My mother twists her ring like a weathervane, east to west; still the sun refuses to set’; while in poems like Entrepreneurs or Poem in Which You Ask How You Can Tell Real Pearls from High Quality Fakes, For Lucy, which opens with ‘Ultimately does it matter if the pearls are real or not?’  – the tone changes again to playful and witty. The eclectic nature of the collection along with Trévien’s experimental use of form and style make it all the more enjoyable.

Comparison’s have been made to Angela Carter and Arthur Rimbaud, which feel fitting, and The Shipwrecked House has quite rightly already been longlisted for the Guardian’s First Book Award 2013. Overall, this feels like a startlingly clear-voiced collection for a debut, one that suggests we will be reading much more of Claire Trévien’s unique voice in the future.



Review by Tara Wheeler, poet and journalist, based between Oxford and London.

Claire Trévien is a poet and performer based in Oxford, and co-founder of Verse Kraken. Her collection The Shipwrecked House is out now, published by Penned in the Margins.
Claire will be performing on November 23rd at Interrobang Festival in Clerkenwell.

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