I first came across Ella Frears’ work in Tate, St Ives gallery. She is a young, Cornish, poet (now based in London) who has been ‘poet in residence’ at St Ives for a couple of years. I was entranced by her observations about exhibits in the gallery in 2019 when I was in God’s Own County on holiday, and dragged my brother round the Hepworths. Then I met her work again in 2020 when, between lockdowns, I made a dash for the Naum Gabo exhibition at Tate, St Ives. This time I saw her first collection for sale in the bookshop, and invested.
Frears writes powerfully about sexual relationships: what she feels about them and what she observes about them. I was astonished how her experiences of puberty, sexual encounters in her twenties, and her relationship with her body mirrored my own – despite me being old enough to be her grandmother. Perhaps it was just that I too (still) remember sand getting into unwanted places. Perhaps she really does have the gift of being able to write about Everywoman. I don’t want to get into the sexual politics of this (and risk poking the sleeping dragon of #MeToo). Read her wise (and foolish) words and learn something about yourself in the process. The title poem is about leaving her partner stuck on the roof during a dinner party (yes really). And wow did it resonate: I have had a few partners of my own who would have been much more attractive stuck on the roof … but how do you proceed when you’ve brought back the ladder and let the blighter down?
In this collection are most of the observations (mainly poetry, some prose poems, some tiny fragments) from Tate St Ives. These are very rich, whether you saw the visual art to which they relate or not.
There is also material here from her association with the Cassini space probe project. One of these – the Elegy – juxtaposes the death of the probe with the violent death of a dog. Tremendously powerful. Do not read on a full stomach.
Frears feels like a fearless poet, prepared to tackle anything – and she has the confidence and a full arsenal of poetical techniques to enable her to do so. The results are fresh, vibrant and sometimes visceral.
I read a lot of recent poetry and I have never read anything quite like this.