Literature Review: Imagine an Image by Nottingham writer Teo Eve

Words: Rick Hall
Wednesday 11 October 2023
reading time: min, words

Experiments in language and image, meaning and visual form lie at the heart of a new collection of poetry, Imagine an Image, by Nottingham writer Teo Eve.

Following his successful debut publication The Ox House in 2022, Teo Eve has journeyed further into the landscape of word and image to create a playful, thought-provoking series of what I might venture to call ‘cultural pictograms’. The overriding impression from this collection is that delicious combination of surprise and delight.

There is a long tradition in poetry of blending visual form and language; from early Egyptian marks in clay or papyrus as hieroglyphs to Latin acrostics, the shape of the poem reflects an additional dimension of sense appreciation in the reader/viewer. In the early 17th century, George Herbert experimented with visual poetry, writing in shapes on the page - interestingly, Herbert was also an engraver so was adept at working across language and art boundaries. In the 20th century, ee cummings (who preferred the lower case for his name), experimented with both grammatical and typographical forms, using prepositions as nouns and punctuation as signs. 

In my youth, I was fascinated by two books by Leeds academics Eric Thacker and Anthony Earnshaw, Musrum and Wintersol; collections of rambling thoughts rather than narratives, with sometimes bizarre illustrations and typography, surreal and challenging, requiring focus and concentration for meaning to resolve (a little like a stereogram).

Building on these traditions and drawing on an erudite breadth of historical and cultural references, Teo Eve plays with layout and typography to great effect. Perhaps surprisingly, the graphic possibilities of employing different fonts are not a significant feature of the poems, but the positioning of words and letters is always intriguing.

Eve plays with individual letters, again with reference to the master of visual innovation, Picasso.

Teo Eve FINAL COVER I Imagine An Image Cover Art

Eve’s references to literary forebears are extensive and telling. Dante, Shelley and Carlos Williams are all interpreted in innovative forms. The homage to Shelley’s vast and trunkless legs of stone are rediscovered by Eve as a new traveller from an antique land. Words are patterned into the shape of the crumbling statue of Ozymandias in an internally referenced ‘meta textual monument of itself’.

Further into the experiment, Eve plays with individual letters, again with reference to the master of visual innovation, Picasso. One is reminded of Robert Indiana’s obsession with graphic form and fonts in his LOVE prints.  

We discover more of the poet’s methodology or fascination with signs and symbols in sequences referencing musical notation; and there is a wondrous homage to Magritte in the double page layout of Moustache - ‘Ceci n’est pas un poeme/image’. And in a reversal of expectation, but in a sublime acknowledgement of traditional form and his mastery thereof, Eve presents the reader with a pair of sonnets, perfect in metre and rhyme patterns. There are sequences of haiku too, again perfectly formed, but revealing Eve’s playful interest in technology, describing the series as ‘Automatic’ Haiku with subtle shifts of single words to create new meaning.

Some of my favourite poems are the simple expressions of love. In How Long Will I Love you And How, four words in boxes resonate through their subtle variations of layout. And connections with the natural landscape work especially well in the simplicity of a meandering stream of letters in Border Crossing and clouds of words in Pareidolia (Cloudscape) or word reversals in the evocative Seasons. Finally in my subjective selections, I was surprised and delighted by the poems that played with the concept of palindromes and reflections. There is a telling shift of perception on the value of art in Reflections, and the two poems dedicated to the skill of Palindromists signal a potentially rich seam of further invention.

Two final reflections: I was not able to review a print version of Imagine an Image, and I was thus at a slight disadvantage reading from a screen rather than a physical copy. It will be essential to ‘buy the book’, which I strongly recommend, as readers will want to shift and turn the page, especially where text runs in different directions and layout across two pages is an integral part of the poem.

My other thought is that the most profound works of art not only surprise and delight but then plant insights that connect with our deeper humanity. We seek resonance and what Teo Eve offers in Imagine an Image is a series of provocations that excite our visual and intellectual imaginations. It is a collection of intriguing images to be relished and enjoyed.

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