The Getting of Vellum

Posted by on Thursday, September 8th, 2005

Catherine Byron’s The Getting of Vellum is a narrow book of verse.  I’ve read it over and over again over the last few months.  The poems contained in the book were written largely in the late 1990s, and several of them circle around the poet’s collaboration with calligrapher and artist Denis Brown, for which Byron received an Arts Council of England Writer’s Award in 1997.  Byron becomes hide-obsessed somewhere before the book begins, and returns to the idea throughout.  It’s unsettling to some readers, I guess, but as a long-time leather-worker, I was fascinated to read another’s reaction to learning about skinning and preparing animal hides for use. 

I am, of course, frustrated that I missed the exhibitions of the Byron/Brown works.  Thankfully, there is some of Byron’s mixed media work available online and also here.  I’m a bit addicted to projects like these, and have been since Triur Ban and later An Leabhar Mor.  It wakes something up in me to see poetry meet visual media and craft in such a way. 

Like many contemporary writers, Byron also turns to intimate subjects.   I don’t feel any shock for shock’s sake in her work, though.  Her writings on sex and conception depart so clearly from the hashed-over pap I keep finding in university poetry magazines.  I hope they find her.  I hope they get it. 

I hope you read this.

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