Cecily Nicholson, correspondence 1 – 4, 2020, photocollage.

Cecily Nicholson: a voice that will clamour

Presented as part of The Pandemic is a Portal

a voice that will clamour (2020) drafts poetry correspondence to extend from a so-called prison farm run by former inmates, to its missing labourers. Carceral architecture precludes humane distancing. To stem outbreaks of Covid-19 prisoners have been held in solitary conditions, refused visits, access to elders, chaplaincy and necessary programs. Waivers promised for the telephone system are not fully realized. Alterable factors and responsibilities for diminished mental health and deaths in custody are abundant.

From cultivated and ponded poetics four clefs incline in mutual will-o’-the-wisps and noise tremors, lifting 19” TVs and manual typewriters. Soil and irrigation the infrastructure rows.

a voice that will clamour unfolds over four sound works: 

correspondence 1

correspondence 2

correspondence 3

correspondence 4

Cecily Nicholson coordinates public and school programs with the Surrey Art Gallery and is part of the joint effort prison abolitionist group. She is the author of Triage (2011) and From the Poplars (2014), which won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Her most recent book, Wayside Sang (2017), won the Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry.

[Image descriptions: A series of four photocollages of a so-called prison farm created so seamlessly, that the only hint they are collages is their subtle surreality. The farm’s labourers have gone missing into more confinement, while the plants continue to grow in wide open expanses. Rain and rain clouds hint at freshness and new life while the eerie lack of human intervention reminds the viewer of the disruption caused by the pandemic.

[correspondence 1: The collage’s top half is within a greenhouse. A well-worn, wood-framed white board hangs against a dusty, semi-opaque, raindrop-splattered window. The white board is filled with black marker mapping out the crops within two greenhouses. Greenhouse #2!, on the left, has a modest number of long rows, a soil sifting area and a note to “Keep it clean, kids!” with hearts dotting each letter i. Greenhouse No. #1! 2019, on the right, has two rows of 15 tables each marked out, mostly growing greens. Planting dates are listed. The bottom half of the collage, the greenhouse white board floating over it, is a close-up of a lightly-rippling lake with sparse, puffy clouds and a mountain peak reflected. Only hints of shape and colour are visible beneath the water’s murky surface.

[correspondence 2: An ultra-close-up of weathered chicken wire fence in the foreground. At the centre is one hexagon of wire built by the junction of four lengths of wire, and the twists created as each wire passes the other to travel its journey to the next junction. Behind the fence, the image is blurred: a large hen house, one bag of feed resting against the exterior wall, and a solitary hen pecking at the dirt just outside the entry. The hen house is a fading fire engine red with a white gable, visually playing with the white hen and her red comb and wattle.

[correspondence 3: The field has been left to wild in this collage. The top third is an upside-down landscape with rolling hills in the background, then a stand of evergreen trees, and the foreground is green space on the farm, greenhouses and various small wooden buildings. The buildings are framed by one dark carved pole, and the base of another, made of pale wood. Grass and flowering weeds have been left to flourish. The centre third is filled with darkening rain clouds. At the bottom, a close-up of rows of beets, shot with the camera on the ground, focusing on the rich red stems and veiny green leaves of the beet tops. Filling the space between rows, grasses and weeds reach for life, already half as tall as the crops. Beyond the beets, the evergreen trees and long greenhouse from the top image can be seen, but no longer upside down.

[correspondence 4: The top two thirds are an ultra-close-up of a red lettuce leaf, taken from beneath. The leaf is dew-dropped, and sunlight penetrates the green segments, but not the red. The leaf is wide and ruffled, and it’s positioned as if it’s an awning protecting the camera from the sun for the second picture in the collage. The second picture, layered beneath the red lettuce, is a blurry wider shot of many rows of varieties of lettuce, round and full, at their prime for harvest. Between the rows, vibrant green ground cover. A lone figure wearing a hat stands amid the rows, gazing out across the field.]

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