First, find a poet who’s on top of her craft, who is researching something compelling that’s been lost in time and change, where the emerging questions are serious and joy-filled, and the answers birth ever more questions…
When we asked Catherine Edmunds for an endorsement of Mandy Pannett’s new book,The Wulf Enigma, her response started with the line, you’ve never read anything like this before.
And if you think that’s just hyperbole, please bear in mind that when we came to register the book, I went through all 107 pages of “Book Industry Communication Standard Subject Categories & Qualifiers” and just couldn’t find any genre that would cut it. When I asked at Nielsen (the ISBN people) they plumped for ‘period novel’ but it’s not entirely set in the past, and nor is it a novel – despite the fact that you come out the other end with an epic-novel-sized new world in your head, complete with fully rounded characters whose life-stories you now most definitely know and care about.
There might be some justification in calling it ‘post modern’ but no, I refuse. The Wulf Enigma is far more reader-friendly than your average post-modern not-really-a-novel – it doesn’t keep ejecting you – you can settle into it with unchallenged enjoyment, you learn more than should be possible in so few pages, and you have more fun.
Another reviewer, Caron Freeborn, called it ‘metafiction’. That I can live with. The Wulf Enigma is fiction, only more so – and more than – and informative about.
But then I found out what it was, whilst reading about something else entirely, and I was very happy, because that’s the way my life always goes. One thing leads to multiple others, and just when the mass threatens to collapse into chaos, all the threads prove to have woven together into something marvellous.
Mandy Pannett has written a hyperbolic plane
I was reading Invisible Women – a book all about what you lose when you only consider one kind of people, or one kind of skill set or (for the purpose of this situation) one kind of writing. In Invisible Women, author Caroline Criado Perez tells a tale of a mathematician struggling to produce a model of a hyperbolic plane – struggling until one of his students, who happened to be female, with typical female skills, looked at it in terms of a crochet problem.
What happens, she thought, if you stitch more stitches into every stitch you stitch as you’re stitching? The answer is, this does.
And that reminded me of….
Have you ever tried to write a dream diary? I mean a serious, accurate record of everything you dream? It’s easy at first, because you can’t remember much. Then you get better at remembering, and the dreams you remember feel like epic movies – whole novelfuls of alternative living that you’ve done, and you find that writing the diary takes up pages and pages, and an unacceptable amount of your day because – you know what? Not only do dreams not have beginnings, but they are perfectly capable of running off down all the side-alleys of possibility – often all at once. It’s only boring old daytime reality that has one beginning, one middle and one end.
Only poets should attempt to write dream diaries. The cover of The Wulf Enigma carries an image of a synaptic flash – if such an idea is logical at all, it is a photograph of a thought being thought. In dream state, as each scenario unfolds, there are choices – there are glances across the hippocampus into all the forkings of the ways, flash after synaptic flash – but not necessarily one at a time – until a resolution is found that suits the psyche. That’s why a dream is never as neatly recordable as linear, mundane reality.
So if you speculate – accurately, meticulously and responsibly – on a poem (or is it a song, or is it a riddle) that was written so long ago that academics are capable of disagreeing on the meaning of just about every word, you could be lost in an avalanche of chaos or you could, if you’re an experienced crochet-maker, or a capable writer, be the first person ever to keep control and write a hyperbolic plane – well, the second person really. If on a winter’s night a traveller carried the idea but I’m not convinced that really was a viable plane (you didn’t feel as though you knew and loved the novel you hadn’t just read), so I reckon Mandy Pannett is the first.
The Wulf Enigma is only 82 pages long but, because the author has stitched an extra stitch into any place there could be a stitch, and despite the complexity, managed to write a well-controlled, page-turning whole, you come out knowing the times and the places, the sights, sounds and smells, of when Ely was what it was when the author visited, and what it had been centuries before, and the river and the abbey and the people who were there once, and were what they were in peace, and when the warriors from the longships did what they did, and you come out knowing the characters, both residents and invaders, so well that you want to go back and meet them in a sequel which, you hope, will be 1900 pages long like this first epic …… wasn’t.
If you know what I mean, try it.
If you don’t know what I mean, try it!
Mandy Pannett will be judging this year’s Earlyworks Press Poetry Competition.