Arts Reviews

“Unique Experimentation”- Poetry Review: The Ox House By Teo Eve

Hannah Walton-Hughes

The Ox House is a collection of imaginative poems by a University of Nottingham alumnus, Teo Eve, due to be released in July this year. Eve attended the University as a student of BA English and MA English Studies, graduating in 2018 and 2020 respectively, and contributed to Impact during his time there. Penteract Press are publishing the collection; the founders and runners of this publishing company are also Nottingham alumni. The collection is described by Eve as a ‘love letter to the letters of the alphabet’, which attempts to ‘reinstate the ancient belief in the inherently magical powers of the written word’. English with Creative Writing student, Hannah Walton-Hughes, reviews. 

The Ox House is unlike any poetry book/collection that I have read before. It certainly is a tribute to the individual letters of the alphabet, and also to how they all work with each other. It very much feels like a collection of unique experimentation, with different visual choices used for each letter. There are also a great deal of links back to the original Ancient Greek letters/symbols/hieroglyphs, confirmed by the postscript at the end of the anthology, helping to enforce ideas about the alphabet as being something of constancy. 

It very much feels like a collection of unique experimentation, with different visual choices used for each letter

The front cover itself is intriguing and ancient. The individual letters are very much the focus, and the half-finished colour drawing of an ox immediately introduces a theme that runs throughout the entirety of the book: the idea of imperfect thoughts and unconventionality. Despite the collection been called The Ox House, the actual phrase only crops up a few times, but is nonetheless ever-present. 

Structurally, I found it very interesting how the letters ‘A’ and ‘Z’ not only top and tailed the collection by their place in the alphabet, but also by their content. These two poems were my two favourites: ‘A’ introduced the idea of letters as living things; describing them as ‘characters on a stage’ and ‘26 harmonies’, personifying them in a way that emphasised how they all play a key part in our language. ‘Z’ on the other hand, talks about grammar as ‘grounding us to the earth of Earth’, and finishes with a very conventional line, ‘the end’. 

What does fascinate me in contradiction to the apparent ‘grounding’ that these letters have, is Eve’s choice to insert a question mark, and nothing else, on the page immediately after ‘Y’ but before ‘Z’. This suggests uncertainty, and could almost be interpreted as representing another letter that may enter the alphabet in the future! Furthermore, the ending is very ambiguous; it consists of a Greek symbol and a & sign, suggesting that there is more than what is on the page, linking to the overarching  idea of the power of language/writing: it has no limits. 

I really enjoyed how some of the poems linked very obviously to the letter that they were representing. For example, ‘B’ uses an extremely visually pleasing form, repeatedly writing the word ‘box’ to make the shape of a square, and finally ending up with the word ‘ox’ at the bottom. Furthermore, the letter ‘Q’ is immediately followed by important questions that we can consider about language and speech, such as ‘when to review what language is dead?’ Each question is bullet pointed by the letter ‘Q’, which I feel interestingly makes us, as readers, consider how much we really know about the English Language. Another of my favourite letters is ‘I’: Eve successfully constructs a whole poem with words only beginning with ‘I’, and yet, somehow, manages to make the whole poem make sense and be coherent! 

interestingly makes us, as readers, consider how much we really know about the English Language

Despite this, there are many of the poems which appear to have no link whatsoever to the letter with which they are titled. For example, the letter ‘D’ merely titles a poem written entirely in a different language, with no repetition of the primary letter for which it is named. This suggests a significantly deeper meaning to Eve’s writing. 

There is very little punctuation throughout this collection; this creates the sense of a stream of consciousness from the poet. I always enjoy this way of constructing poetry, and it is highly effective in this case. The poem under letter ‘F’, for instance, is simply experimenting with the different fonts with which you can write the word ‘Font’, with no other apparent deeper meaning, leading to the feeling that the poem is allowing Eve’s interests and emotions to drive his writing. Complexity does not always lead to accessibility and enjoyment. 

I always enjoy this way of constructing poetry, and it is highly effective in this case

There are almost what I would describe as cheeky touches thrown into a few of the poems, such as the letter ‘K’, which is flipped on its side in the poem, in order to visually illustrate the phrase above it: ‘an offering from an outstretched hand.’ Linking to what the poet says about poetry encompassing ‘music’ in its overall form, Eve chooses to introduce mnemonics into his poem ‘M’, using the ‘Mmmmm’ sound, to add something of a hum to the writing. 

Overall, I found this a highly unique collection of poetry, which really did bring ‘personality’ and history to the letters of the alphabet that we so often take for granted. Teo Eve has really created something highly original, that challenges the reader, and personifies letters, demonstrating how they are central to our lives, our speech, and our writing. 

Hannah Walton-Hughes

Featured image courtesy of Teo Eve. No changes made to this image. Permission to use granted to Impact.

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