The Hole Truth
Ella Frears

I’m happiest writing when I have a structure. For the last six-ish years I’ve written the bulk of my poems while undertaking residencies. This means that every 4-6 months I have to shift focus and write about something different - a stately home, an exhibition, a river, a bus route, a rare species of moss, a spacecraft… It wouldn’t work for everyone, but I enjoy being taken somewhere I wouldn’t have gone otherwise, learning about a niche subject, talking to the people who occupy that space and who are deeply passionate about that thing, before returning to my desk, to ask myself how I feel about it all.

I’m currently Writer in Residence at The John Hansard Gallery in Southampton. One of the exhibitions I’ve been asked to respond to is My Crazy Family Golf, a crazy golf course made by artist Lisa Watts and her father. It’s a brilliant piece of work about family relationships, illness, nostalgia, and play. I decided that instead of writing about crazy golf explicitly, I would write a series of poems about holes (and maybe one about windmills, the classic adversary of the crazy golfer). The poems here are from that sequence.

Often my research for a poem leads me down an internet rabbit hole. For this project I’ve googled things like – ‘how many holes does a human have?’ ‘What is thrown down a murder hole?’ ‘Can a knight knight a knight?’ Also ‘can I take antihistamines that are 5 years expired?’ but that wasn’t for a poem.

One of the other artworks in the gallery was a film by Morgan Quaintance (Missing Time), which included some archival footage of a war veteran receiving medical hypnosis. I began watching videos of hypnotists – on stage, giving Ted Talks, on beaches, in caravan parks etc. A lot of the comments under the videos were creepy. Things like: ‘imagine how many girlfriends he can have’ and ‘hypnotise a girl to love you.’ One comment though, intrigued me – ‘now hypnotise a hypnotist to hypnotise you.’

There’s a collective hunger for seeing things come full circle. The internet is vast and unwieldy and it makes sense that people might feel the urge to watch some of those disparate strands tied up. A game completing itself.

I often feel something similar while writing. Like a chiropractor chiropracting a chiropractor – I manipulate a poem and the poem manipulates me back. Just as a black hole can bend and warp the fabric of space, weird things happen to memory, reality and truth when they enter a poem. Sometimes I resist the urge to tie it all up, or to bring it round so far that it eats its own tail and becomes a meta-poem. But other times it’s interesting to let it.

It turns out any research into holes quickly leads to the word ‘donut.’ According to the internet straws are donuts, sewing needles are donuts, the human is a seven-holed donut. The hole is an ontological parasite – it can’t exist without the hole surround i.e. what that hole is a lack of. Reading about this, and about topologists who look at the underlying structures of objects rather than what they’re made of, I began thinking about the relationship between the lyric I and the ‘you’ of a poem.

I’ve long been fascinated by the ‘self’ in poetry and how pliable it is. It occurred to me that if topologically a mug and a picture frame are the same, then the ‘I’ and the ‘you’ of my poems are also differently moulded versions of the same self.
Ella Frears is a poet and artist originally from Cornwall, based in London. Her collection Shine, Darling (Offord Road Books, 2020) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry.

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