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Not Fox Nor Axe

2016 - Shortlisted


Judges' comments

This debut collection consolidates the work of a strong new poetic voice. A miscellany of quirky observations and meditations, Not Fox Nor Axe takes its inspiration from a range of historical objects and people — from the tricoteuses (the sometimes unruly women of the French Revolution who as spectators knitted in between executions), a daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson, various depictions of Judith slaying Holofernes, Tchaikovsky’s office, the protective clothing worn by plague doctors in the Middle Ages and Lady Jane Grey writing to her sister on the eve of her execution. In these miniature historiographic experiments, fired by an indefatigable curiosity and voyeuristic intimacy, the macabre rubs shoulders with the exuberant as history and its subjects are inhabited searchingly and sometimes irreverently.

Wilson reanimates literary and artistic canons, offering up new conversations with King Lear, Persephone, Rapunzel, Miss Havisham and Lady Macbeth, restless characters who haunt us, demanding that we reconnect with them afresh. Wilson writes with an exacting and wry sense of humour, forging linkages across time and space to remind us of the dense materiality of the world and the ways in which we take hold of its history and make it our own. The world of things and their mysterious lives beckon us in Not Fox Nor Axe, leading us into the labyrinth of poetic enquiry with its rich storehouse of knowledge. Deft inflections of rhyme and immaculate phrasing show an assuredness of craft which make this an impressive first collection and Chloe Wilson a writer to watch.