A Horizon Line: Flat Style in Contemporary Women’s Poetry

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This essay explores a contemporary mode of ‘flat style’ which is so overloaded – with feeling, language and detail – that it turns counter-intuitively into something numb and detached, which seems to shut down further discussion, and create impasse. It focuses on three books of poetry by women, published by Faber – Emily Berry’s Stranger, Baby (2017), Rachael Allen’s Kingdomland (2019), and Sophie Collins’s Who Is Mary Sue? (2018). While flat style takes different forms in Allen, Berry, and Collins, in all cases it refers to writing positioned in relation to confession or revelation, which performs its own indifference to how it is received. It involves causing (gendered) trouble by refusing the labour of responsiveness to its reader. For Collins, flat style involves intricate collation of details, blurring any subject out of vision. For Berry, it involves postures of poetic melodrama which state themselves ‘flatly’, without apology. Finally, in Allen’s Kingdomland, flat style involves a setting up, then dissolving, of lyric potential (its extroverted impulses towards apostrophe) to create an unsettling poetic always in conversation with the possibility of disappointment. Flat style now may hold itself aloof, may refuse intimacy, as a way of pre-empting, resisting and surviving an assumed readerly inattentiveness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)542-561
Number of pages20
JournalTextual Practice
Issue number4
Early online date10 Feb 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by The Leverhulme Trust: [grant number RF280059].

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • style
  • melodrama
  • flatness
  • embarrassment
  • affect


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