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Wear the anklet as a mask

Nia Davies


1.    Separation: conditions of the ritual poem 


This ritual begins with strange literature festival. Roald Dahl is brought back to life and the audience faints; a line of sweet dancing girls makes us cry. A TV screen is wheeled in. It resembles the machines we would watch at school in the AV room. Its screen bears the black and white close up of a tongue sticking out. Closer and closer we move into the image of the tongue on the screen. We are beamed into the canyons of the tongue. 

After waking from this dream at my parents’ house, I find the anklet my mother acquired in India in the 1970s. I would play with this belled anklet in these rooms when I was a child. Today it recalls the grey tongue in the dream screen. 

It makes a good costume to wear over the mouth. 

As I handle this object the experiment forms: writing in costume / semi-mask. The proposal the dream offers is to wear this anklet as a mask and improvise / write. As usual I begin with collage and run through a bodily warming, the repetition of words and actions. The time brackets are tight: three minutes on, three minutes off. Even so, endurance is at play, Tim Etchells’ words ‘going too far’ are in my mind. 

The movement I make is a gasp in, a whole tensing intake of breath an ‘oh’ with the lips closing around the sound to make it ‘ahm.’ Or is it an ‘oam’ or ‘aum’? Hands tense, the shoulders curve in on each. Upon repetition, I find the need to breathe out: a rhythm of four big swallows and a big out breath. The top half of my body rhythmically tenses in the sound, the bathroom fan is humming and it resonates with the sound emerging out of me. The in, the in, the in. I start feeling faint and wobbly, a head blood rush speed up the wobble the high or is it lack or too much oxygen.  

What exactly is hyperventilating? Now might not be the moment to ask, but it is only three minutes... I cannot wait for it to be over, a little movement or action a pause. I try one breath in one big out. Three minutes expand like never before. Finally, the alarm goes; I must give myself 3 minutes rest on the floor. Here my internal voice returns, I think of recent conversations I have had about rest. That urge: one cannot just lie here, resting is hard. Earlier today I wondered if the thing I’m calling ritual poetry is just giving oneself a rest? A pause from the desperate rush for production… 



2.    Liminality/Poesis 


The Oam is a signal we swallow. It is a raft of air, that is an internal burst of oxygen. It is creaturely and it pours out of us on a fourth iteration. Back out the shoulders push it. It is a mini spirit, an inspiration, a spiri inspired. Then it must be expired and as it is, it passes into us as an irrigation of oxygen.  

What if each bodily function were a deity or a goblin or a creature and this formed a round ball like the Borg of Peer Gynt, or in this case the creature of hot dry carpet air coming into my lung frame. I am a frame for this ball of inspiration,  

yr awelon o awen (heh) 

Granular muses in and out.   

Transpiration – moving across a point towards syncope.    

Opening out between breaths? I think about collapsing and dying which is what I felt in the trance in that seminar room in East London in the Euridice jam. 

Now for the swallow with the costume tongue on. Downstairs my parents are preparing food. I am fortunate to have their vessel for this strange fear. 

3 minutes in and laughing at the image of myself in the mirror. The anklet worn over the mouth looks like fetish wear. The ritual of dressing up – putting on and off restraints or adornment. The liminality of carnival, a subspace. 

But there is another side to this object on my face. This anklet/mask also recalls bondage in its violent sense: mouth pieces, tongue bits and enslavement. Women in bondage as signalled by the anklet, in some parts and times. Now it is in my mouth and I breath. Three in, one out again hard. I don’t feel faint this time.  

But then a ‘thing’ happens when I lie down to rest. Gravity sucks the chain into my mouth and I am holding it in my teeth.  

My father calls me to say food is ready and I call back something with no contours. I worry about tetanus, poisoning, from the metal, an allergic reaction on the inside of my mouth. And I think about those forced to wear metal. Then my teeth start to chatter and the metal crunches. The movement of the jaw happens without my choosing, beginning to tremble without control.  

In the slimmest of time intervals, I have had reminder of a violence. We play at something dark sometimes, a dark game that is resemblance. Play is not the real of enforcement, it is just a brief embodiment. This is the work of the actor. But this ‘going too far’ allows a wild surge as the body lurches.  

Even so, I am still lucid so I get up and go to the mirror, my chain mouth still chattering. My parents are calling me again. The mirror image of my face. I film it. It looks terrible; the chain pulls over my top lip.  

Only twenty minutes has passed. Tea is pea and ham and parsley sauce and potatoes from the allotment. This is a very good threshold meal. 


3.    Dys-integration 


From the jumble of metal against teeth, words of any kind,  

One pressed out the bone limits by bile // who was it 

a culpability, a winning, a young invertebrate, a helmet that is a shell  

I wondered about here in this liminal, on those upper limits of atomic patter, some hedge-topia of poetics, some haven?  

And down here in dys-used-topia  

a hogen/merch/bodan/eneth/roces was standing on the pasture or was it

coke, a coke pile before the war or was it after the big bang.  

Matter was always locked and fixed ready to burn; it falls apart to atoms and quarks, that is to say there are waves propelling. I find one of the pieces of the past in this narrative, fragmented.  

Peopled with ghosts this smoking world, their shoes unfixed to the floor.  They come closer and a crowd gathers gently chanting in a murmur that jumped from one shore to another, from one mouth to another, a chant from another transition. The elderly enslaved people, Trinidad 1834, at the point of ‘abolition’ and on being told they must do another six years of ‘apprenticeship’ they began chanting, “Pas de six ans. Point de six ans” 


Atom        who is this baroque language of human         

a girl on a coke pile in Fochriw 

atom and atom focused          some freedom to play 

one of the atoms came by them,  was a piece from a bigger piece dismantled sequentially // one wanted – 

to be reassembled, re- assembled, re-sembled 



A mask perhaps of chain, perhaps a sheet of fine chain placed over the mouth, but not restricting only obscuring speech, somehow alluring oneself, somehow tonguing oneself; restraint when consented not to speak until, and then this consent may be given to restrict us in freedom, then this gesture is a gesture of force not the force of force, but the force of resembling other forces, so you can hear the elders chanting: not six years, over six years, and then this year 

atoms knit then fall away, asking when does a metaphor become its subject? What is the threshold between playing bondage and bondage? What is play and when is it not? When is it going too far? 



4.    Poesis 



Wear the anklet as a mask 


To speak through the chain veil

to speak through the mesh

to speak through the anklet

to speak through the manacle

to speak through the headdress

to speak through the bit

to speak through the limit

to speak through the tang

to speak through clusters of crunch, a little zinc or magnesium

to speak through a metaphorical manacle that gestures remind us of

to speak through fortune if that is to know what I have not known

to speak through the fortune of play, to play with the not knowing

to speak through this jiggling movement of the teeth on the baubles of metal and realise

a fear to speak through and write

to not write of it as something more or less than it was

to not write at all

to move in sympathy and speak through sympathy

to speak or write through only one position that is not to speak for others

to listen whilst speaking in the costume

to find out who is speaking

to see the vision of self in mirror reminded one of an other

to work with that mirror other 

so then what is costume then ?

is costume metonymy or metaphor ? 

how to even consider playing another person ?  

suppose the costume allows the playing in the subspacetime  

suppose the mask is more than costume  

what is costume and playing and ‘going too far’ ? 

what is costly in costume ? 

what headache does the costume produce and what does it cost ? 

can the costume itself speak and does it cost to speak ?

does it costumise me to consider the other wearers of the mask I have metonymically mimicked by accident ? 

suppose the mouth sounds so terrible to itself it started to feel so terrible, so that I longed for peas and ham and a good chest of hair to lean on

suppose there is one who is locked in a spacetime of sub, and has consented to be left there  

suppose there is another one who is locked in a spacetime of dark and has not consented to be left there 

is it metaphor or metonymy that links them?

the costume also depends on where one is standing, is it inside or outside?

moving into the tongue in the film was different to moving into the tongue metaphor an object could be a metonymy for enslavement and for playtime

I suppose the discomfort of that contrast

consider the comfort of the contrast of peas & ham & parsley sauce vs the discomfort of what was glimpsed in the costume

the costume left bits in my face, in my mouth

the discomfort of the chain on the top lip, a threshold

the chattering of the mask

the brief taste of metal, brief tang of an other pain

Nia Davies is a poet and researcher experimenting with embodied practice and performance. Her second collection of poems Votive Mess is published by Bloodaxe in October 2024. Her previous publications include All fours (Bloodaxe, 2017) and editorship of the international journal Poetry Wales (2014 – 2019). She lives in Abertawe/Swansea where she works as an interdisciplinary researcher and co-curates the Nawr experimental event series. 


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