Issue 19: Helen Tookey

Hotel Apostrophe

Apostrophe. 1. Rhet. A figure of speech, by which a speaker or writer suddenly stops in his discourse, and turns to address pointedly some person or thing, either present or absent; an exclamatory address.

As though the ordinary business of being a hotel were the discourse, which has suddenly been abandoned, the notional hotel turning instead to address us.

Everything points to it, from the moment we step through the opening in the wall marked Accès piéton. The huge tree with three branches of equal thickness, as though suggesting three different ways, but there is only the one way, down the concrete steps through the broken passageway. High on the concrete wall, some kind of flywheel, no longer possibly connected to anything. The overgrown courtyard, the loggia thick with ivy, the blank spaces of missing windows. All of this, a sort of preliminary address –

some person or thing, either present or absent –

We are not the absent ones. Certainly, though, there is an absence. Everything remarks upon it, indeed insists upon it. On the veranda, the rows of armchairs and occasional tables, carefully provided with coasters and ashtrays for possible drinks and cigarettes. In the downstairs hall, the display cabinet, mahogany, glass-fronted, lined with yellow satin, displaying nothing. On the landing, the mirror, gilt-framed, propped on the rosewood sewing-machine table (maker’s name, Opel,elegantly incorporated into the wrought iron framework supporting the table, that is, Adam Opel of Rüsselsheim, engineer first of sewing-machines, having witnessed with his own eyes this new technology in Paris in 1858 and been possessed of both the visionary imagination and the engineering acumen to realise its potential, latterly persuaded by his five sons into the more modern business of the design and manufacture of bicycles, and Adam Opel AG eventually – but Adam himself long dead by this point – coming to be known for the design and manufacture of automobiles) – the mirror carefully angled to reflect only the blank yellowish space of the opposite wall

– and returning to the veranda with its rows of empty armchairs, this time we notice the metalwork objects placed in the window-niches, suggesting something of creatures, something of clocks, but not exactly either: some kind of serious toys, as though of a watchmaker who doesn’t want to tell the hours, an astronomer who doesn’t want to see the stars –


a single female figure

a single woman

the elderly woman

the five men

the listening woman

the reader

the solitary woman

the woman

the woman

two women

a piano standing against the wall

a sofa standing up against the back wall

a table that has been set up for the occasion

the building on the other side of the street

the empty rooms

the four round prints

the slightly tilted rocking chair

the table, which is not surrounded by chairs

the two legs of the piano closest to the wall

apparently completely closed in on herself

entirely calm and self-absorbed

gathered around a table in the dusk

in a diagonal position

in reality without meaning

just in front of the piano


more or less absorbed in their own thoughts

purged of disturbing elements

quite motionless

quite neutral

so far from the window

stopped in the midst of her movements

unwilling to accept this choice

no direct contact

no explanatory context

no function in the middle of the room

no hint of who has sent the letter

no impression of where the doors lead

no options

no symbolic meaning

no visible action

no way out of the room

Text collaged from Kasper Monrad, ‘Intense Absence’, in Hammershøi and Europe (Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen/Prestel Verlag, Munich, 2012).

What Can We Still Do

Do you remember our first telephone conversations?

Do you remember how you always despaired a little?

Perhaps you could try to send me an invitation?

How far away or how close are you?

Would you still accept it now?

Try it, write to me, ask me!

What does that mean anyway – ‘somewhere in Paris’?

And would you want to see me?

Let me know if receiving more letters might help!

Do you think you would be able to come to Austria this winter?

Or would you rather come to Paris?

Perhaps we should meet in Zurich?

Tell me how you feel about it!

And also tell me what you are doing and thinking!

And do not worry too much!

Can I expect you? Or can I not?

In any case, why America?

Do you know what I mean by that?

Will you send me the translations?

Could you write to me at the Kirchgasse address?

If only we could see each other!

Did the little calendar and the two notebooks arrive?

Say something about the events in the train to Frankfurt.

Be good to me!

Can you really not write to me?

You should, you must write to me.

Will you understand me nonetheless?

The answers I could not think of on the telephone – you remember?

In the winter, in Frankfurt?

Do I have to explain why?

Could we not join hands here and exchange a few words?

Could I come soon and help you find a lamp?

What can we still do? Tell me.

Text collaged from Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan, Correspondence (trans. Wieland Hoban; New York: Seagull, 2010) 

Helen Tookey lives in Liverpool. Her debut collection Missel-Child was published by Carcanet in 2014, and her pamphlet In the Glasshouse by HappenStance in 2016. She is currently working on a second collection for Carcanet. Helen has collaborated with musician Sharron Kraus and sound-artist Martin Heslop; a CD with Sharron, If You Put Out Your Hand, was published by Wounded Wolf Press in 2016, and she is working on new collaborative pieces with Martin. His mixes of some of her poems are available here and as part of the Poettrio Experiment project.