Painting the Poet: Chords of Inquiry by Anna Loughran

Only a dark cocoon, before I get my gorgeous wings
and I fly away. Only a phase, these dark café days.”
— Joni Mitchell 
‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’

Chords of Inquiry, Anna Loughran. The Lifeboat Press, £6.50


What better way to start a pamphlet of poems than with the knowledge that chords of inquiry is a term Joni Mitchell coins in place of a suspended chord (i.e. when a major or minor third is omitted in place of a perfect fourth). A carefully chosen title, I think, given the poems to follow. Something that piqued my (musical) ears regarding this title is the potential for a suspension to not resolve itself; this tension is the clay Anna Loughran uses to sculpt poems. For sure, in Joni’s vein, these poems have a question mark skating through the pamphlet as a whole. An at once serious, moody question mark and in another shade, a light, playfully inquisitive one.

The first poem gives the pamphlet its title – tensions abound. The poet queries “what is left behind/ when the water ebbs” and a linguistic gap in “silent” waves.
In a sequence of somewhat impregnable images, the poetic voice questions its own provenance. Perhaps between being washed to shore, with a fresh step, “or did I crawl from below to free/ myself from the weight of the water?”. The poem pacifies itself with concluding life is not so simplistically understood as the sea, as the waves that come to land. The voice in this poem identifies itself, in the final quatrain as a spectral figure, as the transient minor third of this poem’s chord (which will be soon transposed to a perfect fourth). With this ringing resonance, the poet invests a critical importance onto ‘examination’, in finding a grain or two within the specific, turning inward.

            “                      on most days mirrors
reflect a ghost. i am the ghost and
haunted by it. i am the voice i hide
and i survive through examination.”

‘another investigation’, the following poem, tenderly, depicts the speaker in dialogue with photographs of a younger self, pre-coming out. A private-eyeness, that is, an unabated curiosity is immediately apparent to the reader. Loughran spins genuinely touching lines out of a dialogue with a photo. There is a light-heartedness here (in what could very easily be seen as an ephemeral stage pre-understanding and self-knowledge), a conspiratorial notion with Loughran and her younger self.
no one knew anything”. Loughran rehearses their concerns with convention not only in this poem, but throughout the collection of poems; a sometime nervy poetic ‘I’ tonally dominates in these segments.

“like the others, i avoid eye contact
          and make sure to play my part as written.”
– from ‘Whiplash

A long sequence ‘the arts of beauty’ forms the spine of Chords of Inquiry, consisting of five poems (i. a handsome form, ii. paints and powders, iii. a beautiful face, iv. beauty of dress, v. importance of hair as an ornament) engaging with the (easily overlooked or, perhaps having its significance too easily dismissed) act of self-presentation. These five various arts are transformative; the poet puts contemporary swings on what could be on first glance, from titles at least, quite archaic things or concerns. The third poem in the sequence considers an online dating app, presumably Tinder or the likes. The “cold solace” of these brief encounters with the beautiful faces that are swiped to and fro begs the question of why this, “just being!” presents such comfort.

Just being, is an apt conclusion to this brief wrangling with Anna Loughran’s Lifeboat pamphlet. For sure, the lack of resolution in some of these poems, in some of Loughran’s chords, pique our ears to hear what progression is to follow.


About the Author:

Anna Loughran recently graduated from Queen’s University of Belfast. Her poems have appeared in the Tangerine. Chords of Inquiry, her debut pamphlet, was published in 2018 by the Lifeboat Press. @anna_loughran @The_Lifeboat

Read more about the Lifeboat here & peruse some of their other pamphlets:
The Lifeboat website

(I have written on Susannah Dickey’s pamphlet I had some very slight concerns, also published by The Lifeboat, here: Thoughts on Susannah Dickey)

Best, always,



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