Clare Crossman reviews ‘The Shadow Factory’ by Deborah Harvey



The title of this collection is taken from a poem with that name in the book.

Was it night fall or the sun eloping with a cloud?
No one knew for sure but whatever the cause
the shadow factory vanished.

The poem in its entirety is about the demolition and dereliction ‘rubble and broken glass’ and the loss to the people of the workforce. It speculates on where the shadow factory is now and within that metaphor, has a real felt and elegiac tone, adding to a collection which always seems to acknowledge the edge lands in our lives and the power of thought and wonder.

Personal memories and poems of memory permeate. They surface in contemporary moments, as in Glebe Lands, a poem about moving house:

‘Once we’ve decamped here, unpacked our lives … we’ll start to overlay this street with I’m-late-for-work …  I’ll show you the shortcut through the lane you’ll call a snicket……

but always abuts against the past:

But for now I’m holding my grandmother’s hand,
She’s wearing a hat hedgehogged with hatpins
a smile to wide to jump

Also on this theme are The Future Tense about learning French in school and The Invisible Man about a relative who has lost touch with his sister. These are people who are looked at slant, to quote Emily Dickinson. We find detailed portraits.

There is a beautiful sequence, Black Seeds A wreath of sonnets, which recalls the death of a father, where again the poems move fluidly between the present and the past.

You tell fibs about your fluid intake
scrabble for your medals in the tin by the bed

… this one’s the Africa Star
the ribbon’s yellow for sand in the desert
the red is for the blood

When I was six I’d practise being dead
spread-eagled like a cowboy on the front room carpet
toe over toe for my crucifixion
my head drooped decorously to one side

My favourite is My father is singing Rev Eli Jenkins’ prayer over the phone. With the repeated first line in every stanza, the poem becomes a lament acknowledging the imminent loss of her father.

And I wonder if this is his prayer too
and whether he wonders for how much longer
it will be answered
My father is 95, each moment numbered   

My father is singing me a rag to wrap myself in

There are also many poems which skilfully catch a moment in time through a clear and honest gaze, for example, Touchstone:

The place you need to reach
is not a leisurely stroll from the ice cream van …

And let your flesh feel the gravel of wind-thrown rain
the luxurious burn of summer gorse
and don’t presume to be certain of the terrain

Eleven o’clock in Leningrad also captures as if in a sudden movement two people travelling in the city in a starkly lit moment


in this blue night we’re outside of time
in a city of shifting names
built on bones and water

There is a tenderness in these poems, a personal voice seen particularly in Sensible shoes, a portrait of a friend with whom the poet visited Somerset churches.

Years of pacing the wards have left you
as sensible as your flat-heeled lace-up shoes.

And also a questioning and philosophical and bemused tone which asks us to engage with our humanity:

Sometimes perfection is too much
like on early autumn mornings parked by the lake
in the space between daylight and dawn,
when you know without counting there’s seven swans
four calling crows …

Write instead this rain-smudged dusk
bent and rusted railings breaking

from Heron’s Green Bay

Clare Crossman has published four collections of poetry. Her fifth, The Mulberry Tree, is due from Shoestring Press later this year. Recently she wrote for Waterlight, a film about a chalk stream with the film maker, James Murray White. She is the convener of the South Cambridgeshire stanza group.


The Shadow Factory by Deborah Harvey is published by Indigo Dreams Publishing and can be ordered from them or the usual outlets



Read More

Louise Warren reviews ‘Witness’ by Jonathan Kinsman







By Jonathan Kinsman. Burning Eye Books. £9.99.


In his new pamphlet ‘Witness’ , the poet Jonathan Kinsman has taken the gospel of the New Testament and drawn inspiration from the disciples and their stories, the then fiercely reimagines them as contemporary outsiders, radicals and outcasts. There are fourteen in total, the original twelve apostles with the addition of the thirteenth, Matthias who replaced Judas, and Mary Magdalene.

Their dialogue with Jesus of Nazareth and God ranges from angry and defiant, desperate and brave, to  erotic and tender. They dare to be themselves, to speak out at the world, and hereby raise themselves up to a love that is both human and divine.

Kinsman identifies as a queer Christian and in this extraordinary work, he creates a dazzling new language, part biblical text, part wow; a lyrical and searing shout- out to anyone who has felt alone, abused, different, damaged and yet so vitally alive, defiant and beautiful.


Let’s start at the beginning with an excerpt from ‘andrew’:


In galilee, some grey and dirty town

                 long forgotten by parliament, where the air

stinks like rotting fish, like waters going stagnant,

            everyone is plotting their escape


and you are no exception. Jonah’s’ wayward kid,

              hair in his face and holes in his hoody sleeves,

trailing after some pretentious fucking nickname,

              hanging on his every word.


all those freaks and weirdos, you among them,

               loitering on the docks, seagulls, feral cats.

You scare the neighbourhood watch doing nothing.

                  and baptist’s saying something’s gotta give.


Here is part of ‘mary magdalene’:


when they speak of broken things, they speak of

japanese pottery, grounded doves, hearts-

                 never the creak of a bedroom door,

bruises worn like pearls, everything you have

              shoved in an overnight bag.


            wicked woman, witch,

                cursed, possessed, lain with the devil,

                temptation in a too-short-skirt-


but what of wicked fathers? wicked husbands?


   you were dark-eyed and drunken;

yelling your sins from the top of your lungs;

                             divorced and dancing

        under god’s gaze. he might have played the guitar

but you, bravest among them, banged the drum.



These are poems that leap off the page, catch fire, howl and demand to be heard.

Take this from ‘matthew’.


when you meet god, he’s on the open mic

of the seediest bar in town and you’re slamming

down the pornstar martinis, politely declining

something quick and dirty in the nearest alley.




god calls you by your name, you pull up an extra stool.

you let him take a seat, turn to him and say

his song was great, but who’s he kidding

if he thinks he’s going to make it?


This from ‘jude’.


and here’s the god who hates fags brigade,

bumping against you, hoping to topple you,

hands grazed against the concrete,

bring you down, low and humble.


they’re smirking,

                          thad, my lad, what’re you doing

                         running round dressed like that?


  • All pink and florals,

floating sleeves and

                   draping skirts.

                       Jude, you seethe through clenched teeth


Later in the poem, as with many of the poems, Jesus appears.


sister, I am with you.

he’s never once called you thaddeus.

                    seen your naked body- seen the woman

                with her flat chest, the limp flesh between her legs.

                          seen perfection.


                           he presses a tender kiss against your forehead.

                        sister, there’s no such thing as lost causes.


The poems are all prefixed with a line from a psalm which gives them a context both sacred and profane.

In ‘philip’ ( and all the names are deliberately in lower case) the poem begins with part of the psalm from mark 6.42

‘ and all ate and were filled’. We are taken to a food bank.


you drive the van, picking up and dropping off cardboard boxes,

                                                plastic crates, shopping bags,

                  slender, trembling hands; passing thanks from

                  dry, hissing lips.


at the table he lists, sorts, assembles: tins, packets, bottles,

oh so quiet, no show but clipboard tallies,

           chews his own flesh as he thinks: how much? how many?


Later a miracle happens: like the loaves and fishes the food mounts up in the parcels but still stays on the table.


one sausage turned a week’s worth of breakfasts,

a mars bar no longer to be shared, but one each, for every kid:

                                               some quiet miracle filling bellies

             not with fairy food or stone soup but something real.


This pamphlet is beautifully produced with a striking cover in white and red scrawled on black, Jonathan Kinsman has created a testament to the now, the power of survival and of love.




Order your copy of Witness by Jonthan Kinsman from the Burning Eye Books website:


Read More

Claire Booker reviews ‘John Dust’: poems by Louise Warren, ink drawings by John Duffin




Poetry comes from a deeply personal inner landscape. But what happens when external geographies bring their own emotional and social clout to the party?

Enter John Dust – the riveting personification of Louise Warren’s native Somerset. Dust feels dangerous, fascinating, unstable, yet deeply rooted – a magical legerdemain by Warren, who gives us a Green Man for the modern age.

Prepare to be charmed, hoodwinked, even seduced by Dust, who is:
“. . . narrow as a pipe, face like a clay bowl

choked-up, stony-broke
chest blown open like a sunset . . .
coat stuffed with apples
coat stuffed with horsehair, tied round with sail rope
coat bursting open, burst out the linings
sodden green ditches, pricked through with heron,
pierced through with willow, bloody and wasted . . .”

His landscapes entwine us in their smells and sounds, their atmospheres and memories, like lovers:

“ . . . Deep inside the bathroom I undress myself for you,
John Dust.
Down to the sedge and water, down to the beak of me,
Sharp in the reed bed, down to the hidden.
I strip the light from my skin until I am overcast,
Become cloud cover . . .”

Warren’s imagery is lively and surprising, her rhythms inventive, with a sure use of repetition. Sometimes the pamphlet reads like a song; sometimes like a botanist’s memoir. Often, it’s playful – even tongue-in-cheek. Always relishing the vibrancy of words.
“. . . the sky rusting over, smashed with egg yolks,
water as mirror, water as leather, water as smoke, as trick,
a light under the door.”

John Dust poems rub shoulders with others that reflect the surreal, the uncanny edge to life – and death. ‘Woman with small dog’ tells of a 1,700 year old burial find in the Museum of Somerset. In others, Warren turns herself into a bird or a fox; discovers synaesthesia in a wood; finds meaning in the death of a fly:

“How beautiful and delicate he is in death
laid out on the white afterlife
like a god, a fly on the sill
in a tapestry of cup rings.”

She tips her hat to Elliot in ‘East Coker’, and in a series of five poems ‘The Parish Magazine’, offers hilarious thumb-nail portraits of village life. ‘5 Riddles’ challenges the reader to look under the bonnet of each poem for its double meaning (spoiler alert: answers on page 30!)

Perhaps most moving of all, a nine line poem inspired by finding her late father’s old OS map, shows Warren at her most observant and understated. Could John Dust himself be an echo of what she hopes to find again? Landscapes, old maps – these are the tracks we follow when seeking things lost to us.

“some kind of weather is trapped here – damping, a cloud
from the 30s, pressed onto the page – vapour thin fog expanding –
some kind of man is trapped here – his back to me smoking –“



Claire Booker lives in Brighton. Her pamphlet Later There Will Be Postcards is out with Green Bottle Press and a second is forthcoming from Indigo Dreams. Her work has appeared in Ambit, Magma, Poetry News, Rialto and The Spectator among others.


Order your copy of John Dust by Louise Warrant (V. Press) here:


Read More

Kathryn Alderman reviews ‘Hex’ by Jennie Farley




As with her previous collection, My Grandmother Skating (Indigo Dreams), Hex explores ‘the extraordinary with the everyday […] myth, magic and fairy tale’, but goes darker. It quotes Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus (1984) ‘She was feeling supernatural tonight, she wanted to eat diamonds’, offering a carnival feast of darkly sparkling gems.

The first poem ‘Changes’ (p.9), echoes Carter’s Company of Wolves (1979), whose werewolves wear fur on the outside:
…This is how things change …
When you notice that bones
are being worn outside the skin
like gloves, when the scar on your ankle
has become a dagger …

so, the tone of the transgressive and the extraordinary within the ordinary is set.

It’s a magic carpet ride through history, myth, literature, art, personal experience and the everyday. Jennie has a skill for inhabiting characters, for the strange within the known/unknown spheres.

The personae provide a conduit for shadow observation at the edge of transgressive darkness, as with Oedipus’ mother in ‘Jocasta’s Song’ (p. 25):

… Many men sleep with their mothers
in their dreams …

‘Blodeuwedd(The Mabinogion (c.11C-12C), offers Gothic imagery in tones of E.T.A Hoffmann’s ‘Uncanny’ (p.13):

…But I can’t help hearing
wings beating at the window, the scratch
of claws scraping the glass with my name.

In other incarnations, fantasy and fact inhabit co-exist, with a humorous slant. In ‘Miss Haversham Goes Shopping’ (p.37), Charles Dickens’ character is an aged care-home dweller, remembering lost love in Debenhams:

… Cardy, trimmed slippers, a rug of crocheted
squares over her knees …
…a string of pearls glistening like tears

Amongst dark notes are flashes of humour, as in ‘Changes’ (as above):

… When your pet cat turns feral,
all snarling and claws, and the cushions
in your sitting-room look furious …

Elsewhere, humorous subjects are treated with sensitivity, as with the cross-dresser in ‘Vintage’ (p.39):

… On with the heels.
The backlit mirror flaunts his catwalk twirl,
a tip of the hat … The dog yawns.

‘I Knitted You a Halo’ (p.41) voices the real-life octogenarian Cecilia Giménez from Borja, who mistakenly ruined the church fresco Ecce Homo by Elías García Martínez:

… I knitted you a halo, but you said, No!
You were never one for showing off …

‘Sacrifice’ (p.14), harbours the threat of dark at the heart of early Folk/Fairy tales. Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid (1837) grows legs, to be with her human love. This delivers a graphic shock of what that would entail:

… My new legs are two spikes. At each
step I take, I tread on blades …
But I know our passion will be a sword.

There’s beauty in the language too, ‘If I Could’ (p.30):

… If I could reach the wolf of you,
beyond the sleek lover, the human truth,
… I would lick your paws, anoint your pelt
with my woman’s scent, feed you
on apples of the moon.

The tone is theatrical, with a cast to entertain. Carter is threaded with brilliant, dark menace, when this surfaces in Hex, the page ignites. It’s a wondrous, sensual riot of transgressive themes. For some readers, they may step a little too far beyond their safe boundaries, others would tolerate more bite, but its imagery and language engages.
The work in pp.18-24 and pp.31-32 enters a deeper reality, closer to the poet’s own psyche. The language speaks directly of loss and heartbreak. ‘Snow’, ‘Shadows’, ‘October’, ‘Colouring In’, ‘Like Glass’, ‘Once’ and ‘Pearls’ are finely crafted with unbearable loss. They’re beautiful, moving and almost too painful to witness, as with here in ‘Ashes’ (p.20):

… If they’d given me ashes
I would’ve come to the river,
and let the gentle water carry him
downstream, on a prayer –

but here I stand, empty-handed,
imagining tiny fin-like limbs flailing
against the flow …

These eight poems sit at the heart of this collection. Perhaps they don’t fit ‘hex’ as defined as ‘an evil spell, bringing bad luck and trouble’ (Cambridge Dictionary, online) but loss is a dark force which inhabits its own liminal space. Perhaps they would sit comfortably in their own collection, or perhaps this is what Hex is really saying after all.



You can order your copy of Hex by Jennie Farley (Indigo Dreams)  here:

Kathryn Alderman‘s blog:

Read More

Setareh Ebrahimi reviews ‘The Shape of a Tulip Bird’ by Christopher Hopkins

The Shape of a Tulip Bird, by Christopher Hopkins | The Blue Nib



This book has an unusual premise in that it’s about something you wouldn’t want to read about. It’s about one of the most difficult subjects – child loss – and yet Hopkins’ writing allows the subject the sensitivity and accessibility that it needs. The Shape of a Tulip Bird is a collection full of stars, ships, sea life, birds, landscapes – whether geological or of the body. Again and again we are presented the image of a small boat against a vast ocean. Hopkins’ poems are extremely descriptive, some of them are almost all description.

The poems in this collection are soft, feathery – the imagery is tactile and womb-like. The shape of the poems are elegant on the page, imitating droplets of water or perhaps bodily liquids. In this collection words echo the rhythms of physical processes. Due to the sensory nature of these poems, I caught myself wondering whether parts of them could be interpreted as being from a baby’s perspective.

When reading The Shape… I got the sense that Hopkins isn’t trying to hold off the storm in these poems, if anything he wants it to come, wants it to rage, these poems are only designed as a method of weathering the storm.

Hopkins poems show the power of art to slightly console, if only by providing some small relief through expression. There is scant relief in this collection, which in my mind, is fitting. It’s good to hear a man’s perspective on the issues in these poems, we need to hear more male voices concerning child loss, its effect on relationships and post-partum depression for males. One of the other recent collections that I can think of that touches on these issues is Blank by Jake Wild Hall.

When reading these poems I got the sense of Hopkins’ desire to understand. He does this by going back to re-examine the body and what makes it up repeatedly.

There is wonderful language in this collection, seen for example when Hopkins writes unflinchingly in the opening of ‘I See Only With The Light From Fires’:

In idle moments, where I am found,

I grieve in a lesser black than you,

A witness to your love.

Hopkins’ poems don’t break their hold at all, despite being so raw and intimate. One gets the impression that even though the events of this collection were experienced in union, they were also isolating.

There is a journey presented in these poems. The reader is able to see a slight shift in mood and events in the poem ‘The First Light’, in which the poet describes the first day in which he didn’t immediately think of the name of one he lost. Something is cut loose in these poems, yearning, searching. Despite this there is a flicker of hope at the end of the collection. The Shape… reminds us that in a broken mirror, one may see momentary, beautiful reflections.



Setareh Ebrahimi is an Iranian-British poet and artist from Brighton living in Faversham, Kent. She published her first pamphlet of poetry, In My Arms, from Bad Betty Press in February 2018. Setareh has been published in numerous anthologies and journals, such as Eunoia Review, Confluence and Thanet Poetry Journal. She obtained her Master’s in English and American Literature from The University of Kent in 2016. She regularly performs her poetry in Kent and London.


The Shape of a Tulip Bird by Christopher Hopkins is published by Clare Songbirds and available here:


Read More

Louise Warren reviews ‘Daylight of Seagulls’ by Alice Allen


Daylight of Seagulls


Alice Allen’s first collection Daylight of Seagulls takes the occupation of Jersey during WW2 as its subject, but she weaves so much more.

In her vivid introduction she tells us that she grew up there in the 70’s and 80’s.

‘ we weren’t taught about the occupation at school, apart from  perhaps a passing mention of food shortages and ingenious ways of making coffee out of parsnips. The more extreme traumas were not mentioned, the brutal treatment of the forced labourers, the fate of the Jewish population, and the islanders who defended or resisted the Nazis’

She sets out to put the record straight.

Children, mothers, fishermen, soldiers, beekeepers, divers, ordinary people. A whole island is here, and the poems swirl around the jagged coastline, haunt the lanes like sea fog.

She lays out their names for us to see. She raises them to our ears like shells that we might hear them. Like this extract from the poem Sylvie in which our narrator describes a drowned soldier. Who was he? Her lover? We never find out.

the water unwraps him
hangs up his coat
unhooks his tunic
how bright his blond skin
now his shut is undone

Allen only gives us the fragments that have been left behind, like the story of Dorothy Weber who hid a Jewish woman Hedwig Bercu in her house between 1943 and 1945 and inspired the poem Hedy and Dorothea:

a pile of Hedy’s clothes
folded neatly on the sand
to fake her suicide;

night-time forays
to the beach for food;

a pig slaughtered in the bathroom,
every edible piece consumed.

A typist of no nationality
stated the Wanted notice
in the evening paper

The house  where the two lived returns in the next poem.  7 West Park Avenue:

The house is a bell, a shell snapped shut
Is a box with a lid and the lid locked up

Is a pocket, is a pouch with the cord pulled tight
is a well with steps treading down from the light.

She gives voice to those without names also. A German Soldier guarding the Atlantic Wall. A mother sweeping the cobbles, and this extract from Foreign Worker:

This is his cap
made from a sack.

This is his shirt
a blanket.

This is his belt,
clothes- hanger wire.

This is his kin,
stiff with cement

and swollen over the bones
of his tumbling face.

These are his eyes.
Meet them.

Words rhyme and ring against each other, with snatches and echoes of Jerriasis, a mixture of French/Norse/Breton and Medieval Latin. Like in the opening poem  GERS  EY:

Geirr’s Island
Norse man, naming this land his own.
From L’Etacq to Le Hocq the coastline
is a fan, a flame of brandished rock
doubling at low tide. Each rock names-
etchierviethe, marmotchiethe, sablionniethe-
the language of rock prodding and poking
the coast over time- from Ick Hoc
to Hygge Hogge, to Hic Hoc, to Icho Isle
with an imprint of witch

Allen also writes exquisitely about the potency of objects.  Cold potatoes, Victorian glass, shoes, wireless sets,teapots, prams, biscuit tins, soap. This is an extract from Soap Hoard:

‘from lemon, wrapped in waxy tissue paper, pleated like a pouffe,
to the cloudy lens of occupation soap’.

She conjures up the smells and sounds of this island. The scavenging of food, the delicious aroma of eel soup flavoured with marigold petals, the ‘delicate and tasty’ tang of fog and the stink of cordite.

And everywhere the flora and fauna bursts out of the pages, bright green moss, wildflowers, birds. Yet always in the shadow of war. Like in the poem Emptying the egg of its Song:

‘Curfew  the word itself was like a bird
bringing the night in its beak
Sometimes we’d hear the soldiers
firing in the moonlight’

Allen leaves us with five photographs. Faded Registration Cards, giving faces to some of the poems. They look out at us hauntingly.

I am haunted still, by this remarkable and beautiful collection.



Louise Warren lives in London and has one collection and pamphlet published by Cinnamon Press. Her latest pamphlet John Dust is published by V.Press.


Daylight of Seagulls by Alice Allen is published by The High Window Press, and available here: The High Window Press


Read More

Rachael Clyne reviews ‘Girl, Falling’ by P.B. Hughes


Girl, Falling by P.B. Hughes


Every poem born of love or hope / is a risk

P.B. Hughes writes with intelligence and wit about her search for an authentic self. Girl, Falling is a pamphlet full of edgy language and varied layout that sometimes flows, sometimes disrupts– at times with unfinished lines. However, Hughes’ work is well crafted and accessible. My test of a good book is if I read it straight through, without stopping, and this was the case.

The book starts with a relationship demise and how, despite efforts to submerge herself to her partner’s needs– he unexpectedly leaves her. Hughes’ work conveys a struggle to emerge from gender bias and relationship. She examines language and punctuation, even the word No. In her opening poem, Dear World, she likens herself to punctuation, I am a full stop then a comma and finishes by saying:
i was light stilled to shadow
your negative

She questions society, Binary thinking is the pinball/of politicians, and reality, Don’t’ start with the assumption / that anything is real. Questions for a Lake, a list poem, is one of my favourites. It is also a poem of self-enquiry, including such questions as: What colour is your vision? Does silence exist? Did you feel like an outcast? At what depth are your secrets?

The poem that follows is Falling, in which she decides to enter the waters of self-discovery by plunging into a swimming lake. Water continues to be a theme throughout. In a later poem she is at sea with loss and little to navigate by.

There is intimation of rape, condoned by her partner. Poems that follow this seem more fragmented while delving deeper for answers. Some end with unfinished sentences:

Knee Deep in the North Sea

Take the fish and the selfie.
Fist the beach. Take home
a fistful of sand to hell with it.
Take out the metaphors and

escalator– a narrow shaft of a prose poem, ends:

few interact with the
blank sea rising
and falling to the
sound recording of a

A daughter, born via C-section, brings the possibility of love.  Dressing a Daughter, is a mother’s poem for a girl growing strong:

My daughter’s shoes are red like her heart
She wears them fiercely
Red shoes to climb trees

and when her daughter wants to daub her lips with red shoe polish, she ponders how to voice concerns for safety over experiment:

Do I
Talk about the a and b scenarios
– the safety of lipstick
for girls, the safety of shoe polish
for lips – ?

There are political nuances, Footnotes on Genocide, and on xenophobia, Keep Your Distance.  However, the last four poems bring a more positive note, expressing gratitude and a need for radical hope. Waters of loss and searching become a downpour of rain, with the welcome shelter of domestic contentment:

Clothes hung above an Aga afterwards
all I could smell was rain
rain in your hair
on your skin
as I stood behind you in a borrowed kitchen
while you buttered toast

Her final poem Source, feels triumphant, yet still twists and questions:

I keep coming back to you
back to source. Like salmon
although I hate the thought

of its brash belly clap on water…

But I am not a fish…

I carry the imprint
of a place to which
I keep coming back.



Order your copy of Girl, Falling (Gatehouse Press) by PB Hughes here:

Read More