Kathryn Alderman reviews ‘Hex’ by Jennie Farley

 

9781910834879

 


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: https://www.indigodreams.co.uk/jennie-farley-hex/4594369593

Kathryn Alderman‘s blog: https://kathrynaldermanwriting.poetry.blog/

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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: www.claresongbirdspub.com

 

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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

 

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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: http://www.gatehousepress.com/shop/collections/girl-falling/

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Carole Bromley reviews ‘Heart Murmur’ by Emma Storr

 

 

In this outstanding debut pamphlet, Emma Storr, medic and poet, gives us a masterclass in how to write about medicine.

Equally at home writing about the personal or the professional, she shows us the experience of the patient as well as the doctor. I loved ‘Delivery’ with its calm account of the experience of an emergency section from the mother’s point of view. In this twin delivery

 

‘Midnight slipped between their births,
the witching hour split in two.’

 

Elsewhere, we see the GP’s human side when a patient ‘took off half her face’ and placed it on the desk. She admits to ‘my own repulsion/ veiled with fascination’.

‘Six-week Check’ is one of two poems placed in the Hippocrates Prize and deservedly so. We feel we are examining the infant with the poet who notes ‘your baked cub-like scent’ and seems moved anew by this new life in her hands, though ending on a humorous note ‘We won’t need to meet again.’

Humour, too, in the beautifully controlled anger behind the poem ‘Clinical Trials’ in which she forensically examines a relationship in technical language which breaks down at the end of each stanza with the words ‘you bastard’. The poem ends

 

‘You did not have ethics approval.
Your control group was out of control.
Your random sampling was not so bloody random.

You bastard’

 

The revenge is sweet and this one goes down particularly well at readings!

I loved the title poem, ‘Heart Murmur’ for its intelligent and effective mix of the clinical and the emotional in delicately controlled couplets.

 

‘My heart doesn’t have to think.
It works on impulse: squeeze, relax.

It speeds up when I climb hills,
slow dances during sleep

until it’s hijacked, slewed by lust,
the chemicals of longing’

 

There is emotion in the job, too. Doctors make mistakes and there is real sadness and empathy in ‘Missed’

 

‘I prescribed you medicine.
I didn’t think when you told me.
The scan shocked us both.
I am a bad doctor. I failed you.’

 

There is a generosity about the sharing of such experiences as well as those poems in which the poet turns her observant eye onto herself, as in ‘Your Skin’ which is a beautiful and honest look at a woman’s life through the changes which take place in her skin;

‘History is seared

in its layers

the half-moon burn

the white tracks of

your babies’ escape

that burst appendix’

 

Honesty, too, in rueful reflections on the limitations of what a GP can do for her patients

‘Every ten minutes
a patient leaves
gripping a script
for plasters,
pills, placebos –
I didn’t want to sign.’

There is a wide variety of form in this collection too and a sureness of touch which promises great things when Emma Storr brings out a full collection. I can’t wait to read it. In the meantime I really recommend sampling her work in this excellent pamphlet. Read it. You will be in safe hands.

 

 

Carole Bromley lives in York. Winner of 2019 Hamish Canham Award, she has a new collection due out from Valley Press in 2020 and a pamphlet, Sodium 136, will be published by Calder Valley Poetry in November. www.carolebromleypoetry.co.uk Twitter @CaroleBromley1

Order your copy of Heart Murmur by Emma Storr (Calder Valley Poetry) here: https://caldervalleypoetry.com/authors/emma-storr/

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Melissa Todd reviews ‘On Watching a Lemon Sail the Sea’ by Maggie Harris

 

On Watching cover

 

I had the luck to watch Maggie Harris launch this collection at Tongue Punch, the Tom Thumb theatre’s monthly poetry night in Margate. The lilting cadences of her not-quite-placeable accent gave a glide and a swoop to her words, sending them soaring breathless over the storm-dark seas she refers to over and over in this collection. I fretted the work might not jump off the page with quite so much energy when I read it alone. But I fretted needlessly: her words are quite capable of standing without assistance. It’s perhaps vulgar to mention this of a poetry collection, but heavens, she gives you plenty of words for your wad – 66 solid poems, count em, none that can safely be skipped over, each a delight that deserves to be properly pondered.

The collection is divided by geography, the places that have informed and proved crucial to her life and work – Wales, England, Guyana, Ireland and Elsewhere. Landscape drives her lines, and also informs her identity: the poet seems as divided and torn by place as do her creations. In ‘Not Home’, part of the Wales section, we see her strung out between her various locations, one by birth, one by choice. Wales, in spite of the rugged, aggressive beauty which “flings itself in my face”, she decides she cannot call home.

The soil, the trees, the wind-hewn rocks, are all constant characters in this collection. “These staggered rocks”, “Budding heads of unnamed weeds”; “The wind is cutting and we’re keening after the thrill of watching the land slip away with a sigh.” No sight nor smell of her adopted terrain passes her pen by.

In the opening four part title poem, she spies a lemon bobbing, blowing across the sea, washed to Wales from – who knows where? Instantly we are transported to Maggie’s Guyana childhood, and the lemonade, “sprinkled with Demerara”, which her mother made. Before we say goodbye to the “self-contained cargo ship” at the end of part four, she has summoned plantations  – “I do not remember lemons, but limes”; her aunt – “arms thin as bamboo”; the “split-bellied” “slack-jawed fish” for whom a lemon might be destined. Instead, solitary,  lost between lands, incongruous and purposeless, it sits waiting. “But I/unsure of your heritage/refused you.”

In part two she describes setting the lemon free, “fresh and sharp as a sun-bright wind-cut winter’s day”, charting the waves crash and roar, cascading over the page with a fierce, insistent sensuality that leaves you tasting the salt on your tongue. At last the lemon rolls away on the tide, lost to view.  Instead Harris takes up its journey round the globe, through the landscapes that have sheltered and formed her. And that same sense of incongruity, of being found purposeless, in the wrong place, identity and geography at constant odds, goes with her.

The family members which geographical features unite or divide are also critical to this collection. Harris has the ability to tease out the tiny moments that mean the most: the sound of her mother’s voice “in our home rhythms”, her husband, “full with the love of birds”; “children braving the boundless waves”. Beautiful, touching observations which flavour her images like aromatic herbs. She returns to the sea over and over, her rhythmic, lyrical poetry equally brutal, relentless and awe-inspiring.

In this collection Harris has created a work which endlessly reflects upon itself, not discursively, but within its very fabric. It’s a meditation on the redeeming role of language to those without identity, and makes the crisis of an uncertain sense of self into its central core.

 

 

Melissa Todd is a writer and performer from East Kent and the director of Hags Ahoy Theatre Company. She is currently writing a book with award winning poet Matt Chamberlain.

 

Maggie Harris‘s On Watching a Lemon Sail the Sea is published by Cane Arrow Press and available here: http://www.canearrowpress.com/books.htm

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Pat Edwards reviews ‘Rowan Ridge’ by Chris Kinsey

 

 

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I should start by saying that, although I love being out walking in wild places, I am not especially a fan of nature poetry. I always feel that poetry rarely does justice to things of great natural beauty and that I prefer the real thing. However, Chris Kinsey’s writing about the great outdoors is distinctly different. Her work does not just describe grasses, wildflowers, birds and water in close detail; it inserts human warmth, personal story telling and weaves a beguiling magic into the places she takes us.

From the front cover, through the sixty-odd poems in this collection, we are on a journey with Kinsey, who deftly invites us to savour the narrative and accompany her through various stages of her life. To say the poems reflect her love of and affinity with flora and fauna is to miss her humour, political opinions and commentary on the human condition.

Clearly Kinsey, although at times in her life an effective teacher, found being a child in the classroom very boring and deeply confining. The riches of the rivers and hills of Mid Wales were as friends and offered a more meaningful education. In Private Collection, the headmaster seems the only one to recognise this, with his advice to ”keep going for bike rides”.

Kinsey employs many different poetical forms and often plays with how the words look on the page. In Clarach Bay, there is a vertical string of tumbling capital letters spelling out the movement of shingle, and in other poems Kinsey uses spacing to make the words occupy the full page with a rare confidence. There are sonnets, High Summer on a Shropshire Hill, prose poems, Private Collection and Cut, poems in neat three or four line stanzas, and so much more. This willingness to experiment is like a challenge to the reader to take notice and it definitely forces you to keep turning the pages.

My own particular delight is in how Kinsey uses the senses, notably the sounds of everything she encounters. Many of the poems demand to be read aloud to get the cries of curlews, the irritation of the “scratchy biro” in an exam, the fabulous dialogue in Last Train from Aberystwyth. Kinsey gives us drama in False Orchids, so full of the sounds of a medical emergency with its “Beeps. Cheeps. Shrieks”, and the “whischt” of a heron taking off in Confession. Her mastery of alliteration and internal rhyme is effective as in “the standing stones have shrunk, sunk deeper” and the stones “bite through a beard of bracken” in Four Visits to Mitchell’s Fold.

Kinsey demonstrates her wry wit on many occasions. In First Aid she relieves the boredom of “rolling healthy strangers into the recovery position” by clearing her airway “with a draught of deep September”. Occasionally she pokes gentle fun at religion. In Another Church Tour, she muses on how she might “switch a hymn number to 666”, and in To Enlli she acknowledges her pilgrimage would be “not for sainthood, but for words buoyant as fronds of bladderwrack”.

I like the use of quotations from people such as Carlo Levi, WB Yeats, RS Thomas, WH Davies, Milton and others, both as epigraphs and within the body of a poem, to add texture and authority. Kinsey often refers to the cycles and changes of the seasons; she may even use this as a kind of extended metaphor running through the collection to explain how she lives her days. Another theme throughout is her love of faithful companion dogs who are evident both in passing and when whole lines or poems are populated by them. What a joy is her poem Call the Greyhounds with its hyphenated descriptors “Quilt-snuggler, Dream-twitcher, Hearth-gracer”. Perhaps the seasons and her hounds come together in perfect harmony in Watching for Season Change:

“When fresh grass spears turn my greyhounds to grazing gazelles and the great cherry races start, I submit”. The poem finishes with, for me, the most telling lines in the whole collection, “if climate shifts out of calling range we will all lose our footing.”

Kinsey proves her worth in these lines; she is not a sentimental describer of nature but a writer whose own awareness of her surroundings makes us examine our whole relationship with one another, with animals and with the wider world in its modern context. Kinsey is so much more than a fine nature writer, but an observer of the interaction between people and places, sights and sounds, myth and reality.

 

 

Order your copy of Chris Kinsey’s From Rowan Ridge (Fair Acre Press) here: http://fairacrepress.co.uk/shop/from-rowan-ridge-chris-kinsey/

 

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