Konstandinos Mahoney reviews ‘Acrobats of Sound’ by Colin Pink

 

 

 

 

 

Colin Pink’s impressive first collection, Acrobats of Sound, takes its title from his poem, A Peal of Bells that marvels at the ability of heavy leaden church bells to be rocked into joyful conversation. And this is what Pink does over the seventy-seven poems in this highly readable collection, finding in nature, art, the city, memory, transience, subjects that can be coaxed and swayed through the rhythms of poetry to loosen their tongues and sound out their hidden song.

Pink, an art historian, has an eye for the visual, though his poems go beyond the merely descriptive, delving behind the surface to interrogate what lies beneath. Victorian Woman in Green Dress, one of a number of ekphrastic poems in the collection, this one based on Vittorio Coroc’s oil painting , Sogni, perfectly exemplifies this, going from the visual, /as your/chin rests on the soft plinth of your hand, fingers/ gloved in a second skin of supple leather./ to the final line, Let’s unwrap time, peel/back each brittle layer, until we might meet, a powerful insight into the real behind the real, realism in the painting of the woman as a representation of both surface and hidden realities, the construction of an aesthetic reality through dialogue between a living man and the artist’s illusion.

One of Pink’s strengths is his ability to develop an arresting image into a wider metaphor and open the poem out into a philosophic observation, his is the poetry of both image and thought, an ability to move from the concrete to the abstract. His poetry only occasionally uses end rhymes, his preferred way of shaping a poem is through stanza length, meter, and a deft use of internal rhyme and assonance. Though images are vivid his verse does not feel lyrical or rhapsodic, pace is steady, poems build steadily delivering an observation that is always worth sharing. This gives his work a feeling of integrity, a poet you can trust, a poet who is gently sharing observations on the strangeness and wonder of things. Field Path takes us on just such a modest journey, a country walk through ever denser foliage until the path runs out, but on the journey back /retracing/steps that now seem so different,/no longer recognizably ours at all/ he captures the strangeness and paradox of landscape altered by the direction we move in with it’s wider echoes of the forward passage of time and the unfamiliarity of the past despite having lived it.

Pink’s poems are economic, often making their point over three to five stanzas, poetic journeys that are neither too taxing nor too leisurely, poems that help you to arrive without overtly signposting the way. The longest poem in the collection is American Civil War Bubblegum Cards, in which, over thirteen sestets, Pink makes a sustained comparison between the realities of the American war in Vietnam as seen on television and the progress of the American Civil War as portrayed in the illustrated bubblegum cards he collected as a boy. Seen again through the eyes of his boyhood Pink uses simple language and syntax allowing the horror to come though in descriptions of the printed images on the cards/In one scene a little boy/is hanged as a spy; he looked a bit like me,/it made me feel sad, I guess that’s what//it was meant to do/ And images on the television, /Napalm illuminated the screen/like every firework display you’d ever seen./Children came running, naked, down a thin/road, their thin arms outspread, their thin skin/burned off./ Comparing the two American wars in this way is original and gives a renewed freshness to both, a wholly original and successful way of showing history’s futile repetitions of war and violence.

The starting point of Pink’s poems are often landscapes, paintings, buildings, objects in the present or past. His wonderful poem Games The Dead Play jumps straight at you from nowhere, from behind a tombstone, spare, boney couplets frolicking in skeletal scariness, gothic playfulness, /On birthdays they blow out other people’s candles/and watch darkness descend from all angels./

 Acrobats of Sound, a handsomely published book by Poetry Salzburg, reward the reader with accessible, thoughtful, beautiful and engaging poems. Reading Pink’s poems is like being with a friend who delights in opening your eyes to the mysteries of the world around you. His counterbalance of deep thought and vivid image has a European feel to it, a philosophical thread running through his poetic oeuvre. I look forward to his next volume.

 

 

 

Order your copy of Acrobats of Sound  by Colin Pink (Poetry Salzburg 2017) here: http://www.poetrysalzburg.com/acrobats.htm

 

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Susan Castillo Street reviews ‘The Swell’ by Jessica Mookherjee

 

 

 

 

Writing in 1989, scholar Werner Sollors caused a bit of a stir when he challenged the concept of ethnicity as a hermetic, immutable category. Sollors describes ethnic groups as existing within history and as highly unstable and pliable entities which are constantly interacting and redefining themselves.   Indeed, he adds, in today’s global context it is difficult to characterize a writer as belonging exclusively to one ethnic group.[1] For Sollors, ethnicity is not essence but rather as a dynamic historical process though which we define and redefine our identification with one or more groups.

For this reason, it would be wrong for critics to pigeonhole Jessica Mookherjee as ‘ethnic’ writer. She is much more than that, and her poetry is elegant and evocative. Her background is Bengali, and she grew up in Wales; she now lives in the Southeast. Swell, a pamphlet of 15 poems published in 2016, is her debut.   In it, she skillfully and sensitively evokes the rich cultural and personal strands that run through her life.

Several of the poems focus on the complexities of family. The title poem, ‘Swell,’ evokes a pregnant woman, ‘drum-tight and ‘about to burst,’ with a husband who ‘made a fuss of her for a change.’ Another poem, ‘Snapshot,’ begins with the lines

 

There is photographic evidence

of when she shifted her gaze,

the exact time her eyes went out of focus.

 

and goes on to describe pictures of the poet as

…growing bigger

in pigtails, often alone.

A snap of a girl with her hand on her mother’s

shoulder, like a Victorian husband.’

 

With elegance and understated economy of expression, Mookherjee paints in remarkably few words a haunting picture of her mother’s vulnerability and her own isolation.

Another poem, ‘Glass Sisters,’ describes pottery images in a glass cabinet. The first person plural perspective is deftly deployed; the ‘we’ may be that of the objects

 

We were all cabinet curios,

waking occasionally , trapped behind glass

under small locks, tiny keys.

 

or of child who identifies with them:

 

Gingerly, with a smell of fresh rose water

 

she would take us out, sit us on the sofa,

while she played with a typewriter,

practicing her name. No one but us

saw her hair unbraided,

 

cascades of shining black.

Her fingers spelling yours sincerely

Clicking on the white Olympus—

I could get a job, learn to drive, drink wine

she muttered, glancing at her dolls.

 

The child exchanges a glance of complicity with Kuan-Yin:

 

I looked sideways at Kuan-Yin

behind her pane; she smiled at me

and listened to the world’s sorrows.

 

In ‘Red,’ Mookherjee gives us a subtle cascade of images: red curtains in her mother’s house ‘…like blood dripping down the windows’; a red tikka on her mother’s forehead ‘looked like someone had shot her’; red lipstick ‘inappropriate for a girl of six’; a red silk skirt that made a lover smile; that same lover’s face ‘…too red, too much sun, too much/beer, too much butter; an unflattering red shirt that ‘doesn’t flatter.’ The poem ends with two lines evoking the visceral barrenness of the failing relationship: ‘there’s blood in the bathroom again/this month.’

The final poem in the pamphlet, ‘The Changing,’ is marvelously surreal. It describes a woman transformed into a fish:

 

At night she dives into wet corridors

Seeps from blankets,

Slathers across carpet, lost in the heft;

She’s flatfish slapping down stairs

Leaving trails of silver moon-strike.

 

In night that tastes of felt, she gulps air

Chokes on magnolia walls. Her eyes bulge

And sight blurs.

 

The poem ends with a stunning vision of liberation:

 

…she reconstitutes in ripples

and, at last, she is night swimming,

free of her fins

in the swell of stars, arms stretched in a

yearning dance of encore.

 

The deft enjambment that runs through the poem, and the marvelous vividness of the verbs (‘dives,’ ‘slathers’, ‘gulps’, ‘chokes,’ ‘bulge,’ ‘blurs’) create a vision of almost unbearable intensity.

The apparent surface simplicity and elegance of Jessica Mookherjee’s carefully crafted poems conceal a hidden depth charge of emotion and sensibility. The reader is left wanting to read many more, and her forthcoming collection is eagerly anticipated.

 

 

[1] Werner Sollors, The Invention of Ethnicity (Oxford University Press: 1989)

 

 

 

Order your copy of Jessica Mookherjee’s The Swell (Telltale Press, 2016) here: http://telltalepress.co.uk/about/jessica-mookherjee/

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Jane Burn reviews Grant Tarbard’s ‘Loneliness is the Machine that Drives the World’

 

 

Grant Tabard’s Loneliness is the Machine that Drives the World led me into it with immediate interest – the contents page alone is full of such curiosities such as Snuff of the Disappeared and Beaks. I knew from this that I would want to read more.

This is a collection which deals with illness, horror and death.

‘My leg is split in two,
clamps keeping the exposed pink tendons

of the supple flesh peeled –
the shadow of my emptied skin’

Throughout, he is unwilling to ‘admit to devastation’ – you do feel beneath it all his irrepressible love of words, loved ones and life, there is darkness within but it has a cast of magic upon it. Musical and satisfyingly wordsome, the poems roam from lilies to kidneys, sperm to sun, mulberry to cellophane, spud gun to sparrows. The world around us upsets as it uplifts.

‘I will mend you with the brushstrokes of my words’

It is a collection of remembrances – you strongly feel Tabard’s belief in the survival of love. Love bites you, life burns you but the poems suggest an inevitable going on and a stubborn will to go on noticing the important little things. The poems have a hallucinogenic quality – a dreamlike, between states feel. You get the feeling Tabard is trying to stay above water – he is floating and the poems are cast as life

He ends the collection in measured consideration of small seeming but powerful moments.

‘The mindfulness of breathing,
now is the eternity.’

Also, I now really, really want a Faberge clothes peg.

 

 

Order your copy of Grant Tarbard’s Loneliness is the Machine that Drives the World published Platypus Press by here: http://platypuspress.co.uk/lonelinessisthemachinethatdrivestheworld

 

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Lynn Woollacott reviews ‘Shippen’ by Dawn Bauling

 
Dawn Bauling is the current editor of The Dawntreader and Sarasvati poetry magazines and co-editor of Indigo Dreams Publishing with a long list of poetry awards. Shippen is also the title of the opening poem in Dawn’s second poetry collection, this poem sets the standard for these original love poems. Once I was familiar with the physical landscape of Shippen (on the Devonshire coast) I became aware how the connections and spirit of the poems link back to the title:

I will take the platinum pins
from my silent sea of silver hair,
let its spirals tumble down
to the briar and bracken //

I will unbutton crystal on a last coat
show him the skin he patterned
in paths, pearled with aconite
and tobacco kisses like jewels …
[from Shippen]

The collection is then divided into four parts, the first, ‘Field’ takes a journey into the landscape in a variety of active forms: running – ‘we took the running dog / through the fields up to the long wood’; soaring – ‘I’ll soar to the North’s / rock walls and waters, / to rough edged fell tops’; and walking:

Stick gathering at Golitha Falls

If every stick or stone
in my bag and boot
on this unexceptional day
had a walk attached
all valley tied, fell studded
plain or plimsoll,
even barefoot tired,
I would have enough.
They would be my wood,
my hedge and beach,
my cottage hearth beside,
each one turned
and seasoned by hand,
a paw, a storm,
a child or tide;
a better gathering tied
under the chiselled hazel
lintel of my heart
unbriared.

New places are explored metaphorically; one of my favourite lines: ‘laughing as rain fell sideways / down our necks in rivers / ready for us to follow …’ There is a sprinkling of rich short poems and haiku:

Rapids
The river rolls
rapids over
stone cold fingers.

The second sequence ‘Gate’ steps through a more settled landscape. In ‘Reveille’ for example, when the dawn chorus awakens her there’s a woodpecker ‘fast-gattling’, sparrows with ‘beaks boot-shiny’, a pigeon ‘muezzins smooth minims’, and the poems ends with, ‘After one night’s fire / you said that the birds would wake me.’

I liked the playful surreal poem, ‘On Days Like This’; imagine lying in bed and hearing the guttering spilling over outside, Dawn’s humour sees her metamorphose into a marvellous fish, and the spillage is a waterfall and she is ‘the fish that leaps / that glistens for you / within it.’

A contentment and confidence of the relationship works its way into the poems, in ‘A Small Exhibition’ nothing much happens but the moment is captured – an art exhibition – the colours – the man and dog waiting for her outside. Throughout this section there is a sense of weather:

haiku

Thin drips of light lace
rattle leaf bells ice clappered
wood peels its winter.

‘Hearth’ the third section, water, wood and stones remain a spiritual presence. These are rooted poems. ‘Hearth’ because there is sense she has ‘come home’ both to Devon and the love of her life, the love for her children shines through and even in the death of her father she sees in her mother how the love they shared can make you stand in death’s wake (Swallowing My Father). Snaps of images and moments are re-created with emotions, places are specific, ‘Trenannick’ a list poem; ‘Today I know I am rich, / I have pasty, beer and fresh / love on my breath …’ and another example:

Stones
(at Blackingstone Rock)

Where you are round
I am flat;
your song
my whistle;
weathered smoothness
to dull my bristle
and angles that are
made suddenly curves.

We are at times
unalike
as leaf and flame

but together
inexplicably
logan stones
balanced perfectly
forever.

‘Loft’ the final section takes us journey into the lofty heights of a poet’s emotion of being in love from a schoolgirl’s disappointment to Dawn dallying with a witches craft casting a love spell. These poems particular to the narrator’s observations where she ‘learns to love like a swan’.

The beauty of this collection is the well-chosen detail and the echoes of landscape. I would highly recommend this book to bring many moments of pleasure and to uplift your spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

Lynn Woollacott has two poetry collections published with Indigo Dreams Publishing and writes reviews for Reach Poetry magazine she also has a historical romance e-book on Amazon Kindle (Lynn Haywood), her website is: www.lynnwoollacott.co.uk

Shippen by  Dawn Bauling is published by Indigo Dreams Publishing and available here:  http://www.indigodreams.co.uk/dawn-shippen/4584012931#

 

 

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Graham Burchell reviews ‘The Lightbox’, by Rosie Jackson,

 

 

‘Because of Him, Hummingbirds Will Die’

In a collection called ‘The Lightbox’ one might not be surprised that thirty five of the sixty nine poems within contain the word ‘light’, but the same number of poems also contain ‘love’, and there’s quite a bit of kissing going on as well. There’s also wonderfully rendered ekphrasis, with particular emphasis on the work of British artist Stanley Spencer to begin each of the six sections, and the collection ends on a high note with an angle on one of Spencer’s Resurrection paintings with ‘bodies that cannot have enough of each other,/ this love that is always being made.’ Be stabbed in the heart or lifted to great heights, and throw into the mix a whole stream of other characters: artists (Daguerre, Grainger McCoy, Masaccio, Barbara Hepworth, Georges de la Tour, Picasso, Joseph Wright) historical (Mary Shelley, Lazarus, Leonard Woolf, Flaubert, John Donne, Margery Kempe, Mrs Thatcher) and mythical (Penelope, Persephone, Demeter, Orpheus and Eurydice), then add heaped spoonfuls of imaginative sensual play, a little death, pain, tenderness, the trials of relationships, and Rosie Jackson brings together the ingredients for a quite remarkable collection.

 

The landscapes in which she sets her characters in order to consider aspects of their lives, or life itself, are beautifully realised. Where these characters are artists, she sometimes employs their work to explore more personal issues. ‘In Which I Liken Our Ending to Masaccio’s Expulsion’, for example, the restored painting of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden has the fig leaves removed. They’d been painted on three centuries after Masaccio for the sake of decency. The resulting poem offers more about her relationship, as the title suggests, than the inviting opening line that speaks directly of Eve as she is once again portrayed without the cover-up leaves.

 

Similarly, in the poem ‘My Uncle Visits Mount Vesuvius, 1944’, we are delivered into a painting. Joseph Wright undertook a series of thirty or more of Mount Vesuvius in eruption, and the poem draws from both the image of humbling forces of nature in the artwork, and the family grief of an uncle killed thereabouts, presumably in the war. ‘I don’t know who carried his body -/ there were no fathers or brothers left.’ And what a powerful ending to a poem like this. Speaking of her mother (mum), ‘She kept his spectacles on the sideboard for years.’

 

Some images are dealt with more directly, but they speak to the emotions powerfully. She writes of Daguerre, who in 1839 claimed, ‘I’ve seized the light’ in reference perhaps to his Daguerrotype photograph ‘Boulevard du Temple’ which includes the earliest known candid photograph of a person. The poem makes the hairs on the neck spring to attention with lines such as ‘a bootblack, head bowed,/ the first ghost to be caught on camera,/ condemned to be in service forever.’

 

Then there’s Picasso, or rather Picasso’s reflection in the window of the Café de Flore. There’s something quite haunting, but at the same time mesmerising about the notion of him seeing his own reflection remain standing in the café window when he sits down. He ‘tries not to glance round/ and see the self in the glass/ hanging there/ like a detached retina.’

Other characters are placed in unlikely settings or considered in suprising ways: Mrs Thatcher leaves her body and meets St Francis, Demeter takes up embroidery and Persephone blames the dress, but these are effective routes to exploring and keenly observing. We see Mrs Thatcher, her mind uncoupled, rising up from her sceptered isle, becoming unsettled, ‘till the light feels more like darkness,/ coal dust,’. So much depends (not on a red wheelbarrow), but­ on the richness and the weaving of Rosie Jackson’s own myths and inventions.

 

And returning to love and light and pain, they are ever present to a greater or lesser degree, whether those words can be found in the poems or not. Sometimes they are like a sharp injection into the senses. The eye for small detail lifts these poems from those we have heard before: ‘stepping round petrol puddles’ in a wedding dress that she can’t remember, ‘when you climbed into bed with wet hair’ in ‘Had We Known’ and in ‘Seated Nude’ (another of Stanley Spencer’s paintings), we hear his ex-wife, Hilda’s ‘anger squashed like pressed flowers.’

 

Stanley Spencer said he wanted to put himself in his work, and as an obvious enthusiast for this twentieth century artist’s life and paintings, Rosie Jackson likewise puts herself into her poems. They are deft, have a strong voice, and if reading extraordinarily good poems full of light, love and quite a bit of kissing, appeals, then ‘The Light Box’ comes highly recommended.

 

 

The Lightbox  by Rosie Jackson is published by Cultured Llama, and is available here: http://www.culturedllama.co.uk/books/the-light-box

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Alan Price reviews ‘Later there will be Postcards’ by Claire Booker

 

It’s rare to come across a new poet who not only has a confident voice, but more importantly, a sensibility that tackles death, the passage of time, ageing, childhood and a strong eye for the natural world. Such big themes are handled with wit, originality and insight. Claire Booker’s range is considerable. Her skill is evident. And the sheer musicality of her work in her debut collection Later There Will Be Postcards exciting.

With her first poem The Night Mare, you’re immediately thrown into powerful imagery of sexual anxiety and identity transference, jolted by reasoning and sadness. The nightmare’s the dream horse that the poet rides and feeds with a lemon.

 

I take the little tongue with a mind of its own.

Vice it. Force the rind down.

 

Waking up, the dreamer recalls the past.

 

When we were young enough to count ourselves in summers

And you my turkey cock with feathers and attitude.

 

Two great lines. Further great lines from her poems are worth quoting. In the moving Meeting my Mother she arrives at this consideration.

 

This is not my mother. Or has she now assumed,

In some slant way, aspects of the room?

 

That’s a beautiful, touching and exact way of imagining the presence of a dead parent. Whilst in Booker’s last poem Provencal Crosses she recalls playing, as a child, near a cemetery. A bell sounds and she wonders where the chimes go.

 

“…whether they hang

 

blind in the cave of immense sky and who

makes the bell sing each hour. I am too young still

 

to know that even God can be automated –

that there will be just this one time

 

Of course it’s unfair to simply cherry-pick lines from remarkable poems. But with poems as good as these it’s hard not to do so.

 

Booker has her influences – for me that’s early Samuel Beckett. In the beautiful poem Model in Love (after Giacometti’s “Walking Woman” sculpture) we have a spindly upright figure that’s inimitably the Italian artist’s yet also like a character in Beckett’s late prose. Her poem achieves a delicate balance – both praising and criticising the act of creativity.

 

how he came again and again

simply to touch

the intelligent slope of her shoulder.

 

This is followed by the dark constriction of the poem’s final lines.

 

still she knows that a girl must be free

to walk as she will –

that a pedestal impedes,

no matter how tenderly it kisses

the stems of her feet.

 

Claire Booker is also unafraid to experiment with form. And although I think poems like On Hearing the Bell Again at Chichilianne and Visiting My Father are

not as intense and as moving as her other pieces their technical dexterity should be applauded.

Later There Will Be Postcards is an outstanding debut pamphlet. Claire Booker’s humour, startling (but never over the top) imagery, compassion and tone convinced me she’s a genuinely original poet who takes great calculated risks and is able to quietly master her risk-taking. I eagerly await a full collection and even more surprises.

 

 

 

Alan Price‘s film reviews can be read online at Filmuforia.  A poetry collection entitled Outfoxing Hyenas was published by Indigo Dreamsin 2012, and his pamphlet  Angels at the Edge appeared in 2016.

 

Later there will be Postcards by Claire Booker is published by Green Bottle Press and can be ordered here: http://greenbottlepress.com/our-books/

 

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Claire Booker reviews ‘Moonrise’ by Ella Chappell

 

Moonrise has the cool, bright quality of its namesake. Pale grey cover, simple clarity of title and lunar etching. And the paper – what joy. Its strong, stippled surface is a reminder that books start life as plants. Creating marginalia is a treat which emits small symphonies of crisp sound. Add to this, Rosie Sherwood’s evocative nightscapes – ghostly apparitions on waxed paper that offer a liminal otherness – and the whole feel is one of quality.

But what of the writing itself? Ella Chappell’s poems are both sophisticated and feral. Here is a poet who is unafraid of taking risks and mostly successful with those that she does take. From the off, we’re on a trajectory through night, love, identity and meaning. In 01:41, 40% waning crescent

“If two black holes collided/ and sent epic ripples through spacetime
I’d be happy for this moment to be crinkled up into a thousand years.
Our hands would hold at the rate of an unfurling fern, and slower.”

Moonrise is not short of arresting titles. Anisotropy is as intriguing as its own title. It lays out lengthwise across a double page and intersperses the italicized experiences of a female clubber with a philosophical lecture on happiness.

“There are two categories of happiness.
On New Year’s Eve she tried to leave a club but couldn’t get her coat from the cloakroom.

Direct happiness originating in genuinely good experience.
An Italian boy and his French friend dragged her back to the dance floor and took turns
to push her between the bar and their warm tongues.

Chappell is no traditionalist, but her ear can be acute:

“There is no way to consume the moon.
The moon is as pure as fucking.
But that’s the truth.
There are all these lonely blue-white blooms.

And, oh god, I remember now
That a man used to love me,
And some day my body will be in the ground.”

Some poems use repetition to good effect. A few might have benefitted from the red pencil.
But that’s the price to pay for Chappell’s brutal, honest playfulness, which offers up such gems as this solipsistic riff in Blue Buttercups:

“I see my own name in retina display fifty times daily
And repeat it to myself a mantra
an affirmation of a concept that has disappeared
Ella Jane Chappell watches herself, disdainful, ironic
watches ellajchappell, unarmed, childlike, drunk, watches
pure ella chappell in an abandoned Serbian dorm room” . . .

culminating in the wisdom of the lines:

“I realized all this time I had mistaken excitement for happiness.
Preferable
to brown cones of done buddleia.”

In A great way to go back home she spars with concepts of identity, offering powerful lines such as: “Unreal city, all I am is waiting on the weightless curation of personality.”

Chappell sparkles with fresh, original phrases, and when her choices are sharp, the result is a pleasure to read, offering a vibrant, uninhibited perspective on questions that matter. As in the close of her final poem Draughts:

Here is the world.
It gets no better and no worse.”

 

 

Claire Booker’s debut poetry pamphlet Later there will be Postcards is published by Green Bottle Press (www.greenbottlepress.com/our-books). Her poems have appeared in Ambit, Magma, the Morning Star, North, Rialto and the Spectator among others. Her stage plays have been produced in America, Australia, Europe and the UK. www.bookerplays.co.uk
Moonrise by Ella Chappell is Published by As Yet Untitled, Price £10.00. 19 pages of poetry, 4 pages of photo-images (by Rosie Sherwood) It is available here: /moonrise-by-ella-chappell/
 

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