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

 

Read More

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#

 

 

Read More

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read More

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/

 

Read More

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/
 

Read More

Raef Boylan reviews ‘Exclamation Marx!’ by Neil Laurenson

exclamation-marx-cover

Alongside serving as a Green Party councillor in Worcester, Neil Laurenson has recently launched his first poetry pamphlet. Published by Coventry-based Silhouette Press, Exclamation Marx! is a collection of witty commentaries on the political and social issues of life in present-day Britain.

The eponymous first poem was published in the Rogues issue of Here Comes Everyone (HCE) magazine, and several of the other pieces have also appeared in HCE over the years. For Silhouette Press, who founded HCE, these successes cemented Laurenson’s reputation as a talented poet and they were then happy for the opportunity to work with him when he submitted his manuscript. ‘A Sub-Editor’s Last Day’ achieved success in the Inspired by My Museum International Writing Competition and was printed in the subsequent anthology, while ‘Mole’ received a commendation from George Szirtes as part of the Norwich Open Writers’ Circle Poetry Competition. Additionally, some of Laurenson’s work has been published in Hand Job zine, Poetry Potion and Brittle Star.  

Laurenson is self-deprecating towards his own work, describing his delivery as oscillating somewhere between comedy and poetry. His collection is geared towards performance, and even advises at the start that the book is “(to be read aloud)”. I can attest to the appeal these pieces hold for a live audience, having had the pleasure of seeing him recite a selection from Exclamation Marx! at his Coventry book launch. People in the crowd seemed to appreciate the poet’s blend of political frustration with clever puns and light-hearted observations.

Almost every poem in the pamphlet satisfies with a punchline; however, Laurenson does not rely solely on this device, taking care to include plenty of clever lines and puns throughout. A few of the poems take this humour to the extreme, passing through with the brevity of formulaic jokes, whereas the remainder are more anecdotal. Subject matter ranges from portrayal of petty individuals to the trials of marriage and fatherhood, such as in ‘Russian Maths’:

“Witness our son
Who subtracted three and a half
Russian dolls
From a family of ten
By flushing them down the toilet.”

through to wry politics, some of which is becoming more relevant by the day, as can be seen in ‘Selection of Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Barking and Dogenham’:

“His profile is quite literally low
And he dribbles down his chin
But you won’t doubt his dedication
Nor his willingness to please.
Yes, there’s the defecation
But look at the current MPs –”

These attacks on the British Party system and on specific ideologies – those of the Tories, UKIP and even a swipe at failed Socialism – will feel welcome to certain demographics in the current climate. It could be argued that this perhaps puts the collection in danger of becoming dated but, unfortunately, I doubt that the political mess will sort itself out any time soon. In the meantime, have a read of Exclamation Marx!  and let Laurenson reassure you there are plenty of laughs to be had in the face of austerity.

Many of the poems are structured around a consistent scheme with AABB or ABAB end-rhymes, while others take a more adventurous approach with internal rhymes or only occasional rhyming to assist the flow and pace. The suburban despair creatively explored in ‘Death in Basingstoke’ and, although inspired by Edward Thomas’ Adlestrop, the everyday bleakness of ‘Something Original’:

“And for a minute you scowled at me

As if to say

I should have been more respectful,

More religious,

And it seemed that God agreed

As the sky growled and it rained.”

invite comparisons to Larkin’s cynicism.

As an overall collection, Exclamation Marx! would have risked fatigue had it consisted purely of protest politics. Fortunately, it features a healthy variety in terms of both content and form. Laurenson’s poetry is well-crafted and good-natured, guaranteed to provoke several smiles.

Order your copy of Exclamation Marx! (Silhouette Press, Coventry) here: www.amazon.co.uk

Read More

Cian Murphy reviews ‘The Seasons of Cullen Church’ by Bernard O’Donoghue

27023-books-origjpg

Bernard O’Donoghue says it is difficult to name a poetry book, because most are made up of ‘bits and pieces’. The Seasons of Cullen Church is apt. It evokes both the passage of time and the intense attention to location found in O’Donoghue’s work. Previous collections have also taken place and time as titular concerns and the book finds foreshadows, too, of its strong elegiac themes.

It is indicative of the richness of life in his childhood home of Cullen, and of O’Donoghue’s skill as an archaeologist, that he can still unearth so much from a place he left as a teenager. He returns, or tries to return, over and over. The title poem speaks of émigrés, priests, ‘returned / from California, Manchester or the Far East.’ In ‘Evacuee’ it is the poet’s ‘Manchester mother’ who yearns to go back across the Irish Sea. However, there is also a sense of displacement and isolation. We find it in ‘Connolly’s Bookshop’, with Robinson Crusoe afloat on a sea of books, and in ‘Underfoot’, with its reference to Man Friday. And any frequent traveller will recognise the dislocation in ‘First Night There’.

Quiet devastations abound. There are no ‘ta-daa’ moments – O’Donoghue prefers a gentle reveal of the complexity of lives that are, like fractals, more intricate the closer we look at them. In ‘Specific Gravity’ a brief meditation on science breaks into elegy as a man on a mountaintop hopes that the ‘sea wind / might drain all trace of fluid from the eyes’. ‘The Din Beags’ tells of the macabre burial of a horse in frozen ground. And ‘The Thaw’ inverts a familiar motif to seek a return to ‘human cold… packed in ice’ to preserve a relationship.

There is an ever-present sense of loss. The Seasons closes with a snippet of translation to acknowledge a loss that is public, professional and, perhaps for O’Donoghue, also personal. In ‘The Boat’, for Seamus Heaney, O’Donoghue recalls that the righteous man is ‘safe and sound / as long as he stays within the boat’s timbers.’ The poem is not showy but showcases what the dedicatee once described as the ‘craft’ and ‘technique’ of the poet. The metre and line breaks rock us down the page. But any attempt to rush will see the reader stumble. The poem is a reminder that balance is dynamic, that to be upright we must not be still, but in steady motion.

In ‘From Piers Plowman’ – an earlier translation from the poem behind ‘The Boat’ – O’Donoghue vaunts ‘the magical world / That I haven’t the time or the skill to describe’. But it is not so. Although O’Donoghue revels in the ordinary he also offers the extraordinary. There is the majestic beauty, most of all in ‘Swifts’, in which the poet recalls

 

the shearwaters who were all around us

one mystic Skellig midnight, souls returned

from their other, closed life deep out at sea.

 

The near-mythological imagery of this island, and the religious overtones of several of the poems, bridge any thematic gap between ordinary life in Cullen and the extraordinary found in the collection’s translations from Dante and Virgil.

The late Geoffrey Hill wrote that a poem ought to be a ‘sad and angry consolation’. If there is anger in O’Donoghue’s poetry, then it is a quiet one, a defiance of any temptation to be impulsive in the face of our losses. ‘The Boat’ can be read as a reflection on the life of the poet. This was a preoccupation of the dedicatee and can also be found elsewhere in The Seasons in ‘You Know the Way’. In a Frostian equivocation over the path chosen the poet wonders ‘how far the decision will take you from the straight and narrow’. Elsewhere, in ‘Stigma’, the poet quizzes his preoccupation with ‘Con’s shaky bike’ in Cullen amidst the ‘poverties of our present time’. Perhaps these returns to home ground keep O’Donoghue within the boat’s timbers – safe from the stormier waters of current affairs.

But for all the loss and self-doubt here there is also consolation. O’Donoghue connects the present to what has gone before to remind us that seasons return. It is his particular gift to do so with images of humanity at its most plain and in a poetry that sits amongst the gentlest music of Ireland’s lyrical tradition. These poems, and the consolation they offer, are therefore vital, both because of their necessity, and because they concern themselves with the very essence of life.

 

 

Cian Murphy is from Cork and lives in London where he teaches at university. Envoi will publish his poetry in October of this year.

Read More