Peter Daniels reviews ‘The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions’ by Jacqueline Saphra

Jacqueline Saphra, The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions, Flipped Eye 2011, £5.99

This is an exceptionally good collection of poems that have both energy and weight, as they sparkle while they settle into your consciousness. These qualities come from a strongly individual voice, and a sense of self which is not self-obsession but an enquiring about who the self is, how this person came to be there, and the way she is. It starts with conception, in “An Unofficial History”, where the unlikeliness of sex between parents is compounded by their evident mismatch as a couple: “I can’t say I was there precisely”, she tells us, but “this story was laid down / in my bones, because I was waiting, willing to be conjured.”

The book is in three sections: childhood and youth; being grown up; and the poet’s own motherhood and the old age of her mother. Not that every poem is about the poet’s own life, but this is where the book is grounded, and her steady ability to look hard at embarrassing and painful experience perhaps has something to do with the kind of conversation you get from a mother (I assume not entirely made up) whose night has been spent in “grunt and gasp” with a lover, telling her daughter in the morning “Sex is like oxygen”:

there’s no virtue 

in virginity. Don’t eat that.
You have your father’s legs.

– to which the daughter can only respond with anorexia: “I want her to applaud / my clavicle, my ribs”. Yet the book is not at all a misery memoir. The misery is in the past, the belief in being ugly “only youth with its tilted longings”, and the clearsighted poet can find the right way to put the experience into words without self-pity, in fact to show the pain but allow its endearing and funny qualities to touch us.

The “lovely contraptions” are not sandwich toasters and rice cookers in the poem of that name, but something more human, or at least softer –  the underwear in her kitchen “hung from a ceiling trap in readiness” for him. But there is joy in mechanical contraptions like the “Hot Chip Machine” in childhood where a shilling slips “as if into a secret well / of boiling oil”, or “Triumph Triple R” whose eponymous motorbike brings “a new world” of “You be biker I’ll be biker chick”; but there are plenty more of the less mechanical ones with which people work on each other – “So now we know the men, / their tricks of love and artifice” ( “Keeping House”); “Use her song to pull the string / make your strumpet strut and sing” (“Brother of the Gusset”). Like the gusset (18th century pimps’ slang) and the kitchen underwear, clothing is a major element – “When you have a new dress anything’s possible”, or the stolen red wrap in “Lost Property” – “I have the eye and I have the greed / and she has my red wrap and she has caught you inside it.” Food and good housekeeping keep up the kitchen side, as in the rather puzzling “Household Tips for the Obliteration of Green”; and just about everything you could do with asparagus (“So when you said asparagus / I took myself to market”).

In “The Goods” these are “not the gifts you asked for”, and” this clever machine / of my own flesh” is only partly sexual. The ambivalence of loss and longing in this poem is achieved through the kind of lovely contraption that all these poems are, finely tuned and outstanding in performance, some of them real classics – “Penelope” turning Cavafy’s “Ithaca” round to a perspective that hardly includes Odysseus at all, and “Lambkin”, a worthy winner of the Ledbury competition, which is both deft and deeply felt, the parallels of a son and his friend born the same day, the mother’s exasperation over feeding and sleep in his babyhood – “Stupidly, I thought there could be nothing worse” –  and the other parents’ loss of their grown son; meanwhile the sheep give birth and the lambs provide comforting wool, “brazen”

in the innocence of nudge and suckle,
their stupid-eyed, impatient mothers
feeding at the very edge of spring.

…reviewed by Peter Daniels

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Hilary Mellon after Selima Hill

Portrait of My Lover as a Waterfall

(after Selima Hill)

How relentless you are, O Lord,
and how obsessively you pour yourself
dragging everything with you, right over the
edge and down into the flurry and the frenzy
of your important falling.

No time have you, O Lord,
for the widest of rivers,
the narrowest of streams,
the largest of lakes,
the smallest of fish ponds.

No thought have you, O Lord,
for any other sort of water.

*Hilary Mellon is a poet, tutor and workshop leader. Her poems have appeared in over eighty different magazines and anthologies, four pamphlet books and one full length collection. She is also a life model.

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'The Lesson' from Stephen Boyce

The Lesson
for Vim

On my back in the pool
as the morning sun sweeps round
from behind the hills
and swallows skim the surface of the water,
I’m staring into the blue.
And it feels like falling.

Like falling upwards,
sudden and vertiginous.

Disentangled from the net
of light that laps around me,
beyond the filmy globs in my eyes,
the wisps of white that float
above the valley slopes,
I am falling.

Falling upwards.
Into the blue, the endless blue.

And I remember asking you
as we sat beneath the wisteria
while your tears were drying
and lizards scurried into the shade:
“When does falling become floating?”

And you said: “You’ll know.
If you only let go.”

All week the red-backed shrike was in the acacia,
among its ripening purple pods,
urging her fledglings
into their first breathless
and uncertain flight.

*Stephen Boyce lives in Winchester. He has won the Kent & Sussex and Leicester poetry competitions and his work has appeared widely in magazines  His collection Desire Lines was published by Arrowhead Press in 2010.

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Myra Schneider’s 'Goulash'


A crucial ingredient is the right frame of mind
so abandon all ideas of getting on. Stop pedalling,
dismount, go indoors and give yourself masses of time.
Then begin by heating a pool of oil in a frying pan
and, Mrs. Beeton style, take a dozen onions
even though the space you’re working in is smaller
than the scullery in a Victorian mansion.  Pull off  
the papery wrappings and feel the shiny globes’ solidity
before you chop. Fry the segments in three batches.
Don’t fuss about weeping eyes, with a wooden spoon
ease the pieces as they turn translucent and gold.
When you’ve browned but not burnt the cubes of beef
marry meat and onions in a deep pan, bless the mixture
with stock, spoonfuls of paprika, tomato purée
and crushed garlic. Enjoy the Pompeian-red warmth.
Outside, the sun is reddening the pale afternoon
and you’ll watch as it sinks behind blurring roofs,
the raised arms of trees, the intrepid viaduct.
In the kitchen’s triumph of colour and light the meat
is softening and everything in the pot is seeping
into everything else. By now you’re thinking of love:
the merging which bodies long for, the merging
that’s more than body. While you’re stirring the stew
it dawns on you how much you need darkness.
It lives in the underskirts of thickets where sealed buds
coddle green, where butterflies folded in hibernation,
could be crumpled leaves. It lives in the sky that carries
a deep sense of blue and a thin boat of moon angled
as if it’s rocking. It lives in the silent larder and upstairs
in the airing cupboard where a padded heart pumps
heat, in the well of bed where humans lace together.
Time to savour all this as the simmering continues,
as you lay the table and place at its centre a small jug
in which you’ve put three tentative roses and sprigs
of rosemary. At last you will sit down with friends
and ladle the dark red goulash onto plates bearing
beds of snowhite rice. As you eat the talk will be bright
as the garnets round your neck, as those buried
with an Anglo-Saxon king in a ship at Sutton Hoo,
and the ring of words will carry far into the night.


from Circling The Core (Enitharmon Press 2008)

*Myra Schneider’s most recent books are Circling The Core (Enitharmon Press) and Writing Your Self (with John Killick) Continuum (2009). She is a tutor for the Poetry School and consultant to the Second Light Network of Women Poets. Goulash was shortlisted for a Forward Prize.

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Tim Bedford's 'Wolf Moon'

The Wolf Moon
The last half of a moon
hangs above pines,
whose dreams are heavy with snow,
drifting amongst skies mottled
with clouds;
black made from blue.

*Tim Bedford is experiencing an unseasonably early winter.

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Crosby McCloy's 'Postcard to Somewhere'

Postcard to Somewhere

A one legged man, and his shrouded wife, clad from head to toe, the both of them, but the hat of the man implying summer and the shawl of the woman implying eternity, said summer it is. The view over the fence is obscured by a fence placed just above this one. The inscription is printed small enough for only them to decipher, not meant for passers-by, but for this targeted audience of two. They were sent to search and find just these words in a crease on a blank fence, in the cracks that imply waves in a monotone landscape, the sky beyond as grey as the dust under their order propecia online india feet. Or it could have been the color of cement. Find stories that appear, anonymous, no face on the people, stories for which there is no barometer of real or tried or true, but that go on out, shuffling into the horizons of doubt beyond the fence where only these 2 characters can see and yet you ache to meet them there, to see what they see.

*Crosby McCloy is a writer and performer who graduated with an MFA in Writing from Bard College. She will be teaching with Andrew Morrish at Independent Dance in London. She enjoys writing and moving and how each practice can inspire and complement the other.

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The restless Owl-boy studies Venus

The restless Owl-boy studies Venus

What do you see Owl-boy, stirring
the feathered dark around you ?
Your hollow head, plane on the pillow,
rattling with unbecoming dice-thoughts
beside me. I see your lashes blink
their sleepless histories. The wishing star
warms to your company, her cold
knuckle bends in your favour. Breaks
empty beds half open like walnuts–
you creep from one shell to another.
Settle on a rib that tilts you skywards
and you’re out into the dark again.

*Poem by Helen Pletts
 whose two collections, Bottle bank and For the chiding dove, are both
published by YWO/Legend Press (supported by The Arts Council) and
available on Amazon. ‘Bottle bank’ was longlisted for The Bridport
Poetry Prize 2006, under Helen’s maiden name of Bannister. You are
welcome to visit

*Image by Romit Berger who says  “I am a graphic designer. I met my very dear friend, Helen Pletts, in Prague, several years ago. Helen’s inspiration has led my graphic design career into that magical realm which combines illustration and poetry, and our creative wings continue to connect our souls through time and distance.”

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