Jean Atkin reviews ‘Reward for Winter’ by Di Slaney

11-9781908853639

 

Reading Di Slaney’s first full collection from Valley Press, I’m taken straight to where the smell and taste of outdoors makes time pass differently.

‘Every dawn she looks up, sucks on doing words

to break her fast, breathes in the day. So many

to roll around a mouth starved of soil’
But there’s work to do. How to Knit a Sheep (also the title of this first part of the collection) initiates us plainly.

Start with the legs. It helps to
grab a hoof before casting on, or
he might kick you off.

In this playful poem, which re-makes the shearing of a sheep, there’s so much accurate physicality and joy.

Tie the ends off tight
before you let him go, your nose to his
in thanks only eskimos understand.

It’s a poem about sheep, and it’s a poem about grace.

In 2005, Di Slaney left urban living for smallholding in Nottinghamshire, populating her acres with some 150 mostly rescued animals. ‘Reward for Winter’ is made in three parts, opening with How to Knit a Sheep – where vivid and finely crafted poems reflect the smallholder’s labours and discoveries. In Diptych, the poet delves into a sense of tenancy, of house and field inherited – ‘Fitting that this field/ returns, unharmed/ now that the deal is sealed,/ to where they farmed.’

There is sentiment, but no sense of sentimentality. This poem ends with a very 21st century acknowledgement of acquisition: ‘my greedy eyes fill up with green/ buying it back, borrowing a dream’.

Time is long, and cyclical in these poems, but slides between generations. In Doubtful Words, a beautifully made poem, one generation offers advice to another ‘counting down days till the hay is all/ gathered’. That almost forgotten sense of the year’s labour, and its contract with luck, health and weather is all here.

…Then we lie
fallow, cut off by the dark with nights slamming
like sashes, saving our tallow for Midwinter Eve,
the rut that restocks us, God willing, she said.

Yet modern woman’s urban norms do not escape Slaney’s forensic eye (title poem Reward for Winter). ‘For the first time in her adult life/ she allowed herself to sweat, to leave/ dust under her fingernails, to be/ imprecise.’

 

These poems sit well together, leading us back into the layers of the past and the labours of previous workers on this land, but all the while keeping one wary eye on who we are now, and the process of our becoming.

The second section of the book is a kind of biography of hen, divided again into neat egg boxes of poems which explore all the grit and parasites of henkeeping. With their often tight rhymes and specific vocabulary (augmented by notes in the back of the book) these poems are deceptively straightforward -based on Haynes’ ‘Chicken Manual’ – but can often be read into, as in the word-weaving Gular Flutter:

Stay and breathe. Fine to remember.
Calm will. Be everything just.

Perhaps my personal favourite part of this collection is the third – Bildr’s Thorpe. Here Slaney immerses the reader in the slippage between worlds, showing us the layers beneath the present day in this one particular place. In the poem Bildr’s Thorpe (like ‘a half-remembered hearth tale’), she viscerally inhabits the moment of a young man leaving home (later, her home):

He ran from the softness of straw and the comfort
of cattle. He ran because his mother called him
darling, kept him closer than the hounds…

Much research as well as feeling has gone into the making of these poems – Slaney’s preoccupation with a place and its different times is ingrained in them. I particularly enjoyed Their Letters, based on a Jacobean trial for adultery. As with some of the work in this collection, these are prose poems, tightly written, erotic, internally rhyming.

Her letter                      1st May 1610

is pressed from flour-damp breast to Judas-hand Joanna,
hides in spinster folds to pass the Hall, makes its way first
to lips then nose, Peter eager for the hard-worked scent of
her, his Rose with lush, wide petals and soft sticky buds…

For all those who enjoy finely crafted poetry with a rural flavour, and a sense of history, this is a collection to savour and revisit. If you like hens as well, then you’ve really struck gold. And it’s also good to be able to say that Valley Press have created in ‘Reward for Winter’ a most handsome volume, with spacious layout and lushly wrap-around design and flapped cover.

This fine collection from Di Slaney introduces a skilful voice that is strong and flexible, with a fine ear for sound and a great capacity for imagery. And she is exploring something which has been mostly lost: our own intuitive connection to earth in this century, in this country.

 

 

Order your copy of Di Slaney’s Reward for Winter here: http://www.valleypressuk.com/book/15/reward_for_winter

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Felix Purat

Hot Coffee For Hot Days

– For the Café Mediterraneum, Berkeley, CA

My readied latte
lazes on a sun-soaked,
sugarcoated counter
whose marble mimes
of Kennecott malachite,
one among a straightened row
of caffé lattes venting steam,
awaiting their respective persons
of purchase hiding
inside stuffy washrooms
wiping sweat from
their porous backsides
with towelettes soaked
in Calabrian citrus
that could have come from KFC
if there was still one left
in Berkeley, California;

so claims the barista,
who daydreams of Piedmont
where the gianduia grows,
romantic daydreams that follow
a soaking in the summer sauna
of perspiring thoughts
first innovated in the depths
of Finnish forests;
or, vielleicht,
during early afternoons,
meditating inside the Mediterraneum
halfway into
a globally warmed month of May,
drinking hot coffee on hot days
as consumers of the Ethiopian drug
observe the Telegraph Avenue peoples,
never seeming to mind
their own damned business
in the granny smith apples of
their nonchalant eyes.

 

 

Felix Purat lives in Europe. He has been previously published in Paris/Atlantic, Poetry Salzburg Review and Pulsar. Felix has just completed a pamphlet of poems and a novella.

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Sam Murphy

 

 
£3.56

 
Trotsky took the bus to the other
side of town for his friend’s birthday.
The birthday was torn up by children
running around homemade ponds
in hand-me-down trunks and chocolate
covered faces. Trotsky had become annoyed
by the exponential rate of his friends
having children like bacteria on an agar dish.
Children changed them.
They lost touch, lost hair and put on weight.
At the same party a man in the corner,
everyone thought someone else knew,
read The Spectator,
with the grace of a baby eating
a peach on a train.
The man scrunched every double sheet
into a ball and read it in that order.
He threw the balls at the nearest child.
Reading The Spectator out of sequence
gave him an inadequate knowledge of current affairs,
but a kaleidoscope image of what news could be.
The man left the party.
On the chair he left a biro and four tightly scrunched newspaper balls.
He had half finished the crossword.
Trotsky completed the crossword.
He never saw the man again
but left him £3.56 when he died.
It was the least he could for his widow.

 

 

 

Sam Murphy is based in the West Midlands. Sam has recently completed an MA in creative writing at the University of Birmingham, with a focus on Poetry. He tweets infrequently @Sam_Murphy00

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Chin Li

 

 

 

 

Fire

Once upon a time, there was a girl who wanted to learn to sing like fire.  She sat in front of the fire continually, mesmerised by its rhythm, its high notes and its pianissimo.  She was wondering, could this be my life?  She knew it’d be impossible for her to catch the spirit of fire, let alone its essence.  She didn’t want to ask her parents how to do it because, she was sure, they would say she was mad.  One morning she saw a burning bush high up in the mountain, and felt gripped by an irresistible sense of destiny.  She trekked up the mountain path, thinking that if her little finger was singed by the burning bush, she’d be able to sing like fire.  But when she got to the top, there was nothing.  She only saw the skin of her left thumb beginning to crack.

 

 

 

 

Chin Li was brought up in Hong Kong but has lived in the UK for many years.  He has published short fictional works through the Gnommero project, and in Glasgow Review of Books. See also: https://glasgowreviewofbooks.com/2014/10/24/cooking-for-one-a-short-story-by-chin-li/ 

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Pat Farrington

 

 

*

New potatoes

Buried in darkness,
but umbilically linked
to a mother husk,

seven pearly potatoes
must surrender to the spade.

*

Found objects

Watch how willow twigs,
translucent feathers,
lichen, fine hairs are woven

into model coracles
harboured high up in a tree.

*
Revealed

Tattered petticoat
slips off in the wind
leaving a dark skeleton.

 

 

 

 Pat Farrington has had poems published in Orbis, The Reader and The South, and in Haiku Quarterly.

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Chrissie Cuthbertson

 

 

In the sauna

We are no longer
surprised pleased aroused
by our bodies.

In the dark heat
steam is a salving poultice
drawing pain.

I see disappointments
trickle down your back
on the way to acceptance.

My breast leaks droplets
of salty suffering that hang
then fall between cedar slats.

Through the silence
we have become completely
ourselves.

 

 

Chrissie Cuthbertson works as a writer and editor in Oxford and Helsinki. She read English Literature at the University of Reading and wrote Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. Her poems and short fiction pop up in various places including Flash magazine, Ink, Sweat & Tears and South Bank Poetry magazine.

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