Category Archives: Essays

Editorial Note | SLQ October – December 2017

We are selling the metal that kills / so we can afford the spoons that feed our children; / then killing them with the metal that we’ve just sold / feeding them with the blood on the spoons from happy meals. (Matt Duggan ‘Metal’)

 

The poems. The short stories. The play. The Essay & Reviews. They come together in this issue to reflect on what we are doing to our world and to ourselves. We encounter the tricks and the subterfuges of personal relationships. We enjoy the struggles that come along when life-changing decisions are made at the risk of tearing apart families, separating loved ones, and we are thrown into a dance of jubilation as people change, make room for adventure, and somehow, just somehow, love and unity find a way, even as we cannot help the aftermath of wars and their enduring devastations.

 

The IDF in Nablus walk through walls / eviscerating living rooms, inverting geometry. / Where streets prickle with barricades / walls become the easy street, mapped / by laser, admitted by C4. (Noel Williams ‘Lethal Theory’)

 

We celebrate our Sentinel Champions from our August 2017 poetry competition judged by Oz Hardwick; the specially mentioned Kelly Nunnerley ‘Surrender’, L Thompson ‘Your windows’ and Sharon Phillips ‘Labile’. The commended Michael Brown ‘Our Father’, Kathleen Strafford ‘Swinger’ and Jim Friedman ‘Some have entertained angels unawares’. The highly commended Maria Isakova Bennett ‘Frozen Ringtone’, Diane Cook ‘The Softening’ and Sharon Phillips -again – ‘What does the heart mean in popular culture?’. Gabriel Griffin ‘Vanitas’ (third prize), Greta Ross ‘In transit’ and Noel Williams ‘Lethal Theory’ (first prize winner.)

 

Think about Travelling without Moving by Jamiroquai, when you read the play ‘Out of the Night’ by Geoffrey Heptonstall. Theatre of the absurd does in your head the way this play chips away at our minds and patience. Yet we recognize that out of the ashes of war, out of the coldness of prison cells and the loneliness of institutions for the mentally ill rise many Alans and Doloreses. We know it is time to change the way we live, the way we talk, the way we treat each other.

 

As we publish our last 2017 issue of Sentinel Literary Quarterly, we give many thanks to our poetry editor, Mandy Pannett, for her untiring love of this magazine and the sacrifices she makes to ensure we keep on publishing amazing. Many thanks to our subscribers, the generous individuals and institutions who pay for this magazine despite its availability at no cost online. Special appreciation to those faithful participants in our writing competitions. Many of you have been with us right from the beginning, through the times we have been strong and the times we have been troubled. You have stood behind us (whether your poems have placed or not), and the little margins, when we achieve some are plunged right back into publishing this magazine. We give our love too to those who have just recently discovered Sentinel and are building a relationship with us.

 

Finally, we owe the teams at The Poetry Library (London), The Poetry Kit, The Poetry Society of New Zealand, Writers Reign, Prize Magic, The Poetry Can, Orbis, Writers Editors, The First Writer and Christopher Fielden for all the free and regular promotion they give our competitions and magazine.

Merry Christmas.

 

Nnorom Azuonye |Publisher & Managing Editor

editor@sentinelquarterly.com

Call/Text/WhatsApp +44 (0) 7812 755 751

Landing Stage

Author: Joan Michelson
Publisher: SPM Publications
ISBN: 978-0-9935035-6-6
Pages: 65 pages
Price: £7.50
Reviewer: MANDY PANNETT

Landing Stage by Joan Michelson won a well-deserved third prize in the SPM Publications Poetry Book Competition 2016. It is a highly original book which deserves to be read many times, cover to cover, to appreciate the full impact of the themes of displacement and alienation from the 1930s to the present day.

In her Preface, Joan Michelson describes the ethos that underpins the collection and asks how individuals and members of a community can live with and learn from devastating tragedy and trauma. One possibility, she suggests, is to build on feelings evoked in response to situations and images. In Landing Stage she does just that, capturing ‘individual moments caught in the crosshairs of place and time.’

The collection is divided into three sections vastly different in content and layout but which overlap in terms of theme. The first section Reportage begins with these striking lines entitled If Not I, Who?

‘With no right, I step into your life.
With an ‘Alright’, I assume my right
to cross the border of your voice.’

The thirteen poems that follow are fragments of some of these borders, echoes of their sounds.

The overall tone is laconic and detached, the style of a news report but written in the speech rhythms of individuals in different cultures trying to convey their stories through unfamiliar English. Schoolboy, Serbia, 1992 is a strong example of impact achieved through detachment: ‘We lived in a block/of flats. My friend Moamer/was killed by a grenade. My/friend Aldin was killed by a/bullet while he was sleeping.’

This extract from Syrian Mother, Berlin 2016 where a whole family waits in one room for the asylum process to be completed, is poignant in its bleakness: ‘I say/that it is better than to be in/the streets and in tents. Just/we are waiting… And I leave my parents/because they are old enough/they can’t go with us… ‘As soon as/possible I need them because/I miss them too much. I am/afraid. They are not safe. I/don’t want them to die/before I see them.’
Some of the most tragic and telling words are spoken in Syrian Woman, Lesbos, 2015 which gives an account of forty-eight people being landed from a boat: ‘So dark. We arrive with/too many dead. All refugees/think here is heaven. Here is/nothing.’

Form and style are different in Section II The Reach of War but the feelings are the same. One poem that is heartbreakingly effective is Bosnian Girl which begins with the brutal lines ‘When they had finished with her and her mother/she climbed a tree and hung herself’ and ends with the narrator’s fantasy of turning back time so that she might free the girl by unbuckling ‘the woven belt she slung around a branch./Her slim bare legs are swinging down./Feet on earth again, up she springs and runs.’

This section is rich in striking poems but possibly the one that I’ll remember most is Half an Angel. Here a woman, sixty years after the war, tries to find out about her father ‘who was never mentioned.’ To her horror she finds a photo of him in SS uniform being condemned for war crimes. The poem ends with this:

‘She finds some solace in a witness statement
that describes her father as ‘half an angel’.
He allowed caps on during roll call.
And sometimes, he kept the killer dogs in check.’

The final section of this book is called Fire Goddess and adds an element of myth and folklore to the story of Bets whose father died in an Occupation Camp while she and her mother suffered a year in solitary confinement. These poems are multi-faceted and shift between narrative, reportage, letters and the lyricism of a poem like Oranjehotel where Bets dreams that her Oma (grandmother) is singing ‘And she woke./And saw the prison walls./And heard herself singing ‘Soo – lee – ram,/the song her Oma/used to sing to her/when she was small.’

Landing Stage is one of the most powerful and effective poetry collections I have read. Joan Michelson says she hopes that ‘feelings will rise from reading these poems’. They certainly do for me.

Buy Landing Stage here

Mandy Pannett, author of All the Invisibles</em> (SPM Publications), is the Poetry Editor of Sentinel Literary Quarterly

Oranges in January

Author: Pansy Maurer-Alvarez.
Publisher: Knives Forks And Spoons Press.
ISBN: 978-1-909-44377-8
Pages: 119 pages
Price: £9
Reviewer: MANDY PANNETT

It is always a pleasure to read the poetry of Pansy Maurer-Alvarez and I appreciate this chance to review her latest, beautifully produced collection, Oranges in January.

A key feature of all her writing is its musicality. As she herself says in an article ‘poetry is first and foremost music … the brain automatically, instinctively, makes associations without one having to think.’ It is the sensuousness of the poetry and the intuitive awareness of connections that appeal to me. May, Apparently from a Calendar begins with a medieval pageant crossing a bridge into a crowded town ‘unnoticed’ by a ‘you’ who is one of a boating party on the river. Simon Bening’s painting shows May as a green month – an ‘allover green’, a ‘profusion of green’ but the predominant colour is red which becomes the link between the medieval calendar and the intimacy of a present day phone call as images mingle and shift as gradually as the river light in both scenes.

The poem, In Memory of the Unclaimed, is a perfect example of the subtle use of concept conveyed through metaphor. The unclaimed are the thousands who died during the heat wave in France in 2003 and whose identities were never acknowledged by their next of kin. Apart from a footnote no facts are given but the tragic events are depicted through the metaphor of ‘birdness’ which is ‘removed’ with the loss of air, flight and song. ‘This summer’, we are told, ‘the sky has dropped its birds/and doesn’t know them anymore.’ They are poignant lines.

Central to the poems in Oranges in January is the theme of memory. There is the kind that is both collective and personal, built into ‘Neolithic landscapes of/awakening and wonder’ where ‘our bones/retain a memory of living: of clouds/of things like jasmine/or milkweed;/a foot sliding into a shoe on a /grey and rainy (again) day;/of places that were dark and cold,’ (Spring’s Sudden This Year and Things Change). There are memories that are random, triggered by something as natural as ‘reflections seen in street puddles’ or ‘the swish of wet cars’(Coming and Going in Rain). In Particular (for snow) memories like this evoke other, deeper moments, precious as ‘bright petals/buried two years now in the snow’. Especially moving and beautiful are memories of the poet’s father, some elicited in dreams ‘as darkly coloured as water at night’, (Valediction), others that are tantalisingly elusive as in Draw Me Closer where ‘I listen for your story remembering the voice I know best but it has lost/ its face like one misplaces an earring’ and ‘I know you’re telling me something important enough to remember./You’re describing a picture that isn’t a picture. You aren’t using/ colours. You aren’t using words.’

Memory, then, is an important theme in Oranges in January. Possibly the poem that I find most meaningful is Water-Meadow with Birches where a video installation shows the reservoir that ‘served the kitchens and latrines of Birkenau’. Here the surface of the wind-moved water might stir the imagination into summoning up ‘living/memory’ of ‘nightmare shadows’ but, at the same time, ‘life/ goes on and people live nearby/Not everything comes to the surface of the water/Not everything is said or stops’.

It is this sense of a living memory that I find significant in Pansy Maurer-Alvarez’ poetry. Memories, she implies in Particular (for sunrays), are more than just a re-visiting of the past, more than a moment of nostalgia for ‘that yellow light’ in ‘our daisy fields’. They are a new experience, a source of ‘knowledge’ to be treasured and stored as if in an ‘exquisite box of/inlaid Japanese lacquer’ and glimpsed from time to time. ‘Inside is where we need to go’, she says, describing the source of her own creativity and inner life in ‘my personal compartment/inside the music where the poems go – where they run with the river alongside me/when night is low, the destination clear.’

The poems in Oranges in January are multi-layered, rich in imagery and shifting moods, personal and moving, mysterious, dreamlike, contemplative, elemental (especially evocative of air and water) – there are many, many facets to enjoy and linger over.

Buy Oranges in January

Mandy Pannett, author of All the Invisibles is the Poetry Editor of Sentinel Literary Quarterly.

Subtitles: 1

Matthew James Babcock

 

This is the first in a series of short creative nonfiction pieces called “Subtitles” (where the title comes at the end). 

     I am a paid pair of eyes. I help a bearded man in ragged cutoff shorts — a man named Kasim —with his English translation of the Koran, until the director discovers he isn’t enrolled as a student and bans him from the center.  Before he gets banned, Kasim waits down the hall in a sunken room of cranky radiators and abused cubicles and prays kneeling on his braided rug of exquisite gold and maroon, and when I enter and call his name he rises and from his smoky beard his smile flashes like a shard of rare sunlight.

     I help a redheaded guy who smells of canned chili and wears black jeans, a black T-shirt with a Casper the Friendly Ghost decal, and a black overcoat streaked with powdered sugar.  Acne shellacs his forehead like a curse.  He grins and braces gleam.  Behind his greasy glasses his green eyes glimmer as he reads to me about his suicide attempt — a hanging in the garage, foiled by his dad on his way to tee off at the country club.  As if savoring a delicacy, he beams over the account, particularly pleased with the phrase “feces bulged into my underwear.”

     Midweek in the morning a blond girl in an oatmeal overcoat enters and asks for help.  I scoot over and she sits next to me.  Her stapled white paper flaps on the desk, and her hands hover over it like relaxed claws.  Rainbows ring the fingers of her fingerless gloves of white wool.  Her frizzy hair cascades to her shoulders like the hurried coiffure of a French poodle.

     “I’m not sure it’s any good,” she says, shrugging off her coat.  “I just need help with some things.”

     “Let’s look,” I say.

     The “Center”: a junction of cramped offices in the basement of the old Ray B. West Building.  Green metallic bookcases teeter against cinderblock walls, overflowing with the hardback psychedelia of a museum of style manuals.  In the hallway students thunder past like bison.  Through the door to the lab, rows of students gawk at computer monitors the size of microwave ovens.  Their slack-jawed faces glow electric blue, twenty zombies waiting for twenty frozen burritos to cook.  A Filipino-looking graduate student with Buddy Holly glasses and glistening black curls balances an apricot Danish on a paper plate and serpentines through the computers, speaking like a Cambridge don.  His belly paunch hangs over the waist of his faded jean shorts.  His T-shirt is two sizes too small.  Black flip-flop sandals slap his heels.

     “This is what they call the world wide web,” he says and takes a bite of Danish.

     “What’s your essay on?” I say.

     “Virginia Woolf,” the girl says.  “Due next week.”

     “Why don’t you read it, and I’ll listen.”

     I speak without hope because it is impossible to hear anything at this crossroads of chaos.  The graduate students work in the back room, like privileged priests sequestered in solitude, where they can close the door and meditate on the work of their young charges in the natural light spilling through a bubble-glass window.  Andrea, the center’s director, lurks in her office, her door perpetually propped open, ready to pounce on any writing heresies uttered by undergraduates.  Andrea wears plain plum cardigans, olive slacks, and pointy black pumps.  The woman has black marbles for eyes.  Her head hangs on her neck as if she’s short a few spinal discs, and her long grayish-brown bangs mask half her face, which makes her look like an aged skateboarder. 

     The graduate student in the back office is a petite blond woman — Arctic blond — with an elegantly sharp nose.  Her favorite uniform is a ribbed white long underwear top, form-fitting bleached jeans, and a canvas belt with a brass D-ring buckle.  Her masculine hairstyle — sheared up the back, short over the ears, floofy “rooster” bangs — could land her as the front man in an 80’s band.  I don’t know if she’s gay.  She’s friendly with the openly gay undergraduate and graduate students, but when she’s not working, she sits in a chair behind me, and whenever I turn around she tucks her bare feet under her in a salacious lotus position and arches her back the way women do when they pretend to stretch in order to showcase their breasts.

     I try to listen to the girl’s Virginia Woolf paper, but noise muffles her voice.  It’s also hard to listen because I just finished To the Lighthouse myself — the night before, staying late and locking myself in the graduate student office — and the book has toppled my inner gyroscope, leaving me feeling rapturously unmoored in the mosaics of Modernism.  I try to hook my thoughts into the girl’s sentences, but I can’t stop thinking: How can you write a three-part novel and have the second part be basically about the cleaning lady?  The audacious grandeur of one sentence keeps undulating through my inner ear: “Mrs. McNab, when she broke in and lurched about, dusting, sweeping, looked like a tropical fish oaring its way through sun-lanced waters.”

     “Because of the evils of men,” the girl reads.  “We see . . . ”

     “Evils of men?” I say, snapping back to reality.  “Why are men evil?”

     Andrea’s upper half flaps into her open doorway like a hinged vampire figure in an amusement park ride.

     “Because they have strong backs and tiny minds,” she says, vanishing into her study.

     The girl and I gaze at her paper.  She holds her hands like a pianist unsure of which chords come next in the concerto.  I glance behind me.  The blond graduate student sits with her knees apart, hands clasped behind her head, back arched, breasts shooting for the sun as if painted on the nose of a B-52.

     Then Andrea’s upper half swings into the doorway, a swollen smile on her lips. 

     “Matt,” she says.  “When you get a second, could you help me move this bookcase to the other side of my office?”

Introduction to Feminism

 

Matthew James Babcock: Professor.  Writer.  Failed breakdancer.  Lived for two years in Great Britain. Books: Points of Reference (Folded Word); Strange Terrain (Mad Hat); Heterodoxologies (Educe Press); Future Perfect (forthcoming, Ferry Street Books, 2018).

RESULTS AND JUDGE’S REPORT – SLQ POETRY COMPETITION (AUGUST 2017)

Oz Hardwick SF Presidio  Library I have, over the past couple of years or so, been involved in a number of conversations in which someone has bemoaned the dearth of political poems. My response has invariably been a bemused What? From the lone poem in a regular journal, through individual collections, to issue-based anthologies and epic projects like 100 Thousand Poets for Change, poetry – like all the arts – is articulating local and global political concern, engagement, anger, fear etc. on paper, on-line, and on walls.

 

It is of course legitimate to ask what use such poems are against the often overwhelming insurmountable-seeming challenges we – regardless of race, religion, or any other differences – face, both politically and environmentally. To the despairing (and I occasionally fall into that category myself), I’d suggest that poetry can give voice to the voiceless, can distil the core of human experience into engines of visceral communication at the sharpest edge of language, and in doing so can remind us of the strength of our shared humanity. It can also do a lot more, of course, but these are perhaps the most pressing calls upon the arts at present.

 

I was heartened by the number of poems submitted for the competition that focused on issues from the wilful decimation of the British NHS by a self-interested government, to human displacement on a global scale: and, beyond this, they were very good poems indeed. Both ‘Lethal Theory’ and ‘In transit’ are excellent examples. The former employs military acronyms and the impersonal language of medicine, perfectly balanced around the human tragedy of those caught up in events within which they are barely acknowledged. Specific, yet chillingly universal, the poem’s strength lies as much in what is avoided as what is said, culminating in the blunt negative of that unforgettable final line. The latter is a very different poem, but no less powerful, the second-person address and controlled vagueness concerning detail places the reader uncomfortably into a limbo without full stops that continually stacks the odds against the shadow of hope that is desperately introduced mid-way through the final stanza.

 

            Lest all this imply a single-mindedness of approach to subject in my assessment of the range of poems submitted, the ekphrastic ‘Vanitas’ stood out as a beautifully tight response to a painting that – as with all the best poems of its type – goes way beyond its descriptive surface, tapping into questions of faith and very corporeal connections and absences, resolving into that rich image of the ‘thick and wrinkled’ wax. Additionally, of course, it vividly evokes the private, domestic space and the dangerous unknown without, as – in their own ways – do the previously discussed poems. And if there was one overriding theme that arose time and time again in the submitted poems, it was this idea of the home, with all of its connotations of security and fragility. Indeed, of those dozen poems that made my short-list, more than half directly addressed the theme in one way or another: an indication, perhaps, of a shared response to uncertain times in which we are more conscious of our need for the safe and the known – and, I hope, for a place in which to welcome and be welcomed.

 

            The pleasure in judging this competition was the difficulty of the task, and in the reaffirmation of poetry’s – and art’s more generally – importance.

 

Oz Hardwick

 

THE RESULTS

 

Special Mentions:

Labile – Sharon Phillips

Surrender – Kelly Nunnerley

Your windows – L Thompson

Commended:

Our Father – Michael Brown

Swinger – Kathleen Strafford

Some have entertained angels unawares – Inky

Highly Commended:

Frozen Ringtone – Maria Isakova Bennett

What does the heart mean in popular culture? – Sharon Phillips

The Softening – Diane Cook

Third Prize:

Vanitas – Gabriel Griffin

Second Prize:

In transit – Greta Ross

First Prize:

Lethal theory – Noel Williams

 

competitions@sentinelpoetry.org.uk  / office@sentinelwriting.com

Venturing beyond our daily mien, Jude Neale reads from Splendid in its Silence

By Rebecca Tunnacliffe

Jude Neale Reading

For most of us, reading poetry is an uncommon occurrence. Poetry requires a focus and stillness we don’t often afford ourselves. So when our Island poet Jude Neale recently read from her latest collection, she offered us a rare and quiet contemplation. Splendid in its Silence is Jude’s fifth book of poetry which delivers what we seek in poetry – entry to deep thought and elevated feeling.

Jude read a dozen poems to Sunday’s full house of appreciative listeners. Her artistic gift is the ability to capture an everyday moment and elevate it to an iconic experience. In Jude’s poems we can dwell in the rarified space that poetry opens for us.

She began with the title poem which set the tone for all that followed – the memorializing of life’s fleeting yet monumental moments. We feel the intimate longing at the side of a dying spouse, the push from the wind urging a lover’s decision, the child’s elation of first communion in new shoes. The most poignant moment for me was a mother’s emptiness in the wake of her daughter’s leaving home as she experiences the fading warmth, the lingering scent, the impression on the bed. The images and ideas in Jude’s condensed expressions invite our vulnerability and reward us with an unexpected perspective, a tilt through her characteristic turn of phrase that elicits an emotional reaction – a tear, a gasp, a chuckle, even a shiver.

Hearing Jude recite in her mellifluous voice from Splendid in its Silence was to be transported to a rich inner life. Her melodious performance drew on her singer’s talent, and gave lilt and phrasing that will now forever echo in my future readings. Whether in recitation or on the page, Jude’s poetry touches us, and offers our community a connection to our deeper selves and to each other. We can relate to her poetic expressions that speak to our shared experiences as Bowen Islanders and to a world beyond our daily mien.

Jude Neale’s volumes of poetry can be found at the Phoenix and at the SPM Publications Shophttp://judeneale.ca, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca,

Leonard Cohen is John Donne to Bob Dylan’s Shakespeare by Edward Docx

The first time I thought consciously about Leonard Cohen’s death was in 2002. I was listening to his 2001 album Ten New Songs while crawling my way through the writing of a novel in which each chapter took its title from one of the poems in The Songs and Sonnets of John Donne. I remember hearing the following lines, among the hundreds of Cohen’s that I’ve come to revere: “So come, my friends, be not afraid/ We are so lightly here/ It is in love that we are made/ In love we disappear.”

Enter the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (November 2016) judged  by Roger Elkin

Enter the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (November 2016) judged by Roger Elkin

In that moment, a network of biographical and thematic connections between Donne and Cohen suddenly rose up in my mind. No man is an island. Death be not proud. The bearable and the unbearable lightness of our being. The way that love makes us and remakes us. The secular sacrament of our lovemaking itself. The lover as saint. The high seriousness of love and death so entwined. The abiding generosity towards their listeners. Can there be two poets who credit their audience with more intelligence than Donne and Cohen? I wrote a few notes about the idea, the last line of which I underlined: Leonard Cohen is John Donne to Bob Dylan’s Shakespeare.

Read the article in full here

Article source: www.theguardian.com

Review of ‘nothing more to it than bubbles’ by Jane Burn

‘nothing more to it than bubbles’ by Jane Burn
Indigo Dreams Publishing. ISBN: 978-1-910834-13-8    £7.99

…..Jane Burn’s nothing more to it than bubbles scintillates in its poetry. Images of light, movement and shining things abound – pearls, birds, stars, winds and clouds are gathered up and connect in metaphors of the sea in its many forms.
….. Linguistically, these poems sparkle as well. I love the poet’s deft phrases such as ‘lap the scald off tea’ (Come On Me), the image of ‘hook-in-a-fish-mouth sharp’(Byssus), the description of wolves as ‘Grey snarl, loll-tongue, teeth and sly’ (Path), the ‘thinning air and wizz’ of the final poem Perlemorskyer.
….. One aspect of this collection that most appeals to me is the range of tones and stylistic variations. There is humour with a bite as in I paid for love in pearls where the mermaid, treated as an expendable object, is forced to submit to human men ‘unclasping my clamshell bra’ as she faces rejection and the loneliness of being an outsider because  ‘You cannot take mermaids to tea shops/we do not know how to hold cups.’ In Till Death Do Us Part on the other hand the technique appears to be a simple narrative about lovebirds, who are ‘mild with adoration’ and croon ‘themselves to tameness’ in a idyllic pastoral scene. Yet this pretty tale has a sting to it for we are told, in the last lines, that these birds are suddenly dead, slain casually for sport by an insensitive boy:

‘I was sorry for the bodies on the grass.
I was sorry that a boy could want
to fill their souls with lead.
Could fire pellets into their hearts
while they were singing.’

…..Sometimes the tone is bitter and aggressive. The author has nothing but contempt for the followers of ‘the Daily Hate’, for people whose judgements are stereotypical and based on ill-informed bias and prejudice. There really are people like this,’ says Jane Burn. ‘They are right/in front of you in buffet queues.’ (The sea keeps company).Then there is the sadness, the telling lines and phrases that lament waste, loss, and unthinking cruelty. ‘The shanties only last for a moment’ says the narrator in I paid for love in pearls. The collection begins with a statement that there are ‘invisible balls of grief … the size of boiled eggs’ (I have this theory that’). Throughout the poems this invisible grief is the fate of the downtrodden, the refugees, the homeless and unwanted. ‘There is no place/for a stickleback on your streets’ says the mermaid towards the end of I paid for love in pearls. No place for the outsider either, is the implication.
…..One of the longest poems in nothing more to it than bubbles is The sea keeps company in caves and we have breakfast at Tonia’s. An intriguing title and an equally fascinating poem which I keep re-reading, discovering new surprises and gems of detail each time. The six sections are linked by an exuberant  character called Rocky who makes his home in a cave but this is not just narrative – there are many layers to this poem. ‘Everything here is unmasked,/whittled down to its raw …A brass tacks, bottom of the pits place’ says the narrator, describing both the cave and the pain of a broken relationship.  ‘This is the place you come to sort out Bad Things’, she says, ‘nurse the burst ribcage of a marriage, talk about/the state of your brain.’ In another section the writing strikes me as mystical, almost visionary:
‘Do not look for pity. The blocked tunnels are blinded
eyes, stopped mouths. The dark soup of water holds
the breast of an occasional bird. Walk so far
that the children are as small as a fingernail, walk
back and they become the size of a thumb, a hand.
Back until they are big enough to fit in the clasp of your arms.’

…..When I discovered, from the acknowledgment page, that this poem was written for and published by Writers for Calais a number of ideas and concerns in these poems began to connect. There is a wealth of themes and metaphors throughout but I feel that at the heart of the collection is a compassion for ‘groundling things’ who exist only ‘For hawks to press their talons to.’ (Kite, Above). There is an unforgettable image in The sea keeps company in caves and we have breakfast at Tonia’s where the narrator finds a glove on the shoreline – ‘a glove, that at some point had a hand in it.

…..This is a beautiful, rich and revelatory collection of poems. Read it for yourself and see.
Mandy Pannett

Review of Strata Smith and the Anthropocene by John Freeman

Strata Smith and the Anthropocene by John Freeman

Published by The Knives Forks and Spoons Press 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-909443-85-3    £6.

Review by Mandy Pannett

johnfreemanbookNow here’s an intriguing title to conjure with – who is this Strata Smith with the dare-devil name that makes me think of Indiana Jones or Crocodile Dundee? What is this weighty-sounding Leviathan of an Anthropocene? What kind of a book is this?

Superficially, it is a slim booklet of thirty-seven pages divided into thirteen passages each one concerned with an aspect of geology. William Smith and his famous map of 1815 forefronts the narrative as the dilemmas and questions induced by the Anthropocene, (the human-influenced epoch of present geological time), provide  a constant background. This is the apparent content but, if one digs deeper as if into layers of rock, there is more. Much more.

My immediate pleasure in Strata Smith comes from the multi-faceted writing which moves in and out of the subject connecting threads and thoughts. We have biography interspersed with personal anecdote, poetry, philosophical questions, fascinating information on fossils and rocks, digressions into social history, quotes from writers ranging from Shelley to Bill Bryson – a huge variety of style and subject matter in a short space.

‘Green is the colour William Smith chose to represent chalk on his 1815 map, ’ says John Freeman at the beginning of the first section Smith Honoured. To me it feels as if this mention of green with all its political and literary connotations provides the keynote  for  the thirteen passages. There is springtime in this era that man is creating, a growth of catkins, celandines, daisies; colours of red and green are vivid on trees and there is an ‘intensifying light’ in life itself that is determined to survive, that will outlive ‘us, and all our sources of pollution’. (Springtime in the Anthropocene’). Yet there is always menace and ignorance, an earth that is ‘bruised’ with a ‘cut lip, swollen cheek’, the dread of being wiped out so that today’s geological time will be just one more ‘layer’ marking ‘the sixth mass extinction’.

The ‘horizon of the Anthropocene’ is grim and John Freeman makes no pretence of hiding the grimness. But this is an author who knows his craft exceptionally well, can treat a heavy subject with lightness, is able to make the abstract vivid and detailed. What I particularly like is the awareness that there are no simple answers and we are ‘a collective too numerous for any definitive narrative.’ (Mapping the Collective). I love the metaphor that is used of interactive maps in Paris Metro stations where the pattern of direction may be changed with the touch of a button. In the same way opinions and viewpoints change, says John Freeman, and ‘the trouble is there are so many’.

Strata Smith and the Anthropocene is profound and thought-provoking but also a joy to read in the way it touches on interactions, small significances, understandings that grow ‘from inklings to hunches, to theories to be tested, to almost complete certainties by stages.’ (Smith Obstructed).
I highly recommend it.

Mandy Pannett

John Freeman’s new collection, What Possessed Me, was published by Worple Press in September, 2016. It is his first verse collection since A Suite for Summer (also from Worple), in 2007. White Wings: New and Selected Prose Poems was published by Contraband Books in 2013.  Earlier collections include The Light Is Of Love, I Think: New and Selected Poems (Stride Editions), and Landscape with Portraits (Redbeck). Recent magazine appearances include The Rialto, London Grip and Tears in the Fence, which also recently printed his essay on the poetry of Jim Burns.

An interview with John Freeman in which he discusses ‘Strata Smith and the Anthropocene’ may be read here http://sentinelquarterly.com/2016/05/john-freeman-interviewed-by-mandy-pannett/

 

Magic, Illusion and Other Realities. Essay by Simon Perchik

 

MAGIC, ILLUSION AND OTHER REALITIES

 ……….Where do writers get their ideas? Well, if they are writing prose, their ideas evolve one way. If, on the other hand, they are writing poetry, their ideas evolve another way. Perhaps some distinctions are in order. Distinguishing the difference between prose and poetry may not be all that simple. There are many definitions, all of which may be correct. For the purpose of this essay allow me to set forth one of the many:

 ……….It seems to me that there is available to writers a spectrum along which to proceed. At one end is prose, appropriate for essays, news, weather reports and the like. At the other end is poetry. Writers move back and forth along this spectrum when writing fiction.

……….Thus, prose is defined by its precise meaning that excludes ambiguity, surmise and misunderstanding. It never troubles the reader.  To define it another way, prose is faulty if it lacks a coherent thrust guided by rules of logic, grammar and syntax. It will not tolerate contradiction.  Poetry, on the other hand, is defined by its resistance to such rules. Poetry is ignited, brought to life by haunting, evasive, ambiguous, contradictory propositions.

……….This is not to say poetry is more or less useful than prose. Rather, they are two separate and distinct tools, much the same as a hammer and a saw. They are different tools designed for different jobs. If an essay is called for, the reader wants certainty; exactly what the words you are now reading are intended to give. If, on the other hand, consolation for some great loss is called for, the reader needs more: a text that lights up fields of reference nowhere alluded to on the page. This calls for magic, for illusion, not lecture. Thus, one of the many definitions of poetry might be: Poetry: words that inform the reader of that which cannot be articulated. To be made whole, to heal, the reader needs to undergo an improved change in mood, a change made more effective if the reader doesn’t know why he or she feels better. Exactly like music. That’s where poetry gets its power to repair; an invisible touch, ghost-like but as real as anything on earth. A reading of the masters, Neruda, Aleixandre, Celan…confirms that a text need not always have a meaning the reader can explicate. To that extent, it informs, as does music, without what we call meaning.  It’s just that it takes prose to tell you this.

……….This is because prose is a telling of what the writers already know. They have a preconceived idea of what to write about. With poetry it’s the opposite. The writers have no preconceived idea with which to begin a poem. They need to first force the idea out of the brain, to bring the idea to the surface, to consciousness. With poetry the writer needs a method to find that hidden idea. If the originating idea wasn’t hidden and unknown it isn’t likely to be an important one. Let’s face it: any idea that is easily accessible has already been picked over. It’s all but certain to be a cliché.

 ……….To uncover this hidden idea for a poem the writers each have their own unique method. As for me, the idea for the poem evolves when an idea from a photograph is confronted with an obviously unrelated, disparate idea from a text (mythology or science) till the two conflicting ideas are reconciled as a totally new, surprising and workable one. This method was easy for me to come by. As an attorney I was trained to reconcile disparate views, to do exactly what a metaphor does for a living. It’s not a mystery that so many practicing lawyers write poetry. Lawyer Poets And That World We Call Law, James R. Elkins, Editor (Pleasure Boat Studio Press. Also, Off the Record, An Anthology of Poetry by Lawyers, edited by James R. Elkins, Professor of Law, University of West Virginia.

……….The efficacy of this method for getting ideas is documented at length by Wayne Barker, MD. who, in his Brain Storms, A Study of Human Spontaneity, on page 15 writes:

If we can endure confrontation with the unthinkable, we may be able to fit together new patterns of awareness and action. We might, that is, have a fit of insight, inspiration, invention, or creation. The propensity for finding the answer, the lure of creating or discovering the new, no doubt has much to do with some people’s ability to endure tension until something new emerges from the contradictory and ambiguous situation.

Likewise, Douglas R. Hofstadter, in his Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid writes on page 26:

One of the major purposes of this book is to urge each reader to confront the apparent contradiction head on, to savor it, to turn it over, to take it apart, to wallow in it, so that in the end the reader might emerge with new insights into the seemingly unbreachable gulf between the formal and the informal, the animate and the inanimate, the flexible and the inflexible.

……….Moreover, the self-induced fit is standard operating procedure in the laboratory. Allow me to quote Lewis Thomas, who, in his The Lives of a Cell, on page 138. describes the difference between applied science and basic research. After pointing out how applied science deals only with the precise application of known facts, he writes:

In basic research, everything is just the opposite. What you need at the outset is a high degree of uncertainty; otherwise it isn’t likely to be an important problem. You start with an incomplete roster of facts, characterized by their ambiguity; often the problem consists of discovering the connections between unrelated pieces of information. You must plan experiments on the basis of probability, even bare possibility, rather than certainty.  If an experiment turns out precisely as predicted, this can be very nice, but it is only a great event if at the same time it is a surprise. You can measure the quality of the work by the intensity of astonishment. The surprise can be because it did turn out as predicted (in some lines of research, 1 per cent is accepted as a high yield), or it can be a confoundment because the prediction was wrong and something totally unexpected turned up, changing the look of the problem and requiring a new kind of protocol. Either way, you win…

……….Isn’t it reasonable to conclude that the defining distinction between applied science and basic research is the same as that between prose and poetry? Isn’t it likewise reasonable to conclude that the making of basic science is very much the same as the making of poetry?

……….In a real way I, too, work in a laboratory. Every day at 9 am I arrive at a table in the local coffee shop, open a dog-eared book of photographs, open a text, and begin mixing all my materials together to find something new.

……….For the famous Walker Evans photograph depicting a migrant’s wife, I began:

……….Walker Evans     …..Farmer’s wife
……….Tough life, mouth closed, no teeth?  Sorrow?
……….Not too bad looking. Plain dress

……….This description went on and on till I felt I had drained the photograph of all its ideas. I then read the chapter entitled On Various Words from The Lives of a Cell. Photograph still in view, I then wrote down ideas from Dr. Thomas’s text. I began:

……….Words –bricks and mortar
……….Writing is an art, compulsively adding to,
……….building the ant hill,
……….not sure if each ant knows what it will look like when finished
……….it’s too big. Like can’t tell what Earth looks like if you’re on it.

……….This too goes on and on with whatever comes to mind while I’m reading. But all the time, inside my brain, I’m trying to reconcile what a migrant’s wife has to do with the obviously unrelated ideas on biology suggested by Dr. Thomas. I try to solve the very problem I created. Of course my brain is stymied and jams, creating a self-induced fit similar to the epilepsy studied by the above mentioned Dr. Barker, M.D. But that was my intention from the beginning.

……….Sooner or later an idea from the photograph and an idea from the text will be resolved into a new idea and the poem takes hold.

……….No one is more surprised than I. Or exhausted. The conditions under which I write are brutal. My brain is deliberately jammed by conflicting impulses. Its neurons are overloaded, on the verge of shutting down. I can barely think. My eyes blur. The only thing that keeps me working is that sooner or later will come the rapture of discovery; that the differences once thought impossible to reconcile, become resolved; so and so, once thought  impossible of having anything to do with so and so, suddenly and surprisingly, has everything in the world to do with it. Or has nothing to do with it but can be reconciled with something else it triggered: one flash fire after another in the lightening storm taking place in my brain.

……….Getting the idea is one thing but the finished poem is a long way off. And to get there I abstract so my subconscious can talk to the reader’s subconscious, much the same as an artist abstracts the painting so the viewer’s subconscious can listen to the artist’s subconscious. There will be nothing anyone can point to and say, “That’s why”. Exactly like music, the most abstract of all the arts. Thus, for each poem its opening phrase is stolen shamelessly from Beethoven. He’s the master at breaking open bones and I might as well use him early on in the poem. Then I steal from Mahler whose music does its work where I want my poetry to do its work: the marrow.

……….Perhaps marrow is what it’s all about. Abstraction, since it contradicts the real world, is a striking form of confrontation which jams the brain till it shuts down confused. It befits the marrow to then do the work the reader’s brain cells would ordinarily do. And though what the marrow cells put together is nothing more than a “gut feeling”, with no rational footing, it is enough to refresh the human condition, to make marriages, restore great loses, rally careers.

……….Of course abstraction is just one of the ways writers arrive at the poem with their idea. But however they come they all leave for the reader poetry’s trademark: illusion. It is that illusion that builds for the over-burdened reader a way out.

……….Perhaps, as you may have already suspected, a poem, unlike a newspaper, is not a tool for everyday use by everyone; it’s just for those who need it, when they need it.

SIMON PERCHIK

 

 

 

 

Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review,The Nation, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. His most recent collection is Almost Rain, published by River Otter Press (2013).  For more information, including free e-books, please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.