Category Archives: Reviews

Nick Cooke reviews Abigail Zammit’s Portrait of a Woman with Sea Urchin

Title: Portrait of a Woman with Sea Urchin
Author: Abigail Ardelle Zammit
ISBN: 978-0-9935035-0-4   
Publisher: SPM Publications  December 2015    
Pages: 79
Reviewer: Nick Cooke
Price: £9.50

510MYkO+rPL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_[1]Such has been the rare pleasure of reading and re-reading Maltese poet Abigail Zammit’s extraordinary second collection that I am sorely tempted to abdicate my duty of critical thoroughness in order to forestall the spoiling effect that will inevitably ensue. Rather like a TV sports presenter warning viewers to look away should they not wish to see the results, I fear that if I say too much about how the book unravels, potential readers will lose something of the engrossing experience I had in embarking on the journey without having any idea where it would lead me. For those content with the executive summary, therefore, I can honestly say that this has been among the richest and most beguilingly stimulating collections I have come across in recent years, and I strongly urge you to invest a very well-spent £9.50 in order to secure it.

Addressing myself now to however many souls have opted for the long version, I will begin by suggesting that the best approach to the task of summarising this book would be by way of referring to the several levels on which it exists. On my first voyage between the beautifully designed and appositely colourful cover, based on artwork by Emmy Verschoor-van Bavel, and the helpful if perhaps all too brief closing notes, my overriding impression was of an inner innocence-to-experience tale. It was as if the poet had consciously led me from an early period rooted in a child’s-eye series of responses to the natural stimuli around her, through an intermediate stage in which different views of burgeoning eroticism mark a dramatic coming of age, to a final sequence based on the devastating bombardment of Malta during World War II, which signals an unexpectedly brutal awakening to full reality.  However, on closer consideration the book also provides a form of commentary on the landscape, culture, architecture and history of Malta itself, though not exactly what you would find in an average guide book. There is, in addition, a strong feminist element, seen mainly in the central section, comprising poems on the Maltese Venus, a fertility goddess replicated in numerous statues throughout Malta, who is perceived as the potent symbol of a bounteously sexual challenge to male domination and arrogance.

The first poem, ‘Girl’, locates us in a childhood world not much beyond infancy, where tactile discovery is something new and constantly revealing:

She handles sand,
strokes sea shells, snorkels
in tiny circles inside little pools.
Today she slips her finger lightly
over a fish’s belly and discovers
its trance, its placid quietness
and slippery sides.

The simple style is deliberate, reproducing the girl’s uncorrupted and wide-eyed view of things. ‘Today’ might seem an unnecessary addition until we realise it has been placed there in order to emphasise the way she sees and feels in the moment. However, Zammit does not allow the picture to remain idyllic for too long. The appearance of a boy observing the girl ‘from a campside’ dimly implies a potential threat, and soon she suffers a slight mishap: ‘the girl walking in blue flippers/trips between boulders/one pin-sharp shell breaking the flesh’. By its end the poem has seen the initial sheen of perfection tarnished and we have been taken a half-step out of Eden:

Water flashes sky’s orange scar
and the boy launches a pebble
which will graze the glossy surface
where the limping girl salvages
one silver fish from the dead.

There is much about fishing and the sea in these early poems, giving a sense of timelessness by emblematising the millennia-old way of life followed by many Maltese workers, but also hinting at quests and adventures of other kinds. And water features again and again throughout the collection – sometimes a refreshing or comforting presence, sometimes a real and deadly danger.

This is just one example of a pattern of repetition which at first appeared the product of careless proofing. For instance, the word ‘swarm’ is used in three early poems within five pages, twice as a metaphor for love/desire. However, so meticulous is Zammit’s crafting and honing over the book as a whole that I later reviewed that assumption. After all, three ‘swarms’ in quick succession makes for nothing less than a swarm of ‘swarms’, does it not? Elsewhere her technique emerges by the end as artlessly simple and effective. Aiming to transmit the impression of bright, often electric colour conjured by the book’s cover, in line with her view of the world around her, she spreads the word ‘blue’ throughout the book, along with many occurrences of shades such as green, turquoise, purple, red and even the thrice-mentioned ochre. It comes to have a pleasantly trance-like effect on readers who feel their visual and sensuous pores being opened further with each poem.

The undercurrent of menace only vaguely intimated in ‘Girl’ is hauntingly stirred up in  ‘Sand Burial’, a deserved Alan Sillitoe poetry competition winner, where a children’s game threatens to go out of control:

The bigger kids crouch around you to test
their skills from last summer. How far can you bury a girl
so that not even her curls spring from the sand,
the mouth a scream filled with water?

Voices are coming in dampened waves, a slight panic
at your fingertips. Hold tight to yourself because
this is it, this is death by drowning, the body slack,
wasted, a bulbous growth by the shoreline.

In its second part the poem alters its focus to a love scene, which I interpreted as the same girl now in early womanhood, finding out that sexual involvement brings confusion, exposure and a strong whiff of mortality, as well as rapture and fulfilment. ‘You’ is now her new lover. In a typically domestic detail, Zammit portrays the girl’s mother ‘pressing shapes to make/gingerbread men’ when she was a girl, but now it’s something less innocent she wants to consume -‘you’re the man I’ve been waiting for/your sinews at their sweetest, their most malleable’ – to whom she holds on ‘with the intensity of the dying’:

Already, the sand is shifting, voices assemble.
someone rushes to my rescue. That unbearable lightness
of being drawn out. Discovering there’s no secret bay.

The next poem, ‘October’, ends with another sudden lurch into increasingly ugly reality, and another ‘graze’, echoing the earlier allusion to a slight but significant scratching of the ‘glossy surface’:

The whiff of ether I carry
like the first burst of the pox,
the memory of a wrist
grazed on a windowsill.

The whole first section is full of these often startling spurts and shifts, like an always varied movement in what proves a compelling and mountingly dramatic symphony overall. It prepares us well for the Maltese Venus sequence, where the growing girl has either become or been in some way substituted by (depending on interpretation) an almost Amazonian figure seemingly bent on subverting male iconography and discourse:

Look: here’s my lipid storage tank.
Further down, the damp triangle
where I’ve grown too much hair.
You say cactus-tongued. I say,
a remedy for the scratches I’ve endured. (‘Headless Venus, With Shaft’)

Zammit has recently completed a Ph.D in Creative Writing from Lancaster University in which she outlined her ideas on what she hoped to achieve through her poetry. She draws upon feminist critiques of a Western tradition by which, in her words, ‘irreconcilable dichotomies are relied upon to make sense of the world and to privilege one view over another, thus: male-female, mind-body, reason-emotion, culture-nature, the second being defined in terms of a lack.’ In the face of this historical imbalance, Zammit, following a path that she credits Jo Shapcott for opening up,  strives  ‘towards the dissolution of such oppositions, destabilizing false boundaries so as to revel in ambiguity and multiplicity’. Though this striving is often palpable in the book, there are moments when the presentation seems quite unambiguous in its counter-attack on privileged (in this case Alpha-male) perspectives, and in my view is all the more powerful for it.

At times the challenge is even more taunting and deliberately shocking than in the ‘cactus-tongued’ stanza, as the goddess mocks men’s ultimately prissy, and certainly limited, view of sexuality:

Go on. Measure me across
hips and thighs. There’s no
part of me you’ll be comfortable
with. Even my pleasure’s too loud,
uncontainable. I turn museum walls
into a bedroom: sighs and screams,
inhuman pants, chimp laughter! (‘The Maltese Venus’)

If the male spirit thus addressed thinks he’s hard enough (pun definitely intended) to take her on, he has to accept her blatantly humiliating terms, as set out in ‘Seated Goddess, Multiplied’. The goddess has the kind of omnivorous possessive instinct he will find less flattering than terrifying: ‘Let me have no single/part of you. I want you all./You are my brief phrase.’ Coitus will be entirely dictated and controlled by her:

This dipping of yourself
is permitted if, and only if,
it lets me whet my forefinger into
a universe of blood and sap.
This is my garden, my exodus.

That Eden theme runs through the book and has already been mentioned directly, in an allusion to Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden, where ‘loss is a hand held over pubic hair’ (‘Wode’). Later in the Venus section the vision of life’s cyclical vicissitudes has taken on a definitely post-lapsarian knowingness, even cynicism. Even as she apparently visualises her own rape, the goddess never loses her grip on new-found reality and perspective:

You’ve been honing your brain
to lay me down where you can dig
the hardest. Soon, we’ll be rubbing bellies.
There’ll be frolicking and pain, the yelps
of newborns, then earth will call you to battle
its obdurate soul, its limetone.
And you’ll be flint man again, hard,
easily fractured. (‘Sleeping Goddess, Miniature’)

Yet again a mordant but hilarious dig at the male phallic pride, undermining whatever boost to his ego was provided by his supposed seduction of her.

At times this form of counter-rape, or at least psychological table-turning of a highly effective nature, can be shocking, at least at first reading: it’s almost as if the goddess had been constrained to brutalise herself inwardly in order to fight back against the ‘stronger sex’.  But Zammit pulls the strings in masterly fashion when it comes to gradually inducting her reader into this particular chamber of horrors. We are far more ready for the X-rated ending of the Venus sequence than we would have been at its start: ‘I’ll rip my ovaries/apart, pickle them with blood-shod/verbs, raise a blasphemous keening.’

The theme of no-prisoners gender warfare is carried forward into the book’s final section, Rushing up to the Roof during an Air Raid. In ‘Internee Blues’, a weird but stunning, almost Alice-in-Wonderland effect sees the giant goddess replaced by a female element that is in its way equally subversive, albeit physically antithetical, as the poem charts the mating rituals of queen ants, who ‘return/underground, heavy with sperm from dying males’. The males are dying because that is the inevitable result of coitus with this particular tyrant queen: ‘heavy with sperm’ may reek of abuse, but it also signifies the reproductive process that is entirely owned and controlled by the female.

Also key to this scarifying picture of war-torn but heroically defiant Malta –  later recognised with the George Cross for national bravery – is the re-evocation of inner violence as collateral for survival. ‘Shepherd Boy, 1941’ is a notable example: ‘And the roaring is inside you,/ripping through the bone, inside you,/the hooded echoes of bomb and blast’. The roaring is one of anger as much as an explosion. Somehow the young shepherd holds body and soul together, despite the cost: ‘When you emerge/from the furthermost hole, you are the sum/of yourself suspended beneath your skin.’ The next poem brings an interesting return to the opening theme of blemished infancy, with something of a twist to say the least. So often the victims of lethal violence are interrupted in their ordinary and often domestic business, and‘Child Witness’ presents a child witnessing a man ‘gunned down as he was picking strawberries’ who ‘lay/prostrate on our kitchen table, forehead/cracked open to expose (not grey matter)/the dirty pink of scalded chicken.’ A far cry indeed from sea shells and snorkelling.

Zammit’s writing amid this crescendo of devastation is of the highest order and her meticulously researched and polished war poetry bears comparison with the best in the field. She sometimes seems on the cusp of being swept away in the horror, just as so many of her characters are, but always keeps her own head above the emotional waterline, if only barely. The sequence’s title poem has another of those lighting switches, this time in perspective, as the viewpoint of an imminent victim of an air attack is flipped into that of her killer:

Once you’ve grown accustomed
to parachute bombs scurrying
like frenzied ants, tracer bullets
raising themselves against dust, gravity,

watch yourself from the tip of a diving
fighter jet; how your head is propelled
by the possibility of demise
or the likelihood of a two-winged Junker
smiting the house into a quarry.

What chillingly officious understatement in that ‘possibility of demise’, and how apt the Biblical ‘smiting’ is at such a moment. Malta must have felt itself the target of Old-Testament-style retribution, all because of its strategic wartime importance, being so near Italy. The poem goes on to examine the extent to which rebuilding is possible in the aftermath of such destruction. Stone can be replaced, but not lives:

Surely there is enough limestone to replenish
rubble, fractured churches, or time enough
to recapture youself at that same moment
when you are shrapnelled into the sky.

That ‘shrapnelled into the sky’ neatly expresses my own emotions as I read this. I ended the book staring into space, in blank wonderment, for several minutes. I found it hard to separate my shock at the visceral extremity of war’s impact from my admiration at Zammit’s ability to portray it.

Of the many images and phrases that will remain me with from the closing section, perhaps the standout would be one of the few that offer much in the way of hope salvaged from the wreckage. It is all the more touching for that clear-eyed rarity. After a stomach-churning depiction of the degradation and disgust of the environment in which refugees struggle to stay alive – ‘We sweat, drench sheets, endure nights foul/as growths on dampened walls in crowded shelters’ – a light in the middle rather than the end of the tunnel glimmers with sudden exuberance, even if any delight is partly obscured by guilt:

If a foetus moves inside us, it’s a shudder
of shame – that in the midst of war we scrounged
some joy, floating like dust through turgid water.

Even in a lengthy review I feel I have struggled to convey more than a fraction of what there is to be mined from this collection, with almost every poem linking in to the whole in ways that one would need a full chapter to address adequately. Zammit is to be warmly congratulated for converting the work and thinking behind her Ph.D into poetry of such consummate power, range and control. SLQ REVIEW

Portrait of a Woman with Sea Urchin is available here and other online stores including Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Review by Patrick Osada of Poems for a Liminal Age

Title: Poems for a Liminal Age (An anthology in support of Médecins Sans Frontières)
Editor: Mandy Pannett
Publisher: SPM Publications, 2015
Reviewer: Patrick. B. Osada
ISBN: 978-0-9927055-6-5
Pages: 246

pfala2016In recent times there has been a vogue for publishing anthologies in support of charities and good causes. Some of these have relied on the celebrity of certain contributors to attract submissions, promising the opportunity for the poems of “unknowns” to rub shoulders with contributions from the famous.
There are no poems from Laureates (past or present) in Poems for a Liminal Age, or any celebrity verse. What editor, Mandy Pannett, has skilfully assembled is a gathering of contemporary voices associated more with the “indie” poetry press and magazines than with the Costa or Forward prizes.

Many of the contributors, whilst not household names, will be well known to readers of magazines such as SOUTH …there is a preponderance of work from respected poets, editors and academics. Mandy says, in her introduction, that the book “offers a view of the way a certain group of people at a certain time in their history see their lives and the world they live in.”

Often their vision is gloomy, if not quite apocalyptic – the more pragmatic poems reflecting the unsettled time in which we live. There are poems on war, pestilence and flood; world issues like climate change, terrorism and the casualties of armed conflict. Yet there is a breadth of subject matter : besides topics like earth-quakes, tsunami and ebola, there are poems with a more personal focus exploring old age, declining health and relationships; whilst others define alteration to the natural world : the loss of habitat and changes to the countryside.

However, bleak as some of these poems may be, out of tragedy sometimes something positive can grow, as in this poem by Linus Lyszkowska:

…A 13-year-old boy in far-away England watching the stories unfold on television… vows that he, too, one day, must become a carer, a doctor, perhaps even a surgeon… (The Healers)

Poems for a Liminal Age is available from the SPM Publications Shop, all Amazon channels, and Barnes & Noble. £5 from each copy of the book sold goes to the charity.

This review was first published in South 53 2016.

Review of Terri Ochiagha’s Achebe & Friends at Umuahia by Olatoun Williams

Title: Achebe & Friends at Umuahia: The Making of a Literary Elite
Author: Terri Ochiagha
Publisher: James Currey (an imprint of Boydell & Brewer)
Publication Date: 16 April 2015
ISBN:  978-1-84701-109-1
PP: 216

Reviewer: Olatoun Williams

61GmUCRu0QL._SX345_BO1,204,203,200_[1] Terri Ochiagha’s “Achebe & Friends at Umuahia: The Making of a Literary Elite” is a towering achievement.  I can think of no better book to introduce the current generation of African writers – my focus in 2016 – than this great work. Surely Achebe & Friends will remain the definitive biography of 5 distinguished 1st generation writers whose secondary school education took place in the 1940s at Government College Umuahia, South East Nigeria. The school motto:  In Unum Luceant. Chinua Achebe, Chukwuemeka Ike, Elechi Amadi, Chike Momah and the irrepressible Christopher Okigbo, are our school boys, the “shining ones” – who grew up to become literary giants, straddling their own peculiar universe at a magical time in Nigerian history and it is on their shoulders that our 21st century literary icons stand.

Without a doubt, this is a scholarly monograph, but Ochiagha establishes intimacy with the reader and her subject quickly. It is her voice we hear as she narrates in the 1st person, walking us through what is not only a historian’s journey but a personal one to chart the individual and collective pilgrimage of 5 Nigerian boys through and beyond their colonial British education. I say personal because Ochiagha, of mixed race parentage, is frank about her indebtedness to 4 of these writers for the “nurturance and solace” their literature provided her “at pivotal moments” in her own “travails at the crossroads of cultures.”

The greater part of Achebe & Friends is devoted to their school days at GCU where in academic and sporting prowess the boys were unmatched.  The book progresses into the boys’ years at University College Ibadan where their conquests continue unabated, and advances into an adulthood defined by national and global success.  This literary opus is a beautifully-lit retrospective, gently disquieting – a stained glass window pieced together meticulously and lovingly from information sourced in literary and historical archives; from photos, school annuals and periodicals; from mementoes sent to her by the authors, and from interviews with them. From conversations with their children, conversations with the children of school principals long deceased, and with teachers. Ochiagha spoke with many of their school friends and publishers also played a role in sharing memories and memorabilia.  And later still there were discussions with and photographs sent by historian, Ed Emeka Keazor.  Her research is breathtaking in scope and detail. 179 pages of erudition burning with a spirit of quest which ennobles them and a spirit of romance that uplifts the reader and elicited in me, at moments, frissons of wonder and nostalgia. To classify Ochiagha’s opus as an academic work would be to miss a far greater point: Achebe & Friends is a great love story.

Terri Ochiagha has written out of admiration and gratitude for the legacies of 5 men of letters who respected and loved one another and who as courageous school boys experienced an evolving commitment to liberate themselves from the tyranny of colonial indoctrination not with weapons of hate but with their pens and their brains.  That they were able to do this must be attributed in no small measure to the abundant resources at Government College Umuahia where a succession of principals expressed a deep love and a clear vision for the school, and a sincere conviction about the boys’ intellectual capacities.  Where, using the arsenal of a remarkably well-stocked library and a Text Book Act, educators waged war against excessive “book work”’ and promoted wide and recreational reading. They molded the boys’ minds with a no-nonsense approach to the use of English and with curricula distinguished as much by their high quality as by their imperial bias.  Just 2 of the teachers who adopted imaginative pedagogical approaches were Charles Low or ‘Mad Low’ renowned for his “triumvirate” of disciplines: cricket, classics and literary creativity; and Nigerian, Saburi Biobaku, the Oxford graduate who liked to flick an imaginary lock of hair and yet dreamt of the restoration of indigenous cultures to their rightful place. We get to spend time with an extraordinary array of educators to whose passion the years between 1940 – 1950 owe their fame as the “magical years” during which GCU evolved into a “literary oasis” and hotbed of writing and editorial talent. 

Cultural attitudes at the school also attract Ochiagha’s piercing gaze as she crafts her retrospective of the boys’ pilgrimage.  She is particularly interested in the cultural attitudes of  school principals which range from  Fisher’s paternalistic permission of “cultural alloyage” to Simpson’s vision of  the school as “The Eton of the East” with “Englishness at its core”;  to the frank dismissal by Tolfree and Slater of all that was indigenous in the colony. Ochiagha shows us how these attitudes served as powerful catalysts, producing in the schoolboys a counterforce of ethnic pride and increasing national consciousness which they expressed in subtle acts of subversion of imperial authority. The most “aesthetic” and symbolic  act of subversion being the one performed by Chike Momah’s fictional cricketer, Obidike, a “thinly veiled” Christopher Okigbo” in his book, “The Shining Ones”. 

Obidike’s brilliant performance on the cricket pitch combined with his dismissal of the conventional rules of the game produce “gasps of wonder and disbelief  in the spectators watching him reinvent it – as though the very English game of cricket did not belong to the English; as though he, Obidike, had seized it, colonized it; and made it his own. 

Government College Umuahia was located in the backwaters of South East Nigeria, “far from the madding crowds” of cities like Lagos where journalist turned politician Nnamdi Azikiwe bellowed nationalist propaganda though the foghorn of  the West African Pilot.  It wasn’t the legend of Azikiwe – though it had reached them – but imperialist forces dominating the “bush” enclave of GCU that made the schoolboys angry enough to begin in their minds the deconstruction of the “colonial hegemonic discourse” with its “epistemic violence”. This work to “deconstruct” would come in later years to define their individual and collective literary production.  The pen is mightier than the sword.

Our protagonists would grow to see themselves as prodigals returning home – not with the intention of glorifying pre-colonial history but to introduce a new discourse with which to heal themselves of the “psychic wounds” inflicted by imperial education.  What they sought to do through their writing was to move beyond the “psycho-cultural anguish” they experienced in the “liminal place” they were forced to inhabit. This perilous place, in which warring cultures met, was the wilderness the young men were committed to forge through. Through their literature, they would forge an honest and realistic path of thought that would lead them and their brethren into a modern Africa. An Africa that would pay homage to what was their own by heritage; an Africa which would evolve to meet the demands of the times. To communicate this vision, our novelists would learn to function as teachers. Christopher Okigbo and Elechi Amadi despite themselves, would come to embrace the didactic mission of their friends Chinua Achebe and Chukwuemeka Ike. Without exception, the men were honest and recognized that their discourses were best served using mental tools acquired from varied sources in their home cultures and in their formal education which was English.

The urgency of Terri Ochiagha’s desire to see the world break out of the prison of binaries: Africa/Europe, black/white, coloniser/colonised, this culture / that culture – reverberates throughout her history of 5 beautiful souls growing up and breaking out of those very binaries; crying for freedom in an expanding 3rd space – full of light and permission to be what they had become, and were becoming: enriched human beings, great Nigerians and citizens of the world.

They were products of a school that in the first half of the 20th century ranked in Nigeria as Primus Inter Pares – First among equals. Christopher Okigbo, poet turned solider, died with characteristic drama, at the war front of Biafra. He was in his 30s. He was so young. Chinua Achebe lived into old age but has since passed to glory. Of our 5 protagonists, only Chukwuemeka Ike, Chike Momah and Elechi Amadi, venerable old men, are still here. For the important task of documenting sovereign Africa’s struggle to liberate herself from whatever shackles remain and from whatever fetters she acquires as she modernizes and globalizes, the baton has passed to the new voices crying in the 21st century wilderness of Africa’s hopes, Africa’s doubts and her uncertainty.

 

olatoun

Olatoun Williams is a graduate of French from the University of Bristol, UK (1988). She heads the Selina Group – a small Lagos based business started in 1990 which provides office, desktop publishing, recruitment and travel services. In 2003, she founded Sponsor A Child Nigeria which promotes child welfare in institutions for orphans and vulnerable children.  She is the editor and co-author of a series of manuals entitled “The Good Home Quality Service Advocacy Scheme™” which implements child rights in partner institutions.  Fiction she has written includes, “The Triumvirate” (Malthouse Press. 1992) and “Lagos Heat” (Malthouse Press. 2001).  She supports the literary arts by facilitating literary workshops for school children and moderating book readings and presentations. Borders Book Reviews, 1 of the 3 elements of her media based project, Borders: Literature for all Nations, was launched on Facebook in April 2015.

Mood Indigo by Wendy Klein. Reviewed by Nick Cooke

Mood Indigo by Wendy Klein
978-1-90685662-5  Oversteps Books 51 pp  February 2016   £8.00
‘You ain’t been blue; no, no, no.
You ain’t been blue,
Till you’ve had that mood indigo.
That feelin’ goes stealin’ down to my shoes
While I sit and sigh, “Go ‘long blues”’

So goes the first verse of the Duke Ellington number providing the title for Wendy Klein’s third collection. If it suggests deep gloom as the prevailing mood of the book, the impression would be false, as this is primarily a joyous if ambivalent celebration of the lives of the author’s close relatives, in particular her father, a schoolteacher who never realised his youthful literary ambitions and lived largely in ‘his own head where he swears he’s forever stalked/by the same-old mean-old who-am-I blues’ (‘Who-am-I Blues’).  The title poem establishes the context rather more accurately, as Klein recalls that point in her childhood (or more likely, adolescence) when she was ‘too old to tickle’ and her father decided to take her back, narratorially speaking, to his youth in the New York City of the jazz age. Through a typically astounding act of compression, in which 26 lines cover a whole era in her father’s life as if a whole novel were flashing before our eyes, Klein takes us through a time when, ‘hanging out with other chorus boys back-stage Broadway’, his ‘bottom got pinched…by guys you guessed might be too young/to shave’, to ‘wild parties in Greenwich Village,/fuggy dance halls in Harlem’, finally reaching his memories of Ellington’s music, putting on an old 78 of the song and dancing his daughter around to it. The memory is illustrative of Klein’s technique in being as multi-sensual as it is vividly detailed:

 
……….You take me round the waist, count out the beats,
……….hum the tune in my ear, your aftershave still strong

……….despite the five o’clock shadow on your cheeks, your chin,
……….as we move around the floor avoiding chairs,

……….a hooked rug, the coffee table, the glass with your second or
……….third Jim Beam on the rocks, waiting nearby.

This passage epitomises the central section of the book, dominated by two-line-stanza, ghazal-style pieces all based around photos, memories and tales of her father, where the lines and sentences are invariably long and flowing. Klein is remarkably adept at maintaining the grace and rhythm of extended, reflective sentences, which are especially well-suited to the poignant, often elegiac tone of these poems. Possibly the best and most dramatic of a highly impressive bunch is ‘My Father Nearly Half-way Through’, where the final sentence is ten-and-a-bit lines long, taking us ‘from the years of his recovery’ after the death of  Klein’s mother, through his frustrated attempts at writing fiction, ‘crouched in front of a typewriter’, culminating in the revelation of a key new relationship, where the concertina-d closing section enacts a child’s-eye view of the speed with which the ‘new mother’ is installed (to the accuracy of which I can personally attest, being also a child of re-married parents:

………..until he emerges with Ruby, my would-be new mother
……….on his arm, on the beach, in his bed (shhh – don’t tell),

……….in his kitchen frying bacon, on a swing in the park, me on her
……….lap, Ruby in a flowery summer dress, in our lives to stay.

In case we anticipate a wicked-step-mother scenario, however, subsequent poems establish anything but, as the warm-hearted if conventional Ruby ‘shoulders the domestic side’, which includes the brunt of childcare duties. ‘Seen From Below’ pictures the family on a camping trip ‘in the high Sierras’, with ‘Ruby and I/wrestling with the tent in the dark -/me a scrap of an eight year old, holding the centre pole/upright’. Though Klein is rarely laconic, she is almost always economical in her own way: how much, in terms of enlightening the reader as to the burgeoning relationship, can be read into the simple phrase ‘Ruby and I’.

 
Throughout the book Klein exhibits an almost miraculous eye for the telling detail in a photo or anecdote, to the point where if she every tires of poetry she could surely perform admirably as a researcher on Who Do You Think You Are? In ‘Spit and Polish’ I admired the clever avoidance of cliché as she describes her sixteen-year-old father, then a cadet, as having a trouser-crease that was ‘meat-cleaver keen’ (the obvious choice would have been ‘sharp’). The observations that follow fuse the imaginative with the emotionally sensitive, as Klein explores the confinements, and by implication the underlying fear, of the young man’s new metier: ‘the braid on his jacket/dissects his narrow chest, squeezes his ribcage, restricts/his breath’. The implication is spelt out directly a few lines later:

 
……………………His lips are compressed as tight as his uniform,
……….as if he has finally been taught to keep his mouth shut.

In ‘My Father insists on Laugharne’, there is a nice subtlety through which the ghost of Dylan Thomas, evoked in references to Fern Hill and Under Milk Wood – school texts that Klein’s father is trying to teach to an unresponsive student – implicitly hangs over the whole collection, through a poem that is not actually mentioned. The man at the centre of so much of the book never fulfilled his ambitions but kept plugging away at them, including his piano-playing, even though he never showed any talent at it: ‘you had to hurry;/knew you had to make the best of what was left.’ (‘My Father in a Street in Seville’) We sense that the man did not go gentle into that good night. And in the final poem to mention him, ‘My Father as the Picture in the Attic’, the suspicion is confirmed to the extent that we  learn he showed his diehard spirit to the end, by keeping on driving until his licence had to be revoked, for his own safety. But lest the last glimpse be a sad one, this poem has earlier celebrated happier times by capturing his comically young and women-pleasing appearance in middle-age – he was once asked for ID by a cashier fooled by his ‘full head of hair, the crew cut/so convincingly youthful’, when 45 years old.

 
Although some readers might feel that Klein would have been well advised to focus her book entirely on her father’s fascinating and touching story, rather than dedicating the second half largely to other concerns, I felt the collection was enriched by the subsequent shifts in tone, style and form. ‘Friar Mendel’s Children’ is a delightfully witty look at the relevance of the famous geneticist’s work to his own family, while ‘Tracking the wolf’ reveals a sparseness of diction that belies the earlier verbal abundance, as it slips into the stylistic groove of Cormac McCarthy and half-subverts, half-reveres the mythology of fairy-tale and fable:
……….blood-marred
……… the bone  the boy the poet
……….who against reason
……….will take the wolf’s side
……….not knowing
……….what everyone must surely know

……….that no one can ever
……….save the wolf
……….that the wolf cannot be saved

‘The people of Sahel consider rain’ displays an unexpected Hopkins influence, with marked use of alliteration and a daring form of sprung rhythm which is in effect only a slight intensification of what could be called Klein’s default ghazal-esque tempo:
……….…the way it would steal from the sky,
……….gather speed, shimmer like silver needles,

……….the way it would feel on the face, the hands, its patter;
……….how it could carve creeks on dust covered backs,

……….on legs and arms that cracked with the lack of it, and mouths
……….pinch-parched, thirst unslaked by the slick of it…

‘Freeze-frame’ is a wonderful vignette comprising captured moments of heightened emotion, based on Anna Karenina, or rather the Vivien Leigh film thereof. Again all the senses are invoked in an almost Keatsian way:

 
……….and you almost believe you hear bells a troika
……….the jangle of harness
……….the snap and whistle of a lithe whip  savour
……….the tang of ardent kisses
……….secreted in the musky furs that shroud the lovers
……….who huddle there red with cold
……….and kisses as they race across frozen
……….fields to their fatal destinations
……….a battlefield or a ballroom…

Perhaps most memorably of all, ‘Nothing to declare’ provides a return to the characteristically compressed narration of the two-line stanza-form, but updates it, so to speak, by bringing the story up to the present, and showing how, through her own poetic skill, the author has in a sense fulfilled her father’s literary dreams. Returning home from a family holiday, Klein has nothing to declare to the customs official at the airport, but in fact has much in terms of memories and images, which only a poet or an artist can ‘declare’ in the fullest sense:

………………………………..Nothing to declare

……….but the soft rain outside last night, or the five of us –
……….two generations gathered around a table

……….sharing crême brulée and pivotal memories.
……….The eldest tells why she never eats onions;

……….how when she was forced to, she vomited;
……….her sister relates the tale of being small…

The poem’s ending encapsulates so many of this splendid collection’s qualities, exuding a warmth and lucidity through both the surface meaning of its words and their deeper associations:

……….Nothing to declare but yesterday’s sun, warming
……….their backs as they scrambled over oak-leaf carpets

……….their long, strong legs, their laughter, their coats
……….swirling through the dappled light.

‘Resonance’, a poetry collection by Gary Beck. Reviewed by Mandy Pannett

Resonance by Gary Back. 
Dreaming Big Publications. ISBN: 9781523916405

 

Resonance begins with an introduction by Gary Beck taken from his longer essay The Evolution of Poetry, and I’d like to begin this review by looking at this as I feel the content is important, not only to the author himself as it sets out his personal direction for writing, but also is relevant to the role of poetry in this twenty-first century world.

 
‘I must deliver what I believe to be a necessary blunt message’, says Beck who has been frequently criticised for doing just that. In turn he is scathing about what he sees as ‘a type of indulgence’ whereby, in his opinion, the culture of western poetry (particularly in the States) seems to favour ‘an endless stream of ‘pictorial imagery’ based on ‘personal agonies and confessions’ which degrades ‘the uniqueness of verbal description’.  This is an age, continues Beck, ‘of insecurity and danger’ in which poetry has a diminishing influence on world events. There should be alternatives, he says, ‘to academic products and disclosures of angst’. Among these alternatives are the blunt messages of ‘direct communication’.

 
I had the pleasure last year of reviewing Gary Beck’s previous collection Conditioned Response which adopted the same hard hitting stance in its hatred of corruption, acquisition, consumption and media manipulation. Dire Prediction, the opening poem in Resonance attacks ‘bloated consumers’ and adds a plea for the return of ‘men and women/who will walk through fire, bullets, blood,/to protect us’ from the world of power where ‘men stand by the buttons/of weapons of mass destruction, eager to slay millions,/while we sit in comfort in our homes’ (Children of Deprivation). The scenario in Radiation Rhapsody is even more chilling for here we have a landscape that includes

 
……….No more rush hour.
……….No quick latte at Starbucks.
……….Just a large crater
……….that will glow at night
……….for the next hundred years.

Gary Beck, in his introduction, states that he may have abandoned ‘metaphor and simile’ in his preference for direct confrontation with social and political issues. Resonance, however, shows few signs of this. Certainly the language is stark but there is no shortage of lyricism. Condition Grave may attack an ‘aging land’ which is ‘tainted and diseased’ but it begins with memorable lines ‘What is the hunger of water-falls,/little men of tiny boats, flirting with whirlpools?’ Images from myths and legends are plentiful as in Mythos where the death of Balder in Asgard is a cause of lamentation as ‘the wind goes howling and shrieking/through naked trees’ and ‘The creaking of frigid limbs/splits the darkness/as the wild hunt goes on.’

The collection does also include some poems seemingly of a more personal nature. Opium Escape is one such where the narrator says ‘I watched you walk away/out of my dark, bewildered life./I cursed you then.’ I also like the imagery and lyricism of Fond Pause where memories of leaving/being left bring ‘thoughts of musty windmills,/mouse ghosts/unsqueaking in shuddering rafters’
However, it is the ‘tougher’ poems I prefer – the kind of poems Gary Beck has said he wants to write, that need to be written. Bleak Highway, I think, says all of it:

……….It is inky night.
……….We are driving, driving, driving
……….into the impenetrable blackness
……….of the heart of America.
……….There are no stars visible,
……….just never-ending darkness
……….broken only
……….by the passing gleam of headlights
……….from wanderers forever lost
……….in a confusing land.

Skins by Reuben Woolley. Reviewed by Nick Cooke

Skins by Reuben Woolley (Hesterglock Press, 2016)
ISBN 978-1-326549-97-8     pp 54        £7.50 

 
Reuben Woolley’s instantly recognisable poems, always in cummingsesque lower case and often broken up in both layout and syntax, could be said to resemble pieces of shrapnel scattered across a particularly scarred battlefield. Indeed, the opening poem in skins appears to enact the devastating effects of the bombs it mentions, as well as conveying a tension between destruction and counterbalancing hope, via first an image of hand-holding, survival-seeking solidarity and then a characteristically neat wordplay, with ‘shells’ suggestive of both explosions and potential birth:

 
 ……………& fire doesn’t welcome
  
………………they’re hiding
………………from blades & bombs
…………….. see fear
 ……………  come down dark hills

 ……………  hold hands
……………  .for survival …………….hoping
 …………..  .for a better god &
 ……………..wooden doors
…………… ..are no protection ……hear
 ………….. ”the first shells break

 …………..  & isis
…………..   was the name of a river

 

However, for me the most useful analogy when looking at Woolley’s work overall would be a radio with poor reception. Listeners are aware they are being presented with important material, but have to struggle to catch every word, with much lost and left to conjecture.  Can we be sure we have heard the most vital elements in the poet’s message, or only clues as to the true meaning? The act of reading becomes a mystery, a jigsaw puzzle – one might almost say a game, were the themes and the tone not so hauntingly near the emotional and psychological knuckle.

 
Woolley is the energetic and politically committed founder and editor of two vibrant poetry websites, I am not a silent poet and the recently inaugurated The Curly Mind, which features experimental and avant garde work. In skins he focusses specifically on the current refugee crisis, and it is typical of the man’s spirit and generosity that he is donating all profits from the book’s sales to CalAid, an organisation dedicated to meeting the basic needs of displaced people.

 
The horrific realities of war, in the era of ISIS and similar organisations, are a constant if tersely-worded concern. They include sexual exploitation and commercialisation of minors, as explored in ‘detonator’:

 
……………a girl
……………a weapon
……………of mass destruction
……………this is how
……………to win a war.children
……………come cheap

……………girls cheaper

Just in case that message is not quite clear enough, it is driven home in the next poem, ‘they said’, where the age-old value of education is seen as having been undone by a new, completely amoral code of priorities, and the sexual degradation is underlined by deliberately pornographic spelling:

 
……………this light of books
……………is untaught you
……………on dusty ground.new
……………lessons are written
……………in cum & blood
……………& smiles are foreign now

However, we are soon reminded that the young victims of this aspect of modern reality were not in fact born to be chattels or objects of abusive gratification, but human beings who, though marginalised with even less power than their uprooted (or very possibly dead) parents, and whose suffering is often too much to bear for the average TV news viewer, have overflowing memories and past lives, just like other children. In ‘heroes’, Woolley’s wordplay centres on ‘brimming’, which suggests both tears and abundance:

 
……………so much
……………went missing today

……………& on the edges
……………the children.huddled

……………whole stories brimming
……………in their eyes

……………mute the tv
……………let me read through dust

 

In ‘dark eyes any time’, the chilling conclusion summons up a poet who may well be a key influence on Woolley, as it recalls (if in a context that signals contradiction as well as homage) the end of ‘The Hollow Men’:

 
……………the children don’t cry
……………& dogs
……………………..don’t whimper

 

They don’t cry, or whimper, one assumes, because they are dead. We are certainly inhabiting a real wasteland, as barren as anything in Eliot’s post-World-War-One terrain, and one reflected in Woolley’s layout, as well as his even-sparser-than-usual language and the use of shocked repetition:

 
……………the empty

…………………………eyes
…………………………& holes
…………………………………….gouged
………….crumbs
…………………………& dust
………….& dust       & holes

 

Much of the book’s second half centres on drowning, not merely the physical horror involved, but all the levels of obliteration denoted by the specific instances of drowning as a would-be refugee. There’s another echo of Eliot – a double one, not only of ‘The Hollow Men’ but also the ‘clangs/The bell’ of ‘The Dry Salvages’ – in ‘lampedusa’, where the idea of drowning (though dimly hinted by the title) only comes in at the last minute and is couched in harrowing euphemism:

 
……………in the waves
……………the shadows

……………i hear the hollow bell

……………& shall we go
……………& meet them at the tolling

……………no flowers
……………no floating

‘waves’ spells out the theme, while echoing the earlier poem and making the ‘fl-’ alliteration still more poignantly commemorative:

 

 

……………i take the sea
……………when i move  ……………always
……………on the edge of drowning
……………shuffling steps
……………these drifting bones
……………speak in salt
……………i’ll sail again
……………in high wind spray
……………leave

…………   no flowers floating
……………are not ghosts here

 

And a few poems on, Woolley becomes still more direct, naming a poem ‘drowning’ which begins ‘here/they breathe water/till darkness comes’. But again there is a glimmer of renewed hope in the next piece, ‘dark water’, which ends

………………………………………….a phrase
……………painting pictures
……………in water ……….flow
……………in dark rivers i don’t
……………fully

 

……………understand   ……….i swim
……………cross-current
………………………………not drowning
……………not always

 

There are survivors, even if so many are lost. A later piece, ‘crossings’, attempts to weigh up the tallies (perhaps a little too baldly, making this one of the less effective):

 

……………we’ll take our children
……………& sail
……………………..& some
……………survive

……………walk  ……….long
……………& unwanted
……………………………..waiting
……………unfairly
………………………….& some
……………will drink salt
……………………………& sink
……………unfairly

 

However, any slight wavering of technique on Woolley’s part is soon rectified, and the book’s later poems confirm its dignified power and the memorable effect of so much of its imagery:

 

…………………………& here
……………the dark scarecrow

……………in the empty field
……………where hands rose
……………like harrowed wheat          (‘targeted’)

 
……………i could say this otherwise
…………………………………the dead
……………are only slightly buried.we dream
……………of orbits & hurtling stars
……………………walk
……………quietly
……………& think it all a different way    (‘tired eyes blink in daylight’)

 

That final passage, once again redolent of Eliot (the ‘That was a way of putting it’ section of ‘East Coker’), and possibly also of Larkin (‘see it all again in different terms’ from ‘The Whitsun Weddings’), encourages different viewpoints of the subject-matter, in a way that implies Woolley, as passionate as he may be about the issues, does not want to come across as dogmatic or manipulatively polemical. What he has essentially done is present the images that strike him as key, and invite us to make of them what we will. Ultimately he is an imagist/symbolist, in a tradition extending back as far as Eliot and Pound’s own poetic mentor, Jules Laforgue, and this book is a worthy addition to that branch of the modernist canon.

Review of Cottage Pi by Graham Burchell

Cottage Pi  by Graham Burchell   SPM Publications    Review by Mandy Pannett        ISBN 978-0-9927055-9-6

There are many things to admire in Graham Burchell’s latest poetry collection (including the cover art designed by the author himself). For now, however, I want to concentrate on the aspect that most appeals to me – the detailed creation of a sense of place underpinned by nostalgia for a previous and very different setting and by the pain of allowing new memories to form. ‘I will reshape my steps’ he says in the opening poem and this is what subsequent pieces in Cottage Pi show him attempting to do.

After Hours presents the reader with the situation. The author has moved from a seaside town in Devon, a place with ‘herring gull sky’ and ‘lightly salted air’, to a small, urban stone cottage by a major road and a railway. Here, in the middle of a terrace, ‘breath’ is ‘squeezed’ like ‘a Cinderella between two sisters’ while the tiny rooms ‘cower’ against the busyness and noise. A powerful word, ‘cower’ and it seems implicit in the poems, especially the earlier ones, that it is not only the setting that cowers and shuffles breathlessly. In this new home Burchell sets about his task of reshaping and adapting to ‘new floors’ with ‘memories pressed under my ribs’. A difficult and emotional task.

Good Deeds develops this theme. The poet finds that reshaping involves absorbing the atmosphere of a new place in all its guises. This includes all the stuff and mess left behind by the man and his boy who lived there before – ‘blue-tack on hot-chocolate coloured walls,/stickers on a radiator, a pile of two pence pieces,/ a greasy oven, bits of Tupperware fossilising/on top of cupboards, a drip in the cistern/and a roughage of papers’. Here, in this cottage, a copy of the house deeds brings in memories from a much earlier time. Although the papers are fading in sepia they still offer hope of a new beginning like ‘a birth certificate’ or ‘a treasure map’.

A theme running through Cottage Pi is that of light and its absence or loss. There is only ‘half-light’ from the window where Burchell is trying to read the documents (Good Deeds); he hopes to plant new seeds in his old pots but ‘there isn’t the light’; even the sky is ‘small’ (I Sowed Seeds).

Space and the lack of it is also a theme in this and other poems.  ‘There isn’t the light. There isn’t the space/there used to be’, he says, and the space where new seeds might grow is ‘manhole dark’. In a later poem (The Misplaced House) we have an image of the author sitting in the garden with a book, so near the road that ‘with a fishing rod, I could touch passing cars’.

It is hard to adapt, to accept ‘birdsong drowned, by engine roar, brakes;’ (My Misplaced House). Comparisons provide the pivot between the old and the new. The title poem Cottage Pi details this dilemma – Burchell,  worrying over ‘the exact colour’ of the A385, remembers how previously he had ‘fussed over the colour/of the sea’. In the last stanza the sound of traffic is compared to the sound of the sea:
 …………‘Passing vehicles sound like breaking waves
…………on a pebble beach. The seventh, the big one,
 …………is often deeply articulated.’

There is sadness and nostalgia throughout the poems in Cottage Pi – a sense of yearning for childhood, the loss of contentment with its ‘small moments’, the ‘summer’ of a wedding day. (Summer). There is also humour – lots of it – and lyrical detailed poems such as Fishmore, where the carp live, and Window Spider where Burchell observes the spider that is ‘the size and colour/of a grain of rice, and the legs/are eight of my whitest moustache hairs’.

There is also a feeling of acceptance, or at least of resignation, so that ‘need’, which resembles the sea holly from Guatemala that Burchell grows in one of his pots, does not only contain the pain of ‘a child that howls/having been raised by wolves’ (In my Tiny Garden) but may also become part of another small moment to cherish as one sips tea. (Happiness).

Cottage Pie is an enchanting collection, beautifully produced by SPM Publications, and other readers will find a great many further delights.

A Poverty of Words by Frederick Pollack. Review by Mandy Pannett

A Poverty of Words by Frederick Pollack    Published: Prolific Press

ISBN: 978-1-63275

The poems in A Poverty of Words fascinate me with their range and depth. I have my favourites among them and particularly like those that use the basis of a strong narrative for commentary. What appeals to me most however, perhaps strangely, is an impression of ambiguity and illusion that I felt the more I read and re-read this long collection. So much feels tenuous, fleeting and inconclusive, ‘just over the narrow shifting line’, that it actually reinforces the strength of the book; it is as if the insubstantial creates impact.

 
Tristia, a poem in three parts about Ovid in exile, is an example of this sense of things receding, becoming out of focus and indistinct. Perception, if there is any, is frequently false. Ovid imagines his life story interpreted in different ways by artists in the future and sees ‘these images people would make of him’ although he does quite like his statue in ‘the seedy port’ which doesn’t resemble him/in the least’. In the poem Moonrise people are wandering about as if at a party, talking and exchanging opinions but all the time ‘having perceived nothing’. We are told about their various emotions on seeing a full moon from the veranda: some show off their technical knowledge, others prefer ‘the arty’ approach and bemoan ‘the theft of nature’, a few appear learned and philosophical but all the ‘roles’ are hackneyed and inauthentic. When ‘the moon rebooted’ it is presented as a ‘tacky-sublime effect/in an aging remake of The Time Machine,/jagged and looming.’

 
This sense of fragility and untrustworthiness continues. There are ‘outlines of buildings, stubs of docks,/the unrecoverable streets.’ (View of the Water). Ovid, at the end of his life, feels ‘scraped down to a tone’ and the possibility of any transformation is ‘doubtful’. In Further Adventures there is a faint stirring of interest in ’89 with some talk of freedom but most years pass ‘in a sort of pain’. Everything is qualified; there is ‘a sort of dandruff’ scattered on stairwells, corridors and the tops of people’s heads (More than Generous) and in Is this a Dagger a Macbeth-type character can only ‘dither at silence’ and ‘lose himself in a mere/vertical drowse.’ In the world of A Poverty of Words ‘Things wait/to be reduced further’ as ‘the homeless,/widely separated, sleep/as if trying to become burial mounds.’ (Return to Telegraph). The short poem Minor Oracle sums up, for me, this whole impression of the passive and the diluted:

 
……….Wisdom, painfully
……….gathered, is readily forgotten.
……….The dishwasher that cleans
……….well enough but smells musty
……….when opened remains in use.
……….The viewpoints of distant planets
……….are valid. Laughter drains
……….with water. The black sun yearns to implode.’

 

The atmosphere that Frederick Pollack creates may give the impression of things half-glimpsed and intangible but the language throughout is vivid and striking, rich with images and turns of phrase, intriguing with allusions and associations. If there is one thing the author does not suffer from it is any kind of poverty of words!

 
The reader needs to read the collection thoroughly, each time discovering subtle twists and facets of language. I’ll finish this review by commenting on two poems which I feel epitomise the overall theme of A Poverty of Words – the idea of striving for the uanttainable, the search for a higher level of spiritual development. In Hello Again the Buddha is ‘reconstituted/in a distant future’ and meets with a number of theorists ‘floating in brain-gel’. In this state he has become flexible, polite, bored and slightly annoyed at being bothered but, when asked why he has requested death, he says that he wants ‘To ascend’. Told that ‘it’s no longer an option’ he appears amused but also ‘pitying’. We leave him settling back into ‘the void’ but I felt his wish to ascend was crucial. The same theme may be traced in Diotima, the opening poem, where the Greek philosopher and priestess who influenced Plato with her thoughts on wisdom and spiritual love, wanders around a modern setting in beret and trenchcoat trying, without success, to obtain a visa. The poem ends with her ‘at the edges of the street’ but some lines from the poem’s narrator may suggest some possibility of ‘ascent’:

 
……….What might she have whispered
……….to me, if Immigration had let her through?’

The reader may find an answer, or hints towards a possible answer, within the poems that follow.

Review by Nick Cooke of ‘Convergence: the meeting place of eight poets’

Convergence: the meeting place of eight poets (Circaidy Gregory Press 2015)
ISBN 978-1-901841-23-5     pp 76    £8.99

Review by Nick Cooke

Convergence is an anthology of poems by the finalists in the 2014 Earlyworks Press Poetry Collection Competition, with the exception of the winner Caron Freeborn, whose subsequent book, Georges Perec is my hero, I have reviewed separately for SLQ.

The work selected by editors Catherine Edmunds and Mandy Pannett, who were among the competition judges, explores a wide range of subjects and styles, making for a consistently stimulating read. Diverse as the contributions are, though, the anthology’s subtitle points to plentiful common ground between the poets, and this is reflected in the occurrence of certain prominent themes. Among the topics chosen by several writers, for instance, is childhood, seen in a particularly poignant light in the  opening piece, ‘The House of Bread’ by Andie Lewenstein. Here, a man’s cruel attempts to isolate his young step-daughter from her mother, by refusing to open their door to her and telling his wife ‘it is just a fox or a deer’, runs alongside the story of a ‘Kindertransport boy’, called ‘Kraut-Jew and Jesus-murderer’ by ‘legion’ enemies, who suffers treatment that’s on the surface far worse:

 …………His heart has been under the knife and weathered
 …………rage that we can only imagine by looking at the sea
………… as it devours and disgorges.

But the poem’s skill lies in the way it shows the parallels rather than the gaps between the two characters, and the repeated images of devouring and being swallowed up are later transmuted into the vision of footprints lost in the snow, as Lewenstein ends by touching on the sub-theme of identity erosion through linguistic loss, in the enforced migration experienced by the boy:

……….. I walk from your door
…………backwards, tracing my steps.
…………The snow will cover them.

…………How will you find me?
…………Who will bring them back to you –
…………songs from the house of bread.

…………Der Wind, der Wind,
…………das himmlische Kind.

The repeated use of German, and in particular the word ‘Wind’ recalls the lines from Tristan and Isolde, quoted in ‘The Waste Land’, themselves redolent of uprooted childhood:

…………Frisch weht der Wind
 …………Der Heimat zu,
…………Mein Irisch Kind,
…………Wo weilest du?

Embattled loneliness turns to borderline psychosis in John Wilks’ ‘For the Boy With Seven Hearts’, where the increasingly isolated addressee’s impotent self-harming is juxtaposed with a girl’s sexual precocity that dumbfounds and paralyses him:

………………..You cut
…………your palm with a razor blade
…………and nothing comes out.
………………..She lures
 …………you into her father’s shed
 …………and pulls her knickers down: all
 …………you can do is stare.

In a brilliantly realised blueprint of dysfunctionality, the poem outlines the development of what might be a form of autism or possibly, in its more extreme moments, schizophrenia, with the boy undergoing a dislocation from reality that is skilfully enacted through enjambments (‘Your life is a jump-/cut between unconnected/scenes’), and eventually releasing the frozen erotic energy from the shed incident in an act that would usually be considered worrying, at the very least:

………………..Undress your sister’s
 …………Barbie and caress untipped
 …………breasts, fondle the featureless
 …………mound.

This is immediately followed by a tersely significant pointer that the boy is singularly devoid of empathy, in a haunting indicator of psychopathic tendencies: ‘You hear your father fall,/but take no heed.’

A less disturbing but equally engaging approach to childhood is to be found in Anthony Watts’ ‘Rewind’, which looks back to ‘the grey-flannel monochrome of the nineteen-shorties’ and develops the humorous tone by summoning the names of classic comics through which the speaker tried to define his burgeoning identity and personality. There’s a delightful account of learning to walk in terms of the ‘Big Fight/against Gravity, the world champion’ from which the toddler emerges exhausted but triumphant: ‘I stagger to the edge of the ring and fall/into the arms of my cheering fans.’ The poem’s conclusion confirms the effectiveness of the child’s-view approach as a way of intimating how the infant’s whole world consists of his immediate surroundings, and how in his way he is master of all he surveys – or rather all he touches:

 …………Rewind: This planet is called High Chair. It has a ring of moons.
 …………You can see them low on the horizons, pink
 …………and blue and yellow. I can reach out like God
 …………and move them, with a finger, along their orbit.

…………Rewind. Stop. Click. Reverse.

In New Zealand poet Rata Gordon’s ‘Stone’, the direct style takes us right into the child speaker’s head and leaves us to work out her mother’s motives in weaving a yarn around a mysterious stone. The mini-story recalls the stork tales traditionally told to children to explain the arrival of babies, albeit here with an inanimate object. Is the mother weaving a a charming fantasy or practising a less valid form of deception? The ambiguity evokes the parent’s unique power over her child’s imagination.

…………it landed

…………in my mother’s underwear drawer
…………in a rima box with a fitted lid
…………the one she keeps my teeth

…………she tells me a moa traipsed it
…………around the lip
  ……….of the Hokianga harbour

 …………it was in the moa’s gut
 …………grinding fern roots and becoming
 …………smoother and smaller

 ………….at the Tasman sea
 …………she opened her beak
……….. .her eyelids closed upwards

——————————————–

In a second section whose teasing quality reinforces the poem’s main concerns, Gordon remains equivocal on the issue of parental intentions, as the ambiguous wording half-suggests the mother is deliberately scaring (or is she merely warning?) her daughter, by making out that a stone might some day crash into her  life, like an asteroid, when least expected:

………….I ask mum if one day
  ………..the stone might smash
 …………through the bedroom window

…………to start a new life
 ………..as a tooth in a statue
…………of an open-mouthed queen

 …………but she says
 …………the stone knows better than to leap
 …………while we are watching
(Moa: a large flightless bird [hence the ‘traipsing’] endemic to New Zealand, now extinct.
Hokianga harbour: the mouth of a long estuarine drowned valley/river on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand.)

*

Another notable theme in the book relates to nature, in particular the relationship of people and animals. Two poets invoke an apparent early Ted Hughes influence, recalling ‘My manners are tearing off heads’ from ‘Hawk Roosting’, with the twist that in their cases the lethal power is seen as humanity’s, rather than existing within the animal world itself.  Although Eilidh Thomas’ ‘Flight Path’ does suggest a more direct link with Hughes – ‘In the last light/the hawk/who took the sparrow/has nothing left to mourn’ – that concept of a hawk having human feelings constitutes a shift from Hughes’ amoral killing machine, and her poem ‘Gamekeeper’s Law’ takes the evolution a step further. The first lines are both an admission of vanquishment and an accusation of murder:

 ………..I flew once

…………but now I lie
 ……….dead at your feet

Our fallen protagonist was indeed a bird of prey, but has now become prey. Again, the wild creature is humanised, this time by the reminder that its violent lifestyle has been based not on being programmed to kill for killing’s sake, but the fact that there was a family to care for:

………… My raptor talons
………… will no longer
 …………seek the deep glint
 …………of wild salmon
 …………in the river’s run

………… or the rip of flesh
 ……….. for young to feed

There’s the subtle sense of a final bow, a little like the song ‘My Way’, in the dignified last lines:

 ………… In a heart’s breath
…………  I catch the clean snap
 ………… of lead shot

 ………..  and take my last flight

Similarly, Mick Evans’ ‘Shooting Crows’ may owe something to Hughes, but both context and treatment differ substantially from The Hawk In The Rain. Again the reader’s emotions are stirred by a focus on the helpless young, as the newborn crows are left ‘gargling blood, voiceless’ and ‘threads of crimson coil and blur/pumping from the tiny heart’. And again the critique is in a way even-handed, as the speaker acknowledges that the crows are themselves, so to speak, no angels: they are imagined remorselessly picking clean the corpses of Great War soldiers: ‘We search the eye sockets but see no humanity there./We search until the bones are bare.’ Later, in a seamless and memorable coup, the poem takes on a political angle by widening its scope to include less obvious forms of human predatoriness,  as homeless people are added to the roster of the vulnerable, and society’s hypocrisy is nicely captured in a reference to crucifixion that implies Christian charity can be viewed in terms of empty promises:

 ………..We have seen your streets
……….. the homeless laid out on pavements picked clean of hope
……….. crucified by cold.
……….. Words scatter and fall around them
 ………..like spent shot
 ………..traffic circulates like blood pumped from ruptured veins.

Evans might have done well to end on that devastating note, but he chooses to expatiate further, spelling out what could have been left for the reader to infer, and drawing a conclusion that, as well as being syntactically suspect, tends to dissipate the earlier impact that had been so skilfully created by images rather than arguments:

 ………..Our crime is to be less dishonest than you.
 ………..In your world love sustains but hate is more true. (…)

………..The fixed relations of circling crows’
 ………..ordained distances, the diminishing are
 ………..over crying lambs, are constants;

………………………………………………………………stark
  ………..as the simple formula of what dies, what survives
 ……….. that is distant, fading, following the dark.

Yet whatever the faults of the second half, the first part certainly sticks in the mind, as do several of Evans’ other poems, including his two delightful pieces on ancient thinkers, ‘Plato at St Pancras’ and ‘Weighing Archimedes’, which particularly suit his more ruminative bent.

Also somewhat abstract in her approach is June Wentland, whose ‘Crows’ is typically philosophical in tone. Here, crows are conceived by an unnamed male subject as having ‘no individual existence of their own/they are other birds transformed by sadness/….waiting to be charmed back into a happier form -/sparrow, song thrush, nightingale or lark.’  Such thoughts prompt the man to enter his garden and start hanging Chinese lanterns from the apple trees, playing ‘music about love and loss’, and reading poems by Muir and Frost. Later when a female character arrives, presumably the man’s wife or partner, the poem effects an unexpected change of direction, towards a questioning of his mental balance that might have been in the reader’s consciousness from the off:

 ………..She finds him seated on the bench when she comes home
……….. singing to them, sharing biscuits and the contents of the TV listings.

She promptly urges him to come inside, by way of countering his wayward behaviour, and it’s as if while the garden stands for the potential pitfalls, if not actual dangers of speculative thought, their house represents safety and definability, symbolised by the comforting sound of the ‘theme tune from Corrie’. The ending is ambivalent, implying on one hand an arguably anticlimactic suspicion that intellectual flights of fancy are likely to be sterile, while preserving the notion that they just might not be:

 ………..balance restored between them they listen for birdsong
……….. which probably isn’t, but could be, the sound of crows transformed
 ………..back into nightingales or larks.

The selections from the eighth poet, Angela Arnold, have themes and a style of their own, with a gentler touch than certain others, but one which hints at underlying tension. I found her most striking piece to be ‘Before We Were Lovers’, where the onetime harmony between a seasoned couple has been undermined by a creeping disengagement and low-level but telling alcohol abuse:

………..You were a country, softly
………..webbed in roads for me:

………..magic routes – now I notice
………..too often the glass in your hand,

………..signposting retreat…

The military connotations of that last word typify Arnold’s skill at suggestive understatement, which is glimpsed again at the poem’s end:

………..Your whole Sundayish sparkle
 ………..is now reserved for guests.

 ………..Is it me: too
 ………. sprawled into your life?

‘Reserved’ has a double meaning, describing both the coldness now being shown towards the speaker, and, through the unexpected addition of ‘for guests’, the opposed warmth that her husband/partner demonstrates in his sparkling demeanour with others. We sense a real betrayal in the apparently unthreatening wordplay. In comparable fashion, ‘sprawled’ conveys a sensual abandon, making us picture the speaker sprawled invitingly on a bed, but also brings to mind a graceless fall, thus neatly encapsulating her confused self-image: do I still turn you on or don’t I? Am I really in your life or simply sprawled, smotheringly, over it?

*

I hope these snapshots of  high points give a flavour of the breadth and quality of the contents. As was the case with Caron Freeborn’s winning book Georges Perec is my hero, Circaidy Gregory Press is to be congratulated on an anthology of lasting interest and appeal.

Two Poetry Collections by Helen Moore. Review by Nick Cooke.

Hedge Fund & Other Living Margins by Helen Moore (Shearsman Books, 2012)
ISBN 978-1-84861-201-2     pp 89    £8.95

Ecozoa by Helen Moore (Permanent Publications, 2015)
ISBN 978-1-85623-227-2     pp 84    £9.95

Review by Nick Cooke
With Northern England devastated by floods that most experts attribute to climate change, and fracking recently granted the full government go-ahead despite vociferous opposition, it’s perhaps surprising that there are not more British poets following Helen Moore’s example and attaching the prefix ‘eco-’ to their job descriptions. Perhaps she will in time be joined in her mission by similarly committed warrior-writers. Her two collections amount to nothing less than a literary declaration of war on the forces threatening our planet’s future; indeed, the depth, breadth and growing intensity of her coverage of related issues suggests that Hedge Fund & Other Living Margins (2012) and Ecozoa (2015) can be read as a modern equivalent of the Iliad, with perhaps an Odyssey yet to follow.

 
Reflecting on the relations between the two books is in broad terms a matter of comparing and contrasting the relative subtlety of Hedge Fund with the more urgent, full-on directness of Ecozoa. It’s almost as if Moore consciously wished to begin by using the full range of irony and wordplay of which she is undoubtedly capable, but when the world failed to respond sufficiently to her gentle promptings, she then felt compelled to spell things out still more plainly. The first book’s approach is typified from the off in the title poem, which plays on the double meaning of ‘hedge’ by having its account of natural processes, and unnatural practices such as fox-hunting, juxtaposed with a precis of how money markets work, literally in the margin of the pages:

……..Money markets usually lie
……..at the core of the financial
……..system, functioning quietly

………………………………………Colonies of Snails,
………………………………………feathers, crush of brittle
………………………………………lime – a Song Thrush
………………………………………sings up its midden.

………………………………………Startled mouths –
………………………………………White Dead Nettles flowers
………………………………………open where a shot Fox
………………………………………crept to die; here lies
………………………………………minus an eye.

‘Lie’ in relation to the markets clearly has a double meaning, which the book will go on to explore, while its use in the phrase ‘here lies’ – as though the fox had been given an actual funeral –  is the first example of many where Moore deliberately humanises the experiences of suffering animals. Meanwhile, the litany of animal and plant names, many of them capitalised in acknowledgement of Blake, expands throughout the collection so that by the end it would seem many hundreds have had a mention – a war of attrition in which the jargon of the City is countered by the natural lexicon Moore is so expert in. The poem appears to end with an opening-skirmish victory for the City, because linguistically the world of business and the markets takes over Moore’s attention. However, this proves illusory as in reality the finale reminds us how fragile those markets can be, and in recent times have been:

 ……………………………………………………..Random execution,
………………………………..the insane-making crunch,
 ……………………………….while the contractor sits
………………………………..muffled in his cab,
………………………………..on the wheel his hands
………………………………..stiff as supermarket quotas…

……share values in free-fall,
 …..as investors predict their own
 …..dwindling margins and returns.

Later poems are more mournful of what has been lost in the battle, notably ‘The Fallen’, where that ‘here lies’ is picked up as a refrain introducing each short stanza of remembrance, with each ‘fallen’ wildflower species urged to rest in peace, and ‘Ice, an Elegy’, where Moore’s propensity for humanisation touches the disappearing world of caps and bergs:

……………………………………The Ice Queen is leaving –
………………………………… ..all around her ancient kingdom
………………………………… ..is cracking up…
……………………………………each day her belly calves
……………………………………desperate bergs of ice. Bereft, these tongues
……………………………………curl and shrink as they sense their mother
 …………………………………..spent – her skin once tinted blue,
……………………………………now deathly pale.

 The cliché’ ‘deathly pale’ suggests that at this early stage Moore still has ground to cover as a technician, but occasional blemishes of diction are outweighed by the passion in her message, and specifically the way that in both books the hopeful sense of a future where sense will be seen and pernicious policies reversed in time constantly peeps through the laments for the victims of climate change. In ‘Pantoum of Planting Seeds’, for instance, ‘these smallest things’ – the seeds – contain ‘a potency waiting to be sown’:

 …………………………Dull and dry as peppercorns
………………………….and yet in dormancy they breathe,
 …………………………potency waiting to unfold,
………………………….sensing fertile sun and soil.

‘In Good Hands’ traces the evolution of an ecologically aware consciousness that if magnified into a powerful body of opinion will constitute the basis for huge faith in the future. Its ending celebrates personal growth grounded in this soil of wonder and awareness as the poet-as-child protagonist is visited by a female persona who would seem to be Mother Nature:

 …………………………Her fingers interlock
………………………… to form the church without the steeple.
 …………………………In our Earth everything fits together just so.

………………………….Wide-eyed I stared at their craggy surface
 …………………………that settled back into her lap
 …………………………as if in silent prayer. In good hands
………………………….I learned to cherish every living being.

Towards the end of Hedge Fund this optimistic strain finds its central symbol and source of nourishment on the ideal energy source of the future:

 ………………………..Coiling up the kitchen-blind, I coax the Sun
 ………………………..through every angle on its East to South axis –
 ………………………. tilt my face upwards like a leaf,
…………………………drawing radiance into each particle and cell…

 …………….…I consider the Sun’s constancy, the fiery corona…………
 ………………………                      ..                   then my spirit rises out
 ……………………….over the rooftops, soars higher than the late Swifts

 ……………………….upward through moist layers of gas…
………………….. ….….seeking the troposphere, the stratosphere,
 ………………………where jets scar the Earth’s aura. (‘Sacré Coeur’)

And in ‘Climbing out of a Dog Eat Dog World’, Moore anticipates the more turkey-talking style of her second book as she makes the poet’s responsibility, both as a witness and a voice of hope, absolutely clear:

 ……………………….What can a poet do? Bear witness; be a conscience, perhaps?
 ……………………….Sometimes I feel such agony to see what ignorance and greed

………………………..are snuffing out. Yet somehow I find the inner rungs to climb
………………………..from despair.. Hand over hand, there’s always something

 ……………………….to learn….

………………………..Now I notice when my heart has closed. Only the heart breaks
 ……………………….patterns of fear.

If her heart may seem to some to be a little too much on her sleeve at such moments, Moore takes care to temper the starry-eyed impression by ending her first collection in a watchful, more cautiously positive mood. ‘Today, of All Days’, begins

 ……………………..Today a Hare leaps from the shadows of a thicket;
………………………I’m its silent, motionless observer,
…………………… ..its ear-erect alertness, its wide eyeball watch.

While this appears an interesting amendment of previous links between the animal and human worlds, as if Moore were stating their ultimate separation – she is the observer, not the hare itself – the poem goes on to explore the extent to which the two in fact are or can be truly connected:

  ……………………Today the Oak’s roots support me;
 …………………….through its cleft and curly leaves I breathe,
……………………..knotted arms crowning my dependence.

The final verse implies a coalescence, a melting together of human and natural arenas, at minuscule level:

 …………………….Today thousands of Mycelia connect me
……………………..By sugared strands invisibly through the soil;
 …………………….I fruit browny-white; deliquesce here, there, nowhere.

Perhaps ‘fruit’ as an apparent verb does not quite work as Moore might have hoped, indicating again that for all the quality of Hedge Fund, at that early point in her career there remained room for improvement in some of her phrasing. However, all in all, the book is an inspiring and at times astonishing debut which demonstrates her many qualities and establishes the basis of her considerable promise as a writer.

*

That promise is certainly fulfilled in Ecozoa, described by John Kinsella as ‘a summoning-up of all animals, plants, rocks and soil to have their say as humans dissolve the planet, as the State rides roughshod over the rights of humans and environment’. I’m not sure whether he realises the irony of ‘humans’ appearing in that sentence as both villains and victims, but this version of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ is very much to the point, and Kinsella certainly hits the mark when he pinpoints Moore’s even more impassioned stance (compared to Hedge Fund), through his choice of verbs when describing what she does in the book – ‘intones, invokes, implores and damns’. The verbs almost suggest the power and authority of a deity, which in turn brings in the title’s allusion to Blake’s poem ‘Vala or the Four Zoas’, and its concept of post-Miltonic divine conflict, here re-interpreted by Moore in the context of an epic modern battle against the forces of eco-oppression. As Moore admits in her footnotes, Blake’s mythology is complex, and readers may be slightly perplexed by the way in which her presentation of the four zoas (godlike personifications of life-forces) places Urizen as the embodiment of ‘reason’, in the sense of scientific materialism, which she sees as the potential destroyer of the other three zoas – Tharmas (the body), Luvah (the heart) and Urthona (the imagination) – when the Blake poem actually ends with a celebratory prediction of science’s victory over religion in the industrial age of reason:

……………………………………………….The war of swords departed now,
 ……………….The dark Religions are departed & sweet Science reigns.
……………………………… (‘Vala or the Four Zoas,’ Night the Ninth, ll. 834-5)

Be that as it may, the invoking of Blake, and Moore’s visionary style for most of the book, undoubtedly do summon up the blood in the manner she intends, and make for some memorable and often tub-thumping passages. These lines from ‘Kali Exorcism’, for instance, initially parody a famous Lady Macbeth soliloquy, and then expose an ongoing list of concealed but inhuman crimes, where Moore develops her skill in humanising animal experience by picturing vivisection labs as prisons:

……………………….Come, dark goddess, tear off veils of rhetoric that conceal
 ………………………war-mongering deeds in cloaks of respectability; help us
……………………….hear deeper than the pre-emptive strikes, the collateral damage

 ……………………….ventriloquized by our complicit media,
 ……………………….and demand plain language to describe victims of torture,
………………………..rape and murder in the wars they report.

……………………….Wild one, let your third eye reflect our distancing tactics –
 ……………………….how we blind ourselves with science, mutely condone prisons
 ……………………….where animals are tested with nerve agents, toxins, explosives.

As mentioned, this book does often deal in plainer, sometimes more expletive language than its predecessor, and in arguably its most striking and imaginative tour de force it extends its directness and specificity to naming guilty names. The prize-winning ‘Earth Justice’ traces the mock ecocide trial of September 2011 in which the celebrated crusading barrister Michael Mansfield, who has described Moore’s poem as an ‘epic masterpiece’, proved that it is legally possible to prosecute companies for crimes against the environment, pointing the finger at several individual perpetrators. However, the collection is far from one-note or unrelentingly polemical. Notably, it incorporates many flashes of humour, albeit usually of the rueful variety, such as Moore’s reflection on how product-naming language has changed our response to words like ‘jaguar’, ‘apple’ and ‘blackberry’, in ‘apples are not the only gadgets’, and the curse placed on frackers, strongly intimating erectile dysfunction, in ‘I call on the spirit of Owen’:

 …………..And may the frackers’ drills go soft, their stock & shares evaporate!

Perhaps the finest piece of all, ‘A History of the British Empire in a Single Object’, looks at the topic from a different angle by tracing the origins of every component of a Victorian rocking-chair owned by the poet. On this occasion Moore briefly turns the finger of accusation on her own previous tendency to overlook the sources of different types of wood:

……………………Had I at any moment considered
……………………Mahogany as tree

……………………………………….a glittering crown which rose above
……………………gargantuan forest skirts? How it began as minute heliotrope
……………………hooked up to the light?
……………………How in dry season Mahoganies
……………………would shed their glossy leaves,
……………………baring pugilistic fruit-fists
……………………that were tanned and leathered –
……………………trade winds pummelling out their seeds
……………………spinning them away

……………………to wait for germinating rains?

I particularly enjoyed Moore’s expansion of the stiff-upper-lip imperial image, which links in with her view of Urizen as a head-centric and therefore only partly-human figure. There’s also a nice pun on the modern, Van-Morrisonesque sense of ‘rock the souls’ (viz. ‘Into the Mystic’) alongside the gentler image of Moore in her antique chair:

……………………………..In this metamorphic chair,
……………………from which a Captain’s wife might have come to extol
 …………………..their crinolined infant, I rock the souls of all those generations
……………………consumed by duty –
 …………………..Governor-Generals functioning from the collar-up;
……………………officers’ hearts locked in strong-boxes,
 …………………..tear-ducts dry as husks.

*

Despite the necessarily frequent discouraging moments and images, what links Moore’s two books, overall, is the vein of optimism, already pointed up in Hedge Fund and possibly even broader in Ecozoa, where the title itself suggests an ultimately triumphant new ‘zoa’, and many poems conclude in the spirit of an imagined future victory over Urizen. ‘Spaced Out’, in particular, anticipates a form of new Eden:

…………………One century on ……….we thrive in woody folds
 ………………..flowering fields and Gorse-clad dunes.
…………………Look, our forests have been replanted and the seas
………………………………………………………………….are gradually receding…

The next poem, ‘Prayer to the Critically Endangered South China Tyger’, implies that Blake’s spirit can be revived:

 …………………………………………………… …grant us the fierce desire
 ……………………….to hunt a bright vision for tomorrow…

……………………….Ah! And teach us to rewild ourselves!

This is followed by a fascinating look at Henry VIII in a very new light, ‘Succession, Hampton Court Palace’, which develops the theme of a coming reversion:

………………………..that long imagined future where the chainsaw dies
 ……………………….in the man’s hands, and at Harry’s former seat,
 ……………………….wilderness is finally revived?

Ultimately, the only way of accelerating this desired outcome, Moore suggests in her penultimate poem, ‘A Natural Curriculum’, is through green-shaded education, and as Wordsworth put it in the quote at the top, to achieve this you must ‘let Nature be your teacher’:

 ……………………………………………………………..Worm, our top

 ……………………..recycler, who teaches zero waste in Nature….

 ……………………..Hedges constitute our school, each wood
 ……………………..a state-of-the-earth project – that fallen trunk
 ……………………..the perfect beam for learning balance.

‘Hedges’, of course, takes us back to her first book and the wordplay there. She has reclaimed it again at the end of her second. Where she goes with her third will presumably be to a large extent determined by forthcoming events and developments in the ecological sphere. There might be a couple of foretastes of that in two poems from Ecozoa ‘“This is not a dirty protest!”’, covering an anti-fracking protest in which the poet appears to have been arrested along with several friends, and ‘Ark Rains, from Aberdeen to Zennor’, which focusses on what is commonly reported as ‘freak’ flooding. While waiting we can reflect on John Kinsella’s fully justified description of Ecozoa as ‘a milestone in the journey of ecopoetics’, and on the clear fact that that journey is very far from over.