Tag Archives: Mandy Pannett

Still Life – a poem by John Darley

John Darley

Still Life

Remember the good one by Caravaggio? The leaves
with scars that spell their histories
on the pallid wall. It told me
do not do; not
do not. Two by two, browning fingers eke
towards the start of something new.           (Hideous).
I push myself towards the fruit at the centre
and wait for the rest.
Somewhere                                     (out of frame)
the crowd screams for peace. An apple at each mouth,
puckered with deep kisses. The fall
of I do, I do, I do: grapes in-hand, sour
and still moving, still not quite themselves. The table plots
a sweeping plane across the x axis; raw
and no sound or silence or balanced
but the joy of foot-warm granite. I am uncomfortably finite,
and, like my fist of glossed pulp, fail to distract from the fact that the fruit died weeks ago.

Between the figs and the grapes and the pale
sweet pear, a torched car like a heart. Its beat dwindles
from contracting steal and cracked plastic puddles.
The arteries were cut off
nine days ago, so someone               (still out of frame)
is boiling saltwater. Inside the apple
the crowd screams for one more song.
                                                                  (A wedding in a crater)
                                                                  (A bombshell for an eye)
                                                                  (A vacation to war)
A violin plays itself through a closed window
– the air-con turned up full – and a fruit basket
where next-door used to dry their linen, split
open, still empty.

“Still Life” by John Darley was highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2016) judged by Mandy Pannett.

A Smallholding in the Fens – poem by Elisabeth Sennitt Clough

Elisabeth Sennitt Clough

A Smallholding in the Fens
We began with myths and later included actual events
– Michael Ondaatje, Handwriting

There was an attempt at a pond,
but it was never lined
and the water didn’t want to be contained
by that black earth.

I don’t like to think of the fish,
their gills silvering the soil.

There was a drought one summer.
It made my mother thirsty.

Irrigation dried up most of the dykes,
but I still dreamt of wading birds.

Once my stepfather caught a linnet:
as his hand tightened around it,

it pecked at him,
but it was the small heartbeat

he felt through the gourd of his palm,
that made him set it free.

It was a place of hooks: for fish and for game
(sometimes there was a right hook).

When he was a boy, my stepfather saw a pike:
it was so huge, it had to shunt back and forth
at the river’s mouth in order to turn.

My mother hung game-birds in the kitchen.
They looked like upside-down bouquets.

There was an otter skin on the wall.
My stepfather said he shot it by accident.
Its whisker holes were pink on the inside,
as if it had measles.
The boy we called The Milky Bar Kid
peed himself in the corner
after his dad punched his door,
his room smelt of particle board and vinegar.

Some nights his mum gave him cat-food for dinner.
After he scraped the jelly off
he said it tasted like Fray Bentos.

There are mini-twisters in the Fens.
They bustle along the headland,
chests puffed out like bossy toddlers.

Things about my eighth summer:
I cracked a toe-nail on the pavement.
I bent down and huffed the tarmac
when it started to blister in the sun.
They used a hose on the soles of my feet,
when only sand-paper would’ve done.

“A Smallholding in the Fens” by Elisabeth Sennitt Clough was highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition May 2016 judged by Mandy Pannett.

& Bless – poem by Mara Adamitz Scrupe

Mara Adamitz Scrupe

& Bless

            all the illness    people all the streaming
pilgrims’ barren scatter stripling bark             & tender
bless the bandit’s head rolling/ stalling/ staring
moth to moon             dusk to cavern            ebon nail gnawed
&           stub
               &         yes god bless          god bless this packed
plaza today’s & yesterday’s suns’ deep reserve glint &
fracture a fallen woman’s foreign veil & stoned          her kin
deny her/ prostrate for life for living being & bless
the skittered     lifeblood          under the floorboards

between plates & piers             gallanting out bold
before dawn      supine back-wriggle striped
coming                          & going & bless the rift-open aura
illumined           astral pink morning watercolor wash
along the ridge I stammer as a         child my attachments
to objects misunderstood     as linkage as hairy-stalked
kudzu climbs the boxwoods’ backs; lovers     or foes?
           & bless the bumbling bamboo           too ruinous      &
every spring’s speckless ripped blade & bucket & bless &
bless bless the kleptomaniacal          ruling class’s

Panglossian sputter     pompous lapse and unbelieving
slumber            I bless this copse this gussied-up graveside
chat     antipodal woolly muddied smear what drear
measure         what a month            to die & bless
our slave chapel moved over harrowed field &
passion smoothed over hanks            & marrow
             hees & yaws     & wept white amplitude scale & hands
that blind and feed                  some bone some splint some salt
glazed sherd      a shine plucked clean from rubble
silica & sodium vapor dure: the potter’s thumb prints

fired forever in wet smoke & rouged iron
oxide              & bless the hangers-on released
to creep & tarry matched sets paired birds all set
for the Sunday shoot      & bless the frog-of-the-field
            stacked bump-backed & clutching
one atop           another in a bucket on the feeding floor
            & bless this breeding wire this hedged             tendril &
foothold           tension rib & shore & bless the suffocate ivy
clutch & ramble cling-stem stout roof            pitch & mortared
stroke & bless & bless all these crumbling                  castes

“& Bless” by Mara Adamitz Scrupe won third prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2016) judged by Mandy Pannett.

sylvia plath knew my mother – poem by John Wilks

John Wilks

sylvia plath knew my mother

a single red eye and a flick of ash
she shows me photographs
of men she gobbled but did not swallow
she goes down in a rain of hennaed hair
her fake tattoo a barcode bruise

brute fingers that struggle to squeeze ecstasy
from the marble veins of a colossus
when I see rubber dinghies deflated on the shore
and barbed wire fences unfurled once again along europe’s borders
mother I seek entry to your country
mother I am a refugee at your gates
no need for tear gas in this war on terror
mother let me tell you
god ain’t so great
god runs a polski sklep – a mosque – a cardboard city

your pity is an empty container truck
mother I know you gave a fuck once
I do not find her in clouds of vape
not in the legal highs of love
they cannot legislate against the razorblades

I break on granite wrists
she danced the twist at my wedding feast
that defied a famine
her hair a gamine feather-cut
her hem forty years too short

her thighs revealed as pink as gammon
if she has a god his name is mammon
my verses splutter from my lips like curses
I forego full stops
for they would pierce the page with voodoo pins

prick me and I will not bleed
my skin lies discarded
with those life rafts on a foreign beach
she’s a bitch for thinking I can give her up
cold turkey for the chicken flesh of my husband’s scrotum

worship at his fun-size totem
instead of taste her sacramental flesh upon my tongue
open her lock without a key
that’s how it’s done
that’s how it’s donne

that’s how it’s dun and drear
he calls me sweet she calls me dear
but I am bitter herbs with no day to atone
angel see my blood on the lintel stone
but do not pass by

my true love is the one who lets me die –
– die on my way from a bombed city
via self pity
just to drown in that wine dark sea of ancient renown
I wear death as a crown

“sylvia plath knew my mother” by John Wilks won second prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2016) judged by Mandy Pannett.

Les Fleurs D’Azur – poem by Jocelyn Simms

Jocelyn Simms

Les Fleurs D’Azur
6th to 8th August 1945, Hiroshima

‘You’ll miss the train,’ I say.
Dallying over a gift from her fiancé,
she laughs, collects her lunch box,
tickets for the journey. Swings
down the garden path. Draped over
her shoulder the lustrous shawl,

embroidered silk: delicate azure,
palest lilac, embellished with tones
of purple, turquoise, threaded gold,
silver, bronze. A filigree of leaves

and roses. Cameos of lovers, children,
lovebirds, wistful watery pearls, woven
into a fanciful dance of pleasure.
I open the window and call to her,

‘Will you make a fan with it?’ She’s
out of earshot. The siren sings its note.
I compose a prayer, bow to our ancestors,
arrange my daily offerings.

Then the flash – ten, or a hundred
or a thousand times
brighter than any light imaginable –

pierces my eyes. Blinded, reduced
to a blank shadow, I become a ghost.
The window shatters. Then silence.
Where is my daughter?

I push on shoes, rush to the station.
A naked girl, torso stripped of skin, cries,
‘Mother, water, I beg you.’ I scurry by.
She is not my daughter.

Bodies strewn everywhere, people
dead or groaning. The undead, open-mouthed,
gulp as globules of black rain fall.

I fasten my hood, hasten home. No word.
Next day my neighbour batters the door,
‘Your daughter. She has been sighted
on the bank of the Ota river.’

I grab a bundle of bedding and clothes.
The bridge is ablaze. So many indecipherable
faces. At last I recognise her voice.

A white liquid oozes from her. Maggots
spawn in yellow wounds. I brush
them away but they multiply.
‘What are you doing?’ she asks.

I wrap her in linen and silk. Across her chest
an imprint of roses and leaves; a blessing
of love burnt upon her peeling skin.

I talk of her childhood, of how we walked
along this same riverbank, of how she’d fish
with makeshift rod, cavort along the edge
catching cicadas.

“Les Fleurs D’Azur” by Jocelyn Simms won first prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition May 2016 judged by Mandy Pannett.


Results of the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2016) Judged by Mandy Pannett

Commended David Smith – Hutton’s Unconformity John Gallas – The Markfield Tomb E K Wall – Slapton’s sand trails   Highly Commended Richard Law – Civil War – Richard Law John Darley – Still Life Elisabeth Sennitt Clough – A … Continue reading

John Freeman interviewed by Mandy Pannett

Thanks for this interview, John. Good to talk to you. I’ve just been re-reading the poems you have in the current issue of Sentinel Literary Quarterly where you are the featured poet. I feel they convey a powerful sense of Place, like so many of your poems do. Is this important to you? I particularly love the reflective lines in ‘Gardener’s Friend ‘ where you say to the robin who is watching you dig ‘Isn’t it a strange thing … to be alive and conscious, and not know why?’ Do you feel a strong connection with landscape, inner and outer?

Broadly, yes to these questions.  Through most of our evolutionary history we lived in the wild, the open air, part of the natural world and not apart from it. Our psychic well-being depends on keeping in touch with that heritage. In our modern world that requires conscious choice and activity. To be out of doors, in however humanly modified an environment, offers refreshment, stimulus, food for perception and imagination. It is good to have places that are familiar, some of which are like ‘centres of the world’ to us, and to visit new places, and new kinds of place. It’s like making friends. Each new friendship reveals something you have not known before, or not known so well, and the same is true with landscapes, cities, villages, gardens, and of course, interiors.

As for that robin, and other robins, they do seem to seek a relationship with people in a way that other birds don’t, and to want more than freshly turned soil or food on the bird table. Like us, they seem to have an ache of consciousness. How should we think about the fact that we are here? Of course there are many different answers, some compatible with others, some not. In the tradition of ‘honest doubt’ that unites agnostics and many religious believers, the answers are often tentative, sometimes accompanied by what Thomas Gray calls ‘trembling hope.’ I think most conscious beings carry the burden of this mystery. And people with certainty in this area are often more or less frightening.

You have a new collection coming out this year, from Worple. Can you tell us something about it? Title? Will it be prose poems as in ‘Wings’ or a range of forms and styles?

There are a few prose poems, but this collection is mainly verse. I hope readers will find it both unified and varied in style, approach, mood and subject.

It’s called What Possessed Me. That’s also the title of one poem in it, which is about how, in my teens, for no reason I could have articulated at the time, I took it into my head one spring holiday to go on an absurdly long cycle-ride. On my return my mother didn’t actually say ‘what on earth possessed you to do such a thing?’ but that was what she evidently felt. As my father understood, it was a rite of passage. ‘He wanted to prove himself,’ he said, and it was news to me. But when I put the collection together I saw that several other poems in it were also about being possessed. ‘Something led me to…’ and other words to that effect are a recurrent motif, though it is not always so explicit. And I think of poetic inspiration as a kind of possession. I find the poem resists my having too deliberate a plan of what I want it to be. If I have a topic in my mind I often have to placate the muse by writing something else before I get to it, something I have no idea I am going to write when I pick up my pen. That can free me up to find the right way in to my pre-conceived agenda. Sometimes the unplanned piece is better than the planned one, sometimes not. The whole collection is a record of some of what has possessed me.

After you have a collection published and are beginning to think about working towards a new one, do you let the poems just ‘happen’ or do you consciously have a possible theme in mind? I have tried the latter myself and it doesn’t work for long – I go off on tangents and end up with a hotch-potch of pieces. I know other poets, though, who are able to be disciplined enough to keep an overall theme in mind. Do you have a ‘method’ or does it differ from book to book?

Like you, I admire those who can successfully build a structured collection. I’m a big fan of a relatively unknown but senior American poet, Henry Lyman, who has recently published his first substantial collection, The Land Has Its Say. Each poem in its five sections works autonomously but they build into a structure you can stand in like a cathedral. I admire – and, generally, do otherwise. I write the next individual poem I want to write. I often become aware of emerging themes.  In recent years I have begun to think more often in terms of the sequence, though never abandoning the one-off piece. There is a sequence at the end of White Wings which you could say was governed by Place, though also by Time – the framework was a fortnight spent in North Norfolk. In the new collection there is a sequence about a short stay in Athens, and another about visits to the cathedral at Llandaff and the green space between it and the river Taff, where I have walked often over many years.

In 2014 I was invited by Michael McKimm along with other poets to contribute to the Worple anthology, Map, which was published in 2015 to celebrate 200 years since the appearance of the first ever geological map of a whole country, the essentially single-handed work of William Smith. The invitation stimulated me to find out about Smith and about geology, to reread Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything, and to relate what I was reading to journalism I was encountering about climate change. The result is what I call a sequence, but you might call it a hotch-potch – maybe your own hotch-potch is more of a sequence than you think, Mandy! – which is due to be published as a separate small book called Strata Smith and the Anthropocene by Knives, Forks and Spoons later this year.

Following on from this question, it would be good to know your thoughts on ways of ordering a poetry collection. Poets are often anxious about this – whether to order poems by theme, at random, lighter pieces leading to ‘heavier’ etc etc. I know you gave me an invaluable piece of advice when I was working on Poems for a Liminal Age and wasn’t sure how to assemble all the poems to make them truly meaningful – you said ‘think of it as a series of rooms with one leading naturally into another’. Is this how you work or, again, do you try different ways?

I am glad you found what I said helpful, Mandy. Yes, I think quite hard about the collection as a composition, about how it will read to someone willing to progress through it from the first page to the last, though like many readers I often browse here and there in a new book before I settle down to read it in sequence. I try to give my collections a forward momentum like a story, and I hope each one has a cumulative effect, so that the reader has arrived somewhere and been changed by the time they read the last page. But there are choices to be made, which are not always easy. Should you group poems by theme, or mix them up? Are you a Gertrude Jekyll, or do you prefer Great Dixter? Should an earlier poem about some recent event come before or after a new poem about a childhood memory? In principle, in both cases, either way might work. I hope the poems you have accepted for Sentinel Literary Quarterly are an example of such a sequence, with a development and correspondences between the poems. I did not expect you would publish all six, but I could not help selecting and arranging them to be read as group.

 Finally, how do you feel about the role of the writer in society? Should a poet consider himself/herself as an agent for change and focus on contemporary issues that feel important? There is another viewpoint, of course, that the purpose of poetry is to entertain and offer some respite from the cares of the world. It would be good to hear your thoughts on this. I know you have done a lot of research into the work of Shelley who would often go in all guns blazing. How do you think he might view the poet’s role today?

I would like to unpack the terms of your question a bit. I do think a poet is an agent for change just in the measure that she or he is a good or, I would rather say, a genuine poet. Focusing on contemporary issues is only one way to do this, though an important one. There is not an either/or between that focus and being an entertainer, or as some would say, merely an entertainer. Offering ‘respite from the cares of the world’ is a valid middle term in that opposition, and could be put more strongly: a vision of what life can be at its best may refresh the spirit and refocus our energies. We are reminded by it of what we value, and in that light we are better able to discern what we wish to oppose, and what is wrong with it. This is getting closer to my idea of how a poet can be an agent for change without directly focusing on, say, politics in the broadest sense, including the politics of climate change, which is inseparable from the politics of social justice, though these are certainly concerns of mine.  My writing about landscape and wild life is, I hope, a way of sharing my sense that these things matter and are worth defending. More generally, I am drawn to celebrate in my writing the positive moments in the flux of experience, the epiphanies, whether in the natural, the human, or the cultural world. The more we dwell on things, good or bad, the larger they become in our lives.

I have no doubt Shelley would be a fully ‘committed’ poet if he were living today, striving to make a difference. At the same time, he was aware of the pitfalls. Political poetry can be dreary, self-righteous, hectoring, ignorant, or all of these things. If you are going to engage with public affairs, you had better take some trouble to understand them. And artistic talent does not always go with political wisdom. Shelley knew this, but the poetry he  took the most trouble to get published, together with his essays and plays, has in it, in a borrowed phrase he applies to himself,  ‘a passion for reforming the world.’ He wrote sometimes in a very direct way, such as in A Masque of Anarchy, his response to the Peterloo massacre, and the sonnets ‘Ozymandias’ and ‘England in 1819.’ These poems are deservedly popular, but he also wrote in a more esoteric form, as in Prometheus Unbound, which is both poetically and politically as subtle as it is powerful.  He knew that the audience for work like this would be small, but he hoped it would be an influential and dynamic audience.

Shelley’s way of approaching a poetry of commitment was to contrast the hell of how things are with a vision of the heaven of how they may be in the future, if only we can overcame our inertia and pessimism to bring about change. He wrote several long poems with this pattern, starting with Queen Mab, though you can see it also in all the poems I have mentioned. The depiction of an earthly heaven, of a possible utopia, was as important as the exposure of current injustices, cruelties and absurdities. I would say, with Shelley, that to present an image of life as it should be, whether in a future utopia or as we find it in more accessible privileged moments, such as a walk on a sunny day, is to remind us of why we should resist the forces of darkness that surround us, and motivate us with the knowledge that something better is possible. To depict such moments is in itself ‘to be an agent of change.’  This is especially true when the culture around us, whether popular or rarefied, seems to prefer to dwell on the pathological, the extreme, the violent and the sensational, and to reject what for convenience we can call the real world in favour of various forms of endlessly elaborated fantasy.

There is always an important place for a poetry of direct intervention, though it is hard to bring off as well as Shelley did in the context of post-revolutionary Europe, or as Yeats did in the very particular context of Anglo-Irish history. My Strata Smith and the Anthropocene has a polemical edge, which comes from my sense of urgency about our collective destructiveness, not only towards the climate but towards other species as well as members of our own. In the later sections of What Possessed Me there is a hint of more overt political and social commentary than in my earlier collections. In some of the poems still in draft which may eventually appear in a future collection, this trend continues.

I must add that I was inspired at setting out, not only by Shelley and Wordsworth and other poets of the English-language pantheon, but by modern poets who had a clear oppositional stance to prevailing norms, and conveyed a conviction about how things should be, though their convictions were far from identical: among them were George Oppen, John Riley and Jim Burns. Each of these shone a light on what they deplored around them, and made it possible to see what their own vision of a better world would be like. Each of them, like Shelley, not only wrote but lived – in Jim Burns’s case, he still lives – in the light of their beliefs. I try to do the same.

Lots of thanks, John, for this interview, and for all your poems.

It’s been a pleasure and a privilege, Mandy. Thank you for prompting me to think aloud by providing such good and sympathetic questions.


Mandy Pannett reviews Peter Oram’s In Carvoeiro & Other Sequences

Title: In Carvoeiro & Other Sequences
Author: Peter Oram.
Publisher: SPM Publications, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-9935035-1-1
Reviewer: Mandy Pannett

Peter Oram’s In Carvoeiro And Other Sequences won first prize in the 2015 poetry collection competition organised by SPM Publications. It is an outstanding collection for many reasons, not least the poet’s technical skill in maintaining a natural sounding and musical tone throughout while at the same time composing three of the four sections in the sonnet form.

More on this later but for now I’d like to focus on the mood of the poems and what seems to me to be the overriding theme of the collection which is the precarious balance between different worlds whether they be related to landscape, elements, relationships or political events.

Life, Oram suggests, is ‘just a line between two points.’ However this line is not straightforward, neither is it clear-cut and necessarily linear but is best approached ‘sideways’ with an awareness of ‘turmoil on the borderline’ where ‘the frontier is the place of fitfulness.’ There are ‘different worlds’ he says ‘and yours and mine/are no exception; as with east and west,/or day and night, or continent and ocean,/ ‘All afternoon I walk the line between/where water touches and where water doesn’t/touch.’

These different worlds are illustrated ‘along the line between this little land/and endless ocean’. This is the Algarve where the poet is writing and where, out of season, ‘all is quiet’ although, in shocking contrast, ‘with summer there will come the great invasion:/this coast will almost sink into the sea.’ Even more menacing is the depiction of a different world where ‘They’re chucking bombs about in the Ukraine./decapitating tourists in Iraq.’

This is an ambivalent, uncertain world where beauty and horror exist in parallel, where life is fleeting and the perfect moment may be ‘a world that time forgot to visit/until a careless brush begins to paint/a cloud or vapour trail, and the exquisite/moment goes, the magic starts to fade.’ There is sadness and loss here and in ‘the lonely damaged day’ which results, but nevertheless, Oram implies, every experience should be cherished for as long as it lasts. ‘Our life’s a line between/two points,’ he repeats, ‘but what a line!’

Something I find particularly intriguing in In Carvoeiro is the strong sense of destiny and fate that overlays the poems. God is visualised as a charioteer choosing, or otherwise, to release the reins, waiting offshore lies ‘a cruel wind’, the ocean itself is compared with a mill that won’t stop grinding until ‘the last shell, bone or pebble’s turned to sand’. This is something of an apocalypse but the tone is tempered by cynicism in a poem about the Last Supper where ‘He’d call his father, but his phone’s/kaput, the battery’s dead./He pours the wine. He breaks the bread.’  In the section ‘Numbers’ there is a similar tension where Jesus, hanging on the cross, notes the anguish of the two thieves who feel they are doomed and ‘fated/to be snuffed out, obliterated’ and comforts them with reassurance that they’ll soon be in heaven if they’ll be patient and ‘wait a bit’. However, the speaker concludes, ‘I was lying …’

In Carvevoeiro is outstandingly rich in imagery. The opening poem begins with the poet waking ‘to a parallelogram/of light’ and this quality of lustre is a recurrent motif. There is colour as well in ‘a single palm,/that’s opened like a fan and silhouetted/against a wash of pale celestial blue’ and there is much emphasis on whiteness and ‘white-/washed walls’. Music, too, is a dominant image. The first poem in the book also has the description of a railing ‘like the long and fretted/neck of some exotic instrument/that no one noticed, no one ever played’ and the terminology of music is used beautifully in a poem from the section In Flight:

‘The one who lies in coal-dark rooms, who’s waiting
with silver tongue and poisonous green eyes
has tuned your frail heart to the pulsating
ground-bass of the pounding passacaglia
of (calando) your descent into the valley. A
pianissimo last chord.’

Seasons and elements have a powerful role in this collection. Early in the section In Carvoeiro there is the description of a violent storm that roared in off the Atlantic … ripping at the stubborn night with frantic/talons, hammering the window pane/like an apocalyptic beast’ while similar, threatening weather provides the backcloth to the whole section In Flight where the aircraft, compared to a ‘giant cocktail shaker’, will face ‘gales of eighty over Amsterdam, and worse/to come.’ Much of this book has a cosmic feel to it – again highlighting different worlds – and a close relationship is described as ‘You and I: a solar system/just a single planet travelling/round a pale and lonely sun/slowly’. Here the whole galaxy is seen as ‘a slow/unfolding row of sequenced tones/from whose relentless, fixed parade/there’s no escape’.

No escape – or maybe there is some, albeit transient, in the tender ‘relationship’ scenes several of which take place in bed. Outside the window, says Oram, ‘the quarter moon completes its quiet arc/towards the ocean through the starlit sky,/a seabird that I can’t identify performs its cool cantata in the dark.’ Inside the room, safe from the storm, the couple are  ‘secure/and warm beneath the sheet and coverlet,/a secret’s length away from me you draw,/exhale, then draw again the gentle breath/of sleep.’

peteroram_thumb.jpgGentle, lyrical lines. Oram, however, is also the master of the hard hitting phrase. We are told of people who ‘take their daily pills and eat their greens,/content to leave the world the way it is’ and about the small boy tossing pebbles into a ring on the sand whose aim ‘is accurate and steady and/his eye is cold. He’ll make a good assassin.’ Oram is skilful, too, at manipulating the language of literature and myth. Marlowe’s Passionate Shepherd, in today’s idiom would say ‘Come live with me and be my love/and leave me when you’ve had enough’ while a later ‘unwanted’ narrator, ‘condemned from birth’ and ‘flung’ from the wedding feast, achieves revenge by putting ‘poison on the spindle’.

Most of In Carvoero, as mentioned, is written in the sonnet form – a tremendous achievement in complexity, variation and, above all, in making the poems feel natural, readable, intriguing and moving. The last section Six Premature Ejaculations (not in sonnets) is one I find especially interesting and would have liked to read more. I love the layout of the pieces together with the lyrical surrealism (if there is such a thing) of lines like ‘the unicorn’s whistle in the deep bells’, ‘the silent holes in ashtrays’, ‘rubbing your shoulders on brambles/and the curve of nightingales’. In this final section ‘the thieves got off with a caution after all’.

There are many moods and cadences in this beautiful collection, far more than I have described. They are for the reader to discover and enjoy. I will finish this review with a passage that I find particularly appealing with its visionary quality and the possibility of hope that it offers:

‘But lately I have just begun to learn
that if I’m still and patient I’ll detect
that wooden stairway, old, with shaky sections
that descends through cliffs and brambles and
emerges on a perfect golden strand
extending endlessly from left to right
and where the sea’s ablaze with blinding light
and fishing boats rest snug on their reflections.


In Carvoeiro is available from SPM Publications here and through other bookstores 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 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

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;

  ………..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.