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Review of Knowing My Place by Bob Horne. Published by Caterpillar Poetry.

Review of Knowing My Place by  Bob Horne   Pub: Caterpillar Poetry 

ISBN 9780957504028

There is much to appreciate in Bob Horne’s collection and I find it hard to know where to begin. Maybe with the cover photo which, in sepia tones, shows the poet’s bicycle leaning by a road sign that is backlit by sunlight over mountains and rocks. Or maybe the title itself, ‘Knowing My Place’, is the starting point for these are poems rich with a sense of place – in Honister, for instance, there is a strong feeling for slate, the power and the painful toil of it:

‘I jog down the grassy toll road to Seatoller
following, too late by centuries, Joe Clarke,
who once shifted five tons in a day. Behind us
Honister Crag, worked-out, takes the sun full face.’

Place names and details throughout the poems bring immediacy. Charlie Soothill’s chip shop which supplies the ‘Best batter in the land’ is ‘Below the Wesleyan chapel, across from Smallwood’s farm,’ while the rabbit caught by a stoat ‘shivered an instant,/sagged and died on the edge of Holwick Fell/ below High Force, teeming after days of rain.’ (Odd Man Out’)

There is always a recognition of the value of things, however small – for the simplicity of ‘the donkey field/at the far end of our street/over by the railway …us, climbing thorn trees,/lighting fires from dry grass’ (Raw Material) and for ‘empty blue-black shells’ which, to Bob Horne, have ‘a significance/beyond my understanding, single-minded limpets/clinging to their piece of planet.’ (Rock Pool).

A vivid sense of place and time – and of the light which reveals and inspires.  The first poem in any collection, surely has a status of its own and this one, Exposure, speaks through the voice of William Poucher who was a leading British mountain photographer. Here we see him ‘loitering for light’ and declaring ‘Soon, with luck, sunlight will slant along the lake./ I am ready, lens focused at infinity.’ In the poem No Matter ‘the sun shone low/over Great Mell Fell/on the amber leaves of Autumn’ and we are given the extra detail that it was
‘late afternoon/that thirty first of October.’

Light – but shadows too. The boy’s shadow in firelight against a flickering wall is huge, hinting at what his ‘grown-up shadow’ may be (Living Room). In Likeness this shadow has become ‘a darker self against blue moor-grass, /time smoothed to an outline’.

There are shadows of life as well. The poem Neighbour ends with the death of one who has, the papers record, ‘been depressed for some time’. On his way to this final ‘focussed moment’ the man ‘scratched his hands on the brambles/as he climbed the embankment/and lay on the Ilkley line/in front of the evening train’. Christine, the name of Charlie the fish and chip man’s daughter, is an equally poignant poem for she, a Downs child,  may have ‘Laughed when we offered a seasoned chip,/laughed at summer sunsets, snow,/ dust blown down the street on darkening days’ but  is still isolated, always ‘on the other side of the glass.’

There are a great many poems in ‘Knowing My Place’ that I like but I want to comment on two in particular. The first is Friends Reunited where the narrator meets up with one who may have been a teenage sweetheart although their encounter came to little more than listening to songs from West Side Story and the Glen Miller Band with the ‘approval’ of the girl’s mother. Half a century later, in the ‘perspective of decades’, the memory has ‘tapered’ to a girl in a yellow PVC raincoat making her way from the 41 bus to where the boy lolled
‘combat-jacketed,/by the Gents in George Square’. There is both the sweetness of nostalgia and the sadness of time passing in this memory.

The other poem I find stunning in its impact is Old Road, a poem about war although the specific battle in this case refers to one from the English Civil War when Fairfax’s men were defeated on the nearby Adwalton Moor. These following stanzas, these metaphors, speak poignantly about the tragedy of war – any war.

‘A soldier throws his pike
amongst the daisies and docks,
draws his sword, slashes a sapling

clean through its young stem,
sprawls among the wild oats
that have grown here a million years

or more, as an age’s unfinished birdsong
is scattered from oak to ash,
barbed branches of thorn.’

 
At the beginning of this review I mentioned the sepia look of the cover photo and I realise how much this is intended to enhance the atmosphere, the motifs, of this whole beautiful collection. In The Cricketers at Keswick the mood seems timeless, ageless. The landscape is the one seen by the Norsemen, by Wordsworth, by men in the thirties, by the players now and by Bob Horne himself. ‘Light on the wind and the eye’, says the poet watching the cricketers,  ‘in their mayblossom whiteness they seem like a newsreel’. A perfect image that sums up a perfect book.

 

 

Mandy Pannett

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.

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.

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.

Review of the anthology ‘Distillations’

Review by Mandy Pannett of ‘distillations’ An anthology of poems from The Word Distillery
ISBN 978-1-78280-669-1

‘Distillations’ strikes me as a fine title for this anthology with its suggestion of a gradual, careful process that perfects the components of a mixture and extracts the essence from them. Here the distillation is from the imaginative experiences of nine poets via their words into ‘the vivid individuality of single spirits’ (Peter Kay, Editor).

One of the pleasures of a good anthology like this lies in the variety of styles, themes and voices. Michael Dante’s selection impressed me from the outset. Phrases and images from his House of the Beehive sequence have stayed with from the first reading. Inspired by Italo Calvino’s powerful short story, the poems confront themes of delusion, obsession, paranoia and fury in a wilderness setting of brambles and danger. Bee imagery is vivid throughout as these lines show: ‘the holes in my hands/honeycombed with gold’, ‘the wounds in my hands bleed honey’, ‘Bees drone in my ears like Yiddish songs’, ‘My scalp itches, it burns – I cough out bees.’ An atmosphere of pain and lamentation is further created by images such as ‘God’s thorny teeth bite into my forehead’ and ‘the Sea of Death/spreads for miles and a blood-coloured algae/seeps in with the rains.’ Vivid, memorable poems.

Nigel Humphreys has a unique style which is colloquial, urban, ironic and passionate when he chooses ‘to grump against/the throw-up of all this consumer shit’. He uses form and rhyme brilliantly as in the sonnet Ageing disgracefully which ends with the couplet ‘to where Old Nick plays pizzicato/while being buggered by Caravaggio’. Several poems use the device of apparent simplicity to create impact as in chez the Shags where short lines and stanzas convey the dullness and negativity of the couple’s lives and where, at the end of everything, neither have ‘any persuasive/reason for existing.’ Images in these poems are frequently brutal and shocking: ‘and the wind in your brain/whirrs like a chainsaw’, ‘and here/are the dog’s eyes bleeding to be fed/the next whirr on my list’. Possibly my favourite from the selection is Hampstead 2014 where contemporary imagery is counterpointed by a lyrical, poignant tone that is both nostalgic and compassionate when the poet considers the fate of ‘poets passing on a high heath – deleted/from memory one day./just saying.’

What strikes me most about Elunded Jones’ poems is their originality and vividness. I am intrigued by phrases such as ‘His last wife wore fur until the day she saw the face of God in a cracked plate/and was ashamed’(Sensitive Skin) and similarly impressed by the representation of the man in the surreal poem Clocks who says that he is a ‘trainee angel’ and who goes on to buy ‘cod-philosophy’. This same character asks the question ‘Why do clocks shed tears at midnight?’ and is told ‘because they are clocks/and doomed to be moody and circular’. Melodic poems, all of them, but the one I most like is Endangered which describes each gull making itself into sound ‘on this tilt/between weight and/flight’.

I think Allen Marsden must be the master of the extended metaphor in his poems, some of which have the feel of fable about them. An example of this is his poem A Philosophy of Containment which begins with the words ‘It’s said that’ and goes on to describe dragons in the ark who, as a precautionary measure were ‘kept in fireproof holds’. This, however, is not successful and we switch suddenly to the image of dragons as patients in a hospice, suffering from ‘racking asbestos’ When they die, says the poet, ‘They didn’t have cremation in those days/ … so they let them lie as hills,/draped across the countryside like a memory,’ An amazing piece of writing as is My Left Eye with its biblical tone of ritual and symbolism.

I particularly like the details of Marc Parry’s Time Piece where grime and dirt and pieces of skin collected in the watch strap represent physical memories of his father, permanently ‘lodged there from that day to this’. These scrapings are now ‘pieces of time’ that recall not only the gardening tasks but also the ‘small splinters of light’ from his father’s wrist as he worked which impressed his son as ‘Shimmering gold in summer sun’. A beautiful poem which conveys the same sense of nostalgia at the passage of time as does Visiting Laugharne at 55 where the poet observes ‘and now I understand why words lived here,/the air is thick with them,/they hang ripe for the picking.’

Sadayo Takizawa’s highly original poems show a wonderful blend of the surreal and the visionary. My favourite is A Man Who Tried To Walk Through The Wall with its superb description of the man with ‘One foot out of the wall/one arm in the air/Half the body wearing a suit/a hat on the head/sticking out’, but I also love some of the more mystical poems such as Heron’s Dance which conveys such a sense of stillness and veneration throughout in lines like ‘Their feathered garments pure/white as novices/in presence of all the gods.’

Tremendous impact through understatement is achieved by Tina Warren. Her poem Distant is one that will stay in my thoughts for ages. It is not only the man’s voice that is remote as he calls out ‘No foreign muck for dinner’. Empathy and affection seem totally lacking in what little personality he has. Particularly hard hitting are the lines ‘I remind him about my sister’s funeral./He replies that he won’t be well on Friday.’ Even more poignant, and perfectly crafted through understatement, is Letting go where a mother’s fears for her child as he/she grows up are revealed after an incident of binge drinking where she stands by ‘with paramedic and bowl’. The poem ends ‘Now my fear of/having to identify your body/has been increased of late,/by a bare arm and a rose tattoo.’

‘Digging in that carpark nearly bypassed/your discovery’ says Heather Williams in Richard, a poem which appeals to me not only because of my personal interest in the subject but also because of the understated passion shown in the idea of a ‘search for DNA’ which ‘pushes its way down sixteen/generations of a matrilineal line/to meet a childless male and go/extinct.’ Here we have both empathy and compassion as well as poetic technique, qualities shown in other poems such as the moving Sitting in Observance where the poet describes the scene as a calm, white bedroom filled with the scent of roses/round our bodies’. Impact lies in the subsequent lines: ‘Mine feels so alive/whilst you/are one hour dead.’

The last poet in this book (but only because of the ordering and certainly not because of quality), is Hilaire Wood whose ‘silent juxtapositions’ (The Moon and the Beech Tree) form part of a conversation not only with her own ‘deeper self’ (biographies) but with the reader’s as well. I found it impossible to select one favourite poem from this selection, torn between Rapunzel, A Janus Time, and A Tiding of Magpies.

It is probably best to allow the reader of Distillations to make his/her own choices. They are bound to be different to mine. One thing is not in doubt – they are loads to choose from, to read and read again, to share and to enjoy.

Review of Alison Lock’s ‘Beyond Wings’

Alison LockAlison Lock. Beyond Wings. Indigo Dreams Publishing.

ISBN 978-1-909357-83-9

‘Nothing is ugly in the garden, not even the dead’, says the narrator in Summering. ‘I am passive – a spectator to the blooming … the pear tree with its curled leaves is somehow exotic despite the rot that set in during the wet spring.’ These lines, I feel, are the keynote of Beyond Wings, revealing a spirituality and sense of wonder, an attentiveness to the heart of things. There are links and connections in this poet’s world – ‘gaps, cracks, openings’ in a stone bridge are ‘naming the times … speaking our lives.’ (Lifelines). The world and all things in it are important; throughout the collection are images of earth itself – roots and loam, the soles of feet, the ‘spongy fodder’ where life exists. (In the light). These are poems that invite us to share and to celebrate. Where some may see only ‘a tiny bird in a dull tree’, we are offered colours like jewels, bright feathers of kingfisher and peacock. (Kingfisher – upriver from Pulteney Bridge).

 Alison Lock’s book appeals to me for a great many reasons. I love the language of it including titles such as Delayed Murmuration: No Mexican Wave, Early Morning, Isle of Gigha, the lyrical sound of The Eucalyptus of Canterbury. I am also strongly drawn to the elements of folk-lore, legend and myth. One of my favourite poems here is Pegasus where, on a day ‘made of white and grey/a monochrome without the black’, the narrator whispers the name of the ‘horse with wing and horn’, knowing that in olden days she would have been condemned as a witch. There are hints of witchcraft and magic as well in After Matins where an abbess plucks a ‘mandrake’s silent scream’ from the earth and gathers sage, rosemary and rue for the fever sick.

Most of all I love the atmosphere of mysticism in many of these poems – the sense of something ‘beyond wings’, a reverence for silence and stillness and a precious secrecy that is ‘close at heart’.

There is much for the reader to discover in this collection. Alison Lock has a sure grasp of poetic forms and techniques and there is a richness of detail, stunning in its simplicity, and a love of language in all its wealth and subtleties. Read Delayed Murmuration: No Mexican Wave and you’ll see what I mean. Beyond Wings is beautiful collection from a very fine poet.

Mandy Pannett

Review of Breaking Away by Scott Elder

breaking[1]Review of ‘Breaking Away’ by Scott Elder.

Poetry Salzburg Pamphlet Series. ISBN 978-3-901993-52-7

 The qualities that most appeal to me in these poems by Scott Elder are their elusiveness and ambiguity, a mood of absence, an impression that what is not said is as important as the actual. ‘Her only presence is     a painful absence’ describes the woman on a train waving goodbye to her lover but distanced in her imagination so that she is ‘A ghost of herself’, a reflection in the window, her gaze ‘drifting through glass/through the man on the platform’. (Absence). In Esquisse the narrator feels him/herself carried by the spirits of ‘Blackbird, Elk, Wolf, and Swan’ while he measures ‘your absence in dust fall./Every mote on my lid tells its story,/and we listen to each till the heartbeat/ends.’

The title of the collection (and the title poem itself) enhances this impression of intangibility. ‘Wind hissing through a dozen halyards/confirms that somebody’s gone’ says the narrator as ‘A gull floats off in the broken half-light./Then another, and still another.’ (Breaking Away). In another poem we have a man ‘who might be an angel./He seems to be looking this way… I can’t quite piece him together. His look is familiar as scent remembered,/yet something keeps falling away.’ (The Man by the Roadside).

The poems in this pamphlet are lyrical and mysterious. ‘Listen to yourself listening’ says the poet. (Drowning at Sunset).The world depicted is ‘a freeze and a cringe, a fox/in full leap, suspended in time.’ There are images of seagulls, sparrows, feathers, breath and the wind, all dancing, flying, falling – a ‘Winged Stillness’, a finger-tip touch. (Gift of an Artist’).

Elusive, fleeting images – yet there is brutality too in Scott Elder’s poetic world. ‘The kick and bite of a .350 Magnum’ makes ‘a brutal entrance’ (Witness) as it does in the words of Penelope who says ‘When you came into Ithaca/I loaded my gun.’ (Penelope). Throughout, there are references to myths, folk songs, fairy tales, a wealth of symbolism and intriguing surreal touches as in Before the Fall where Dumpty sits for hours listening ‘to the whispers of swallows in a dingle dangle dusk.’

Scott Elder’s publication from Poetry Salzburg is rich in subtle, evocative poems. It is the forerunner, I am sure, of a great deal more.

Mandy Pannett