Category Archives: Book & Article Reviews

The Magpie Almanack reviewed by Mandy Pannett

Title: The Magpie Almanack
Author: Simon Williams
Publisher: Vole (Dempsey and Windle imprint)
Paperback : 100 pages
ISBN-10 : 1913329348
ISBN-13 : 978-1913329341
Price: £10.00
Reviewer: Mandy Pannett

The Magpie Almanack by Simon Williams is an accomplished, varied collection with a quality of quirkiness that strongly appeals to me. There is a light touch to most of the poems but some are hard hitting – ironic with a sting in the tail – and several are tender and sad.

Titles of poems show a skillful hand: Sir Walter Raleigh’s Cycling Tour of the Americas and Was That Your Arse Sticking Out on Radcliffe and Maconie can’t fail to intrigue. On Hearing a Haddock drew me in and the content did not disappoint. I shall now listen out for the love song of the haddock sounding like a nightjar ‘when the moon is round/and the ocean returns its look.’

One aspect of The Magpie Almanack that particularly appeals to me is a sense of folklore and fairy-tale, of childhood and playground rhymes. Magpie Song, the opening poem, is an example where in the light of ‘silver dust outside my gate’ the poet imagines ‘three dragons flying a kite.’ One of my favourite poems in the collection is The Green Knight’s Green Horse with its feeling of enchantment as the horse tells the tale of its construction, bit by bit, starting with a frame of willow and ‘just one tree to make my heart./Acorns for my eyes, too, and its channelled bark/a saddle he would never fall from.’ Fantastic imagery here.

Then of course there is the entertaining Interview with a Blemmye – a legendary race of headless people whose faces grew in their chests. Not an easy theme to write about, perhaps, but Simon Williams achieves it delightfully, playing around and punning on the idea of heads and no heads. This verse amuses me a lot:

ears in our armpits have always
been a bugbear. We hear well only
when climbing trees, under arrest
or dancing the flamenco.

Narrative is strong throughout the poems with subtle hints of back stories. A highly entertaining example is Emile Deschamps and Monsieur Fontgibu where an anecdote about encounters to do with plums and a stranger is turned around in the next poem where the stranger retaliates and speaks out for himself, telling his own version.

Everyone will have their own favourite poems in a collection, some lines that amuse or bring back a memory, something poignant or controversial, a thought that makes us think. I am particularly taken with several poems in The Magpie AlmanackKnapping, Slingshot Bullets and We Need to Talk About Nean come to mind. My favourite, though, has to be The Sitar Player where the focus, to begin with, is on ‘the bearded man with an Aussie hat’ who plays riffs ‘as though they’d surfed in/through his fingers’ but then shifts to the small falcon which, on a hot day, needs to be sprayed with an atomiser ‘so drops of water/shined on its feathers, as it cooled.’ An image, among many, to remember. SLQ

The Magpie Almanack is available here

Jocelyn Simms reviews Roger Elkin’s Sheer Poetry

 

Title: Sheer Poetry
Author: Roger Elkin
Publisher: Dempsey and Windle, 2020
Pages: 84
ISBN-13: 978-1913329167
Reviewer: Jocelyn Simms

 

 

A striking image on the cover of Sheer Poetry, Roger Elkin’s latest poetry collection, shows a climber clinging to a bleak rock face as he makes his way to the summit. This photograph evokes for me the tenacity and linguistic adroitness of Elkin’s writing. The title poem, Sheer Poetry: Considering the Egyptian Position reveals the desire and determination of the writer: ‘wanting to own it all  /  if only for the moment, not let go.’ – thus echoing the courage and commitment of the climber.

The first poem introduces us to Elkin’s love of precision in the use of language. Being Two-faced reflects on the ability to look, sometimes conveniently, in two directions at once: ianua the gateway signals January, named after Janus who looks both forwards and backwards. Elkin’s veneration of language immediately surfaces with a litany of names from different countries and cultures with nomenclature for this first month of the year: wulfmanoth, tammikuu. month of slicing wind.

In Pencil Drawing of a girl, circa 1912, partially erased we are offered a tender pause to catch the glimmer of a likeness. Somethings have been
rubbed out
to smudged Summer clouds . . .
Erased to disguise failures?
how we mythologize
in recreating the past . . .
How we draw to cover the tracks.

In Fishing the Khabur River, Syria we learn how this once sacred waterway is now fished for bodies. Understated language makes the discovery all the more gruesome and poignant: an unforgettable description of the waste and cruelty of war.

In another war we meet the Yanks be-bopped, jitterbugged and smooched and later discover the consequences of trading favours for fags, gums and stockings: as someone wryly japes, you Don’t get owt for nowt.

In The Longest Day our all-time great film stars trawl through the D-Day landings as men are strafed in the vastness of sand but years later exposed in slow-motion monochrome our hero meets that terrible lonely vigil waiting by a hospital bed, your moment’s longest day.

There is a richness throughout the collection, whether cameos of neighbours and relatives or gritty descriptions of political confrontation. In Ireland’s Blight we get a glimpse of the terrible vindictiveness of one nation against another. Oliver Cromwell justifies the massacre of children in 1649 at Drogheda whilst Delia Smith’s tips on cooking cabbages is used as a coruscating forensic analogy for the Great Irish Famine. Roger Elkin is never one to flinch or look away but stakes out the territory with scrupulous care.

Elkin’s gift is to call forth a fresh slant to our awareness, appreciation and understanding of the world and our place in it.

Sheer Poetry showcases all the abilities of this widely-published and deservedly multi-prize-winning poet, a superb collection – buy it for your bookcase and savour.

Jocelyn Simms, November 2020


Book Review: this close

Author:                       Linda Rose Parkes

Publisher:                   Dempsey and Windle

ISBN:                          ISBN 978-9-781-90743-2

Pages:                          75

Price:                           £10.00

Reviewer:                    Mandy Pannett

 

41Qrqs0OF-L._AC_US218_[1] There are so many striking aspects about this close it’s hard to know where to begin. One strong feature is the detail and clarity. A hush in my step is a good example – the way the narrator’s boots ‘squeak among quiet things’ such as ‘skylarks, lizards, mice sleeping in fields’. Likewise, in A glass of water, we are given a scene where ‘Bats are flying among the roses,/a snail pops its head out of its spiral-shell/and the trees are wind-rush notes of water’. Linda Rose Parkes’ use of language, as befits an artist, is rich in sensory details; the reader can both see and hear the tide ‘dark/and close, its deep mouth sucking the harbour steps’ (Going like the clappers). One of the most moving and unusual poems is Cow at dusk where the mooing of cattle is not only sound but also shadow and a ‘fretting for light when light is missing.’

An intriguing, recurrent image in this collection is that of the door. It is the title of the very first poem The door sings its welcome. Here it is the kind of doorthat trickles honey/in the light/and says come in/twice at least’. The door next to it may be grey and cracked but this one is ‘a honeycomb/a promise’. Symbolic then, a ‘portal’ (Wriggling, crouching), although the way through is hard and the door tight ‘on its hinges’.

Colour and light are significant motifs in this close, representing beauty but also the downside of life when those who set out with some hope end by ‘fleeing to nowhere in a mess of blue’ while others who had ‘the light before them’ end as nothing but ghosts ‘swimming for their lives’. (A clotted blue of good intention).

As previously said, there is much to enjoy in this collection. An aspect that most appeals to me is the way Linda Rose Parkes mixes myth, fairy tale, song, rhyme and narrative. Sometimes the allusions are subtle. In A little crime that lives we are told of a mysterious ‘she’ who is ‘small-boned as Goldilocks’ and the ‘crime’ is the theft of her ‘good girl crown’ which adorned ‘her lovely tresses’. A lost shoe takes the image of ill-fitting footwear and extends it into a metaphor for spirituality, a soul that is forced to ‘limp/towards the hope of a better/when one foot is shorn/of a glass slipper.’ All dressed up in her sea-green bow is delightful to read, musical and enchanting with echoes of Elizabethan songs and The Owl and the Pussy Cat and, one of my favourites in this selection, Exuberances: an assay, is witty and innovative in its associations, rhymes, musicality and form.

Darker moods and attitudes feature in this close and there is negativity, secrecy, absence and death. The figure who runs in her nightdress through the dark is ‘thin as air’ and ‘the cold blows through’, the narrator who drifts towards her has not come to light her way home with a lamp nor strew ‘luminous petals’ on the path. Late night music overheard from a neighbouring house is the moment ‘the dead slip in’ – the same dead who yearn for the comfort of everyday things but who end with empty hands reaching out for ‘a cup of tarnished sunlight.’ (A glass of water).

This is a beautiful collection and one I’d strongly recommend. What I am left with, most of all, is an impression of salvation, a feeling of hope, a great deal of love. If you only have chance to read a few poems in this close then immerse yourself in the final half a dozen, the poignancy of them, their tenderness. SLQ