Category Archives: Book & Article Reviews

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

Book Review: How to Win at Kings Cross

Author:          Catherine Edmunds

Publisher:       Erbacce Press

ISBN:              978-1-912455-003

Pages:              96

Price:               £9.95

Reviewer:        Mandy Pannett

 

Cover of How to Win How to Win at Kings Cross by Catherine Edmunds is a stunningly rich poetry collection. Among the qualities that most impress me are its variety of themes and styles, an originality of approach and, most of all, an exuberance and freshness of voice in every one of the pages.

 

The first poem in the book shares the title of the collection. Here we have many of the characteristics found elsewhere. An immediate sense of urgency and pace is induced by the use of repetition – a technique which this poet excels at. ‘The trick is to enter at Granary Square’ is the opening and repeated line. Already we are in a modern, fast moving, urban setting where trickery counts in a game the narrator is reluctant to play.

 

Unusual details catch the reader’s attention. Swans and cygnets on Regent’s Canal swim ‘at half the speed of gossip’ while the narrator aches ‘like Salcedo’s crack in the floor of the Tate’. Striking images fill the poems – the person who speaks in How to Make Tea When He’s Not At Home feels as if her heart ‘is a hot, wet rat’ while in Wounded Women we find ‘Daffodils grow in lovely gardens as well as in shit,/and the chicken may well bear a beak/as fierce as that of any raptor.’

 

Frequently the imagery is surreal and totally unexpected. In Red Kite we meet astronauts who have come to ‘plant trees on pit heaps’ – a situation echoed in Cmtillery where we encounter a strange character who ‘Months after returning from space … still lets go/of objects in mid-air, fully expecting them to float./But he’s just twelve years old, it’s 1857.’

 

Humour blends effortlessly with surrealism in Anatomy for the Artist where a bored lawnmowed itself’ and a kettle leaves a note on the table saying ‘Sorry about the toaster’.

 

This is lovely quirky writing that appeals to me. Another quality I admire in this very readable collection is the way Catherine Edmunds introduces sudden twists and turns. How to Make Tea When He’s Not At Home develops a sense of unease in a scenario in which the narrator tries to take her mind off things by making a cup of tea after a lover has returned to Hull ‘after a brilliant few hours in Beverly.’ Gradually the details become staccato in tone and more and more repetitive as she instructs herself to ‘Squidge the bag back down,/Keep it there. Squeeze. Repeat./Throw the bag at the bin. Miss.’ In the last line we discover the reason for these obsessive acts: ‘Wonder who she is.’ The setting in Anatomy for the Artist is even more disturbing as descriptions of the narrator as artist juxtapose with weird events in the house in which something seems to be ‘dying’, books talk quietly to each other and chairs move themselves around ‘having nothing better to do’. I won’t give away the ending but an explanation and a whole back story is revealed in the skilful last few lines.

 

Different forms and layouts are used in How to Win at Kings Cross, each with a purpose. In Erosion the purpose is to convey humour through different line lengths.  A weathered and disintegrating statue of a king or a saint shows his features drooping and ‘his beard rippling like molten cheese.’ This image leads into the following lines:

 

‘and

that’s

when he

comes to life,

perks up when thinking

of cheese. His left eye blinks open

for a nano second: Mon dieu, mon dieu – ah! Fromage!’

 

At the end of the poem the character returns to his niche in Rouen Cathedral where he can sleep the sleep ‘of a ripe runny Brie.’ A delightful pen-portrait.

 

Sometimes the tone is ironic. In Jeans, but so fucking what the members of a committee spend a long time ‘talking about/the insane use of plastics/as if they intend to do anything about it’. The landscape here is one of broken trees with conversation at the level of Tupperware. There are undercurrents of menace in many poems. In Courage ‘The man arrives in a big car, dark windows’ as ‘pigs squeal’ and the narrator leads the children to safety ‘along the lane, claggy and stinking with cow’s piss.’ Juxtaposed with strong and striking narratives there is pain and despair. The title poem begins with an emphasis on ‘hurt’, ‘ache’, ’cracks’. In Time to Abandon Monogamy one faces a future of ‘life after sunset’.

 

Bleak words intersperse with humour, lightness of touch and tenderness as well. I find the poignancy in The Obstinacy of Owls almost unbearable. Here the owl and the pussycat have grown apart, their ‘pea-green boat has been confiscated, turns out to be nothing but ‘a dream, a hope.’

 

As I said at the start of this review, How to Win at Kings Cross is a stunning collection. These are poems with a difference, poems for today. I’ll end with a final passage from Jeans, but so fucking what which I feel illustrates the uniqueness of Catherine Edmunds’ work. The poem ends with a bang as the narrator hurls a tea tray at the window but before this happens we are given these lines:

 

‘Every evening we used to go for a walk

along the beach and throw pebbles into the sea.

You tasted of salt and seaweed.

We lit a fire and turned into smoke,

we drifted. We had sex in the sand

and the grit and it hurt

and I would give anything to have sex in the sand

once again with you.’

 

Later, as someone picks up the empty cups, there is a single, almost throw-away line: ‘Why did you die.’ SLQ

Aisling Tempany reviews Vermeer’s Corner by Graham Burchell

Poems on paintings are an interesting concept, but the success depends on the artist or paintings in question. This collection of poems on the work of 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer highlights the limitations of this as an idea, particularly for the whole collection. Vermeer, after all, painted only around 40 paintings in his career, and many of these are painted by the same studio window – Vermeer’s Corner, as the title suggests. Not much is known about Vermeer’s life. What is known though is that he was mainly a working painter, doing art on commission for money. As descriptions of the paintings, they are vivid, but the limitation of Vermeer’s subjects comes through quite soon. I have only seen a few Vermeer paintings, but the rest, I can imagine more or less from Burchell’s detailed descriptions, and the similarity.  This is even highlighted in ‘Judgement Day’, as if even Burchell was becoming exhausted by the repetition:

 

Same corner    same room    same woman

you see some alchemic transaction perhaps

made mystical with drapes

 

The most interesting poem is certainly ‘In 1944’, a poem discussing the x-ray of Vermeer’s Woman with a Lute, revealing further details of the scene that were painted over, ‘so many/lives rolled over/so much dust to smell.’ Of course, this is not an uncommon occurrence for artists, so while interesting, any painting could be the subject. Burchell, with a degree in Art and Education, misses an opportunity to divulge some technical aspects of painting and art, for which some of his paintings are quite notable. ‘A View from Delft’, a close second with ‘In 1944’ for the stand-out poem, also fails to draw upon the false nature of the supposedly realistic seventeenth century view, which is highlighted elsewhere. So often, Burchell attempts to give a voice to the women of his paintings, but gingerly avoids certainty. ‘Mystery’ suffers the most for this. Based on the painting ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring,’  where the girl asks ‘who am I do you know.’ Considering this painting was already the subject of a novel by Tracy Chevalier, and a film in 2004, which solved the mystery of the painting by saying ‘You’re Scarlett Johansson, who really loves mixing colours and the butcher’s son.’

 

To people familiar or interested in Vermeer’s paintings, this could be an interesting read, interpreting the paintings with more flair than an art book, or blurb in a gallery could do. To anyone else, it is a concept that suffers because of the limitations of the original artist, as opposed to the poet. The poems are too repetitive, and alike to really accurately reflect the poet’s work. Individually, many poems are fine, but together, they cancel each other out. Every poem repeats the words ‘pearl’ and ‘light.’ Vermeer’s obscure life means there’s nothing being said about the artist, there is perhaps nothing to say there. When the last poem, ‘Finale’, begins ‘so finally we come to this’, I hear it so exhaustedly, with a sense of relief that the book is finished. Burchell may be a fan of the artist, but the many girls in pearls and yellow window light make for a collection much like Vermeer’s paintings – technical and skilled, but mostly lacking excitement.

 

Vermeer’s Corner published by FootHills Publishing is available here