Category Archives: Essays

Review of Lure by Alison Lock


Title: Lure
Author: Alison Lock
Publisher: Calder Valley Poetry
Reviewer: Mandy Pannett

‘With words, I state my being in the world’. This declaration by the narrator/survivor seems, to me, to sum up her resolve, her vision, her whole reason for existing after a terrible, nearly fatal accident which left her, broken in spine but not in spirit, ‘in a cramping brace’, flat on her back for months like ‘a translucent bookmark’. This, a time for recovery and for contemplation, offers a chance to heal the ‘rupture’, the ‘displacement’. The accident, of which she has no memory, is ‘a gap that must be filled’.

An account of an accident then, and its aftermath, a description of gradual recovery. But this is no factual narrative detailing events and progress. Alison Lock is a skilful writer and knows how to bring the reader with her on every stage of the journey. With her we view the happenings – the accident, the rescue, the hospital environment, the returning home, the re-visiting in a new season. The poems are divided into careful sections, the language is simple, clear, lyrical where appropriate, sensory and full of imagery of the natural world. There are descriptions of pain and the slow mending of ‘particles of bone’ which join ‘white and white’ but there are also bluebells and harebells and a summer evening with ‘the evening primrose, white musk yellow’. Lure is rich in its variety of tones and moods and the reader is there throughout the experience.

An aspect of the writing that I find particularly beguiling is the focus on the immediate and near, a view from the level of earth. When the badly injured narrator is trying to crawl to safety she says ‘I have never been so close to ground: its elements of metal, earth, stone, trash, shit.’ A dead shrew is flattened on the path and she observes, is aware of observing, ‘every hair on its back.’ These moments of closeness, when she is struggling to live, when she realises that the ‘gift of life’ is still hers to cherish, seem to be the beginning of transcendence.

I mentioned the visionary, mystical aspect and it is a key element in Lure. The author believes she was meant to be saved, that St Brighid ‘held me/in that moment when I fell.’ At the moment when she was almost lost – ‘an oak twig/made brittle’ – some invisible watcher ‘pulled me from the deep.’

These are radiant poems, inspirational and full of grace. I’ll end with the author’s own words, the first words she managed to write in hospital, scribbled in pencil on a scrap of paper:

            By grace
            my place
            of being in
            the world
            is neither
           here
           nor here
           but as a part
          I am
          of all things.
 

Buy ‘Lure’ here.



The Daedalus Files by Mandy Pannett


 

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