Category Archives: Essays

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


SLQ Daily 09 August 2020

On Mr Covid, Dragons and Ghosts

Our read of the day on the 9th of August 2020 is Mandy Pannett’s review of Jocelyn Simms’ Tickling the Dragon. Featured in this book is the poem ‘Les Fleurs d’Azur’ with which Simms won the first prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition in May 2016.

Our blast from the past today is ‘Ghosts’ – a poem by Durlabh Singh, author of Poems of Excellence. ‘Ghosts’ first appeared in Sentinel Poetry (Online) in May 2003.

Today, I have also chosen to give you a break from seeing a plug of the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition closing on 31st October to be judged by Roger Elkin. This does not in any way at all mean that if you have been thinking of entering this weekend you should not do so. Chuckle! Sip coffee! Go on then, click on this link and do something about prizing your poem.

Finally, if today’s weather is great where you live, enjoy it to the max, responsibly, in safety. Please, please, don’t play chicken with that fellow Mr Covid. He does not play fair. Have a brilliant Sunday and be ready for a productive and blessed week ahead.

– Nnorom Azuonye.


Read of the day

Title: TICKLING THE DRAGON
Author: Jocelyn Simms
Publisher: Circaidy Gregory Press
Price: £8.99
Reviewer: MANDY PANNETT

Tickling the Dragon by Jocelyn Simms is a stunningly original and moving compilation of poetry, factual information, photographs and individual testimonies about the agony inflicted on the people of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and elsewhere. Tragedy on a massive scale.

The book, which the author describes as her ‘journey of discovery’ begins with sixteen of her own poems followed by historical notes. In the second part, ironically called ‘Island in the Sun’ we are confronted by the chilling impact of photographs taken and postcards with cheerful messages written at the time.

First, the poems. A kaleidoscope of grief though skilfully pared down and understated. Syntax shifts from poem to poem, voices speak in the first person, third person, as witnesses, survivors, as suffering animals. There is a wide range of tones – conversational, colloquial, detached and starkly factual, poignant and wonderfully lyrical. Throughout, there are undertones of irony – codenames, military terms, endearing nicknames for bombs juxtaposed with appalling, barbarous details.

There is an emphasis on time in the poems. The first poem in the sequence, ‘Cutie’ begins in 1918 at an apparently innocuous camp on Lake Ontario where a ‘brilliant boy’ is staying. A boy, they say, who is ‘brighter than a thousand suns.’ An optimistic beginning but the tone turns ominous as we are presented with shocking details about the boy being bullied and tied up as his genitals are covered with green paint. A clever twist in the last lines reveals the fourteen year old victim is the young Oppenheimer. ‘It must have been hell,’ is the author’s ironic comment.

The poem ‘Enola Gay’ continues the focus on time for this was the title of an anti-war song in 1980 with lyrics that contain the phrase about the fatal moment when the first atomic bomb was dropped: ‘it’s eight-fifteen, that’s the time it’s always been’. There are colours too: after the bomb the sky is ‘the prettiest blues and pinks’ while the carcass of Hiroshima leaves ‘a boiling rainbow’.

Jocelyn Simms has written a superb set of poems for Tickling the Dragon. The one that stands out for me for poignancy and sheer quality of writing is ‘Les Fleurs d’Azur’. The setting is Hiroshima, 6th- 8th August 1945. Horrors are depicted – clearly but without comment: ‘The undead, open-mouthed,/gulp as globules of black rain fall.’ When the mother discovers her daughter ‘A white liquid oozes from her. Maggots/spawn in yellow wounds.’ Horrors in abundance, almost too painful to read. But there is beauty as well, and compassion. The theme of this poem, in spite of everything, is love.

Following on from the remarkable set of poems in Tickling the Dragon we are given brief notes on the historical background – the facts, the statements, the evidence of secrecy, connivance, betrayal, the dreadful emphasis on measuring, testing, experimenting with no responsibility taken for actions but only a total indifference to life.

A skilfully presented section but then we have the impact of original photographs lovingly preserved by families – the young men on a burnt beach smiling into the camera, the postcards sent home with messages of hope saying that all will be well.

And as a backcloth to the images, the notes, the poems, we have all the     un-written words, the un-heard voices of the dead and dying.

Tickling the Dragon is outspoken, brave and superbly written. An important book. Read it for yourselves and you’ll see.

It seems appropriate to end this review with Jocelyn Simms’ own comment and the quotation she has chosen:

“Until we take responsibility for our actions, maybe heed the Navajo chant ‘Remember what you have seen, because everything forgotten returns to the circling winds,’ the cycle of war, tyranny and vengeance will continue.” SLQ

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Mandy Pannett is the author of All the Invisibles
Web page https://sentinelquarterly.com/mandy-pannett/
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Blast from the past

DURLABH SINGH
Ghosts

So many ghosts in wandering nights
Clutching at the strings of the heart
A song of dissonance in progress
Sweeping away with long bony fingers
The partial parchments of the syntax.

So many motions in wandering nights
Striking the moon , thundering clouds
Onslaughting mind with sharp edges
Raising voices in apostles of whispers.

Starry nights in the processes of culling
The ghosts resident of the skies
The winds scratching at windowed pane
There is a turbulence in the heavens
Perhaps constructing protections
Against the shadows of the driven.

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‘Ghosts’ by Durlabh Singh was published in Sentinel Poetry (Online) Magazine, May 2003. Singh is the author of Poems of Excellence.

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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