Category Archives: Essays

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


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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