Category Archives: Essays

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

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