Tag Archives: Mandy Pannett

Review of Performance Rites by Barry Smith

Performance Rites     Barry Smith   Waterloo Press 2021

A wordsmith has crafted the poems in this collection. Many are notable for their strong opening lines. Bruckner’s Eyeglass, for example, begins ‘At the exhumation of Beethoven’ while Framed announces ‘I feel a painting coming on’. Verbs are equally powerful. I particularly like the description, in Rivers of tractors ‘slurping’ over the land and the account in Between a Rock and a Hard Place of Doctor Johnson ‘jauncing’ the table as he ‘juggled a blear lexicon of unease.’ The poet is also the master of the unexpected. River, the first poem in the book, lulls us into a sense of security with its descriptions of a kingfisher and a ‘warm blue blackbird’s egg’ but then there is the shocking jolt of white-water splattering ‘against the sluice where your cousin drowned.’

Performance Rites is multi-faceted and perfectly crafted with many subtle poetic techniques but I was especially struck by Barry Smith’s use of anaphora, a device which can slide into the tedium of over-repetition, or, as here, enhance and illuminate a whole poem. Here is the ending of a theatrical performance after the audience has been immersed in darkness, tension and catharsis:

and when we have been brought face to face

with truth etched in blood

and all those who were fated to die have died

and everything that had to be said is said

and we have stared together into the dark

just for a moment we let out a breath

(Inflatable Floors)

Even more striking is I will not be silenced, a poem dedicated to the eco-activist Greta Thunberg. Here the reader is presented with a series of timeless, stateless shocking events that create a ‘template of darkness’. The list, encompassing Antigone, Binsey poplars, social media, oil wells, zones of conflict, flash-floods and bushfires, is dispiriting but insight brings a resolution that has a note of defiance and triumph:

            if I do not take up the burden

            if I do not hold high the torch

            who will?

            I will not be silent

            while the earth burns.

Several poems in Performance Rites include mythical and historical referencesthat have their counterpart in present times. In Towards Church Norton traces of the past have mostly disappeared and all that remains is the causeway and the burial ground which is ‘the province of the wind’. The proud days of steam and, further back in time, ‘the linden shields of longships are ‘a long century ago’ but memories persist in the soil, in stone, and in the spray of the sea. The ‘pattern-weave/ the threads of myth and time’ are strong and exist everywhere. (Antigone).

Barry Smith is a poet of the South Downs so this pattern is of particular significance to him. Bosham Harbour is ‘the very epitome of/marine picturesque’ but it also contains echoes of Canute and Harold Godwinson. The ancient city of Chichester remembers John Keats who, with ‘only a few more years to live’ trod its streets ‘encountering these ruins, playing cards, surveying these stones.’ (Sloe Fair Incident).

There are other rich layers in Performance Rites – associations triggered by literature, art, the theatre, science and music ‘that insinuates the pulse’. (Inflatable Floors). One of my favourite poems is On Air, dedicated to the memory of Ted Hughes who was both ‘a bloody crow embodying myth and mystery’ and also a ‘craggy, leather jacketed, dark shepherd of song.’

Other poems appeal to me: The Blue Rider inspired by a Paul Klee painting which becomes ‘a tale of transmutation/ of chlorine, ammonia and mustard gas …of enemy aliens and internment camps’. Then there is the beautiful poem The Thin Places where the repeated line ‘Each Day Writes Itself’ culminates in a self-immersion in this thinness ‘where air and water blend.’

The title poem in this collection, Performance Rites, is both powerful and poignant. In structure and development, it is a masterpiece. It begins in a theatrical setting with a clear statement: ‘The choreography of death is a fine art’. The reader is given directions on how to fall safely, how to unsheathe a knife, is taken offstage to the battle front at Dunsinane, to the monument where Cleopatra laments the ‘darkling shadows’.

Then there is a sudden shift from the theatrical to a game of billiards in a bar room, from the universal to the personal, from rehearsal to reality where the death of an individual cannot be shaped and styled but happens when there is no ‘Grecian tomb or Scottish heathland’ but only a ‘scuffed, burn-marked, indifferent floor.’

‘What vision remains in this temporal age’ is the question posed by the narrator in Pilgrims of Night’. This collection has been published ‘in the lost year of lockdown’ in an age undefined ‘by its faith’. Many are involved in a ‘search for solace’ (From my Window), for

            vistas                           beyond google

                  and microsoft and mac

                        and iphones and tablets

                                    and all the smart stuff

            which hasn’t been invented yet

                        but soon will be


There are no clear answers in Performance Rites, only hints and suggestions, the possibility of attaining the ‘unresolved sublime’ which is masked by the mist of half-knowledge and the incomplete. Unfinished, the final poem, leaves us with the ‘adagio’s dissonant chord’, the ‘faltering heart’ but also with a voice where silence in its full perfection may be heard.

Mandy Pannett. January 2022.

Sentinel Champions Stories #3 – Akinlabi Peter

Akinlabi Peter

Akinlabi Peter won the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition with “Moving” in October 2009 judged by Bobby Parker. Since then, he has gone on to publish A Pagan Place, issued as part of the APBF Chapbook Box Set: Eight New-Generation African Poets in 2015 published by Akashic Books, and a collection of poems, Iconography, which was long-listed for the Nigeria Prize for Literature in 2017. He was also the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Monday Writer July 20, 2020.

Bobby wrote in his adjudication report: “I immediately chose Moving as a possible winner, before going over it again and again, and again, and coming to the conclusion that it ticked pretty much all the boxes for me. It had to be first. The opening lines took me by the hand and by the end of the poem I had been somewhere and come back better for it. There is a command of line and craft in Moving that doesn’t get in the way, that doesn’t drown out the sound of a heart beating.”


Kumasi, 1967


i would not know you if not for the lights
riding forth through the retaining walls
of the ungovernable river…

we had forded water to the rail lines
reciting the lapidary psalms of the baptists
but arrived home to a startled flight of voices

a frightful moment later,
lights of devotion falling again
through the ashen pulse of the wind, i dog-eared
the intimation on the dark bulrushes of Kumasi

and that is how i was ferried home
incomplete, cultivating another time
while the dissonant meaning lets in
a daunting disbelief

a child again, i fold a geography of loss
into your eyes of secret, into the grieving fondness
of that district that women called Lagostown


so you will go through to Kumasi again
you will remember how the days passed
between the terraces and the grotto
you will recall the seduction of a quiet surrender

maybe you will remember too
a child’s unfettered heart; an atrocious gift
wrapped in the riddle of a sunset; arms outstretched
unto the sky of an abandoned house
ah, the sudden dampness of departure

now you perfect your gift of double faith-
hope it still retains its reins of cool closures-
admitting your weightless, interminable narrative
a bridge, you say, to a transmissible life

when you arrive in Kumasi,
you might cleanse the memory of sun dusts
searching the direction of clouds towards Ababu
or you might come undone
reading the signs of recent dawns on a tall building

the river will be unfamiliar- if you find it-
but the lights will still be the same
playing the meanings with things in memory
you can look for the fey swell of the bulrushes
and count the degrees of pain in the architecture of loss

Sentinel Champions Stories

#1 – Miles Salter  #2 – Mandy Pannett

Current Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition

23rd October 2021

The nature of monstrosity and how scientific invention can be used for good or ill; the humiliation of women, loss and betrayal, the need for refuge and the urge for flight – these are all explored in the sequence of poems that make up ‘The Daedalus Files‘. But who was Daedalus? In the Greek myth he was a heart-broken father, creating wings that led to the drowning of his son, Icarus. But he was also a designer of statues that seemed lifelike and a labyrinth for the minotaur, a hybrid beast. Twists inside your soul/are well concealed. Was Daedalus inventor or villain? The Daedalus Files is a new book of poetry by Mandy Pannett – author of All the Invisibles, Bee Purple, Frost Hollow and Jongleur in the Courtyard.

By from SPM Publications | Buy from Amazon.co.uk

Sentinel Champions Stories #2 – Mandy Pannett

The first time Mandy Pannett and Sentinel Literary Quarterly met was in July 2009. She entered our maiden competition judged by Bob Beagrie (author of Civil Insolences and Leasungspell) and Andy Willoughby (author of Tough and Between Stations). Mandy’s “The God of Allotments” won third prize in that competition. Andy and Bob wrote in their adjudication report that the choice of this poem as third prize winner was because of “…its capacity to be intensely personal but to touch a universal chord with its mixture of rhetorical examination of the love affair, its restrained language that makes the sense of mourning much more powerful and its judicious inclusion and editing of specific concrete detail with a well judged movement between mundanity and deep pathos.”

Mandy placing in that competition has led to a beautiful relationship which has seen her serve as Poetry Editor of Sentinel Literary Quarterly for five years, and editor of two anthologies published by SPM Publications, namely; Bridgewatcher and Other Poems (2013) in aid of the Psychiatry Research Trust and Poems for a Liminal Age (2015) in aid of Médecins Sans Frontières. Over the years, she has judged many of our competitions and likes to enter some herself when she is not judging. In October 2020 her poem “Enjoying Sunlight with John Donne in Derek Jarman’s Garden” was highly commended in the SLQ competition judged by Roger Elkin.


We were lovers for forty years.
Now you are dead.

Here on the allotment, others
will grow the scarlet runners, loving their blossom,
like you.

Why did we keep it a secret?
Guilt at reneging on vows?

Someone is threading up silver CDs in a bid to frighten the birds.
“mirrors for pigeons,” you’d say.

I don’t even know if they scattered your ashes or when.

Remember our shed – how we’d pretend
to be sorting out seeds and the door would casually

At times I thought the walls themselves would collapse.

Shall I go down to our pond?
That very last time it was covered in scum.
You said it was hot, kept coughing-

Were you dying and I didn’t know?

There’s no-one to talk to now, about you.
Only the god of allotments,
if he is in.

We always thought there’d be time for us –
at least for mingling our dust together,
as lovers do.

“The God of Allotments” was also published in Champion Poems #1