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Monthly Archives: February 2022

Same But Different by Helen Mort & Katrina Naomi (Hazel Press)

Same But Different by Helen Mort & Katrina Naomi (Hazel Press)

     This enthralling collection is a collaborative project by two award-winning poets that was developed during the lockdown of 2020 in a dialogue between Penzance and Sheffield. They exchanged artwork and their favourite poems, and doing so triggered the compositions that were published without attribution after a year of conversation. Hazel Press focuses on environmental issues, climate change and feminist writing, emphasising the possibilities of renewal and survival. The poems in this collection are loosely and poignantly in line with these themes and go beyond them. The poems work in pairs and are divided into ten sections that are reminders of lockdown situations, such as the future, reflection, rise and take or give. Instinctively, we read the poems in pairs and probably think that maybe one was written by Naomi and the other by Mort. But which poem did each of them write? We will never know.

     In a podcast recorded at the LRB bookshop they explain that the process started from images they exchanged and a poem. Then they wrote two poems in response, producing something that they call ‘the same and different’. However, nothing is ‘the same’ in this collection; each poem is unique in its skilfully crafted language and fresh imageries:

[…] At dusk, 

I open the pantry door and he charges towards it 

barreling, a ball of midnight, muscular shadow,

come to shame me with his bravery. In India, 

in the north where wild bamboo grows

there is a rat flood every fifty years.


When rats move past me

I become a figure of speech in his damp world.

Which of us is living now? We are finished 

with words.                                                               (‘Rat’)

     One poem answers another, though they are not necessarily in the same pair. Multiple strands interweave with different topics, such as animals, the outdoors, family, children, writing, successes and failures, and the pandemic is always subtly present. Time magically expands in a constant meditation as if it has no limits. We have time for everything and for nothing during the lockdown: everything might happen and yet we live with restrictions and limitations. It is the imagination that therefore creates this expansion. Thoughts unravel and produce what is impossible in the real world, at least for a while:

the first time she finds herself      among brown strands

between fear and wonder      floating      in this other world

of upside down       a place a person could wed herself to

so much dank silence       beyond her breath       the gentle

murmur of limbs       in suspension       their arc and splay

there’s no peace like this in the dry country

(‘in the kelp forest’)

     The atmosphere evoked in the poem is a reminder of Alice in Wonderland, its dreamlike tone, weightless fall and suspension in the rabbit hole symbolically linked to the conditions during the pandemic.

     In this fruitful dialogue, friendship and sisterhood flourished between Naomi and Mort. However, their communion develops in independent paths in a multifaceted vision that is committed to conveying seriously good poetry. The power of imagination is therefore revealed in all its strength; it fills the void of the pandemic in the act of storytelling that is renewing despite drawbacks and failures:

Each morning, I have filled myself

to brimming with the scent of our child,

with coffee and good intentions,

playgroups and home-made dens

then each evening I have set myself down

on an unmade bed, emptied.                                               (‘Glass’)

As soon as I’d cleaned my aching teeth

I focused on failure

hugged it to me for hours

After a quick soup and salad

I took my failure for a walk

paraded it round the village each day

saw the tide rise and fall on                                     (‘Small Yellow Boat’)

The poets eventually invest in emotions. Their feelings guide them in the intricacies of the unpredictable and apparent ordinariness of the lockdown, its silence and forced stillness. The dynamic of creativity breaks this destiny and spurs new views and new forms.

Carla Scarano D’Antonio 21st February 2022

The Goldfish by Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi Degoul Illustrated by Emma Wright (The Emma Press)

The Goldfish by Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi Degoul Illustrated by Emma Wright (The Emma Press)

The poems of the Indonesian poet Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi Degoul featured in The Goldfish trace a journey of self-awareness and rebirth from the limited world of a fishbowl to a freedom that was difficult to achieve. The narratives are surreal and thought-provoking and challenge stereotypes concerning femininity in an often-fragmented discourse. Ayuning Maharsi Degoul’s explorations play with the ‘inhuman’ qualities of the fish but also evoke the realistic condition of a woman being constricted because of her limited environment. Her anger and disillusionment are expressed in continuous provocations that envisage sheer rebellion and suggest alternatives:

Stars are starving

Cats are getting mad

My mouth

                   wide open

O what I – 

I need to be a newborn


                                                    delivered by a long river

O what I – 



                       to give birth to the newest me            every day

Ovulating my apperception.                   (‘The Goldfish’)

         ‘O revolt!’ is announced in the poem ‘Rebellion Red’; she refuses ‘to be a clown anymore’ and wishes to change her perspective. It seems to be a problem that concerns surviving a reality that entails trapping her, and it needs to be transformed. Stereotypes about women, such as the idea that they should ‘be joyful […] be accepting’ are questioned in a new view of displacement where the self finds her home ‘everywhere’, a vagabond by choice in a voyage between earth and sea (voyage entre terre et mer) that echoes Jules Verne’s novels such as Voyage to the Bottom of the SeaVoyage to the Centre of the Earth and Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. The reference to Horace’s ode ‘Carpe Diem’ (‘Carpe Diem pour de vrai’) emphasises the wish to change and live life to the full despite possible future risks:

carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero

seize the day, to the least extent possible trusting in the next one

(Horace, ‘Carpe Diem’, Ode 1:11)

The poems are superbly illustrated by Emma Dai’an Wright, the founder of Emma Press. They are black and white watercolour pictures, except on the front cover, where the goldfish is red. The pictures enhance the poems through the simple yet skilful rendering of them that adds movement to the dynamic and flow of the lines. The colour red recalls the goldfish and is also linked to red lipstick and to the passion of love:

Red for statement, not solely for existence

Red for braveness, to conquer the day

Like all mothers of my mothers      Lipstick stains are a symbol 

of beauty and sadness

passion and craziness                   (‘Lipstick Stains’)

Transformation finally happens in a celebration of women’s love. The poet feels ‘vibrations everywhere. […] My soul is vibrant.’ It is like ‘a breeze on a dry day’ and a ‘statement of femininity’. She invents a new self and a new language that breaks her free, mixing some words in Indonesian and Japanese with English. Although the final poems celebrate happy days of ‘laughing and singing together […] holding, hands in trust and true honour’, they also reveal some worries in the final lines of ‘Highball’: Abunai yo!, which means ‘watch out’ in Japanese. 

The ‘super ugly goldfish’ is eventually flushed down the toilet, but its shadow might come back in unexpected shapes.

Carla Scarano D’Antonio 15th February 2022

Look, Breathe by Chris Powici (Red Squirrel Press)

Look, Breathe by Chris Powici (Red Squirrel Press)

This 66 page collection of poems arrives with translations in Scots, Gaelic, Doric, Orcadian and a host of other Scots dialects – there’s Flemish and Dutch translations too. The main delivery comes from substantial poems written by Chris Powici which have been transcribed, essentially, by Scots poets into local speech. The result opens a rich soundscape of regional locution.

         Chris Powici’s poems find unity through a field of concerns that connect in time, space and locality. His poems put a finger on particular synchronicities of observations, memories and experience that manifest, mainly through acts of nature.

         ‘Lamlash Nights’ (p.52) begins with gulls settling for evening that, ‘put their faith in café roofs / and car park walls / even the little iron-coloured waves’, the observation broken by the playful thought of grabbing nearby anchoring chains and hauling in a small boat or even the local ferry, complete with a cargo of monks, before snapping back to observation of locality: ‘meanwhile the chitter of gull / the push of the tide’. The poem moves again and quickly to abstraction and reflective thought

                  everything’s as ordinary and holy as bread or rain

                  as the way I remember my mother’s hand on my sleeve

                  pale, liver-spotted, so thin

                  it seemed no more than the weight of a glove

and concludes in conflating observation of locality while thoughts stretch ever outward over the sea and higher into the night sky

                  beyond Holy Isle, the moon

                  – that shining, far-out buoy –

                  rides the black swell

                  making sense of the depths

         Cosmic allusions are apparent, the final verse places weight on all that has possibly occurred for millennia juxtaposed with the time, held within the poem. The word ‘depths’ reaches out not only to the deepness of a moon-governed sea but in every direction of time and space. What is arrived at is the subject of the poem is the poem itself and not any single part of it. Those elements stand as content.

         There is nothing cold or academic about the poems in Look, Breathe  – quite the opposite; warmth flows in appreciation of people

                  the passengers talk about grandchildren

                  and weather and who’s died

                  and who’s still with us by the grace of God

                                                                        ‘Happens’ (p.46)

         In the poem ‘Wild Summer’ (p.22), dedicated to the memory of nature poet Angus Dunn, Powici is walking the great outdoors, observing the quality of light on a late afternoon in Glen Tye. Recent weather has featured ‘blinding rain’ with ‘hills lost to thick noonday mist’, when

                  A raven lifts from a fencepost

                  and gives itself to the cold, marvellous air

                  pitching and wheeling

                  as if there’s no tomorrow, as if there’s

                  only ever hunger, longing, flight – here, now

He captures this moment then sets it free, turning to speak directly and in revelation to the absent Angus Dunn 

                  and this, as you know, is the real poem Angus –

                  a lone dark bird telling the truth about the world

                  telling it well –

                  not these words

Four lines to which aspiring poets and established poets alike should be directed. Powici uses that moment of change to usher in powerlessness of poetic words when faced with the very essence of poetry itself.

         There’s a Who’s Who of translators at the end of the book, along with several glossaries attending to words in dialect and, turning to the translations, the reader becomes aware of just how much local colour is poured into the rewritten poems. In the translations language becomes beautifully strange, often glancing off the English glyph but emitting an aural mystery from an age that seems almost lost.

         Side by side, the original poems and translations illustrate how ‘the mind of language’, distinct as it ever wants to be, races to embrace another. That spirit evident in Stephanie Van De Peer’s search for a suitable translation for ‘fox bark’ – see her note (p.61).

Ric Hool 12th February 2022

And So The Wind Was Born by Gina Duran (Flowersong Press)

And So The Wind Was Born by Gina Duran (Flowersong Press)

Gina Duran’s . . . And So The Wind Was Born from Flowersong Press, a publisher specializing in the voices of new poets along the border of the United States and Mexico like David Romero, Sarah Joy Thompson, and Matt Sedillo. It is a collection of poetry and flash nonfiction that exist in a borderland in a number of ways. In this collection, Duran comes to terms with dealing with generational trauma, a culture that has ill-defined her identity, and a desire to understand who she is after she has lost a daughter.

As a person on the outside of the dominant culture, the poet is queer and Hispanic, Duran establishes how to understand herself in a world that tries to oversimplify and control her. She describes awakening to who she is out of a religious and patriarchal society through a process of pain. It is only after she attempted suicide that she achieved clarity about her sexuality:

. . . There I was: young,

thin, sexually confused, a woman afraid to leave

            her straight life, an a girl who still obeyed

            her mom. I begged my then god for forgiveness

            as I wandered into a new life. (22)

This new life gives her the ability to live without lies, without trying to conform to a culture that wants to force her to be something she is not so it can control her. After this moment, her reminiscences of relationships are positive and healthy:

            I think back when I held your hand

            and you kissed me on the busy street

            cars fluttered the chiffon of your skirt. (29)

She essentially goes from being out of step with herself and lost to finding whom she needs to be and how to see herself.

            This collection is not, however, purely a story of coming out but a discussion of loss as well, the loss of her daughter. 

My eyes were cracked like the windshief of a totaled car, while my daughter drifted deep into the woods. But many of her belongings sat in my garage — in boxes marked Mercedes’ Shit.

And that’s how I knew Mercedes wasn’t coming back.

So I gathered everything I could and cleaned up the mess. I practiced breathing until a tornado swooped me up from the mangled mess into her vortex and I became more. (74)

This is a collection in part about becoming more than how her loss defines her. It is about a number of things, but by the end of the collection, Duran shows how she is able to create a life based on positivity, action, and love in a world that has struggled to take those things from her. This is a collection of hope and seeing beyond limitations and pain. This point-of-view is extraordinary given that she is dealing with generational trauma. She discusses how the pain she and her daughter feel is in part an extension of her mother’s:

            I am also breath and radiating particle

            A child born on the marina

            held in the arms of a woman who suffered

            abuse like mine. (40)

Her pain and abuse is generational, and this book is in part a quest to find a way around that trauma to break this cycle that seems unending.

            . . . And So The Wind Was Born is relevant, I think to so many of our experiences. It is so easy for us to define ourselves and each other in simplistic social terms, but Duran has shown us the dangers of that through her own suicide attempt. She also shows us the way through that in the joy that she creates for others and herself.

John Brantingham 10th February 2022

Afterword by David Miller (Shearsman Books), Circle Square Triangle by David Miller (Spuyten Duyvil)

Afterword by David Miller (Shearsman Books), Circle Square Triangle by David Miller (Spuyten Duyvil)

David Miller’s writing has always crossed boundaries: between poetry and fiction, between the confessional and poetically distant, the heartfelt and philosophical. His work has consistently used short texts – often containing quotes or intertextual allusions – in juxtaposition to other short texts to build up a patchwork effect within a text. In the ‘Notes’ to Afterword, he refers to ‘independent texts. Yet related.’ and ‘Ruins, edifices, fragmented architectures.’ Adopting a phrase from Circle Square Triangle a reader might think of reading Miller more as ‘through & past & back’.

But it is never a puzzle to be solved, or a jigsaw that makes a picture with straight edges and is complete. Miller’s work is often more like an archaeological tesserae, the remains of a mosaic that has slowly been revealed by digging and then patient brush work. The quotations and allusions, be they from neglected authors, obscure religious texts or other poets’ writing, are sufficient in themselves: we do not need to read them for ourselves, Miller has captured the essence of what he wishes to say or mention and embedded that within his own web of writing.

Because the texts are so brief, it means the language and ideas have to work hard on the page. These are poems that have been edited and shaped, revised and rewritten until there is just enough on the page, enough to capture a moment, a thought, an image or idea. These are then allowed to accumulate and link, via association and theme, to produce a complete work. It risks being precious, elusive and cryptic, but Miller’s work is consistently clear-headed and precise, carefully sculpted on the page and for the ear.

The back cover blurb suggests that Afterword is ‘a long poem in fragments, but it might also be seen as a poem sequence of memories and mediations, dreams and visions’. Thankfully, Miller retains his specificity and imagistic skill to keep away from the new age ideas this conjured up for me, although at times these texts can be more abstract than much of his writing, relying on wordplay, visual/aural echo and surprising trains of thought to make their point:


     rags | rags we have | rags we become we are       (page 86)

     so late | & still it rains

     so long ah so long that it rains it rains & it rains

     cherries in kirsch | once               (page 83)

Much of Afterword references spirituality, belief and love, often within the context of regret and loss, but also in relation to art, theology and relationships, and the book slowly moves towards a kind of resolution which is rooted in the physicality of fingers, speech and lips.

Circle Square Triangle is more of a sequence in the expected way: a long poem in four numbered parts, sometimes divided again into numbered parts, with individual poems (or parts of poems) delineated by asterisks between them, but the whole running on over the pages. I confess that even after several reads (and also as an unnamed character who is briefly present in a poem) I struggle with this work. It is the first time for me that Miller has tried to imbue too much meaning into some of his images or let named artists and writers stand in as a kind of shorthand for what he wants to say. And the title phrase does not resonate or underpin the work as Miller clearly wants it to do.

There are wonderful memories and moments, even compressed narratives, in this text, but there are also poems that moan and poems that seem too ordinary in what they depict. It is clear these autobiographical stories and memories are important to the author, but sometimes they seem slight or disgruntled in their retelling. Others, of course, may disagree and find ways to engage with Circle Square Triangle, but for me it is Afterword, along with Miller’s Collected Poems, Reassembling Still, I shall be returning to.

Rupert Loydell 6th February 2022

Hyena! Jackal! Dog! by Fran Lock (Pamenar Press)

Hyena! Jackal! Dog! by Fran Lock (Pamenar Press)

I’ve only recently become acquainted with Fran Lock’s work, mainly via a few poems on Alan Baker’s online magazine, Litter, and through her uncompromising and passionate review of Martin Hayes’ recent collection Ox. This substantial book is a mix of prose, poetry and prose poetry and questions almost everything about our preconceptions of ‘civilization’ from the viewpoint of an outsider expressed through the personas of Hyena, Jackal and Dog. As she says in her introduction:

Hyenas are, according to most classical sources: loathsome and savage, insatiable of appetite, offensive of smell; they are cowardly but vicious, morally and spiritually unclean. 

Her works clearly has theoretical underpinnings, if in response to ‘academic authority’ and she references creative artists/writers such as Leonora Carrington whose – ‘I’m like a hyena, I get into the garbage cans. I have an insatiable curiosity.’ – could almost be a prescription for Lock’s own work. Her writing is challenging in terms of its blend of eloquent authority and its discussions around notions of ‘inarticulacy’ expressed so succinctly in the following sentence: ‘When words won’t do, we recruit gesture, the body, guttural non-verbal noises.’  If I’m looking for reference points in recent British poetry, then Sean Bonney’s poetry comes immediately to mind where issues of class and ‘politics’ are to the forefront. Lock’s work is clearly also concerned with gender and with notions of transgression though her poetry also has a strong lyrical association which reminds me a little of Barry MacSweeney where the mix of beauty and disgust holds together really well even as it shouldn’t.

     From ‘Hyena Q&A’ (Hyena) we get the following:

          Q: And what’s it like being a hyena?

          A: It is withdrawal, trembling its traces all across the

          splendid belly of the night. It is ecstatic and mechanical,

          a kind of sanguinary prickling, to be made spectral with

          adrenaline, to stream raw light through your fibre optic

          veins. It is holding the ice of his name in my mouth until it

          cools. Until, I mean, it thaws.

          Q: How has being a hyena affected your employment


          A: Imagine having a clubfoot. Except it isn’t your foot, it’s 

          your whole body. Imagine a woman’s face eaten away by

          radiation. That’s how people look at you, a cheesy fifties

          pinup, her thighs tempered with ugly ragged holes.

          Q: But do you work? 

          A: I practice walking upright. I type with a hollow wand

          between my teeth, a tango-dancer’s wilting rose.

There’s a mix of streetwise elegance with something very questioning and assertive about this writing which reminds me of Sarah Crewe’s poetry and both writers seem to be at the forefront of an emerging poetics/politics which responds to current situations with a steely intent.

     I like the mixing of analytical prose works with a more-heady, often incantatory form of writing and the interrelation between the two suggests a combination of mind and body which is often missing in contemporary work. There’s a very visceral thrust amid the ‘out-loud’ thought processing which is very attractive, filled with energy and a distinct rawness which nevertheless has an intellectual impetus. This may be ‘outsider thinking’ but it has an authority and clarity based on experience and on reflection. Take this opening sequence from ‘On taking leave’ (‘Jackal!’):

          london, my dirt baptism.

          where sweat settles into jelly.

          where I am a hollow chocolate

          rabbit, a bond girl dipped in gold,

          for you. london, your moneyed

          immersions. your eyes like belly-

          dancers’ jewels. disney supremacist.

          a bloodied shovel, turning greedy

          oncers into loam. you are a serial 

          killer’s scrapbook, a million

          weathergirl mutilations.

          the suckling cabaret of sex

          and junk. we cross the bridge,

          and i sink back into your hurt

          perfume. london, you stink 

          like a whore on expenses.

     There’s no easy dichotomy between country and city either as expressed in this short extract from ‘To disappear into’ (‘Jackal’):

          the forest does not care.

          the forest is a keyhole. the forest

          is a clenched jaw.  is anything

          tight against the world. the forest

          has hollow bones, ice caves hostile

          to hibernation. It does not soil itself

          with tigers; is a cold kiln casting

          animals in glass, and me among.

I’m simplifying of course in placing these two extracts side by side but it’s a way of giving a new reader a flavour of the material. Probably the best way to approach this work on an initial reading is to go with the flow, take it all in or as much as you are initially capable of doing, meshing the ‘essay aspects’ with the more ‘immediate’ poetry sections where you can enjoy the imagery and onrush before a slower and more thoughtful reading. It’s certainly a book that demands a re-read if you’re in tune enough and want to explore these creations. The piece entitled ‘Jagged little pilot’ provides more ‘resistance’ which may well be its intention, partly down to its footnotes, but its dark materials are well worth engaging with though it’s a harrowing read. 

The final section, ‘Dog!’ includes a strong element of autobiography and reveals a personal philosophy based on instinct, reason and experience and a reworking of mythologies which provides a challenge to received ways of thinking:

          Dogs, my own and others, feature heavily in my work, as

          subjects and as speakers. But more than this, I connect vari-

          ous modes or positions in writing to jackals and to dogs. The

          jackal self is connected to the work of both judgement and

          grieving, her landscapes are often shaped by war and depri-

          vation; she reckons with heritage, she mourns her dead.

                                  (from ‘Animal Affinities’)

     This is a substantial book which requires a more in-depth review than I’m able to give it here, but I hope that I may have whetted a few appetites for the work of a poet, new to me, who is seriously at the heart of things, whose questioning of poetic discourse and of societal norms feels very appropriate at the present time.

Steve Spence 3rd February 2022

THE CITIZEN and the making of City edited by Peter Robinson (Bloodaxe Books)

THE CITIZEN and the making of City edited by Peter Robinson (Bloodaxe Books)

Roy Fisher’s City was one of the first poetry books I remember reading as a teenager (others would be Crow, and The Waste Land, as well as Adrian Mitchell’s and Brian Patten’s work). My friend the poet Brian Louis Pearce lent me his 1961 Migrant Press copy to encourage me to use the actual world around me in my poetry; around the same time a school friend showed me Edwin Morgan’s Instamatatic Poems. Both books were full of physical description, mood, history, clearsighted observation, and what we might now call psychogeography: the feel and mood of a place, dependent upon its history and use. Both felt quite distanced and disengaged from their subjects yet were involving and innovative reads.

Whilst I knew that Fisher had revised City for future editions, I was unaware – like many others, I am sure – that it had been assembled from a previous work, perhaps still-in-progress at the time, perhaps abandoned, called Citizen, and that the version published by Migrant Press had been selected and ordered for publication by somebody else, in a way that its author was not particularly happy with, despite the fact he felt unable to finalise the work himself. He would continue to tinker with, edit, annotate, resequence and reshape the sequence for several years before settling upon a definitive version for republication in various Selected and Collected Poems.

This new book not only offers the reader the first ever publication of Citizen (transcribed from a handwritten notebook), a prose work mostly in numbered sections, but also 1962’s rare Then Hallucinations: City II, all the published versions of City, along with uncollected and associated poems. There is also an astute introduction by Peter Robinson, and some useful published quotes by Fisher himself about the work, as well as excerpts from ‘a Citizen notebook’.

As I get older, I am more and more fascinated by the writing process: ideas and inspiration, source material, revisions, the editing process, and interior and exterior intertextualities (although I still want the work to stand on its own). This new volume is a fantastic compendium of the various incarnations of an important text whose construction took Fisher many years to resolve to his own satisfaction. Despite some clumsy typesetting (too narrow and too deep a text for the page, with too much space between the lines) it’s an informative and useful book. It hasn’t, truth be told, made me prefer later versions to the original, but it reinforces the fact that, along with writing by Allen Fisher, T.S. Eliot, Edwin Morgan and Ken Smith, Fisher is one of the best writers when it comes to articulating urban experience.

Rupert Loydell 2nd February 2022

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