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Category Archives: English Poetry

Suddenly, It’s Now by Blossom Hibbert (Leafe Press)

Suddenly, It’s Now by Blossom Hibbert (Leafe Press)

In Blossom Hibbert’s debut collection a lively (to put it mildly) imagination seems always to be wrestling with the loads of things going on in and around it. Inside and outside worlds collide and intermingle – much as they do in what we like to think of as real life – and the consequence is a poetry that, instead of trying to order everything neatly, and struggling to articulate what may or may not be its meaning, allows the imagination to come out on top in all its jumbled and often bewildering honesty.

I’m pretty sure purists will object to some of what happens in these poems. Lines have unexpected gaps and as unexpectedly fall apart. Utterance is sometimes fractured. Thoughts and images arrive from who knows where and are rapidly replaced by other images and thoughts because that’s often how the head behaves. As we think, as our brain sometimes overflows, we are not always meditating calmly, or recollecting in tranquillity. 

Take this, for example, from the first piece in the book, ‘bedman’:

            butcher holds paint-splattered knife. causes both grief and fullness,

            complacency and excitement.            would rather starve

            rotten bedman and    me. lost him for quite a while. decades

            even. ran away without saying



                                       his curious form


                                       his roadside shirt


                                       into      breast pocket

            neighbours beside my beating fish.                 gasp!

            bedman watches me write all languid evening long, yearning to win my

            cold heart over.          i never give in.

            i never.

            give.    in.

                                                            [where did he come from?]

                                                                                          retired pianist

            bought the lighthouse to live in across from puffin island.    ran toward it 

            pulling gaunt backbone grand piano

            beautiful sonatas          dropping onto

                                                ten foreign cargo ships

            sweating men on the docks swayed toward the ripping noise, wearing 

            medalled rain.

            started as a novelty but within a week became common:

                                                            wood pigeon’s coo-coo

I won’t claim to understand everything that’s going on here, or to be able to explain comfortably the train of thought, but that’s part of the pleasure. I love that ‘all languid evening long’, and the pianist and grand piano. And “medalled rain”! Writing of this kind is worth way more than the price of admission. And if that’s not enough, there’s the form: the breaks and gaps and lineation jog me out of any readerly complacency from which I might be suffering to pay full attention to what’s being said, whatever it may all ‘mean’. Also, I wouldn’t mind betting a pound coin that some of the form is a direct transcription of how this stuff first landed in Hibbert’s notebook, brain to pen to paper . . . I almost added ‘unthinkingly’, but that would be wrong. There is thinking here, but it’s the kind of thinking that happens when a poet is on a roll.

Never one to shirk a sweeping (and possibly inaccurate) generalization, I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere quite like this before. There’s a very definite and individual mind racing around here, and the form, along with often startling imagery, is enough to render the reading experience . . . well, I’ve been into the thesaurus, and I’ve come out of it with ‘invigorating’. It’ll do.

Hibbert’s writing is always springing wonderful surprises. The unexpected just keeps on coming: the poem “whole days”, which may or may not have its origin in a broken relationship, or a separation, has the brilliant

            spending whole days

            remaking your sudden face

and ends:

            vacant houses cry to be touched but everyone is afraid of deserted

            solitude and dying alone with

            [single egg on toast]

                        surely this cannot be

Hibbert’s natural avoidance of the obvious and her trust in the instinctive serves her well, and you can’t teach that stuff. Writing courses don’t offer it because they can’t. You either have it or you don’t.

While a poem like “bedman” sprawls across three or four sometimes bewildering but never less than engaging pages, Hibbert can also pull off the opposite, in length, form, and subject matter. “circumstances” is short enough to be quoted in full:

            men drink white tea and

                        women black coffee

            table legs strain with weight of all these old books

            mug handles   clunk and 

                                                toast crumbs sit between pages

            large nose presses against window

Throughout the collection, arresting images and phrases abound: there’s a ‘buttoned shoreline’, ‘the leaf is full and swollen now’, ‘tasty salvation’, ‘brave fire’, ‘i smell my shoulder and start again’, ‘god forbid what i’d do if i had a half decent dog to walk’, ‘where sofas smell like sneeze’ . . . This stuff obviously just comes so easily to Hibbert it never feels forced. When ‘drizzle’ ends with the lines

                                    i can’t even remember

            why i wanted to sit on that


            in the dark rotten first place

it just kills me, because it sounds so damn good, the authentic voice of an authentic person. Another poem – ‘for my eyelids’ – ends

            yours, mouldy plum in the room above

and you have to smile, surely. Character and personality is absolutely oozing out of these poems, and in a world where so many of today’s poets sound like loads of other poets that’s priceless. But there’s much more here than images and surprise and a hefty dose of individuality. There’s a bright, inquisitive, restless and self-examining intelligence underpinning everything that becomes more impressive with each repeated read. The collection ends in much the same way as it began, with a long (in this case, prosy) poem, ‘old book’, that starts out as narrative (sort of):

            i say, i think we should start reading to each other in the dark times.

            i say,       we should  start  selling  coffee grounds to the pope  who

            comes to the door every wednesday evening. . . .

                                                – you must go find an old book to read to

            me when the candles are lit.

I don’t have a clue about that pope, but frankly I don’t care. So they go to a shop and ‘he looks for an old book to read to me when stars shine wild’ but the search appears to be long and fruitless, and the speaker (poet) leaves him to it and goes to sit on a (park?) bench, where she (I assume ‘she’) watches a toddler stumbling around ‘the way they always do’, then ‘he comes back from the store . . . holding a yellow old book about boats.’ And I’m missing out quite a lot here, including ‘the way women look at other women. pity.‘ [underlines and bold typeface are as in the book, by the way.]

I don’t plan to try to paraphrase the whole un-paraphrasable poem, but the narrative (such as it is) shifts to the speaker “recover[ing] from heavy illness” and the poem morphs, briefly, into a contemplation of the self (which description sounds too pompous; I may need to re-write that, or maybe I’ll just leave it as it is):

                                                .  .  . not sure who I am or where to go


Momentarily, the poem threatens to become, or sound, a tad too much like the speaker (poet) talking conventionally about themselves and their problems, but Hibbert – perhaps because she’s being honest rather than through anything more complicated like, for example, a theory of poetics – sidesteps the trap:

            i am strange and mysterious and increasingly under the care of god.

            pity me not because sun has gone behind the clouds and the soft

            world is sleepy, but because back is moving towns. pity me because

            i am losing a shield —- me for i am in the middle of a battleground,


                                                music abruptly        stops.

            PITY ME! why should i?

and later:

                                                                        i will learn that i can

            survive without ‘important’ things.

This is pretty impressive stuff, and one of the beauties of it is that I may have a lot of it completely wrong in my head, but it’s a great read anyway, and repays a lot of re-reading.

The only caveat I have is rooted in personal prejudice and so can probably be ignored: I’m not fond of writing that’s 100% lower case. The persistent lower case in particular can really get on my nerves – it annoys me just to see it, and it annoys me even more to actually have to type it when Microsoft Word insists on capitalizing it. Whatever. I think maybe I had to say something vaguely negative because I want to keep young Blossom on her toes.

Finally, here’s the back cover blurb, which I can quote in full without a qualm, because I wrote it:

            Hibbert is a new and invigorating voice, the archetypal “breath of fresh air” 

            so often spoken of but so rarely encountered. These are very early days, but 

            it’s a pleasure to be present at the beginning of what promises to be an 

            interesting journey. One can tell there’s something special going on by the 

            fact that although Hibbert is studying and training to be a vet there are no 

            poems about animals anywhere to be seen. 

Martin Stannard 21st April 2023

The Indescribable Thrill of the Half-Volley by Tim Allen (Leafe Press)

The Indescribable Thrill of the Half-Volley by Tim Allen (Leafe Press)

Tim Allen’s latest investigation into language and the world is made up of 97 short poems, each comprising a couplet of sorts. We’ve been here before I think. You can read these pieces through as playful interjections, philosophical speculations or as refusals to ‘play the game’ in any traditional manner. Tom Jenks in a back-cover blurb to another recent collection (Allen is nothing if not prolific) describes him as ‘a wizard.’ Here is a page of the book, chosen more or less at random and this provides enough material for a ‘critique’ or commentary of some kind:

          16. invisible duty

          Waiting for the firework display – trees fidget

          Further into the forest memory is sleeping

          A dream is all interior like a calf on a cattle trail

          A novel minus its empty rooms and hitchhiking fish

          17. invisible journey

          Nothing in particular was still hanging around

          Surrounded by bitching sticklers for detail

          Gymnasts of fur and feather jump waterfall

          Dancer dances a bit of both with a clean and decent dance

          18. invisible paper

          Horses crossed the river for luck not for a fortune

          If something is missing It’s probably the planet

          Mermaid diarrhoea fertilizes our fields

          Go once around the course then sheer off on a tangent

These poems have both a kind of throwaway feel, as if put together very quickly but there’s also a condensing written into the form which might imply the opposite, the work of ‘a wizard’ perhaps. The titles suggest a continuity of subject, largely illusory yet there are hints within the text – ‘luck’ and ‘fortune’ for example which hang together even when followed by an obvious non-sequitur. What I love about these pieces is the amount of scope given to the reader to ‘improvise’ around each given text. The ‘dream material’ in the first poem, for example, suggests a fairy tale with its lovely ‘memory is sleeping’, rather than ‘an individual sleeper. Then I’m reminded of Rawhide with its mythic (dreamlike) status, memories of childhood television watching and the ‘hitchhiking fish’ is definitely an unexpected bonus, even when preceded by the ‘novel minus its empty rooms’ which is a thoroughly discombobulating image (image!) until you think again about the input of the reader. Here we have a game being played with words which emphasises, yet again, the artificial nature of language and its ‘tangled necessity’ in our relation to the ‘world out there.’ Even on the occasion that Allen plays with cliché you are made aware of the constant fight to avoid the obvious, the mundane, the ‘how many times have I heard this before’ aspect which destroys creativity and leads to endless boredom. These poems may be frustrating to read, at times, especially when you are playing the game and attempt to think through some of the impenetrable ‘logic’ but they are also wonderfully playful and are able to take you off into speculations and fanciful interpretations of your own. Far gone, perhaps but endlessly entertaining and it’s always fun to ‘Go once around the course and sheer off on a tangent’ whatever course it is you might be thinking about. It may be a racecourse, as hinted at throughout but then again…..  . Great stuff.

Steve Spence 6th April 2023

The Fox the Whale and the Wardrobe by Dónall Dempsey (Dempsey & Windle)

The Fox the Whale and the Wardrobe by Dónall Dempsey (Dempsey & Windle)

An intriguing title leads the reader into a kaleidoscopic and scintillating poetry collection by Dónall Dempsey. There is a great variety of wit and humour in these poems. ‘My Molecules are Revolting’ uses dialogue as a device to illustrate the repartee between the Universe and a couple of molecules that currently inhabit the narrator’s body while they wait for ‘the Big Bang/of Death’ and the chance of belonging to a more interesting formation in the future.

An amusing concept but it is always Death that hovers in the background. In the title poem there is the nightmarish texture of an aunt’s fox-fur stole which has ‘beady eyes alive with death.’ Every item of clothing in the dark wardrobe is ‘rotten now/eaten by time.’ Everything once belonging to loved ones is dead.  ‘I cry for the death of summer,’ says the narrator. ‘I cry for the death of them all.’

     Concern for the environment is a key feature throughout the collection. ‘Regeneration’ imagines the transformation of furniture back into its existence in the forest. Even the floor uproots itself while books shed their words ‘becoming/leaves on these trees.’ ‘The Tales Told by Birds’ creates a shocking impact. Humour, in the description of a world now empty of humans, is both surreal and cartoonish as ‘a dinosaur takes/the moving stairs/a pterodactyl hunts for bargains’ but the reality is that humans have nearly destroyed the earth and they themselves only survive ‘in the stories that birds tell/to frighten their little hatchlings.’

     ‘Words loved him/and would do anything/he said.’ This is Dónall Dempsey’s description of his uncle, but I think it would apply equally well to the poet himself, his love of life and living things, his sense of joy. A robin that has flown into a church is not just hopping from pew to pew but is ‘a miracle/ made real/its sheer joy of being’ as it dances on the altar and becomes the music of Hayden. Reflected ‘in the gold/of the tabernacle’ it is ‘the secret/prayer/of the moment.’ (‘The Emperor of Now’).

     The poem ‘Taking Back the Moment’ continues this sense of the here and now– its transience, its uniqueness. Memories, which are seemingly ‘lost for ever,’ trapped like sunbeams in a room, are dragged back by the narrator from a past which is sluggish as ‘a giant in a palace/made of years’ so that, as he says, he can ‘take the moment and flee/far far/into the future/where nothing can touch me.’ A haven of sorts, a sanctuary for the ‘one perfect moment’ caught in flight like ‘birds/writing themselves —unwriting themselves/across a page of sky.’

     There is much to be enjoyed in this collection – delightful, original love poems, a feast of epigraphs and literary references, poems that take a topic and turn it on its head. But I’ll end this review by mentioning two poems that particularly appeal to me.

     First is the lyrical, descriptive ‘…In Forgetful Snow’ which is inspired by a quotation from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land: ‘Winter kept us warm, covering/Earth in forgetful snow.’ Here the snow falls heavily on what appears to be a graveyard with stone carved angels guarding the dead. T            his snowfall erases everything – time, memory, ‘the world’ – replacing it with ‘silence’ disturbed only by the croak of a raven ‘as land and sky become one.’  Everything, ‘even the horizon,’ says the observer, ‘is being filled in.’

     But my favourite of all the poems is ‘Nugae’ which I assume is Latin for ‘Ramblings’. Here torrential rain falls on both Catullus in 55 BC and on the narrator in AD 2020.  The humour in these lines is enchanting:

Vivamus … atque amemus!

he tells his rain.

We should live … we should love!

I tell mine.

And then the realisation:

His then and my now

almost one and the same

and the glimpse of a moment, a small epiphany: 

…in that instant

we both catch a glimpse

of the other time

falling like rain.

Mandy Pannett 2nd April 2023

See Saw: a series of poems on art by Adrian Buckner (Leafe Press)

See Saw: a series of poems on art by Adrian Buckner (Leafe Press)

This is a beautifully succinct addition to the ‘poems about art’ genre, otherwise known as ekphrasis.

Here we have 24 poems, each based on an individual painting, presumably favourites of the author, laid out in chronological fashion from Giotto to Rae. I don’t know all of the paintings though I do know something of most of the painters but as these short pieces (each are 9 lines long with an identical stanza structure) all work sui generis any further research will only add to the enrichment and you can easily dip in without any foreknowledge. 

     The tone ranges from light and delightful to dark and sinister and we could do worse than take the first two inclusions as examples of this range:


         The Entry into Jerusalem, c 1305

          I am a smiling donkey

          I am practically giggling

          With the Good News

          When the golden age arrives

          For children’s illustrated books

          I will trot from this fresco

          Onto those pages

          And wreathe the unlettered

          In smiles again

This is a wonderful example of how art from the distant past can be re-evaluated in a modern context and while the tone here is light-hearted and even joyful its serious subject is gently underlined by that slightly enigmatic  ‘…wreathe the unlettered’ which can be seen in terms of 

a message of hope and positive change.

          Fra Angelico

          The Decapitation of St Cosmas and St Damian, c1440

          When I am called to account at The Hague

          I will say I was obeying orders

          Like the three lads on crowd control rota

          Look to the front row for the guilty

          The self-absorbing gestures

          The more in sorrow than anger

          Exporters of rational governance

          Through a swing of the sword

          A drone strike in the desert

Once again we have the mix of ‘then and now’ which throws up some interesting dilemmas for politicians and ‘the military’ of whichever hue as that ‘drone strike in the desert’ can clearly be interpreted as a general condemnation rather than a partisan positioning.

     Coming a bit closer to home we get a more lyrical approach with Schmidt-Rotluff Flowering Trees, 1909 with ‘I left her sleeping / In the light and airy room / the window curtain pulsing with the breeze…’ . In English) Little Blue Horse, 1912 we have a moving reference to two artists engaged during WW1 who had different outcomes. Franz Marc was killed in Verdun in 1916 and Paul Nash’s  We are Making a New World (1918) depicted a surreal landscape of the aftermath of warfare which can be seen as both reportage (he was of course a commissioned war artist) and blistering condemnation. Marc’s imagined words – ‘I will not be around Paul / to gaze across / The new world they are making’ remains both heavy with portent and satire yet also somehow horribly innocent and genuinely poignant.

     Buckner does a similar thing, across the ages, with a further imagined dialogue between Leonardo and Rothko which throws up a whole nest of possibilities in relation to longevity, to the nature and aims of art and to commerce and the implications of sponsorship/patronage. Throughout this short collection of short poems in fact, he manages to combine an almost jaunty, wonderfully enticing glamour with something richer and often darker in intent and implication. There are also commentaries on Duchamp, Lowry, Hopper and Gwen John, among others, taking in a range of angles and perceptions, each poem having something of interest to say about artwork and creator. This is a neat little publication from the Leafe Press stable and one that is easily approachable and full of surprise and revelation.

Steve Spence 25th March 2023

Harald in Byzantium by Kevin Crossley-Holland Illustrations by Chris Riddell (Arc Publications)

Harald in Byzantium by Kevin Crossley-Holland Illustrations by Chris Riddell (Arc Publications)

These poems are ‘not narratives but revelations’ says the author, and this seems a perfect way to describe the light of insight and discovery that shines, momentarily, on the forgotten or unknown. Here are fragments, scraps of stories handed down, examples of warfare, leadership and love, contrasts between worlds in the north and in the south, all of which come together to reveal the connections and interdependence among men that are needed for life. ‘If one man breaks the shield-rampart,’ says the narrator, ‘all his companions suffer.’

Harald Hardrada, we are told, was the greatest warrior of his age, true to his Viking reputation for courage, ferocity and ambition for ‘the golden crown, hard-edged fame.’ Several poems end with words of defiance: 

‘I’ll brook no disobedience./None at all.’ 

‘I have no choice, only an imperative.’

‘Let me be blood and flames.’

Yet he is also a man of passion, capable of love if not fidelity. A beautiful woman can inspire him to lyrical, fervent outbursts:

            The delicate contraption of your right ankle,

            the downy crooks of your arms,

            your swan-neck …

                                    Dear Gods

            I who will rule

            the whole northern world …

            My head is thumping, my heart spinning

If needs must, he says, he will even take on the gods to alleviate his ‘torment’:

            Grant me one night 

            in your apple garden

            forever young

            and I will outdo the gods.

This is a slim pamphlet – 24 pages of poems and nearly all of them illustrated with drawings in black and white by Chris Riddell, each one complementing the mood of the poems. This is the quality that most appeals to me – the atmospheric combination of text and sketch that creates a world as the author imagines it, a world that is Viking, a harsh and brutal world of cold, wild seas where fate determines if a man shall live or die, enjoy freedom or live in exile and loneliness. 

Language, in Harald in Byzantium, creates the setting, is almost the setting itself. Kevin Crossley-Holland is skilful at blending a modern, colloquial style with kennings and phrases of the historical era. Some travellers, for example, are trying to escape destiny, their own ‘death-shadows’, a companion is described as a ‘blood friend’, Harald’s ‘dragon-prow’ is welcomed although his inner self yearns for ‘spirit-fruit’ and, of course, there is a raven, bird of death and doom,  that taunts Harald when he is trapped in ‘scorching wind from Africa … red dust whirling/ round me, red dust in my throat, my gut.’

A setting that is Norse – and yet with clear contemporary relevance. ‘This week another boatload of young bucks sailed in,’ says the narrator. ‘A tide of refugees… more, many more than shoals of herring in the fjord.’ Discussions follow as to the best way of dealing with the problem. ‘Stem the tide at source,’ says one, ‘meet them at the crossing-places/and cut off their right hands/and send them home.’ ‘Well,’ says another, we could ‘extend our borders’. Or, declares a thinker, we could let them know ‘our welcome will be strictly conditional.’

Harald in Byzantium is a varied and fascinating pamphlet that can be read at a sitting, dipped into, acted, or read aloud, enjoyed by all ages. A fine publication. 

Mandy Pannett 3rd March 2023

On The Found by Mike Ferguson (Gazebo Gravy Press)

On The Found by Mike Ferguson (Gazebo Gravy Press)

Mike Ferguson hits the found running in the sweet spot between traditional and digital culture, offering 68 witty and creative poems he has constructed or extracted from a tentative canon of the American novel. No waiting on the muse or bullshit about inspiration: Ferguson rolls his sleeves up and fills the bowl with text, mixes it up, adds something random, then abandons the recipe and shapes his work with the mind’s own cookie cutters.

Leave something behind on a recent trip? Fill out the lost property form to report what was lost and we’ll see if someone has turned it in. Make sure you have printed off leaflets and knocked on all the doors in your road, then make sure you’re certain that your original text was just that, not simply a rearrangement of other people’s words or phrases. I mean you can’t complain about losing what wasn’t yours in the first place, that simply wouldn’t be right.

‘The artist formerly known as “author,” therefore, does not, in the imaginary image of the divine creator, produce something out of nothing. She or he is always and already responding to the scene or culture in which one already finds oneself and is, for this reason, responsible only for the manner, method, and means of that particular response.’
     – David J. Gunkel, Of Remixology. Ethics and Aesthetics after Remix 

Found poetry is a simulator, a stimulator, with the world being viewed through any number of authors’ eyes. Ferguson uncover the mystery that lies within other fictions, secret texts and alternative readings, a census of misconceptions or, as one poem title puts it, ‘Our World Version’. Because this is how we navigate the world and words now, tripping over our own feet as we try to read our phones, watch a film, reply to emails, or drive the car listening to music in the wrong order and letting a machine instruct us on how to get to our destination. Poets usually find their poems in prose written by others.

‘Human behaviour / is poetry’ declares Ferguson via Salinger, or the other way round, which is why poetry is now like human behaviour: confused, bewildered, lost and immediate, as concerned with the now as the then, as engaged with the fragmented and momentary as longevity and big ideas. 

     a person who was

     ever confused
     will learn something

     when poetry is

Writers collect stuff people find; found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. Ezra Found can be visited in any industrial or residential building built or refurbished before the year 2000 but some missing people are never foundCollision investigators are appealing for information because it doesn’t rhyme, and research suggests that authors who sit for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity have a risk of dying similar to that posed by metaphor, assonance, scansion and postmodern theory. The found has been in long term decline since after the Second World War.

I found it difficult to find a way to convey my idea and work out how I would explain my poems. I found an enormous collection of language, paragraphs, punctuation and books to sift through. Clearly I wasn’t the only one looking to combine foraged materials with traditional techniques, seek the undiscovered, the classic and the contemporary,’ is the sort of thing Mike Ferguson might have said but didn’t.

He exists to educate, connect and inspire. He believes community and kindness are key ingredients and that poems are forged through the fire of conflict. He is ‘far out / in the / languorous / world’, knows that ‘Artists are / make-believe’. The author is yet to be formally identified but it is believed he is ‘disgracefully diffused’ and possesses ‘a migration of / voices’. His ‘Emptiness / is a guide to / inclusion’, his work ‘a mouthswarm / of the indescribable’. Found is the past tense and past participle of find.

You must report all found poems to the Local Authority warden service by Law. If you wish to keep hold of a found poem then this must be done with permission. We are champions of legendary forgotten makers, can literally find a needle in the haystack, especially if you tell us where it is. We are known to have found meaning anywhere, and make it our business to put your found writing online. ‘If you didn’t want me / I’d go nuts’.

Rupert Loydell 28th February 2023

Tears in the Fence 77 is out!

Tears in the Fence 77 is out!

Tears in the Fence 77 is now available at and features poetry, prose poetry, translations, creative non-fiction and fiction by Lucy Ingrams, Jane Wheeler, Eliza O’Toole,  Steve Spence, Peter Larkin, David Miller, Beth Davyson, Benjamin Larner, Louise Buchler, Isobel Williams, Glenn Hubbard, Hanne Bramness translated by Anna Reckin, Daniela Esposito, Simon Collings, Poonam Jain, Giles Goodland, Michael Farrell, Richard Foreman, Cole Swenson, Lesley Burt, Jeremy Hilton, Greg Bright, Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana, John Freeman, Caroline Maldonado, Rosemarie Corlett, Robert Hamberger, Alicia Byrne Keane , Olivia Tuck, Penny Hope, Mary Leader, Christine Knight, Ann Pelletier-Topping, Jennie E. Owen, Natalie Crick, Sian Astor-Lewis, Laura Mullen, Gwen Sayers, Kevin Higgins and Graham Mort.

The critical section consists of the Editorial by David Caddy, Letters to the Editor by Andrew Duncan, Tim Allen, Jeremy Hilton and David Pollard, Peter Larkin on Rewilding the Expressive: a Poetic Strategy, Andrew Duncan on Peter Finch, David Pollard on Patricia McCarthy, Simon Collings on Jasmina Bolfek-Radovani,  Ben Philipps on Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Olivia Tuck on Linda Collins, Will Fleming on Maurice Scully, Louise Buchler on Caitlin Stobie, Mark Wilson on Sandeep Parmar, Simon Collings on Stephen Watts, Martin Stannard on Julia Rose Lewis & Nathan Hyland Walker, Barbara Bridger on Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana, Claire Booker on David Pollard, Gisele Parnall on Paul Eric Howlett, Louise Buchler on Rebecca May Johnson, Simon Jenner on Steve Spence and Andrew Martin, Andrew Duncan on Philip Pacey, Mandy Pannett on Seán Street, Morag Kiziewicz’s  Electric Blue 12 and Notes On Contributors. 

Ghost Methods by Siofra McSherry (Broken Sleep Books)

Ghost Methods by Siofra McSherry (Broken Sleep Books)

The ghost in the title of this slim pamphlet (37 pages including prelims and a foreword) is the shade of poet Sean Bonney, who was a friend and colleague of McSherry. Many of these poems write back to or are haunted by Bonney, and the best poem, or sequence of poems, in the book is ‘A Series of Posthumous Discourses with Sean Bonney’, which does exactly what it says.

Bonney’s first pamphlet was a scrappy rebellious free verse affair, wrapped in a bright pink cover, entitled Marijuana in the Breadbin. After some further pamphlets from fugitive small presses Salt offered up Pitch Blade Control, and although the alt.publishing continued, Letters Against the Firmament, a surprising choicefrom Enitharmon Press, established Bonney as a revolutionary, considered and angry writer. This was reinforced by the online publication of a Selected Writing (All This Burning, Ill Will Editions) and the analogue volume Our Death from Commune Editions, which confirmed Bonney as a political writer for our time, seemingly as happy on the barricades as within the confines of a paperback book.

McSherry addresses Bonney in various ways and in various places. She adopts his shouty straightforwardness (‘Bonney is fucking dead’), discusses his politics:

   I was just sitting here thinking of you
   and how from a certain perspective society is nothing but the interaction of
   planes of power
   although that’s the kind of perspective that can kills us and in articular you

and welcomes even her privacy to be haunted:

   I welcome your transparent interruptions
   you may peep and glimmer away

The four poems in ‘A Series…’ are unsettled, emotional and yet lucid reflections which move towards a calming acceptance of death and loss, tempered slightly by the idea of the author leaving their writing behind:

   and I am here, I am here, I am still here 
   filling this page with lines that maybe someone somewhere will read
   and know that even so you can hunker down if you want to
   you can write and (same thing) survive

The rest of the poetry in this collection feels less engaged with Bonney, although he lurks as a presence throughout. ‘Zonbi’ plays with the idea of persistence and wished-for resurrection in its discussion of light:

   Light requires no reason to go on,
   so why should you? Get up from the ground

whilst ‘Hamlet V:1’ deconstructs and revisions Shakespeare to focus on the fact that ‘people can get used to anything, / perhaps even knowing that we’ll die.’ Other texts focus on memory, giving blood (a long poem awkwardly printed sideways), ideas of home and transience, whilst ‘A Discourse’ seems to be the poet talking to herself. There is also an autumnal confession that the narrator ‘fell in love with Death’, although at the end of the poem ‘Death quietly drowns.’

If there’s a echo of Anne Sexton in McSherry ‘s report that ‘Wide-eyed Death hovered helplessly by my side’ and that ‘Death has no heart’, all the poems here evidence an ongoing engagement with both Death, personified and abstract, and Bonney himself. McSherry embraces and explores loss, grieving for ‘the names, the many names / my mouth will never form again’, and allows a lover’s words to ‘fall on me in place of you’. There is something very moving and resilient about facing up to absence, ‘star[ing] up into endless night’, whilst reasserting the persistence of poetry in the word.

Rupert Loydell 11th February 2023

What The Trumpet Taught Me by Kim Moore (Smith Doorstop)

What The Trumpet Taught Me by Kim Moore (Smith Doorstop)

Kim Moore’s riveting chronological account of practising the trumpet and becoming a trumpeter delves from her childhood into adulthood, exploring the emotional as well as the practical implications of starting to learn how to play an instrument at a young age and pursuing it throughout life. She practises every day for hours, takes part in concerts, becomes a conductor of brass bands and a brass teacher in primary schools. The short pieces in the collection entertain the reader with funny and serious anecdotes, surprising events, insightful comments and information about what it means to play the cornet and the trumpet. Personal reactions to the significance and impact of music in general and her close relationship with the cornet at first and then the trumpet are investigated too. In her writing Moore also shows a professional knowledge of the instruments which has been developed over many years of practising, reading books about them, playing in concerts, teaching in schools and eventually dropping them to concentrate on writing.

     Her references to the ‘oldest trumpets in the world […] discovered in King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 by the British archaeologist Howard Carter’, one in silver and one in bronze, are a revelation that links Moore’s dedication to music to the ancient past. She imagines that the Egyptian trumpets are light, ‘like a hollow branch’; she would like to touch them, connect to them as if each of them were a talisman that might bring her luck. Other players will have the opportunity to play the ancient instruments, such as James Tappern and an Egyptian bandsman; the latter, unfortunately, shattered the silver one into pieces by pushing the mouthpiece of the delicate instrument. It is said that King Faruk, who was present, helped to pick up the shattered pieces.

     Similar anecdotes enrich the collection with memories of the author’s music teachers, who were sometimes helpful and encouraging but at other times their remarks diminished her. Her A-level music teacher thought that she was not good enough for music college, but Moore proved her wrong. However, the teacher’s remarks haunted her for years as she felt that although she could make a living playing the trumpet, she would never excel as a solo trumpeter. The trumpet also opens her up to new experiences. Her first gig, a week’s performance of Singing in the Rain at the Haymarket Theatre in Leicester, gives her the fabulous sum of £150 to add to her savings for a Bach Stradivarius trumpet that she needs for music college. At the college she studies the Cornet Method by J.J-B. Arban and understands Paganini’s techniques, making clever connections with her experience and the achievements of the virtuoso musician. 

     Love stories and crushes mingle with her daily musical practice. The trumpet remains as present as ever, a friend or a guide that at times seems to lead her destiny. This happens during a tour to Germany with a dance band when she meets a man who will change her life and almost break her. The story is narrated in the sequence ‘How I Abandoned My Body To His Keeping’ in her first full collection, The Art of Falling, published by Seren Books in 2015. In the sequence she explores how he closely controlled and unravelled her, reducing her to nothing. The recovery is slow but the trumpet and her new job as a peripatetic brass teacher in Cumbria help her. It is a full-time teaching job that broadens her experience not only as a player but also as a human in relationships with students and colleagues. A sense of pride in her students’ achievements and sometimes frustration about missed lessons reveal moments of joy and sadness. 

     The recurring motif of the Last Post links to moving events such as the death of one of her best friends, a guitar teacher who suddenly dies while she is playing in a performance of Handel’s Messiah. The event is shocking and will echo for years every time Moore plays the Messiah:

I feel as if I can’t breathe, as if I’m going to have a panic attack. Then I have one of the strangest experiences of my life. My head is still resting on the wall of the church. The stone is cool against my skin. Suddenly, I feel a wave of calm washing through me, but it’s as if this calm is coming from the wall of the church.

     Moore’s writing is effective and engaging. The reader is captivated by her neat descriptions that convey profound thoughts. Her stories are interesting and precious; they communicate the ordinary and link to a wider view that alludes to the world’s conflicts and social issues too. She investigates her vulnerabilities as well as her strengths, which have helped her navigate in a reality that has not always been easy. Her knowledge is accomplished and vital, not only in music but also in literature and art, as evoked in the poem ‘The Splendour Falls On Castle Walls’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson and in the suspended sculptures of flattened brass instruments by Cornelia Parker, which look ‘like pressed flowers in the open book of a room.’ Her responses are always clever and innovative, prompting the reader to have a diverse understanding. 

     Eventually Moore starts a new path, that is, writing. She joins a poetry group and attends poetry readings and workshops. Her attitude towards writing is as disciplined as her study of the trumpet. However, she practises the trumpet less and less and she reduces her teaching hours as well. When she is offered a Vice Chancellor’s Bursary at Manchester Metropolitan University for a PhD in 2016, she drops the trumpet and focuses on writing, expressing her talents in full and achieving considerable successes. Language becomes central, but the trumpet is still there; it survived a car crash and was reassembled. Although it is not perfect, it will survive and last and will always be ready for new adventures.

Carla Scarano D’Antonio 8th February 2023

The Wine Cup: Twenty-four drinking songs for Tao Yuanming by Richard Berengarten (Shearsman Chapbook)

The Wine Cup: Twenty-four drinking songs for Tao Yuanming by Richard Berengarten (Shearsman Chapbook)

I haven’t engaged with any of Richard Berengarten’s poetry for some time and I’m glad to say that my re-encounter has been a pleasant one. These poems have a wide cultural background aside from the obvious Chinese connection and I’m straightaway reminded of Berengarten’s technical abilities as these are very skilfully put-together poems and strict forms suit his kind of poetry. He’s old-school and I don’t mean that a criticism but these poems, although concerned with mortality, a constant theme in his work, are full of life and musical vigour. Each villanelle is prefaced by an italicised quotation translated into English from Tao Yuanming as indicated in the postscript:


               My gaze drifts over the west garden

          Where the hibiscus blooms – brilliant red

          Now this thatched cottage is my hermitage,

          Following quiet woodland paths seems best.

          Against oncoming night, why rant or rage?

          When young I was half-blinded in a cage

          Of city-dust and rubbish, hope possessed.

          Now this thatched cottage is my hermitage

          Seventy-five and still I earn my wage

          By piecemeal work, with scant let-up or rest.

          Against oncoming night, why rant or rage?

          What point is there in shouting, at my age?

          I grin, breathe deep, walk by, like any guest.

          Now this thatched cottage is my hermitage.

          My heart beats on against its old ribcage.

          To touch the moment passing, that’s the test

          Against oncoming night. Why rant or rage?

          A hundred years – our fate and heritage.

          Considering that, I’m nothing if not blessed.

          Now this thatched cottage is my heritage,

          Against oncoming night, why rant or rage?

There’s an obvious reference to Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle….’  and the shift in perspective is quite moving in the sense that Thomas died at a relatively young age while Berengarten is now a much older man. I wouldn’t say the above has resignation but there’s certainly a mellowing of tone and while some of the poems in this suite include elements of anxiety and perhaps even fear, as in ‘Scattered, My Books’ with its ‘Shall I go mad? Heart drums and temples pound. / The dead awaken. Ghosts rise to the brink. / Scattered, my books and brushes lie around’ the overall sense I’m getting is one of celebration and a restful melancholy.

     There are hintings towards Yeats and D.H. Lawrence here as well as the Chinese poets I’m less familiar with and Berengartens’ work is always full of awareness of tradition and artistic precedents. As has been suggested it is common for even contemporary poets to use and refer to the sonnet form but less so in the case of the villanelle. I can only think of two recent examples of contemporary poets who have done so in any sustained, thematic way and these are Alasdair Paterson and John Kinsella.

     The final poem in this collection underlines the drinking theme and celebrates the natural world and the here-and-now in a manner which though full of intriguing information also captures something of the moment, of the passion and wonder of being alive:

          Until this liquor drains

               I’ve a fine wine here. Let’s share it.

          A crane calls in the shade. Its chick answers. 

          Ineffable the ways the Way remains,

          Unspoken, all-enduring, never-ending,

          Love, drink with me until this liquor drains.

          And pity the self-hater who abstains,

          Refraining from desire, stiff and un bending.

          Ineffable the ways the Way remains.

          Ingredients of fruits, herbs, berries, grains –

          What inner fire resides in their fine blending.

          Love, drink with me until this liquor drains.

          Its tastes – so complex! How the mouth retains

          Echoes of subtle flavours, time suspending.

          Ineffable the way the way remains.

          Threading through tunnelled arteries and veins

          Its fire fans out, ever itself extending.

          Love, drink with me until this liquor drains.

          Come, sit outside with me and watch the cranes

          Fly overhead. Heart-warming? Or heart-rending?

          Ineffable the ways the way remains.

          Love, drink with me until this liquor drains. 

The repetition and the patterning in the villanelle form makes for a very musical poetry which also allows for nuance and complexity even as the writing is direct and clear. Here you get the feel of intoxication and its relation to human physiology and also the mystery and directness of being alive in the moment. There is resonance and I’m getting Andrew Marvell’s sense of abundance in his ‘garden poems’ as well as other hints that I’m not quite sure about. I thoroughly enjoyed reading and re-reading these poems and I can only repeat that it was good to be re-acquainted with this singular and prolific voice.

Steve Spence 5th February 2023

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