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Category Archives: Pamphlet

Pennine Tales by Peter Riley (Calder Valley Poetry)

Pennine Tales by Peter Riley (Calder Valley Poetry)

Peter Riley’s 1992 chapbook Reader opens with a quotation from J.H. Prynne dated from 15th September 1985:

‘It has mostly been my own aspiration, for example, to establish relations not personally with the reader, but with the world and its layers of shifted but recognisable usage; and thereby with the reader’s own position within this world’.

I was alerted to this when I looked this morning at Tony Baker’s fine little contribution to the compilation of essays on Riley’s work published as The Gig 4/5 in which he suggests that the ‘meaning of landscape as I read Alstonefield has surely something to do with my own relation to the place, recognized afresh in the light of the poem’. A finely-tuned awareness of the relation of people to their landscape threads its path through the twenty-four poems in Pennine Tales and it comes as no surprise to meet not only Prynne along the way but also Wordsworth, ‘poor Clare’, Michael Haslam and Thomas Hardy, ‘guide and spokesman’. As Peter Riley puts it

‘Sometimes
hundreds of us walk the tired dark page, water
with stars in it leaking into our boots, eradicating belief.
But a crowd worth joining.’

In a fine book about Hardy, written by Douglas Brown in the mid 1950s, we were pointed towards the ‘hard centre of controlled nostalgia, the profound awareness of lost stabilities and certainties, and the mordant humour insinuating actuality into time and place and person’. Brown was referring particularly to ‘The Dead Quire’ from Time’s Laughingstocks and other verses (1909) in which the ‘Quick pursue the Dead / By crystal Froom that crinkles there’ and the voices of time past drew toward the churchyard the music of that choir of singers ‘smalled, and died away’. The first of Riley’s lyric hauntings opens with the ‘last minibus’ leaving from the station

‘heading for the tops
full of ghosts, ghosts with notebooks, ancestors
from Halifax: farmers, publicans, clerks, looking
for me, wanting me back in the peace and jubilee
of diurnal normality. But they have caught
the wrong bus and will be delivered into nothing,
the nothing of death they came from, and came here
to welcome me to. Passing the abandoned chapel
they start singing hymns, and will soon begin to fade.’

That use of the word ‘fade’ echoes a later Hardy poem, ‘Exeunt Omnes’, which concludes

‘Folk all fade. And wither,
As I wait alone where the fair was?
Into the clammy and numbing night-fog
Whence they entered hither.
Soon do I follow thither!’

Hardy’s air of ‘blankness’ and recall of ‘littered spaces’ where the fair once stood finds its echo now outside the Hare & Hounds at 11.20 pm as the poet waits with Mike Haslam and stands ‘on the edge of the moors’:

‘There is nothing here but stone
walls and distance. We are alone. We are nowhere.
We are the length and breadth of a dark nowhere
which encompasses the world.’

But the mournful wisps of sound in Riley’s poems are heard against a larger background:

‘Come all you little vermin that dwell under stones
crushed underfoot of the earth and make together
a faint hissing and rustling in the night which
grows greater towards the central principle
and the separate sounds build to a chorus
saying that 500 years of degradation and humiliation
is as nothing to us, we can persist ten times as long
working towards a modern condition which
recognises at long last the day of the many’.

These Pennine Tales, ‘night music’, offer ‘some tremble between beliefs’ and as the music ‘draws / our thoughts into the distance’ Peter Riley, poet of people and landscape, registers a reaffirmed presence ‘at home, site of mind / heart decisions’. This is elegiac poetry at its very best.

Ian Brinton 29th July 2016.

(the book of seals) by Mark Russell (The Red Ceilings Press)

(the book of seals) by Mark Russell (The Red Ceilings Press)

The Red Ceilings Press (http://www.theredceilingspress.co.uk/) limited edition chapbook series is in A6 in format and a joy to read and collect. Recent publications in the series include Fidelities by Ian Seed, First & Last by Rupert Loydell & Nathan Thompson, Taxi Drivers by Paul Sutton and Unnecessarily Emphatic by Kathrine Sowerby. They are pocket size booklets are easy to carry around and read as part of your daily routine.

Poet and dramatist, Mark Russell’s 2015 chapbook with Red Ceilings Press, Saturday Morning Pictures has sold out. His latest, (the book of seals), effortlessly draws the reader into a disturbing dystopia, where the first person, singular and plural, narratives are imbued with insecurity, uncertainty and lost innocence. Each poem in the sequence falters under the strain of dislocation, denial of anger, seemingly self-inflicted disasters and drought. The social landscape somewhere in Eastern Europe appears close to a police state, divided, under arrest and dominated by fear:

fear of bottleneck fear of fire fear
of crème anglaise fear of the eggs
that bind it fear of blindness and
light fear of being a suspect fear of
fear of the fingers in the ears fear
of the dried river bed fear of fools
fear of three days and nothing to
show for it fear of now fear of then
fear of now now now

The fear of three days may be an echo of Othello’s demand to hear of the death of Cassio from Act 3 Scene 3 of Othello, or some revelation of three day shortage or darkness, or another connection going back to the Book of Revelation. The narrative uncertainties serve to propel the reader forward. Each poem, inventive and plaintive, works serially in an evocative and suggestive manner.

It won’t be long now.
Three days at most.
Time enough to tie up the runners.
Time enough to close the books.

It won’t be long.
We are surrounded.
We ask for torments.
We fear belonging.

The poems echo and interrogate recent protest movements, extreme migrant
experience and dislocation through circular repetition of limited data from the perspective of the victim. The first person narrative voice, knowing, dramatic and pleading, comes across with force and musicality.

when we can no longer take the
amount of blood on the walls stairs
and carpets on the windows and
mirrors in the cups and saucers on
the plates and forks and spoons
and knives when we can no longer
accept the amount of blood sold in
the marketplace when we can no
longer agree to the amount of
blood discussed at committee
meetings when we can no longer
drink another drop of blood

The ‘when we can longer’ refrain echoes throughout the poem, disintegrating into ‘when we can take no more’ and ‘we can take no’ and ending ‘when the / blood is blood nothing but its own / blood nothing but blood’.

This compelling sequence is a worthy addition to the Red Ceilings Press output and comes highly recommended.

David Caddy 28th July 2016

Trouble by Alison Winch (The Emma Press)

Trouble by Alison Winch (The Emma Press)

Trouble explores intimacy through a range of different relationships, from that of a lover, polymorphous lover, wife, granddaughter, during the breakdown of a relationship, pregnancy, and in moments of fantasy. The poems are played out against a past and present London backdrop filled with betting shops, a horny marriage counsellor, ballrooms, male attraction and power.

The wife narrator pretends to be ‘one woman’ and has in her head ‘a pack of spaniels so dense they are a mind. And they fawn over men.’
Driven to Eastbourne, which is like ‘a day trip to Seven Sisters, without the bookies’, her ambivalence is revealed:

We’re the youngest guests at the Queen’s Hotel
and you’re 52. It’s the summer solstice and we’re breaking up

except we’re making love on the fifth floor
in an evening light as yolky as an afternoon.

The sexy doom of the split
is like falling in love and a stay of execution.

At the collection’s core is the sequence ‘Alisoun’s’, which uses material from the medieval pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome and the figure of Alisoun from Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale to further explore of female sexuality and reproductive power. The spirited ribaldry is counterpointed by material quoted from key medieval texts, by Marbod of Rennes, St. Thomas Acquinas, Galen and others, attacking or denying female lust and disobedience positioned on the right side margin. The sequence has a wonderful wanton sensuality and period feel ‘Of Wykked Wyves’.

Spanking! he bondaged to feel the passiun of muscle my myt without murder – Dirty Dog!

he pelts my mind – Nicholas – as May’s cuckoo spyt pysse-drys to June

below the river’s a pour of mellow wine that cools the caterwaul cockles of my bihynde

There is, as Sarah Howe notes in her introduction, a great deal of tongue in cheek humour mixed with affectionate lyricism. Many of the poems, such as ‘from Expecting The Gourd’, are extracted from larger works. The poem deals with pregnancy in a direct and visceral way:

Note polycystic ovaries and oleander bushes. Remember the ovulation cycle, wonky uterus, the way you circled your tongue around the salt prod of his cock.

You’re puking cabbage-green skies like a drunk without romance
ulcerous anus, swollen tits, a snatch no one wants –

Winch’s language use and metaphorical thrust has an undercurrent of sexual desire and nourishment. The poems dealing with her dying grandmother are counterpointed with life enhancing images of pomegranate, magnolia, potato and hops. There is an overriding sense of female power and voice arising from various states of intimacy, and that chimes in well with other recent works by Dorothy Lehane, Sophie Mayer, and Sarah Howe. I greatly look forward to reading more of Winch’s poetry and warmly recommend this debut collection. The pamphlet has a great cover by Sophie Herxheimer and is beautifully designed by The Emma Press.

David Caddy 13th July 2016

My Life As A Mad King by Alasdair Paterson (Oystercatcher Press)

My Life As A Mad King by Alasdair Paterson (Oystercatcher Press)

Having published The Floating World (Pig Press) and Brief Lives (Oasis Books) in the Eighties, Alasdair Paterson returned to writing with on the governing of empires (Shearsman, 2010), Brumaire and Later (Flarestack Poets), in arcadia (Oystercatcher Books) in 2011, and Elsewhere or thereabouts, (Shearsman 2014). His latest collection, My Life As A Mad King, is a wonderfully playful, energetic sequence of villanelles. The madness of the king is mirrored in the gradual break up of the villanelle’s refrains, repeated rhymes and their repetition in the final stanza. The nineteen line structure of five tercets and one quatrain remains intact until the final ‘Villanelle the ultimate and’ which consists of twenty two words. Here each word per line, apart from the elongated seventeenth line, and their repetition encapsulates the essence of villanelle. The linguistic wordplay is highly controlled and compressed with the possible variants of each set played out within a confined word field.

A pandemonium of smoke and fire
a panoply of wine and roses
a pantomime of flesh and blood

A panjandrum of cap and bells
a pantaloon of shreds and patches
a pandemonium of court and spark

Paterson has the ability to tease and freshen language, and invest his word play with precision and dry humour. This is a work of quiet authority testing a difficult form. Indeed, beyond Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Bishop’s famous examples it is hard to recall other memorable villanelles. Paterson deftly plays around with clichés and misplaces repeated lines, sometimes reduced to one word, in order to explore the boundaries of the form. His villanelles are rhythmic, ramshackle and fun, punning on rock album titles.

A banquet of greased beggars
a glass with added glass
a saucerful of secrets

A locket drenched in lachrimae
a joint spiced with jacquerie
a saucerful of sanctitas

The sequence culminates with the aged narrator losing his memory:

A man walks into an oubliette / I forget what happens next / forget what happens next / forget

And moves into the final villanelle with its chilling opening:

Crack

head

forget

Windows

fire

crack

My Life As A Mad King is a joy to read and yet another wonderful sequence from Oystercatcher Press.

David Caddy 12th July 2016

Umwelt by Dorothy Lehane (Open House Editions, Leafe Press)

Umwelt by Dorothy Lehane (Open House Editions, Leafe Press)

Umwelt, a term in biosemiotics theorised by Jacob von Uexküll and Thomas A. Seboek, unites all the semiotic processes of an organism into a whole. Each functional component of an umwelt has a meaning and so represents the organism’s model of the world. These functional components correspond approximately to perceptual features, and thus to understanding. Dorothy Lehane’s Umwelt takes the semiotic parameters of the body in trauma as its impulse and uses this frame of reference as a way of exploring patient experience, clinical measures and embodied phenomenological practice.

Umwelt begins with a strong sonic and rhythmic surge into the abyss
of the traumatised body with ‘verbal machinery annexed’ as ‘the body still roams’ and ‘is a throne of abuse’ delineating a split between body and speech. There is a clash between an impersonal use of medical language, as in ‘social pleasures rely on the pineal gland’ or flowing backwards / from the alveolar ridge’ and the implied problems of dysfunction, and a personalised anger leading to a ferocious rant with witty asides. This clash of register is at the heart of the poem’s momentum and success. The poem is both personal and impersonal, being imbued in medical language, emotionally and linguistically powerful as shifting attitudes and understanding of the self and the body’s condition change over time. This produces a powerful testimony, as it is both detached and emotionally charged. The reader feels each attack on the body as they are liberally spread throughout the poem’s 424 lines.

The poem charts the ebbs and flows of the illness, tussles with a surgeon and impending surgery, and how it impacts upon the tongue:

The throaty oesphageal tissue dislodges
as if to say here be nourishment & battle
Keep going & Peer at the womb that haemorrhages post-coitally
Remove the tube & it’s still a sticky mess

The sense of struggle around the mouth, tongue and throat is palpable and leavened by the constant reminder that the female body is specific and under attack.

A comparable recent work might be Sophie Mayer’s (O, 2015), where a series of traumas are registered against the female body and voice. Lehane, though, has her own distinct poetic approach and utterance to the point of rage:

At times I called out MONSTER
We never talk body fluids
The couch & my vicarious trauma
“informed” breach

Much of the poem turns on the concept of ‘disfluency’, a term from pathology meaning ‘impairment of the ability to produce smooth, fluent speech’, or an interruption by a pause or the repetition of a word or syllable. The poem starts with a disfluency in the repetition ‘so tongue in throat’ / ‘so tongue in heart’ / … ‘so tongue in rouge’ / ‘so rouge in ruin’, and favours disfluency as an act of disobedience, which the poem in turn embodies. This embodiment comes through its enjambment, shifts, repetitions and returns, as well as all the internal arguments and self adjustments, which serve to register changes to the body and gives the poem its narrative twists and turns.

What has happened to you is everywhere on the lips of strangers
tiresomely
& I’m never sure if they are talking about my faith or my body

Umwelt imprints on the memory through its linguistic force, strident defiance before and after surgery, and the sheer number of striking lines.

David Caddy 27th June 2016

Between So Many Words (Red Squirrel Press) Hut (Woodenhead Pamphlets) by Ric Hool

Between So Many Words (Red Squirrel Press) Hut (Woodenhead Pamphlets) by Ric Hool

The seven pages of text in Ric Hool’s little pamphlet, Hut, open with three assertive lines:

‘Hut is mind
by which man lives
within & outside himself.’

With his hallmark concern for the etymological sources of language J.H. Prynne wrote about the derivation of that little word ‘hut’ and, in his essay ‘Huts’, tells us that its use was first recorded in the seventeenth century, ‘probably from French hutte which is only a little earlier, cognate with Middle High German hütte, Old High German hutta, huttea, perhaps from Old Teutonic hudja with connection from roots meaning to hide, protect, conceal.’ In this 2008 essay, originally published in Textual Practice, Prynne looks closely at ‘Ode to Evening’, the 1746 poem by William Collins before moving from there to focus on the word ‘hovel’ in Shakespeare’s King Lear. He concludes with some thoughts about the meeting that took place in July 1967 between Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger in the latter’s writing hut near Todtnauberg.

Ric Hool’s contrast between ‘within & outside himself’ becomes in that poem’s second stanza (and I use that word advisedly thinking of its own derivation from the Italian for a room) ‘A place of shelter / & invention & / close to the wildwood’. The contrasts between shelter and danger which are contained within the purposes of building a hut are suggested in visual terms in Prynne’s essay when he refers to the title-page of the first edition of Collins’s Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegoric Subjects:

‘The title-page…was adorned with a quite distinctive engraved device, even if not original in this use: within an oval chaplet of leaves and flowers, of which part is laurel and part fruits of the woods and fields, and all surmounted by the twin face-masks of joy and sorrow, is set a pair of musical instruments. Uppermost is a classical lyre, signalling the composure and equipoise of Apollo; and beneath can be seen a set of panpipes, signal of panic urgency and ungoverned passion.’

Ric Hool’s opening poem ends with ‘estrangement’:

‘man from nature
nature from man.’

In ‘Hut 3: Castles & Cabins’ the poet contemplates that space between the self and the other, ‘within & outside himself’, and wonders what might warm a man whose separation from the outside world has been emphasised by a closed door. The conclusion to these contemplations is a trust in language since surely

‘it is nothing that is kept
so bolted and secure it cannot
radiate into the world.’

It is the poet’s words that radiate beyond the closed door and when he goes on to contemplate ‘Why We Use Language’ in the first section of the substantial publication from Red Squirrel Press Ric Hool arrives at the conclusion that ‘There is something / in a word towards reality’. Prynne’s conclusion to his focus on the double-edged sense of huts is that the ‘house of language is not innocent, and is no temple’:

‘The intensities of poetic encounter, of imagination and deep insight into spiritual reality and poetic truth, carry with them all the fierce contradiction of what human language is and does. There is no protection or even temporary shelter from these forms of knowledge that is worth even a moment’s considered preference, even for poets or philosophers with poetic missions.’

Whilst this sense of the baggage of meaning carried by the word-porters is web-like in its binding I have a quiet admiration for the type of experience which Ric Hool seeks to clarify in one of his ‘La Gomera’ poems in Between So Many Words:

‘There is a central idea extending from the kitchen out,
by whatever means, and back, which sustains. It is
not just food but the prattle of everyday happenings
that nourish these people, sure as transfusion,
from the coastline inward; from the island’s heart out.’

These are lovely books and I recommend them both to everyone:
• Woodenhead Press: 5 Merthyr Road, Abergavenny, NP7 5BU;
• Red Squirrel Press: http://www.redsquirrelpress.com

Ric Hool, of course, runs the Hen & Chicks Poetry Readings in Flannel Street, Abergavenny and it will be worth going to hear Peter Hughes read next week on June 14th.

Ian Brinton 9th June 2016

Love’s by Lou Rowan (Oystercatcher Press)

Love’s by Lou Rowan (Oystercatcher Press)

In his 1640 publication of prose, Timber: or, Discoveries, Ben Jonson suggested that ‘Language most shewes a man: speake that I may see thee. It springs out of the most retired, and inmost parts of us, and is the Image of the Parent of it, the mind.’ It brought to the fore a sense that the words we use are an integral aspect of who we are: the language we use gives our audience a picture of what is lying hidden in our minds. I recall telling Year 7 pupils that no one can see inside your mind and that therefore language, moving like a shark’s fin carving its path through the waters, gives an indication to the observer of what lies beneath the surface, hidden. I am also old enough to remember that Penguin Modern Poets 10, The Mersey Scene, which appeared in 1967. It contained glimpses of the world made new by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Adrian Henri’s accumulation of one-line pictures of the new world of sexuality, nostalgia and urban isolation:

‘Love is feeling cold in the back of vans
Love is a fanclub with only two fans
Love is walking holding paintstained hands
Love is’

Lou Rowan’s merging of memory and desire, which has the effect of stirring dull roots with spring rain, is an altogether more serious affair than Adrian Henri’s and one which must be returned to time and again as the layers of meaning yield themselves to engaged reading. When Toby Olson wrote about Rowan’s Reality Street publication of stories, Alphabet of Love Serial, he referred to the ‘weave’ of stories, the ‘haunting sense of connection between them’ and the way that the ‘imagined emerges into autobiography’ presenting the reader with something ‘brand new, often wonderfully coming forth in their syntax and development…as if…writing in a new language.’ Perhaps those qualities hinted at above can be seen with increasing clarity in ‘Fights’, the opening poem of this new Oystercatcher:

‘won’t dim your eyes harden
your lips flatten my chin
or abort this spring

days will stretch and nights strain
there will be blood and sobs
I doubt we’ll die…

twined kittens,
I’ll lick your whiskers

so close we blur
eyes widen in the dark
tails twitching’

As the negatives of the first stanza, the denials, move towards the embracing gesture of expansiveness in line four there is a sharpening of focus which concludes with a wry smile. The closeness of the relationship in the last two stanzas has required language’s magnifying glass to focus upon a movement of particularities: twining and licking moves to widening and twitching.

The second poem in the collection, ‘Vain Letters’, with its double sense of both vanity and uselessness (these letters are in vain!) weaves the names Jocelyn, Ann and Rowan into a musical jamboree of ‘Jas, roc, an’ simfanny’. A later piece of lyrical effusion concerning the closeness of love offers us something far beyond that world of Adrian Henri’s distant twist of ironic lips. The fourth stanza of Henri’s ‘Love Is…’ dwells upon loss, regret and a sweet sense of nostalgia:

‘Love is white panties lying all forlorn
Love is a pink nightdress still slightly warm
Love is when you have to leave at dawn
Love is’

Lou Rowan’s poem opens with a greater sense of clarity and thought:

‘I can’t want
to know where I begin or
you don’t end

soft and smooth you lie back
flesh rising to me at each breath
hips solid like sea-clams
dream-limits to my desire’ [.]

This is a poetry where the personal and the public entwine as they might have done in late sixteenth-century songs or sonnets and it comes as no surprise to read the metaphysical idea which opens one page

‘a line is formed by two planes or
it’s a set of points connecting two points
the most directly

there have to be laws
so each touch engenders
a sheaf of lines right there
lines joining feeling longing knowing wanting
and each sheaf
set awhirl
bouquets of grasses and stems
at each touch
the atom kernel whole point or crux [.]

These are thoughtful and playful poems: a delight to the mind.

Ian Brinton 13th March 2016

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