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Jongleur in the Courtyard by Mandy Pannett (Indigo Dreams Publishing)

Jongleur in the Courtyard by Mandy Pannett (Indigo Dreams Publishing)

At some point last year after I had written a review-blog about a recently published book of verse about which I was not especially ecstatic I was accused by a friend of the author of being one of those critics who refer to other poets whilst ostensibly focusing upon the subject of the review. Guilty m’lud! And I intend to continue to do that. Perhaps it is part of the legacy I received from being at university in the era that followed on from the world of F.R. Leavis whose staple diet often consisted of placing a poem by one author side-by-side with a poem by another. For instance in the ‘Judgement and Analysis’ section of The Living Principle Leavis put a piece of A.E. Housman next to one by Edward Thomas and concluded that it is a difference in movement that most strikes the reader: ‘whereas Housman’s depends on our being taken up in a kind of lyrical intoxication that shall speed us on in exalted thoughtlessness, satisfied, as we pass, with the surface gleam of ostensible value, Edward Thomas’s invites pondering…and grows in significance as we ponder it’.

On the reverse side of Mandy Pannett’s new book of poems Roger Elkin alerts us to the musical quality of the work:

‘At the heart of the collection lies Mandy Pannett’s skill with sound—these, after all, are songs of the Jongleurs! The chimings of internal rhyme, and assonantal and alliterative sound patternings help to underpin the exquisite, sensitive and varied rhythmic pulse of the collection.’

Well, it was T.S. Eliot who wrote an essay in 1942 titled ‘The Music of Poetry’ and he made a point that must not be overlooked:

‘So, while poetry attempts to convey something beyond what can be conveyed in prose rhythms, it remains, all the same, one person talking to another; and this is just as true if you sing it, for singing is another way of talking.’

Jongleur in the Courtyard is a delightful volume, which brims with literary reference; erudite and careful, it also spills over with a very human voice that fulfils Eliot’s criteria. There are references to Keats, Hardy, Neruda, Kafka, Blake, Cynewulf and, of course, Eliot. The poet of ‘Preludes’ is re-created in ‘Six O’Clock’, a poem which also echoes the feline fogs of ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. In Pannett’s modern take the fog is now ‘yellow as bile’ and it ‘thickens over a skyline / that’s low, industrial, hot; / red as Whitechapel blood.’
There is a very human voice thrilling down the ribs of these poems and an enviable sense of self-doubt reassures the reader that we can be in a position to share the doubts:

‘There is not an original bone in your frame—
only burlesque, pastiche
and lampoon.’

Perhaps to the reviewer one of the most disturbing and moving of the poems is ‘Some Woodworm’:

‘poor miserable atoms
choked with the fruits
of their soft plunderings

and wiped out
in all the darkness
that once
was chosen as home’.

But, for me, the more moving is the incorporation of a Middle English ballad into a genuine cry for love’s loss in ‘Raven, My Doom’:

‘I am weary of dreams
that offer reflection of my own self
but do not yield him back

though imagination
in these hours of sleep
may reel and spin in exquisite belief

that we might say
what we always intended to say
but never did.’

Ian Brinton 25th June 2015

Catherine McNamara’s Pelt And Other Stories

Catherine McNamara’s Pelt And Other Stories

Catherine McNamara’s Pelt And Other Stories: Tales of Lust & Dirt (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2013) examines the post-colonial relationships ‘between the world of tin and the world of glass’, in a sequence of gripping stories from a world of places. McNamara is an Australian, currently living in Italy, having previously lived in West Africa. Her stories are compelling, rich in detail, exploring implied and overt tensions that linger in the mind.

 

McNamara is impressive at showing the diversity of African women, struggling to move into new relationships, replete with the impact of lust and dirt. Her fiction allows the reader to see the new disquiet, connections, exploitations and displacements, between Africa and Europe. There is a strong sense of characters taking provisional positions, travelling far from home, in the hope of a better future.

 

The title story, ‘Pelt’, follows a Ghanaian woman flaunting her pregnant body before her lover’s estranged wife. The reader sees her German lover, Rolfe, stumble with the return of his wife, Karina, from Namibia. He has not told her of his new love. The story is rich in attitudes, connections and commercial detail, allowing a wider vision of the characters to emerge. The Ghanaian is a confident woman, aware of her physical attributes, in relation to her lover’s wife, and is clearly determined to use her womanly guile to secure a higher status in a highly stratified society. Despite some insecurity, she triumphantly swims in the hotel’s pool towards the Europeans in an act of self-assertion and transcendence. Rolfe begs her to go home.

The story is highly successful at implying the African’s assault on European decorum and her struggle towards a wider social acceptance.

 

Here’s an example of the fluency and fullness of McNamara’s writing from the story, ‘Young British Man Drowns In Alpine Lake’:

 

He nears Corinne’s face one more time. He is gleaning it for ashen

traces. Of which there are, for one who knows her. He cannot see

how the colour of her lips has dropped a shade towards the blue

end of red, a drop in blood pressure as much as a realignment of

pluck, and that her huge white forehead, template for her sticky

righteousness, lies galvanized beneath its compelling shirr. They

say the hydraulics of the face are spellbinding. Corinne’s face is

giving him so much information I am appalled.

 

 

 

The steamy African backdrop impinges upon McNamara’s characters in ways that are perhaps subtler than, for example, Stefan Zweig’s African stories from colonial times. Africa is a place open to wider connections, subtler relationships, more diverse sensibilities, and the stories, some first published in Tears in the Fence, offer a range of examples.  Luca, a married Italian engages his West African lover, formerly a sex worker, to look after his elderly parents. Janet is seemingly happy to be used this way and finds his parents to be lost and disintegrating in the African mud. The story effectively shows her desire to please and to continue to rise socially as much as Luca’s abandonment of his parents. McNamara cleverly uses detail to reveal character. She is thus both succinct and thought provoking.

 

There is much more to savour in these stories that repay rereading as quality stories always do. I thoroughly recommend this engaging and enlivening collection.

 

David Caddy January 7th 2014

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