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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

Postcards To Ma by Martin Stannard (Leafe Press)

Postcards To Ma by Martin Stannard (Leafe Press)

You have to take a deep breath before you dive into this pamphlet, which is actually a single twelve page long poem. Not only because of its length, but because you will need as much oxygen in your brain to cope with digressions, lists, and the unreliable, perhaps even irrational, narrator.

Stannard is adept at keeping a straight face, however weird his poetry gets, and for taking language on long, surreal walks. He’s also good at using repetition and near-repetition, to help structure his work. In this long poem, which starts with the narrator noting that he ‘Sent a picture postcard to Ma “Arrived Safe”‘, this involves variations of the theme of how people see him and similes for how he sleeps,  irregular reoccurrences of phrases such as ‘Special Offer!!!’ and a kind of chorus to break up the flow:

                                                   Crack of dawn Swam in
   ocean Frolicked on sand Sent postcards to Ma

Each day, post-swim, offers new infatuations and obsessions, be it the ‘tautness / of cotton across generous bosom’ or ‘Gal by the name of Mabel looked better / than a Mabel’, who decides ‘she thought dancing was too sexual’ and heads off home with her husband.

As well as dance, philosophy, history and exploring ‘the kingdom republic or state’ he is holidaying in, Stannard’s narrator reports that he

   Had a crack (ten minutes tops) at being agnostic
   Buddhist vegan pacifist Marxist epicurist internalist
   Satanist atheist Christian externalist Irish
   Thought about differences between philosophy and religion

although it not until the next day he ‘Read philosophers thoughtfully / (ten minutes each tops)’, though it is long enough to (mis)quote from several in the same section.

Another day, in response  to happening ‘across abundance of / lucrative literary prizes’ he ‘Turned to scribbling for an easy buck’, quickly dashing off his first two novels under a nom de plume and ‘Between novels had a couple / of free days Penned slim volume of award-winning poetry’. Of course! And, as one would expect, it is titled ‘The Zenith of Our Feelings’, for ‘When a man is happy he writes damn good poetry’.

And of course, on the back of his literary success

                                                            Was offered post of
   Writer-in-Residence at Tourist Information Centre
   Declined Accepted instead role of Poet-in-Dormitories
   at St. Theresa’s Finishing School for Young Ladies
   A short-term contract abruptly terminated at lights out

I confess to finding this not only reminiscent of the Fast Show’s lecherous old man (‘Me, in a girls school, with my reputation?’) but also very funny, in a squirming response to this surreal inappropriateness.

There are similar engagements with the visual arts, including ‘a self-portrait (I have often wondered / how I see myself)’, sport, nature and music, the last with good results:

   Taught myself piano violin cello guitar ukulele flute
   piccolo trumpet bassoon oboe recorded harmonica kettle
   drum triangle Established first one-man orchestra

Of course, soon after, he notes ‘Decided to become a singer/songwriter’.

Thankfully, having ‘Slept like a cuckoo in a clock’, there are signs this monologue may be ending:

   Have run out of postcards so am unable to write
   which is a shame pity cause for regret disappointment
   sorrow ruefulness perhaps even woe I don’t know
   It’s the last day of the jollidays

It is, seemingly, not before time, as ‘Things are turning interesting slightly bewildering’, as they already have for the reader. There are elephants, rainbows, séances and a ‘well-formed nymphet’ who ‘scampers off teasingly into the trees’ (it’s not clear if she is wearing a white blouse or not) and it is ‘Probably / wise to be leaving’, ‘to speed with a merry heart / returning home to Ma.’

This is a strange surreal annoying hilarious disturbing righteous tasteless ridiculous surprising, unexpected text. It comments on any and everything in the process of describing and participating in it. The narrator appears to not only be obsessive and irrational, but also perhaps hallucinating the whole thing; like Stannard as author, however, the writer of these strange reports and postcards is seemingly oblivious to how strange the strange world he lives in is, and simply responds to it, although ‘Sometimes I think I think / too much’.

And if our narrator ‘can’t remember all the words I made / some notes’, let alone ‘remember what any of them mean’, then why should I as reader reviewer poet author writer friend critic? I am going to take several slow deep breaths and hope to sleep ‘like a badger in a badger box’, although I have idea what that will be like. ‘What else is there to say?’

Rupert Loydell 3rd February 2023

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
& 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

It’s Open House: Leafe Press

It’s Open House: Leafe Press

Three very attractive chapbooks from Leafe Press arrived in the post as an example of Alan Baker’s fine new pamphlet series:


sea witch by Sarah Crew, Newton’s Splinter by Simon Perril and Chapters of Age by Peter Riley


When I read Sarah Crewe’s poem ‘bridge’ in her Oystercatcher volume flick invicta last year I was immediately aware of an eerie and uncomfortable voice, which came from the depths. This is a poet who listens ‘on ocean floor’ and whose sensitive awareness ‘tells me / you are near’. Opening this new volume of electric seriousness I realise that she is even nearer as ‘a cruising white american / king sized drag submerged / from bathing / to thrashing / to screaming / to nothing’. There is a clear sense that these poems matter: they explore the personal world as it segments with ‘silent glide’ into a social scene.


When Michael Schmidt wrote the blurb for the back cover of Simon Perril’s Shearsman publication Archilochus on the Moon he suggested that Perril’s eighty poems were themselves ‘shells and fragments that constitute a haunted narrative’ and as I leaf through Newton’s Splinter I can see again what he means by this. The two sequences here come from a larger manuscript called A Soft Book and they possess a thrusting forward movement which seems to catch at the reader as the words fly past


says pawn to dawn

break on, brag

at baize we’re snookered upon


The urgency of ‘on’ contradicts the slowing pun on ‘break’ and yet complements the morning shift between past night and new day, a new dawn which is shadowed by history as the American Space Shuttle Programme flew its final mission in July 2011 and reminded us of the connections between ‘then’ and ‘now’.


And as if to explore this theme with the measured depth of understanding that Peter Riley’s work invariably offers us we have Chapters of Age with its subtitle placed inside the book, ‘Stone landscapes of Inishmore and Burren, May 2010’. The photography by Beryl Riley on the cover gives us crag and grass, age and growth, and the opening poem juxtaposes ‘Ruins of small monastic settlements’ with ‘Dull pain to right of middle back.’ This is a hauntingly beautiful book of poems in which the reader, walker, observer contemplates not only those relics and remnants of another world but also, inevitably, the questions which are ‘flying at us every day’:


What is the plant with dark green leaves and

Tiny white flowers? What is the answer to fear?


These are beautifully produced chapbooks and are well worth getting from


Ian Brinton December 20th 2013





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