After a fine introduction last month, Mab Jones returns with the next of her monthly roundups of contemporary independent new poetry. Everything from Powys owls to Jim Morrison to mythical Cornish lands awaits…
A Voice Coming From Then (Arachne Press, price: £9.99) is the first collection by Jeremy Dixon, who previously brought us the pamphlet In Retail. The wryness and humour of that first book is replaced, here, by a more serious tone as the poet puts his pen to themes and subjects that include bullying, suicide, homophobia, and more. Drawn from his own experience, these poems are not, as they say, an easy read, but the generally inventive style makes this an engaging book, even as we stand by the poet’s younger self as he attempts to take his own life.
I think it’s a finely tuned and very nuanced thing on the part of the writer to engage us in such deep matters and yet not to immerse the reader fully into despair: although despair is there, at some points, this book also showcases a journey which leads the writer away from such, through the enthusiastic embrace of ‘oi’ culture, on to the realisation of an inner self (‘Spring-heeled Jack’) which eggs the author on towards yobbishness (my guess is that this impish impetus is resisted…), and through, eventually, to the compassionate calling of becoming a yoga teacher.
The writing is lucid and accessible, the form and style of the poems themselves lively and imaginative. Like the series It’s A Sin, which I began watching at the same time as reading this book, there is a wonderful mix of truth, tragedy, and triumph. Life is terrible and also it is beautiful. A Voice Coming From Then is also a voice for now, in this sense, and I highly recommend it.
Speaking of sin, the next book to arrive in the post this month was Sin Is Due To Open In A Room Above Kitty’s by Morag Anderson (Fly On The Wall Press, price: £6.99). Again, the style of these poems is ‘confessional’: they are about experience. In recent years, ‘confessional’ has become a kind of insult in some poetic circles, but I don’t see why that should be, except for yet another attempt to claim that some poems are better than others. These poems are extremely powerful, and were, for me, works which filled my mind with colour, as so many of them are contained within this slim volume – from cobalt blue to “sugared-cream”, “swamp green” to “white-washed gable” – making for a very sensory reading experience.
Beyond this, there is also much texture, from “glued splinters of shell” to “wind-splintered wood”, which fills the poems out and, alongside more disturbing imagery of fallen birds, heads being sliced open, and bloodied tongues, gives the book a great gothic feel. That’s no bad thing, to this diehard Wuthering Heights fan, and it’s a thrill to be able to read a book which addresses modern subjects such as abuse and survival, head on, yet in such affecting, evocative terms. There isn’t any reason to shy away from these experiences, and this is another fine book which does not, albeit in stark, stylish, and superb language.
In poetry, we write what we know, and often we write what we don’t know: we explore our direct experience, but we also venture into uncharted realms. In Lyonesse (Bloodaxe Books, price: £12.99) Penelope Shuttle does both. The first section of the book, in a breathtaking showcase of skill and imagination, animates the mythical land of Lyonesse, which in legend once sat at the southwestern tip of Cornwall. Symbolism, the surreal, spiritual motifs, and more, shift and swirl together, as fluid and full of changeability as the “shape-shift silvers” of wave and sea that we delve beneath to encounter this once-was place.
In the second part of the book, Shuttle returns us to land, although air also plays a part here: following the watery tears of grief, the writer must come to terms with a bereavement, and air thus become an emblem of loneliness (“those rooms / you like to live in / are drawn on air”). With a preciseness that leads the reader towards poignancy, Shuttle paints a picture of life without a beloved, bringing details to the fore in order to tell – and touch – the reader. Fluid, thoughtful, and full of imagination, this is quite simply a must-read.
Let’s stay in the sky element as we examine Air And Armour by Laura Wainwright (Green Bottle Press, price: £6). This slim pamphlet contains great depth(s), which bely its slender size. Admitting that she is “a watcher”, these very fine poems are imbued by imagery and scenery from the natural world, Wales in particular. The style is elegant and fine, but there’s earthiness and personal truth, too, as Wainwright observes, examines, and also speaks from her own experience.
The balance of ‘what is out there’ to ‘what is inside here’ – the outer, physical realm versus the inner realm of subjective thought and feeling – is brilliant, I think, giving the poems a pleasing emotional timbre whilst also embracing the objectivity of the very best nature writing. The poet leads us by the hand to take in “Powys owls” and “new acorns”, flying ants and the birth of spiderlings. A beautifully written pamphlet indeed.
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Play Lists by Jessica Mookherjee (Broken Sleep Books, price: £6.50) recollects the music, lovers, and wild times of youth: “we flew too close to the sun, hairstyles catching fire, those brilliant records…” It’s a dizzying dip into memory’s pool which, in this case, is infused with glitter, dripping mascara, and a love of David Bowie.
A subtle thread, entwined within this, are the more mature reflections of the poet who looks back and is able to discern the power plays, of sexism and other prejudices, as well as the parochialisms of smalltown Wales. However, all told it’s a whirlwind ride – each poem, like songs themselves, with a different tempo, a different flavour, a new beat telling an ageless song, of youth, yearning, and Saturday night, “where the wine glass / grows bright”. There’s even a matching playlist that you can listen along to as you read, as picked by the poet. A lovely touch to match these sometimes sensual, always scintillating poems.
Finally, Dark Confessions is an anthology of writing from Black Bough (price: £8), the popular poetry community who I frequently encounter on Twitter, run by writer Matthew M.C. Smith. The first of two editions commemorating 50 years since the death of Jim Morrison, ‘confinement, isolation, and grief’ are its given themes, with plenty of ghosts, gods, tears, and “bitter fruits” for the reader to dwell upon. The range of voices and views here is impressive; the standard of the poems is high; many of them are extremely affecting.
If poetry is concentrated language, then there are many fine, crystalline draughts here. Reading in one sitting, as I did, results in one’s imagination becoming ever more fervent and full of morbid, almost gothic style fancies. Again, it’s a most welcome experience for such as myself – this is a book to be savoured – and you can also immerse into some of the poem’s lush, languid, darkly beautiful pieces on Soundcloud.
words and photos MAB JONES
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