Welcome to the first of Buzz’s monthly roundups of fine independent poetry! Welsh, British and international verse will feature in here, selected and appraised by our writer with her ear to the poetic ground, Mab Jones.
A Square Of Sunlight by Meg Cox (The Poetry Business, price: £6.50) is an unusual collection in some ways, in that it encompasses an entire life; also that the poems are so very straightforward, direct, and forthright. I often find in contemporary poetry that there’s a tendency to show off or showcase some new style or technique – we’re always trying to prove how very clever we are. This poet is assuredly clever and has no need of pushing for our approval as regards this. Her intelligence, depth, and wit shine forth in a series of poems that document grief – as well as many moments that are often overlooked in the everyday, from watching someone watching the clock to observing tulips fading in a vase.
There are flights of fancy, such as the interior monologue of an aged dog, and pressing a shirt with Man Ray’s iconic spiked iron – and, throughout, there is sparkling humour, tenderness, and a beautiful sense of how rich and wonderful life is. Whilst reading A Square…, I realised a couple of these poems had been doing the rounds online – so, here’s a popular poet, one who might even have gone ‘viral’, but who is older, wise, and speaks to those who are not necessarily au fait with Instagram. How refreshing. And what a wonderful read: a cover-to-cover delight.
Boi by Nicola Bray (Bad Betty Press, price: £6) is a pamphlet set within a stunning matt black cover, an icon-like image of a whale – white – on its front, the title of the book set within the whale’s stomach. Like Jonah, we suppose. And here, like him, we are on a strange journey, although more towards the author’s interiority than the innards of a fishy creature. The ‘fish’ image holds, however, for these poems are slippery, sliding from image to image, wonderfully dextrous and full of surprise. I found myself quite envious of Bray’s malleability and also the ease with which they veer from brilliant, original image to yet another, and another.
Gender is a major theme in this book: whether the author identifies as trans or not I don’t know, but these poems address this, their changing, transitioning forms enforcing narratives of gender fluidity and designated sex, the body we are born in and the one we feel is there. As the partner of a most beloved trans person, I applaud Bray’s bravery in addressing such a subject, their eloquence in the act of doing so, and their overall assertion in writing these poems, giving space to what is, for many, an emotive subject. Sad, triumphant, considered, daring: there’s such a sway of emotions and emanations here. Boi is a brilliant, never banal, often breathtaking book.
The History Of Mountains by Danielle Rose (Variant Lit, price: $5) came winging its way from the USA, a small black square of poetic delight. The 11 prose poems in this slip of a book defy the tome’s size to encompass the world’s greatest mountains. A ubiquitous mountaineer is trailed by the poem’s I as he climbs each. Perhaps they are his aide; perhaps his lover. We never really know about this, though the mountaineer’s assurance and the I’s submissiveness point to a slightly skewered power dynamic in this relationship. Questions are raised about the type of person who controls, who conquers, who ‘takes’ a mountain. It’s an interesting notion, wrapped up in short near-monologues and composed in a clear, lucid tone.
Hold The Line is a truly fascinating collection of poems by three writers: Dominic Williams, Helen May Williams and Mel Perry. During the first lockdown, People Speak Up assisted writers in making befriending calls to older people in Carmarthenshire. These poems are the result of that pairing.
All three writers address the subjects spoken about on those calls with tact and truthfulness, humour and humanity. Some of the poems inhabit the voices of the callees, whilst others come from the viewpoint of the caller. The stories within these poems vary hugely, and so make for a fascinating read; a very worthy project, and brilliant poems to boot. Find it for free at the link above.
Finally, here are a pair of books from Indigo Dreams Publishing. Dear Dylan (price: £11.50) is another pairing anthology, this time putting poems about Dylan Thomas next to letters to Dylan written by the same authors. The range of stories, style, and substance is remarkable, ranging from the wry to the serious, the personal to the profound. This mix of poetry and prose really works, and some of the letters, more even than the very finely written poems, are deeply affecting. A brilliant book, and a genius idea.
Map Of A Plantation by Jenny Mitchell addresses slavery in Jamaica during British colonisation. It’s a profound examination, a daring reenactment, a deeply felt reimagining. Slave masters and slaves themselves are given voice, and the horror and hopelessness of the slaves’ plight made apparent. The naming of humans as if they are objects, the beating of children by overseers, the rape of women as slaves or as wives are the subject of some pieces; but through her pointed, poignant pen, incisive and full of empathy, Mitchell makes poetry out of trauma, taking deep wounds and wording them with eloquence.
Brimful of searing insight, this is a narrative epic which sweeps through those times, the eventual abolition of slavery, into the troubled era that followed; up finally to the author of the present day, who peers in at museum pieces – fragments which act like windows into all that taking and that turbulence. This is not an easy read, nor should it be, but through Jenny Mitchell’s deftness and brilliance with words – there are several award-winning poems included here – it’s a very fine book indeed, and one all of us should read.
words MAB JONES
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