New year, same Mab Jones, and we at Buzz wouldn’t want it any other way because that means that we get fabulous rundowns of the finest independent poetry of the moment, once a month.
Lauren Thomas’ Silver Hare Tales (Blood Moon Poetry Press, price: £12) offers us poetry of place, primarily of my own homeland, Wales. Thomas is a poet who is, they admit, in love with the landscape, and so this country’s unarguable beauty is made plain in many of the pieces here. There’s a romance in many of them, but it isn’t one which – as the opening poem, To My Country, makes clear – doesn’t also acknowledge the ugliness of Port Talbot’s “dark frown” or the reality of “scarred trees”.
There’s much in our landscape that speaks of its industrial past and Thomas readily includes these in Silver Hare Tales’ poetry; its “songs of stone and bolder” are not forgotten; and its ghosts and “black rain” also encompassed by the poet’s ready eye, alongside its “fluted valleys” and “the shimmer of slate”. When I opened this book at random, I came first to the poem Ysbyty Ifan, which addresses “the glut and clog of peatland bog”. I’ve been writing a book about bogs recently, and bemoaned the fact that there’s so little poetry about them – well, here’s one! I love the rich, sensory language of this particular poem, perhaps my favourite in the book, although it’s all beautifully written and very carefully considered.
Ancestors and bones creep in this book, and in Ysbyty Ifan particularly, in which “Stagnant moss births fruiting bodies”, and it felt to me whilst reading as if some kind of ‘bog man’ might emerge! Instead, the poet ends the pamphlet by herself lying down, immersing and uniting with the landscape to “become earth, root, plant”. A fitting finale for Lauren Thomas’ poetry in this book, steeped in a landscape as it is, and a gorgeous, spellbinding read.
When I review a poetry book, I tend not to read the blurb, testimonials, or any author’s note or forward at the start. I prefer the poems to speak for themselves, and believe they should be strong enough to be enjoyed without any pre-reading. I also like to dip into a volume at random, which means that poems must also work on their own away from any sequencing on the part of the poet. Therefore, the first poem I read by SK Grout in What Love Would Smell Like (V Press, price: £6.50) was Ursa Minor; the first stanza sees the poet looking at someone’s scar, and comparing it to a bear; this bear, according to the poet, goes “rowr”. I love the intimacy and cuteness of this sound/image, with a title taken from the stars.
It’s this same mix of the personal and the profound that resounds throughout SK Grout’s collection, along with sounds, sights, and sensory language that brings them evocatively to life. We touch “the star-blue jar of night” in some poems; we caress “lips” and “skin” in others (stars and skin are, in fact, two of the most repeated words in this pamphlet).
The sensual and the stellar therefore come together in this collection; and as the “rowr” of the bear intimates there’s a refreshing, original style to the writing, too, making this, to quote from the book, “an endless pool of innovation”, in which mythic stories rub hips and lips with the every day, and love and desire are painted as something both in and beyond time, as things of beauty, majesty, and mystery. All of which makes this a book to savour.
Vocation (Nine Pens, price: £7.50) comes with no blurb or testimonials on the cover but is wrapped all over by a repeated print image of bluebirds. The birds – wings outstretched, wheeling – speak of flight, and this is a book that takes travel and vacation as one of its main themes. Much of the poetry takes place en route, from here to there, or else in another place, in situ. There’s an airy energy to these, therefore, as the poet ‘takes flight’, on aeroplanes, in taxis, across cities and in unfamiliar rooms.
In those poems in which Djoudi is in a place, there’s a snapshot quality – this, then this, then this – rather like a visitor taking pics on their phone or camera. The poems transmit that same unsettled feeling of travel, therefore, until we reach the book’s end, where two ‘prisons’ are described: in one, it is the enforced confinement of lockdown; in another, it is the physical body itself. At lunch, the poet writes, “I order blue steak with the body. I say to it, isn’t this you on a plate”. I have shared this same sense of being separate from the body, and enjoyed this poem particularly. Like the birds – eagles, perhaps – on the cover, I’ve been a watchful eye hovering above the carcass below.
Overall, I enjoyed the sparse, succinct style of these poems and the inventive structures of the various pieces. This is one to take with you on a journey, no doubt, but also one to read if you’d like to remember, recollect, and immerse into a journeying sense, which is, in addition, a questioning sense, almost like ennui, reaching out to unsettle the reader throughout this fine and thoughtful book.
They Spoke No English (Nine Pens, price: £7.50) returns us to a more domestic intimacy, as the poet reflects on his marriage and younger years based in Sweden. It’s a sweetly affecting, very charming book, in which the author invites us to join him in recollections of the past entwined with the starkness of loss in the present. In the past’s linear narrative, poems begin with a first date, leading on to relationship, marriage, and fatherhood. The present is interspersed very effectively with this, ending with the title poem that features a pleasing pastoral scene and an image of a couple who work the land and have grown older with it.
The book is dedicated to the poet’s wife, who is featured in these poems and who – we learn at the end of the poetry book – passed away several years ago. This adds poignancy and piquancy to the poems, in which we sit with the couple as they drink coffee, eat cheese, fall in love, yearn for each other. The style is warm and familiar, painting scenes deftly, and with affection – this is a writer who fell in love both with a person and a place – and this comes through strongly in these pieces, which run at an easy pace, too, and are a very accessible read. They Spoke… is also dedicated to Swedish friends, and I’m sure they will love to read it – as did I, who came to feel like a friend of the poet through reading this pamphlet, too.
words MAB JONES
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