With this elegant bunch of five from estimable small poetry presses across the UK for July, Mab Jones marks a full year bringing us/you/the world handfuls of delightful contemporary poetry every month. And very lucky we are too!
The Presence And The Dream, eds. Sarah Doyle & Serena Trowbridge (Pre-Raphaelite Society, price: £10)
Providing “original new perspectives on the Pre-Raphaelites”, the anthology The Presence And The Dream celebrates 10 years of the society’s poetry prize, as well as Sarah Doyle’s decade as poet in residence. One of the editors of the anthology, along with society chair Serena Trowbridge, Doyle’s poems are prominent in this book, which are interspersed with those from many other contributors. As you might expect of poems inspired by such a theme, the works in this volume are generally lush, with a tendency towards visual imagery that is sensory, even sensual. There’s a plethora of nature imagery, and it, too, is often lush and over-wrought, as in this example from Nicola Warwick’s poem The Rose Of May:
“the air loud with bees and woodlarks,
the sun simmering on your back,
the ground smothered
with cow parsley and buttercups.”
Beyond this beauty, other poems are more meditative and internally reflective; still others veer towards a view that is palpably gothic. My personal favourite in the collection, however, is Sarah Doyle’s William De Morgan’s Blackbird Bottle, which is shaped like the bottle itself. Cute, quaint, and finely-wrought, overall there’s a pleasing mix of styles and subjects in this anthology, and something sure to engage every reader.
Email [email protected] if you’re interested in purchasing a copy.
(Un)interrupted Tongues, Dal Kular (Fly On The Wall Press, price: £6.99)
(Un)Interrupted Tongues is a thin little book that speaks volumes despite its brevity and is full of lively inventiveness. The cover shows peacock feathers and nameless dark birds flying out of industrial chimneys – I do believe that poetry is a kind of magick, with authors invoking elements in their writing and this, then, often comes across in the cover imagery, too. Here, we have the element of air, transmuting from an earthy process; the two chimneys in the image are almost like parents, birthing the purple-blue flow, feathers, and flight in front of us.
There’s a similar sense of being born in a dark place, but transforming this to the light of creative energy, in these works. “I was a carbon / copy shadow” writes Kular in one poem, but in the next “Lightening flashes” and a “wild shapeshifting” occurs. The entire collection begins with a defiant and daring proclamation of the poet being creative “before i knew i / was brown”, and even: “i created myself / female before i was born”. Those of you familiar with Welsh poetry will recognise the Taliesin-like braggartry of this, and how this is an audacious tradition in writing; but here the audacity goes beyond privilege, aching out into a real rebellion against life’s tethers and ties of culture and status.
I love the inventiveness of many of these works, too, which pull in text from school reports and even, in Pure Chana Dal, a packet of flour. Kular takes the commonplace and uses it to take flight, self-defining and self-asserting in the process. It’s playful, powerful, and pretty magickal to boot.
The Horse And The Girl, Madeleine White (Lapwing, price: £10/£4 PDF)
I loved C.S. Lewis’ The Horse And His Boy as a child, just one novel in the Narnia series, and some years ago wrote an adventure-based poem in which I placed myself in that story. As a woman, I didn’t think I’d make a suitable ‘lead’ for Lewis; but this is the power of poetry and storytelling – that we can write ourselves back in to those gaps in traditional narrative.
In The Horse And The Girl, poet and storyteller Madeleine White does the same, her protagonist a middle-aged woman; a demographic who, before Shirley Valentine I think, would not have readily been seen as a main character. Something between Conversations With God and The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, And The Horse – bestsellers both – these rhyming poems detail the imagined dialogues that occur between the main protagonist and the horse she rides.
There is wisdom, there is profundity, and there’s a charming style to the works which – despite embracing themes of ageing, death, and the dangers that are palpably present to our environment – are lightly penned and seem to whinny, canter, and trot this way and that, carrying the reader on a journey that’s emotional as well as heartfelt. In all, it’s a sweetly affecting book, and very accessible to any reader.
Salt & Metal, Sallyanne Rock (Fawn Press, price: £6.99)
I had seen only positive reviews of Salt & Metal and, not wanting these to influence me, have waited a little while to come to the book. Thank you for your patience, poet. And – wow. These are truly searing, startling poems, and this is a book that stands naked before the reader, scarred and maimed, and makes eloquent articulation of every cut and bruise. Virginia Woolf said that we women should write the body, and here many wrongs done to it via domestic violence are rendered with all the finesse and exactitude of a surgeon’s scalpel.
There is no meat, flab, or flowery excess in these pieces, which are clever and articulate, wielding metaphors and images with brilliant prowess. It is purposeful writing which pierces through to the mind and heart of the reader, without attempting to over-blow or trump up what it offers: the naked truth.
There’s a kind of trauma writing that sometimes becomes self-flagellating, writhing in the terrible memories and liking it; I didn’t feel that here. I found these poems to be illuminating; powerfully so. Truth is beauty, wrote Keats, and here, amidst the blood, pain, visceral detail, and intelligent rendering of horror, is beauty, very much so. An important book: I urge you to read it.
Brave Little Sternums, Matt Broomfield (Fly On The Wall Press, price: £10.99)
Equally hard-hitting, but in a different way, is this next book, which reads almost like poetry-documentary, and is in fact by a poet who spent three years living and working in Syria. Brave Little Sternums, therefore, showcases poetry’s ability to act as a time capsule; to capture specific moments in time. The poet in this instance adds his ink and eye to journalists and photographers of the time, but it’s apparent that poetry’s pen always digs into the store spots, and never stops digging until it reaches the heart of truth.
The style of these pieces is, again, un-flowery, sometimes like a snapshot or coming across sometimes as notes or notations of a traumatic time. There are a distinct lack of similes, but comparing one thing to another isn’t every poet’s work. Sometimes, as with haiku, it’s just to show what is, or perhaps via the more direct means of metaphor. In any case, these poems are powerful documents telling of a war-ravaged nation at a turbulent and terror-filled time, when “men vault the crocus bloom of dead men’s fingers”. It’s powerfully compelling stuff.
words MAB JONES
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