The latest and greatest offerings from the thriving poetry community in the UK with Mab Jones as your guide, as always. March’s selection includes works from Welsh poets Nick Fisk, Glyn Edwards, and Ness Owen, each offering their unique perspectives on themes ranging from Welsh mythology to border balladry and even Deontay Wilder.
Imperfect Beginnings, Viv Fogel (Fly On The Wall Press, price: £9.99)
Imperfect Beginnings is another great book from Fly On The Wall whose voice, story, and insights are just a bit different. Adopted by parents who were both survivors of the Holocaust, and with a mother who suffered from a bipolar condition, I was impressed by Viv Fogel’s honesty, but also the clarity, lucidity, and general ‘starriness’ here. By this I mean a quality of light/lightness, embedded within the book, and which comes, I think, from its mix of forgiveness, truth, wisdom, and transmission of traumas into understanding. It’s no mean feat – the work of a lifetime – but this writer (and, unsurprisingly, therapist of 40 years’ standing) does it.
This leads to poems that have a therapeutic effect on the reader, even as they detail wrongdoing, pain, loss. However, the pieces here are not austere, which is perhaps a more usual pairing with such subject matter, particularly in cases where trauma remains unprocessed. Rather, the works are often rich, textured, and sensory, imbued with a general liveliness which, in and of itself, speaks of survival. There are brilliant, original similes throughout (“each morning I enter you like a tent”) and deft, surprising images, ideas, and turns of phrase. This richness of creativity alongside terrors and terrible events is hugely affecting, as well as profoundly eloquent. The final image of the final poem in Imperfect Beginnings – of a snowdrop stretching towards the sun – has stayed with me. A truly remarkable book.
In Orbit, Glyn Edwards (Seren, price: £9.99)
Although grief is a major theme in this collection, In Orbit, there’s a playfulness and experimentation, particularly about form, which seems to sit in defiance of such stark finality; or which exists, perhaps, despite it. Poems take on the shapes of birds; hands; a planet or planetary circuit. Some poems lean, stanzas shuffling out like card decks; another interweaves its lines like the folding of prayerful fingers. Layers of extra association are offered, as a result of these, above and beyond the words themselves, which makes the book exciting even as it ponders more serious concerns.
Loss lies at In Orbit‘s heart, as mentioned, as do themes of love – an evergreen subject matter for poets – and toxic masculinity, which is far more untypical. I found myself impressed by Glyn Edwards’ bravery in exploring this subject, which marks him out as another young writer unafraid to probe and pierce with his own pen tip. In addition, there are pieces inspired by nature and the natural world – blackbirds, badgers, crows – and, of course, as the title would suggest, there are stars, moons, and planets in plentiful supply. Poetry might be a microscope, or a telescope; a scalpel, or a stethoscope. This book proves that Edwards has many such instruments at his disposal, and that that he keeps them sharp. Deftly written, and often sparsely, darkly beautiful, reading this book feels like recognising a constellation in the gloom.
Moon Jellyfish Can Barely Swim, Ness Owen (Parthian, price: £10)
Wales and Welsh places loom large in Moon Jellyfish Can Bare Swim: Bangor, Caernarvon, Port Talbot and smaller places such as Borthwen. However, the cover of the collection features not solid land, but the spacey, surrealist shapes of floating, ethereal jellyfish forms, luminescent against a dark background. As with that dichotomy, familiarity and unfamiliarity, the known and unknown, belonging and its opposite all intertwine throughout the poems in this book, impressing the reader with the sense that “otherworlds” sit wrapped within our own, waiting for us to see them. Or, perhaps, for a poet like Owen to notice, and point them out to us.
Seams drawn from Welsh mythology and the Welsh language add a richness to proceedings, although the author is equally comfortable including pop songs, drones, or the Peacocks shop on a local high street, giving the book, in turn, a different sort of rootedness, and an engaging realness. Poems might be inspired by the ‘air’ of language, the ‘water’ of ocean, or the ‘ether’ of an idea, too. A particular favourite for me was Spoor: “Woman accidentally joins a search party looking for herself”. Really great, full of wit and imagination, Moon Jellyfish Can Barely Swim is a very enjoyable read all round.
Won In The Seventh, Nick Fisk (Iconau, price: £7.77)
Won In The Seventh, a new tome by Fisk – from whom the term ‘Fiskian’ is coined, albeit by myself in an earlier reviews column – is inspired, it says, by “positivity”. There are poems in here from previous volumes, which makes this somewhat of a ‘collected poems’, but many I had not read before, and the poems are so wide-ranging as to be worth a regathering in any case. I suppose the hope is to find new readers, and my recommendation, indeed, would be to read, because what you find here are heartache and humour, idiosyncrasy and irony, in equal measure.
There’s a laissez-faire-style quality to the poems in Won In The Seventh, but also there’s a pop song-style tightness and awareness of structure and form which makes them very accessible. You get the impression that Fisk would be an amiable person to hang out with (and if you order the book direct from him, you probably could…).
Inspired, too, by a late-round win in a boxing match by heavyweight hero Deontay Wilder, there is, overall, a ‘winning’ sense here, too. Fisk isn’t a poet to dwell on the dark side of life, although there are plenty of absurdities, some surrealist fancies, and the final poems seem to have been written whilst Fisk was in Hafan Y Coed hospital. Instead, the poems are generally springy, energised by an upbeat outlook on life, and penned by a writer, too, who returns, round after round, to write, share, and, in his own way, inspire. Another very recommended read.
From poor beginnings
I think we have to trust
That the professionals we see
Know the offside rule, minimum.
Tam Lin Of The Winter Park, Eleanor Rees (Guillemot Press, price: £12)
According to Wikipedia, “Tam (or Tamas) Lin (also called Tamlane, Tamlin, Tomlin, Tam Lien, Tam-a-Line, or Tam Lane) is the hero of a legendary ballad originating from the Scottish Borders”. The tale tells of elves and knights, fairies and love, and there’s a similar fairytale sense to this lovely book, which comes as a beautiful hardback volume and features a golden print of an owl flying through branches on its cover. The poems within Tam Lin Of The Winter Park are, as one would hope from such a fabulous wrapper, full of the light and dark, beauty and shadow, of such tales, with subjects like birds and groves, flowers and trees, mythology, seasonality, and divination, flying and fruiting, looming and leaning, through its various pieces.
So, in one respect, this is a ‘magickal’ book and a bit like dipping into a fairytale tome. But in another, Rees is of course a modern writer, and so even as she pens a poem about “returning from the otherworld”, transforming into a cat, and being enveloped by a “green enchantment”, she is, in a later place in this, the book’s final, long poem, walking “into the driveway / fumbling for keys”. The reader is thus transported, even as they, like Rees, are ‘really’ still standing with their feet in the modern world – which is the power of poetry, but doubly so of poems which deal with the fantastical and spiritual.
The world, we feel from these poems, is living, breathing, and full of surprise. Even whilst “drinking tea” there “slither visions of plantations, tropical sunsets, blood”; as she dwells on these associations and interdependencies, transmuting them, then, into fine, finely wrought poems, Rees proves that words are magic, in poems that like “buttercups cradle the sun, / spark, are mirrors, yellow fire across the grass”. Recommended.
words MAB JONES
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