Thinking they could take out Adam Horovitz? Not on your life! The Gloucestershire poet is but one of seven new poetry offerings this November in a bumper crop from area verse-person Mab Jones.
In Love & Other Fairy Tales, Adam Horovitz takes one of poets’ and readers’ favourite topics as its theme. However, there’s no schmaltz or soft sentiment here, as you would expect of a book (Indigo Dreams, price: £10) which gives images of “sausage meat inside new skins” and “a broken hand encased in mud”. There is less gore here, however, than a gothic sense of the unsettling: yew trees, a candle’s “battered lip”, “corrupted flesh” and “a monochrome sky” make some of the scenes more like something from Frankenstein than the modern-day. There’s a dark sense to these poems, and more foreboding than anticipation, which translates to the reader as a kind of love-weariness, or even world-weariness, perhaps. Since the book is dedicated to Horovitz’s recently passed father, this may also be informed by the poet’s grief.
Where love is specifically mentioned, is it described, in one poem, as a flood; it is “like pollen” in another. This is informed by a cover image that shows a physical human heart surrounded by dandelion seeds, with roots and shoots settled within. However, it’s still a very gothic-looking heart, and the poem itself describes the pollen as a kind of dust, “smearing”, the heart’s chamber “gorged”, and finishes with an image of insects and “wedding’s end”. It’s brilliantly morbid, gristly stuff, that will in fact appeal to all lovers of fairy tales – I remember reading Grimm’s a lot as a child, and this was just the sort of gruesomeness I adored – but, also, Horovitz is a very inventive writer, so there are lots of lively experiments, with form, with thought, with language itself. This pulls that gothic grimness up a notch, lifting the entirety of the book to less despairing heights. All types of love are considered in Love & Other Fairy Tales, too, not just romantic, meaning that there is much to savour, lots to marvel at, and only sometimes is cause to brood but, even then, the poetry is superb.
The colloquial, conversational seeming style of many of the poems in Plato’s Peach (Worple Press, price: £10) bely their masterfulness. A lack of simile, metaphor, and other fanciful poetic techniques causes the reader to relax, even to become disarmed; it’s as if we are chatting to someone, and someone quite mild-mannered and even headed, too, as the poet recollects, recalls, and reminisces in an easy, flowing style. Those memories, too, may be as innocuous as someone dropping a bit of chocolate, or packing shopping into the boot of a car – everyday events that most of us would pass by without a thought, and not consider as suitable subject matter for a poem. Why bother writing about them at all?
Well, John Freeman shows us why, as with empathy, sensitivity, and imagination, he pulls these small threads to reveal the rich tapestry of human beings’ relationships, recollections, and, very often, hidden inner lives. The narratives he gives us are complex, emotive, and wonderfully human. Plato’s Peach is divided into sections, one of which (Visiting Giverny) takes the form of a single, longer, five-part poem, and it’s a line in this that summarises the poet’s approach, perhaps: “What do I see I didn’t see before?” Freeman strikes me as a poet always looking again, always looking deeper. Considered, contemplative, and humane, this is a wonderful, wondrously disarming, collection.
Falling Slowly (The Book Hub Publishing Group, price: £10.98) is, in Amantine Brodeur’s own words, inspired by what it means to be a woman, the ‘feminine gaze’, love, loss, treachery, and trauma. Some of the poems, then, are a lament, “with an endless quotient of grief”; others seek to explore more liminal spaces, for example, that which lies ‘between loss and living’. There are some pieces which stare, stark-eyed, towards political instances, such as the shooting of a schoolboy, apartheid, and even war itself – unflinching, the poet leads us into “slaughter”, into “hijacking”, past “deathbeds”, and back again, affecting the reader greatly en route. There’s a bravery to this, as the poet invites us to bear witness to the aftermath of atrocity, again and again, beginning with “my first burial” in an early poem and carrying on from there.
However, it’s not all such unsettling matter in these works: we also have love, and love’s bed partner, lust. The final poem in Falling Slowly is about desire, and it was a favourite for me, speaking of desire’s ability to ‘dismantle words’ and also drawing an analogy to poetry and language itself, to caress us, to touch us, to excite. The language is lush: “Come to me in shades / of black and white so I might fragrance / your heart in colour”. Lyrical writing throughout, in conjunction with political sensibilities, makes for a very powerful reading experience indeed.
After The Flood Comes The Apologies (Nine Pens, price: £7.50) is a visceral, even violent affair from Naoise Gale. This is what I love about poetry: that voices can be so dissimilar, yet still so beautiful. And there is much beauty here, even as the protagonist in these poems “shit(s) frogspawn”, even though they confess to having a “pig heart” and would smash “the glass heart of your love”. There are scars, and “eroded teeth”, “slime” and “green bile”, “seeping blood” and vomit in these poems; the I of the poem’s eyes bulge, we are told, like cartoons, on several occasions. But amidst the horrors of the body are “euphoria”, ecstatic highs, “Bliss that unpeels like / an onion”. I don’t know anything about the poet, but they write about drug addiction in detail, and it is entirely, awfully believable.
The terrible and the tragic sit side by side with beauty, then; the desperate and desirous with the more elegiac. I was interested in the images of birds which feature in various of the poems, including “sunset-hued birds” and “flamingos”, and how these marry with the idea of ‘freedom’ that drugs and drug visions seem to bring; then, there are those images of the poem’s protagonist as “like / a dog”. Is this the body/mind (dog/bird) dichotomy that informs so much art, so much poetry and philosophy, and probably always will? Certainly, there are divisions and divides in this poem, of which this is, perhaps, just one. In all, it’s a very emotive, evocative, and highly affecting book; Gale’s writing is excellent; and whether it’s a work of fiction or of fact, the writing itself is by turns gritty and gorgeous, and lifts the reader into something as compelling as any vision, whether that’s a dream or a nightmare.
Inspired by colour, the poems in Bloom & Bones (Hedgehog Press, price: £7.99) from Rae Howells and Jean James run the gamut of a full spectrum and take on a range of stories and styles to suit. The yellow of goldfinches, the green of arrowheads, and the “vermillion/cul-de-sacs of melting tarmac” are some of the colours and subjects looked at here. It remains unclear which poet penned which poem, which I think is the mark of successful collaboration – I published The Wrong Side Of The Looking Glass by Mari Ellis Dunning and Natalie Ann Holborow not too long ago, and that was the case with them, too – so, I’m interested in this process, and hope that collabs of this sort continue to become an ‘in thing’. It’s certainly a courageous undertaking, and this is reflected in these writers’ ability to walk anywhere within these pieces.
As the title of the work suggests, life and death are themes throughout the poems, with images indicative of both. Many of them address the natural world or are in natural settings, a fair few of them watery (pond, sea, Worm’s Head) – perhaps to be expected of two Swansea-based, sea-side writers. The poems themselves are imaginative and accomplished, with a pleasing mix of tautness here, floridity there; questioning here and painting a scene in another. The intelligence of the writers means that there are no easy conclusions, but alongside the colours, there are an array of ideas, an evocation of myriad worlds, and an arresting mix of emotions and ponderings, as in the book’s final poem, where we move from the forlorn to the triumphant, the mundane to the fantastical. Life, like water, shifts, and colours may blend or seep, one into another – Bloom & Bones brilliantly reflects that blurring; that gorgeous complexity.
Another Nine Pens offering, Waldeinsamkeit (price: £7.50) from Liam Porter is also a beautifully produced pamphlet. ‘Waldeinsamkeit’ is, we are told, ‘the feeling of being alone in the woods’ – and, in some of these poems, the I of them is alone, and in others, there are woods and forests. Although one of my partner’s twins the other day described forests as ‘creepy’, there’s none of that sense here, even though the opening poem, Nightfall, is set at dusk, and ends with an image of “a ghost-white owl / cutting the purple dusk in two”. There isn’t malevolence, or unhappiness, in woodlands, or even in being alone; they are also a place which “two clusters of forget-me-nots” may wish to return to, so they may “dance beneath star / studded canopy”. The magic of woodlands is inherent here, which is wonderful, and there is a romance, too, in being on one’s own, with a Walden-like sense to many of these pieces.
Sometimes languidly melodic, as in the poem Longing, another describing the ripped-up tents and general desecration following Leeds Fest is also quite sing-song, with a repeating refrain and lines that echo each other. Part of the poet’s work is to transmute the every day to poetry, and that’s certainly the case, here. And, this might be positive, or it might be negative, as when a cup of tea is described as ‘tasting of violence’. The known and unknown are uncertain in these poems, but the image of a “bottle of red” in an early piece, and a “near-empty bottle of red” in a later one, point to time passing, and perhaps that’s the only thing we can rely on as a certainty; or that’s what I feel Porter intimates in these thoughtful, very finely wrought poems.
The Water Engine (Femme Salvé Books, price: $18) is another watery tome, with poems entitled Oceanography, The Body Is A Wave, Ocean Circus and more contained within its blue-green covers. Amidst fish and birds, sea gods and glacial bodies, there are lines and images which intimate trauma, perhaps childhood trauma, although this is never stated or made obvious; reading between the waves, as it were, and carried through on the crest of poems, it’s only here and there that the poet writes of “that dark in us that spills its length, in floods / beyond this dirt”, offers images of self as a “good dog”, and gives repeated images of children. Later poems such as Recovery and Day release point to a process of change, and still later pieces contain ideas and images of “radiance”, “singing”, and laughter, along with relationships of acceptance, indicative of healing. So, for this reader, there was an unsettling sense of ‘something’ having happened, and not something pleasant at all.
However, Ankh Spice moves past this and, ultimately, the collection is life-affirming. Overall, this is a book of lushness, with plenty of sensory detail and many imaginative leaps as the poet inhabits the voice of a city, here, sees a peninsula as “a fallen body” there and, as you might imagine from the book’s title, cover, and plethora of water images and subjects moves with fluidity and a swimmer’s ease to all manner of topics. Clouds and birds are included as part of the cover art, too, and if air is the element that signifies the mind and imagination, this is a writer who can, and does, dare anywhere. The Water Engine is a gorgeous book by a very gifted writer indeed.
words MAB JONES
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