Mab Jones has come up with the goods again this October, ‘the goods’ being a close crop of new poetry anthologies, compendiums and pamphlets. One keen verseperson included a free teabag and a leaf with her copy of his book, it seems. Brazen bribery! If you like tea and leaves anyway.
The Return: Selected Poems, Myfanwy Haycock (Parthian, price: £10)
We begin this October’s new poetry roundup with a return to an overlooked and forgotten writer of Wales, Myfanwy Haycock. In her time, Haycock reads as a remarkable success, extending her talents to produce seven poetry collections, radio and television programmes, and woodcut illustrations to accompany her work; she also won a few bardic chairs along the way. So I’m wondering why this isn’t a name that’s more better known: literary fashions and gender biases may be reasons.
Still, publisher Parthian Books, and editor Jenni Crane, put this to rights via this volume, which draws from all seven of the poet’s books and includes some of her lovely woodcuts as well. Generally, the poems are lucid, lyrical and accessible, which makes me wonder if popularity might have been an issue in this poet falling by the wayside, too; sometimes, there’s quite a bit of snootiness in anything that’s well liked – but that makes this an enjoyable read, of course. Themes include typically poetic concerns such as trees, clouds, castles, flowers and hills; although Haycock also worked as a journalist, that more turbulent wider world generally doesn’t seem to readily penetrate into her poems, which are very much based on landscapes and places around her.
That said, there are also themes of loneliness and loss; however, the melancholic is less palpable than the melodic and decidedly upbeat, here – and are positive poems generally popular, either? Or is it more about seeming edgy, or cool…? In any case, here’s a book that makes for a pleasurable read, with poems that are straightforward and song-like. Many of these would be lovely if read aloud or shared with others. I hope that this poet’s ‘return’ means people will pick the book up.
Modest Raptures, Ellie Rees (The Broken Spine, price: £7.99)
Ellie Rees is another poet with some typical poetry concerns – trees, autumn, time, loss… But rhyme and metre are less favoured in Modest Raptures, as Rees is a contemporary poet, and her eyes are, like ours, more aware of life’s discordancy, perhaps even dazzled by the modern world. However, this is a poet who captures very well those more mindful moments, when we are closer and more immersed into nature. One excellent example of this is the poem Tree Song, in which the author beautifully and imaginatively describes the sounds of various trees: “Hazel rustles like papers shuffled, / folded in an old man’s hands”.
Many of the companion poems are equally lovely, evoking the beauty of nature, but with some of the quirkiness and originality of a modern view injected into these observations: “dust motes dance with midges, / golden spiders spasm; / a single feather cruises past / as ponderous as a whale”. There’s unpredictability, therefore, even as we are shown familiar items, animals, and scenes, and this gives that traditional imagery a delightful frisson, as instances and ideas are reworked into something less well-known and more idiosyncratic. Winner of the Broken Spine Press’ inaugural chapbook competition, this is a very worthy winner and a book which will resonate and resound with many a reader.
a fondness for the colour green, Charlie Bayliss (Broken Sleep Books, price: £8.99)
Green is the colour, and it’s all go in this collection, a fondness for the colour green, a debut from the writer and, as such, infused with the energy of youthful fervour, intellectual vibrancy, cleverness, curiosity and playfulness. This book comes to me from Charlie Bayliss himself (some come from writers but the majority from publishers), who included a sachet of green tea and an ivy leaf in the envelope.
I see these as symbolic of the poems themselves: their unpredictable inventiveness refreshes and revives one’s ‘poetry palette’ (at least, it did this for me), like the tea I drank whilst reading them; the leaf intimates the poet’s easy way with words, using them in unexpected ways to grow towards new meanings. Perhaps it also reflects the hierarchies of poetry, which Bayliss seems keenly aware of – as all poets become aware of – and wryly reflects upon, perhaps even in a self-mocking way: “i wake up dreaming i’ve made it”; “excuse me, do you know who i am?”.
The self / selves, and self-enquiry, form part of the exploration here, and there are poems and places in which ‘Charlie’ is referred to in third person. In becoming that all-seeing ‘eye’, and switching the narrative point of view, Bayliss further adds to the sense of play and the usurping of static, inherited forms and ways of seeing. This book, one feels, is anti-static; everywhere, there is movement, in terms of imagery and ideas, but also there is movement geographically – to Berlin, Belgium, Kyoto; to a dystopia, a night flight, along a revolutionary road. The voices in this book may be multiple, or they may be strands of the author himself; but, either way, there’s a kaleidoscope of creativity here, and much to intrigue and inspire.
Viva Bartali!, Damian Walford Davies (Seren, price: £9.99)
Up next, pacy poems that are perfectly poised, in this latest from one of Seren’s finest. In Viva Bartali!, the rapier glance of journalism melds with the florid lyricism of poetry to tell the tale of Gino Bartali, Italian cyclist and two-time winner of the Tour De France race. With poems that are set out in non-rhyming couplets, this repeating form emulates the two wheels of bicycles themselves, setting the reader out on a journey which takes in Bartali’s highs and lows, stops and gos; his wins as well as the wider world around him and its turbulent political landscape.
Like a cyclist, then, these poems are lithe, athletic, and capable of transporting the reader to other times and to places as diverse as church, garden, foothills, “an anteroom, marble floors / like skating rinks”. Bartali, too, is more than a mere athlete – he is also a father, and a devout Catholic, so much so that his nickname as a young person was ‘Gino the Pious’. There is a finely, thoughtfully blended balance of this religious influence in the poems, along with other facts and facets from Bartali’s life. Perhaps most interesting were the missions the cyclist undertook as a courier during World War 2, transporting “forged identity documents which saved the lives of hundreds of Italian Jews”. A remarkable man indeed – and remarkable poems, too, which capture the complexity of their chosen subject with intelligence, sensitivity, and style.
Free Verse: Poems For Richard Price, edited by Damian Walford Davies and Kevin Mills (Seren, price: £6)
A short review for this slim pamphlet Free Verse: Poems For Richard Price, because I have a poem in it, which of course makes me biased! Here, Davies is the co-editor, along with Kevin Mills, of a volume inspired by another great figure from history: this time, Richard Price, the 18th-century minister, mathematician, and philosopher. Each of these poems, by 16 poets, was written specifically for this pamphlet, which coincides with the polymath’s 300th birthday celebration this year, and the list of poets includes luminaries such as Robert Minhinnick, Zoë Brigley, and Mari Ellis Dunning.
The mix of pieces on offer within this little book is pretty fantastic, in my opinion, with lots of very different angles and ideas on show. All of which makes it really worth a read; though, as I say, I’m biased, but not so biased that I’m not incredibly pleased to have my work alongside the others in this volume. The standard of writing is incredibly high, and the depth and breadth of these – as was Price’s own work and life – make it a very inspiring read.
words MAB JONES