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LAMPING FOR PICKLED FISH by Beth McDonough
Discovering Beth McDonough’s poetry is a genuine pleasure. Shine a light on her poems and they reflect that light back on the reader, sometimes more brightly, sometimes strangely distorted, but always leaving us with distinctive, unforgettable images and additions to the vocabulary of the world. Words collide and fuse to make new ones, ideas and insights are layered as she looks for meaning in nature, family and the quirks of human behaviour. Her poems range from polished and lean to richly abundant, with flashes of exploration and experimentation in how poems can communicate themselves. Beth is a distinctive voice, fully engaged with her subject matter and bristling with ideas and the tools to explore them.
– Andy Jackson
‘Lamping for Pickled Fish’ is a book of sticky, sensual poems, that hook and tangle the reader; beguiling folk recipes and closely observed detail of daily life as densely woven as a bramble thicket. McDonough’s finely wrought sound-pieces are rooted in human feelings, failings and fears – under the carefully woven forms a voice tempered by humour and pain grows in strength and urgency.
This is a collection packed with flavours – complex, dark and earthy, with occasional bitter flashes and drops of sweetness; tastes to reward the forager and linger long on the tongue.
Beth McDonough’s work is in search of a kind of holistic mapping of clear mind and right action onto the matrices of language and environment. These are vibrant poems of hiking, gathering, swimming, and, above all, seeing. The landscape is Scotland, in particular the North-East , with its long coastal exposures to light and cold – though there are island excursions to the heat of the volcanic Canaries.
Her language is grounded in the volubility of Scots but mesmerised by the precision and power of naming: plants become spells as she forages for their associations as much as for their berries and roots. This green-fingeredness of the imagination extends to her way with verbal music, which lends her work a distinctive and compelling blend of energy and yearning, as she seeks out the galvanic connection between the rhythms of nature and the word.
Lamping for pickled fish
He greedies all our herring,
fridge-stashed behind protective jams,
learns less cast-about parts.
As he prises lids from stacked-up tubs,
perpetually-soused flesh stinks into his skin.
At night, I sometimes catch sight of legs
storking below that upper door.
Only his lost torso dives, light- pooled.
Head and arms engrossed,
his swift fingers tickle out their prize.
We count it odd that any teenaged lad
would raid all this, obsess–
and yet, why not?
I roll my vinegared eye alone–
scale our lines, pin tastes I also own.
REMOTE by Sarwa Azeez
These poems by Sarwa Azeez will startle you. They are delicate yet devastating, their endings often small explosions reverberating through the collection. Something toxic was muting me, reveals Azeez, simultaneously laying bare a deeper culture of fear, censorship, and female repression within war-ravaged Kurdistan, spanning generations: one day my daughter may inherit my exact mummified mouth, vexes this talented poet, fully aware of the exacting cost of speaking out. Sarwa Azeez is destined to become one of the important writers of our time.
Eman Hassan, author of Raghead
Sarwa Azees’s poems put a human face on the so-called “collateral damage” of war. Here we find children making desks from brick and stone, a skinny cat visiting them in a refugee camp, piles of bodies in uniforms, and the father who drives by them on his way to work. These moments, she reminds us, are not remote, but the daily stuff of life in her native Kurdistan. These poems are a testament to trauma and survival, what the poet salvages from ruin and debris.
Grace Bauer, author of MEAN/TIME and The Women at the Well
In Remote, Sarwa Azeez’s delicate and yet powerful poems work as both witness and testimony to the way war manifests itself as an intergenerational poison. In the titular poem, as well as throughout this important and haunting collection, the word remote unveils itself in multiple ways—in the distance between a married couple strained by patriarchal values, in the absence of a home lost to the ravages of war, and in the expanse of diaspora. These tightly controlled poems vibrate with a barely contained and necessary wail.
Kate Gaskin, author of Forever War, winner of the 2018 Pamet River Prize, forthcoming from YesYes Books, spring 2020.
What Lies Beneath the Snow
I wake up to my parents’ conversations
over breakfast. Khuda wants to clear
the mess we have made. I hear them
talking about the fallen snow.
I stroll through snow to school,
I know that my half-bare feet
sink in its soft, burning sand-snow
and whatever lies beneath.
Fired, unfired bullets, gunpowder
charred flesh of children who
thought they were having fun
making firework, but fire gets
wilder than their playful souls.
Some of them have a lucky escape,
others think they made it but
they lose friends, their faces,
eyes, hands, feet and spirits.
Snow melts, but war doesn’t.
Its flames deform
our childhood, our homes.
Khuda – Kurdish for God
LOTUS MOON WITH BLOSSOM by Sheila Hamilton
This set of poems on Rengetsu (Japanese Buddhist nun, writer and artist, 1791-1875) is a delight for the intuitive reader. With a freshness of touch, Hamilton takes us into Rengetsu’s personal moment in 19th century Japan, dipping into her griefs and joys, her poetry, her art and the natural world that surrounded her. We come away from Hamilton’s poems with our curiosity fully awoken and with not a little wonder at Rengetsu’s inner resources
There are nights
when I want to shout out
Be still, mind!
(from “Monkey Bodies, Monkey Minds”)
A robust evocation, delicately done.
These poems bring Rengetsu to life with an accumulative power and urgency that is balanced by tenderness and curiosity. Sheila Hamilton layers brilliantly imagined details with confident precision, focussing on Rengetsu’s domestic life as a nun, poet and potter alongside the natural world: the tea bowl that is “not quite even”, the fox “that limped into the hut” and the owls that when calling “put me in mind of my children” but when silent do the same. Read this pamphlet and you’ll feel you’ve known Rengetsu.
Japanese “brushstrokes” create a terrain in which the poet moves, alert and enquiring. This world is robust as well as delicate, containing a marvellous variety of trees that survived even the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. In these unforced, refreshing poems, Sheila Hamilton writes with an exceptionally steady gaze and a strong sense of “negative capability.”
The mind leaps
like those monkeys.
Sometimes with purpose,
aiming to land next to that ripe red fruit,
Instead of a Teapot, I Make a Hare
Deer pick their way down the path
that is turning golden.
Monkeys too, frisky as children,
bickering over fruit.
Birds of many kinds perch near,
the splendid and the humble,
variously plumed and voiced,
but it’s the hare that came last week
that I try to shape.
I’ve met hares with longer ears,
hares with longer legs, upright, tense,
but this hare caught me-
the tilt of the head,
the facial expression,
as if asking a question
INCIDENTALS by Mary Gilonne
Mary Norton Gilonne’s Incidentals is characterised not only by real technical virtuosity and poetic craft, but also by a sense of deft playfulness, subtle aesthetic sense, and elegant imagery. These poems will dazzle and delight the reader. An impressive achievement by any standard.
– Susan Castillo Street
Harriet Beecher Stowe Professor Emerita, King’s College London
Don’t let the unassuming title mislead you. ‘Incidentals’ is a collection which draws its inspiration from landmark moments in life – and death. Its dreamlike poems, often set against the backdrop of coastal towns and seascapes, demand to be read – and savoured – over and over again. An assured, supple and sensual debut from a poet very much on top of her game.
– Ben Banyard, author of We are all lucky, and Communing
Mary Norton Gilonne’s INCIDENTALS is chock-full of history, ekphrastic experiment, mythology, archeology, fairytale, and a language and tone that consistently runs through the stunning variety of the whole, making it all resonate together in an almost unified vision. These are poems that are exultant and exuberant, nourishing and nerve-tingling … and they will make you want to read them OUT LOUD whether in a crowded coffee shop or the confines of your own home. Buy this pamphlet and take it home with you right now – you NEED it!
– Scott Edward Anderson , author of Dwelling ! an ecopoem
I’ll Try to be Old on Another Day
not now. I’m awash with greening shade, a soft thumb of warmth
chaffing this wickered corner, and hopeful tea-rose utopias climb
pinkly flowersome up to a full blue sky. Ants are milking aphids
on my apple trees and a mottled flock of fruit-fall grazes grass,
as if summer is too overripe for picking. How my thighs, breasts,
honey-drench with heat, an earthy lustfulness of light.
Yes, yes, I’ll try to be old on another day, if my body pares to core
and peel, that thin press of life, if my mind confuses sun with rain
yet even then… not now. Later.
When woods shawl with a coppery wooling and shoulders of beech-nut
hedge walk me out along cold village lanes like autumned suitors,
I’ll slow-foot down to my pub for snug-lit pints. Words, words,
and still the bar-lazing eyes of those greying men, to unrespectable
rooms blindly kind, to sweet afternoon smoulders of wishful bones,
may my skin remember all that’s gone before.
GIRL GOLEM by Rachael Clyne
Rachael Clyne’s poetry, full of physicality and dramatic openness, accumulates a series of tensions within a free-spirited, Sixties identity and Jewish heritage. Attentive to narrative angle and migrant experience, she allows characters to emerge over generations, showing how they mould into a new cultural identity. In its quiet and carefully crafted ways, Girl Golem shows the sweep of history and the importance of a tolerant country that offers salvation to those persecuted abroad.
– David Caddy
Rachael Clyne’s poems inhabit a shadowy and uncomfortable space where all is not as it seems – people become pieces of furniture and rooms have sinister personalities. A complex work of many layers – these thought provoking and deftly crafted poems are a playful and powerful examination of identity, sexuality, heritage and family dynamics. Clyne skilfully conveys a sense of disquiet and alienation, a sense of being other, both within the dysfunctions of the family, but also within the context of the wider world.
– Julia Webb
With its impressive scope, ranging from the Holocaust, nuclear fallout, and immigration to domestic life and childhood, Rachael Clyne’s Girl Golem thoughtfully explores our tactics for survival: in resistance, in the imagination, in mutual care. In these evocative, spirited poems, Clyne implicitly argues for faith in our own humanity and for the richness of difference.
– Carrie Etter
The night they blew life into me, I clung
bat-like to the womb-wall. A girl golem,
a late bonus, before its final egg dropped.
I divided, multiplied, my hand-buds bloomed,
tail vanished up its own coccyx, the lub-dub
of my existence bigger than my nascent head.
I was made as a keep-watch,
in case new nasties tried to take us away.
The family called me chutchkele, their little cnadle,
said I helped to make up for lost numbers –
as if I could compensate for millions.
With my x-ray eyes, I saw I was trapped
in a home for the deaf and blind, watched them
blunder into each other’s craziness. My task,
to hold up their world, be their assimilation ticket,
find a nice boy and mazel tov– grandchildren!
But I was a hotchpotch golem, a schmutter garment
that would never fit, trying to find answers
without a handbook. When I turned eighteen,
I walked away, went in search of my own kind,
tore their god from my mouth.
ANDROGYNY by Kevin Reid
A joyful, painful, poetic exploration of gender, sexuality and the state of being human. Kevin Reid is a skillful poet who evokes not just his pleasure in transgression, but also his losses, his love, grief and his growth. Alert, delicate and honest, Androgyny is a delight.
– Clare Shaw
Androgyny is a marvellous collection. The poems are open-hearted and fearless, tender and sure-footed. They stay with you long after you’ve read them: We didn’t spit feathers. We held them / between our teeth and smiled.
– Cliff Yates
These poems are like painful bodies beneath a spotlight, unapologetic, writhing with delicate breaths. Kevin Reid speaks to my gender, which is nature, and to my manhood, which is illusory, and despite the hurt music of these cool meditations, makes me feel safe but alert. Love like fog. People with the brightness turned all the way up. Angels, if you will.
– Bobby Parker
Thanks for these his and her hands,
for these nipples numb to a touch,
a soft scrotum that can’t get enough.
Thanks for the long rogue hair
on my smooth thigh, for the dance,
your annoyance because I was a man.
Thanks for this skin, her skin, his skin.
You have a figure girls would love
and those hands aren’t for dyking.
Do you shave your armpits?
I’m barely human.
BLACK BICYCLE by Lesley Quayle
With her musician’s ear for the cadence of voice and phrasing, Lesley Quayle gets inside the skin of a range of characters in Black Bicycle with energy, compassion and inventiveness. She teases out layers of meaning from every narrative, using sensuous but precise language, coming up with the perfect word, the revealing ending. She has an acute instinct for detail and nuance which makes you want to return to this gem of a book over and over again, because you will always discover something new.
– Rebecca Gethin
Lesley Quayle’s character portraits run the gamut from the picturesque to the grotesque via the intimate and the epic – some whisper, some sing, some shout but all have voices that echo long after your first hearing.
– Brett Evans
He was a natural right-hander,
flanked wide and true.
I had to push him to the left,
force clockwise on him,
Stay calm, don’t rush him,
let commands follow like a soft wind,
his world the close thicket of sheep,
the tapering outrun, stealthy in behind them.
The lift, the fetch, balancing the flock to me,
his eyes fixed, hearing nothing but my voice.
Steady. Walk Up.
He moves like dark water.
The old flock mother tows them towards me,
tolling her brood music so they can follow,
away from the wolf at their heels.
AFTER EDEN by Stella Wulf
A vibrant and original poetic voice is clearly discernible in these poems, and though they sometimes express delicate nuances of mood and feeling they are also highly robust. Studded with carefully framed, strikingly vivid, and often memorable images, these poems animate landscape and the human interaction with it through energetic and highly expressive uses of language. The use of assonance and rhyme is always unobtrusive and natural, the use of the speaker is poised and incisive, and narrative, often drawing on elements of myth and fairy tale, is expertly interwoven and integrated with the voice of the poem. Many of the poems are also shot through with a seam of dark humour, and the collection as a whole is highly readable and rewarding.
– Brian McCabe
From the valleys of Wales to the fields of France, Stella Wulf paints with words. This exquisitely crafted collection draws the inner lives out of objects, in the perfect detail we see whole lives. This is poetry that balances light on the edge of your cup and draws a slow finger along your back.
– Angela Readman
After Eden is a polished and assured first collection, tough and smart, sexy and fragile, haunted by plume-hushed owls and lit by cool moons and hard bright stars . Stella Wulf writes with a painter’s eye for the shape and colours of landscape, and the creatures (like crows and foxes) and the people that move through it. Her poems have a sensuous relish for texture, a language of slant rhyme and consonance that insists on being read aloud and listened to. It’s lovely.
– John Foggin
Drawing From Life
He scribes the arc of her face like a neat incision,
shades-in the soft edge of jaw. Later, he will contour hollows,
accentuate planes; for now he has her measure.
Like an emperor he thumbs her body, divides her
into abstract parts making volume from space, ellipse
of inner thigh, serpentine scoop of waist and hip.
He weighs the invisible in the curl of fingers, cup of palm.
What seduces him is the scythe of light that slices her back
carves a trapezius in her Carrara flesh,
the plunge of shadow that etches her spine,
draws a sickle moon beneath her buttock’s rise.
He is lost in fine lines between truth and distortion,
erasure and creation, the hatchings of his obsession.
Rapt with numinous revelations, his pact with darkness
and light, he draws her out of himself.