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SUITCASE by Kevin Reid
“Kevin Reid’s poems view the world from an angle which renews and revitalizes the everyday. Here pigeons have ‘tones of stone’ and ‘the devil in your feet’. These are tender poems alert to the way the objects that surround us can summon our greatest losses. ‘Woven into the wire / your twigged words twitch’ one speaker notes before turning to ‘Your easel; / a girl in a white dress, her unfinished wave’. Careful and evocative, Reid’s lines shimmer with the unspoken.”
- John McCullough
“These poems are the real thing. Gritty, honest, vernacular, funny but also at times startlingly moving. Reid writes equally movingly about a mother’s deathbed (he wasn’t there. He was away ‘being a fuckin’ artist’) or a daughter’s move to Glasgow. The loss which he carries with him to a new life in Athens is so skilfully evoked you can taste it long after you close this lovely collection.”
- Carole Bromley
How long has it been since a Scottish poet wrote at any length about Greece? By my reckoning it was Alexander Scott in 1971 with his pamphlet Greek Fire. Even then, he wrote as a tourist and many of the poems were damp squibs about retsina tasting worse than hemlock. Here, Kevin Reid tackles the lot of the self-imposed exile, trying to outrun grief and the grim legacy of the past with all its bigotries and religious baggage, only to have to confront it finally in poetry. Reid shows us that little worthwhile is come by easily, that it is the struggle to live a truthful and meaningful life that is worth all the hardship.
– Richie McCaffery
Suitcase: A Traveller’s Companion
As vital as a bible can be to a Christian,
with its must-haves and recommendations.
Its attention to toilet bag detail:
dental floss, mouthwash, toothbrush
and toothpaste, hemp soap, cotton buds,
Jean Paul Gaultier, shampoo, shower gel,
razor and razorblades.
Its highlighted note on the essential
spare pair of glasses to replace those
you could lose in a dark room
full of naked men and women.
The sans of the underwear passage
has worn-out, faded from bold black
to greyscale, the value in updating
smalls barely readable. A reminder
of how much you can wear, wash, expose
five pairs of socks and boxers to sunshine
before they become dog-eared and unwearable.
THE UNTETHERED SPACE by Carol A. Caffrey
One of the time-honoured tasks of poetry is that of lament, and Carol Caffrey’s poems take it on with grace and wit as well as sensitivity. The losses acknowledged range from the aching ones of long history to those closest to home. And like the best of elegy, this writing steps through sadness into celebration of language and life.”
– Philip Gross
“The weight of the grief that is on me
is the weight of the wilderness. Over the sea I call to you:”
In Carol Caffrey’s poetry grief is carried across the generations and the natural world to culminate in moving elegies for her four siblings, Dave, Peter, Sheila & Linda. The poet’s eye in a fine frenzy rolls — from the tip of the Beara peninsula in West Cork to her native city of Dublin to her life as an emigrant in Britain; from the Irish mythological cycle to the atrocities of the globalised world; from deep inner space to the far reaches of the starry heavens. She maps this expansive territory all the better to chart her love of life and her empathy for its suffering creatures.
– Paula Meehan
These poems are elegantly constructed and delicately lyrical. A haunting and deeply moving collection.
– Gabriel Byrne
The hills, weathered grey and downy brown
by ancient rock and moss, stand sentinel
along the way. The hedgerows have shut up shop
but there are still a few dishevelled lemons
and oranges among the sensible greens. One last
turn where white caps roll into the bay,
then you face the guardians of this place:
the Caha and the Goula, Slieve Miskish mountains.
There is a certain peace among the stones
that stand above you now. I’m grateful for
the quiet air, the distant rolling of the tide.
Here’s some monbretia, feileastram dearg,
gathered from the roadside for your graves.
Monbretia. I never knew their name before;
called them Allihies flowers until you told me.
There’s some in our back garden, too, stowaways
across the sea, that fell in Shropshire soil.
They are keepsakes of that place of high sorrow,
the precious ground of home that holds you all.
Here’s some monbretia, feilestram dearg,
gathered from the roadside for your graves.
I’ll scatter them for you here and there
until my bones lie down along with yours.
(Feileastram dearg, Irish; Monbretia)
HOUSE OF BREAD by Andie Lewenstein
“Beneath the burnished surface of Andie Lewenstein’s poems there are ghosts. Histories both national and personal lurk in line and stanza breaks. Imagery from fairy tales returns us to their violent, Freudian roots, each forest and edible house inhabited by shadowy parental figures and ‘things we never speak of’. The voices of this collection’s speakers are often quiet and furtive as the wind yet their crisp and resonant language is filled with yearning.”
– John McCullough
“The dramatic tension in this spell-binding collection of poems is between longing – a full-hearted, hungry desire for what is unnameable – and the known danger of approach. Their mood is often dark, yet there is always a promise – of transformation, or of hope, or gold, perhaps, or in streams that are ‘alive and telling.’ These are poems that sense history; serious fairy-tales that make the heart pound.“
– Kay Syrad
“This poet slips easily between worlds. Her keen attention at the verge of perception lets a small bird on a stone reveal its essential gesture, while, through her openness at the inward threshold, images from fairy tale and personal history rise up and charge the preparing of food, the pouring of wine with sacrifice and sacrament. This is a serious poetry. Joy gleams through the dark of it.”
– Paul Matthews
House of Bread
My mother’s husband does not want visitors
coming unannounced. As I approach
the alarm begins to sound. He spies me
through a hole in the door and does not open.
He tells my mother it is just a fox or a deer.
She wonders aloud if I will come.
And a bird flies against the glass. My mother cries,
Oh look! The bird falls back but lifts again,
taps at the pane with its beak. She says my name,
waits for it to speak.
I am outside, mother –
find me in the garden or beyond the gate,
run with me under the darkening sky.
His heart has been under the knife and weathered
rage that we can only imagine by looking at the sea
as it devours and disgorges. His meat is red and raw.
He needs it like mother’s milk, washes it down with wine
from a warm country where there are people
with whom he might have shared bread and olives.
Kindertransport boy, Kraut-Jew and Jesus-murderer,
this England was never his friend. It taught him how to name
his enemies, and they are legion.
He is king at his table where no-one comes, but one.
My mother sucks on flesh and spits out blood.
I wait at the gate and make no sound.
SLEEPING THROUGH THE MOON LANDING by Duncan Chambers
“If you have not come across Duncan Chambers’ witty, moving, memorable work before, you are in for a treat. From the childhood poems with their affectionate, sometimes wry viewpoint, bringing to startling life a lost world of Dan Dare, moon landings and post-match flapjacks to poems about bachelors, the mysterious world of a mother’s friends, love, ageing parents and loss, the beauty of the poet’s language consistently transforms the everyday into something unique and beautiful. A stunning debut.”
– Carole Bromley
“Duncan Chambers’ poems are tuned in to transience, to lost hours and to the potential of other lives. Again and again the poems size up the gap between words and experience, and find a way to put a name to the feelings and memories they map. Careful, precise, funny and moving, there is a (satisfyingly) bittersweet edge to their meditations on “all the bits and pieces of today – / [which] hang for a moment over a giant hole, / then vanish, while we tiptoe round the edge.”
– John McAuliffe
“With a cast list that includes Dan Dare, Action Man, Ian Botham, Socrates, Tonto and Wile E. Coyote, how immediately engaging these sure-footed, spring-loaded poems by Duncan Chambers are. He’s as lucid as Larkin, but more heartening, much better company.”
– Michael Laskey
Sleeping Through the Moon Landing
They have the excuse that I was eight
and we had no television; even so
I think my parents should have woken me.
They let me sleep downstairs when I had measles,
maybe thinking that if I died
at least my brothers would be spared.
We could have been wrapped in blankets, carried
down St Andrew’s Drive, everywhere the noise
of kettles, flushing toilets, alarms set just in case.
My father could have knocked on any door. Let’s say
the Peverells’ – granite, Victorian, three times
the size of ours. We would be shown, no, ushered,
into a drawing room – a drawing room – the television
boxed in walnut or mahogany, decanters on a silver tray.
My parents would have said in unison: No, nothing, thank you.
Then we would have gathered round the set
and waited for those words of Armstrong’s, even the youngest
knowing that this night was different from all other nights.
OUTSIDE, THE BOX by Sue Kindon
Sue Kindon generates here a fascinatingly tangential form of Ecopoetry. Never declamatory but gently observational, these poems honour the natural world and the natural self via delicate imagery and a respectful reaching (behind what is said) towards the unsayable Ding an sich ‘in-forming’ all living things. Meanwhile, a lively strand of modernist experimentalism dips in and out of the collection, vitalising the language and startling the reader like a sudden moth at the glass.
“There is a subtle earthy mysticism to Outside, the Box, like a wavering truce between humans and the natural world – the poems are fresh with herbs and wildflowers; the speaker in ‘Freehand’ rebels against her precise boxmaker father’s “set squares and dovetails” to “revel in [her] own inaccuracy”; a church garden is revealed to have once doubled as a parking space. And above all of this are the box moths, part of nature yet somehow against it – and it is this reconciliation that sits at the heart of the pamphlet, waiting for readers to recognise themselves somewhere between the lines.”
– Kate Garrett
Outside, the Box
has given up the ghost
of withered leaves.
All I believe in,
all that was evergreen,
gone in one fervid night:
not just my clipped hedge;
the straggle of wild bushes
isn’t spared The Box Moth:
happy flappy crowd,
out to self-populate
and sow unreasonable seed
until the landscape squirms
with larvae spinning boxicidal dreams.
As I walk the old ways,
caterpillars abseil in my face,
SAS-ing down strong threads;
they press-gang me,
an extra modus operandi
I’m in thrall
to their persistent webs,
a wriggling plague
I can’t shake off.
All I believe in:
the druid shade
fades and shrivels.
Suffer late season’s shift
to bring the snowflake of a chance,
a gentle genus sapped but not extinct,
a rooted avalanche stirring
deep inside the xylem.
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.