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TELLING Veronica Aaronson
These tales are indeed telling – potent fables which juxtapose animal and human, natural and unnatural, to convey the terrible beauty of our lives and deaths. Five separate but related poems take us aslant through birth, schooling, mothering, work and bereavement with an eye equally open to violence and wonder. Unflinching and brilliantly crafted.
– Rosie Jackson
The voices vary – ornithologist, atheist, storyteller, inmate, someone trying to make sense of the pandemic world, all with their tales to tell – and the poet is a wise but unobtrusive presence, adept at listening and understanding. She pulls us into these worlds through her gift for tone and for the telling detail, guiding us towards an empathy with all the tale-tellers. One to read and re-read.
– Alasdair Paterson
Veronica Aaronson’s five poems are, as the title says, tales – from life and imagination. The direct style of her writing makes these long poems and sequences easy to read, but there are deeper currents running under them. From the intertwining of birds and birth in the Ornithologist’s Tale, to the myth-which-is-no-myth of the Storytellers Tale, to the Japanese haibun in the diary of the Lockdowner’s Tale, there is love and loss in the content and compassion and wit in the telling.
– Simon Williams
Telling Tales has of course two meanings, telling untruths and storytelling that reveals insights. These tales are not accurate representations of the truth (if such a thing exists) but hold to the spirit of the incident and point to what we as a community do or don’t value, assumptions we make and norms that we have come to accept.
All the stories collected here come from my personal journeys, either lived first hand or vicariously through listening with the ears of a psychotherapist.
The poem that started this small collection and gave me the enthusiasm to write more, using a similar style, was The Ornithologist’s Tale about post-natal depression.
The Storyteller’s Tale followed, highlighting the effects of myalgic encephalomyelitis on the sufferers and their families. It felt like a story that needed to be told, especially at this time when incidents of post- viral fatigue are becoming more common due to the pandemic.
I started to write The Inmate’s Tale after a friend told me about his experience in prison, but then the poem chose to focus on another story of an ex-client.
Although all the poems are written in different voices – a schoolgirl, a young unmarried mother, a parent, a partner and a male inmate – all have at their core the same universal themes of loss and longing.
IN THE TAXIDERMIST'S HOUSE by Marion Oxley
“Often drawing on the work of the taxidermist, Marion Oxley examines the relationship between birth, life and death. The connections between humans and living creatures as different as woodlice, otters and heart urchins. Her skillful writing is original, intense, tactile and energetic.
Her passion for the natural world offers her a way to express personal pain and loss and this is underlined by the final potent poems about Orkney sea birds. In the Taxidermist’s House is a remarkable debut.”
– Myra Schneider
“Marion Oxley in deft and sinuous language, deconstructs and reconstructs our relationship with nature and mortality. She reflects and pays homage to the work of other artists, and shares her own very particular vision, in poetry that is fiercely intelligent, celebratory and beautiful. A wonderful collection that had me breathless from the first poem.”
– James Nash
“Marion Oxley’s intriguing pamphlet-title, In the Taxidermist’s House, draws the reader directly into the atmospheric field of her poems. In part the poems observe and re-imagine the art of taxidermy itself, celebrating artists such as Kate Clark and Amber Maykut. But through powerful imagery, evocative diction and a quietly eco-feminist stance, many more delve ‘under the skin’ of this craft, finding in its gothic intimacies, imaginative frames and metaphors for the writer’s compelling ecological and personal concerns.”
– Carola Luther
In The Taxidermist’s House
For years she never knew he was out there,
beyond tarmac, on the margins of thinking,
of raw-edged estates and half-built mortgages.
Today she crosses the sway of the bridge,
remembers the dipping in and out
of the whale bone needle,
the flash of knife.
Above the gash of motorway, air rushes,
tugs at green-belted memories;
meadows turned to thinning fields.
Beneath a hawthorn hedge, a carcass lies hidden,
bindweed stitched into the tightness of solitude.
She’s walking into a crushed rib cage;
pigeons fly up, settle in the throat
of this mock-Tudor, sixties far-out place.
Ghosted curtains sift shafts of sunlight into the room
where the air is quiet, still, as if caught underground.
Thin liver-spotted walls crack and grumble,
chest-tight in a cold-cough of dust, faint smell of weed.
Crouched in a corner, the pungent piss of animal.
Her hands stroke a blanket of moss,
its green vibrancy warm to the touch,
the bed still moist in the sweetness of decay.
He’d taught her about badgers, foxes and pheasants.
Took her on nights out in the woods.
She’d sat in silence learnt to listen.
In vegetation marked out her territory.
Watched him drag corpses back, try to give them life.
Now beneath the veneer, life is teeming;
slugs, snails, beetles, mice scavenge
day and night. Badgers eat heartily.
The wooden angled jaw is almost clean-shaven.
The last slabs of plaster cling like wads of tissue
held against a cheek; grey, bristled bricks
impervious to the trickle of time.
Dapper in dignity to the end.
He left this living will.
Do not resuscitate.
SAMARA by Graham Mort with illustrations by Claire Jefferson
“Samara, an accomplished collaboration between poet and artist, celebrates the natural environment, engaging with both the liminal spaces and the creatures which inhabit them. Claire Jefferson’s exquisite illustrations are sensitive and skilful, capturing the essence of her subjects to underpin the keen observations in Graham Mort’s insightful poetry. Mort’s poems open up new perspectives, discerning the often uneasy communion between humans and the natural world, and invite us to look again. In Samara, words and pictures interweave to create a chronicle which elevates the familiar to something extraordinary and alluring.”
– Lesley Quayle.
Our biggest moon all winter
ripens over Kingsdale, one day away
from fullness, left-side licked
the way a horse laps snow.
A roan mare whinnies for her
mate; I passed a horse and rider in
the dusk, remember now she
raised her whip to greet me.
Moon floats towards a snow-
dappled ridge; this moment
is cochineal, sunset blazing
at a cleft in basalt cloud.
Moss on the paddock fence is
this amazing green; my heart
pads out towards night’s deepest
shades; the licked moon’s
illusion; the mare’s inexplicable
loss; the way all sense of scale
is changed this close to dying
where everything is huge.
LIKE THIS by Neil Elder
“What I love most about Elder’s work is the deep sympathy for all he observes, the way his language steers us toward the plangent note but then we are lifted into love, into understanding. These are calm, measured and wise poems offering hard won joy.”
– Daljit Nagra
“Like This builds on Neil Elder’s previous collections as these direct, plain-speaking narrators give voice to the fleeting moments that unite and separate us. With humour and tenderness Elder records the things we do to give our lives meaning but often enough epiphanies come when we least expect them. Chaos, rage and sadness are kept in check just below the surface, “There is no cure for the end of summer”, but these poems urge us to grasp happiness, even as it’s slipping from our hands.”
– Lorraine Mariner
Give me a tiny moonstone to write about,
or better still, a moon shaped stone
that fits upon my palm.
Like the stone I took away from the shore
the day I gave an urn of ashes to the sea:
a trade that, like the tide,
keeps returning you to me.
“Neil Elder’s poems wash over you. They can be deft and unobtrusive, but they stay with
you, like that moonstone. A poet so sure-handed is irresistible. This is a dazzling
– George Bilgere
After a while we leave the footpath,
continuing in comfortable silence,
each wondering how we can turn today into forever.
Life must still be happening to people,
shops will be open, traffic is stacking up,
and we must believe that there are passengers
in planes that pass overhead.
But out here, where we have no reception,
there’s sky, fields, crow-crested trees and us.
The sun is splashing through leaf cover
and I squeeze tight-shut my eyes
to see a kaleidoscopic rush of yellow and green.
Only when we see the burnt-out car,
that’s flattened a path into wheat,
do we feel the tug of our lives,
hold our phones up high
and search for a signal.
REVELATION by Hilary Robinson
“In a stunning central sequence, Hilary Robinson looks unflinchingly at the aftermath of betrayal in a marriage. The originality of this pamphlet lies in the precise articulation of the journey towards both anger and forgiveness and through despair and mental illness. This is powerful, painful work that contains moments of strength and vulnerability, humour and sadness – all held together by an engagement with form that allows the stories in these poems to really sing.”
– Kim Moore
“Hilary Robinson’s poems reflect a keen, interrogatory gaze tempered with tenderness. Her subject may be betrayal, filiality, childhood fear, infidelity, illness of body, mind or soul, and sometimes crackle with cleansing disdain, but the humanity remains the same. Hers is a compelling perspective, in intelligently and beautifully wrought poetry, that makes her collection worth reading and re-reading.”
– Rebecca Bilkau
“Hilary Robinson’s poems sing with a lyrical precision that is as authentic as it is unflinching. Time, experience, memory and consequences coalesce in interlocking ways, traversing between secrets and discovery, between staring down the past and branching off, resolutely, towards restoration and independence. This is a bold and startling collection.”
– Nikolai Duffy
And I beheld the last seven years open up before me
and they gave up their secrets.
And I beheld my beloved’s face concealed by a fine beard
and his feet that were turned to sand.
And I beheld seven office chairs, unoccupied except
for two, on which sat my beloved and his shame.
And surrounding my beloved and his shame were all the places
they had been while I had slept on in our bed.
And all the places they had been were also all the places
he had taken me. And I wept that this was true.
And I beheld his eyes turn to streams as his remorse descended
from him. And lo — his arms reached out for mine.
And I tightened my golden belt around my waist, knelt down
by his side and said that I forgave him.
SMITHEREENS by Mike Farren
“Written with the wisdom of hindsight and shot through with real tenderness and love, these poems tell the story of a friendship between two men which stretches across a lifetime and around the world. The pamphlet’s narrative arc is as compelling as a novel, and each individual poem is that rare thing – a true moment of musicality and lyricism.”
– Kim Moore
“Smithereens explores the loss of a long male friendship, its elegies fretting restlessly backwards and forwards through time and the stages of grief. These are poems bursting with the talk that “we hadn’t needed to say / for forty-odd years” – intimate, urgent and affecting, private gifts to the dead which speak powerfully to the living. This is a moving, unusual and beautiful collection of poems.”
– Antony Dunn
“Farren’s poems are snap shots, an album of words which capture the moments of a lifelong friendship and the slow decline, the long-loss of a friend, the distance of an ocean away. Farren has a deft touch; the poems are sensitive, but not sentimental, with a solid skeleton of anger but more importantly, love.”
– Wendy Pratt
Afterwards there’s no need to be anxious.
Afterwards your lack of health
insurance doesn’t matter.
Afterwards there’s no reason
to numb the pain:
there is no pain.
Afterwards the idiocy,
and failure to learn
are not your problem.
Afterwards your ghost
lives on on social media,
in letters never sent to me –
your birthday I can’t bring myself
to strike out from my calendar.
Afterwards things fall apart,
as if you’d been the cornerstone
that always held
our world together.
Afterwards your daughter finds you
when there is no longer
any you for her to find –
afterwards she takes her chance
with all of us you left behind.
And afterwards I raise a glass to you.
PRETTY IN PINK by Ruth Aylett
Aylett is a poet who thinks with the precision of the scientist and writes with the grace of the artist. This collection, masquerading under an ironic title, explores gender and gendering. Though not without humour, many of these honest, moving, often provocative poems have a darker edge – touching on the difficulties of motherhood, acceptance, mental health, silencing of women, even rape and domestic murder. Aylett demonstrates an accomplished use of form, managing to bring a sonnet – about women as sex objects in advertising (Venus) – to a pertinent, perfectly rhymed ending in a four letter word!
Another strand involves a re-making of myths, re-drawing them for our times. Her re-working of a Li Po poem is masterly: she sets it at the time of the Iraq War, the young woman missing her squaddie: Li Po’s ‘howling gibbons called out into the heavens’ transform into ‘the estate echoed to stolen cars at night.’
– Christine DeLuca
Pretty in Pink is a collection of poems about women and their worlds, their triumphs and frustrations, their struggles and endurance. The range is wide, incorporating Rosa Luxemburg, dead bodies in sheds, Wythenshaw bubble-perms, hospitals and anti-Trump demonstrations. These pleasingly political poems are intelligent and alert, formally adroit and lexically inventive. Ruth Aylett sees the world clearly: she has no time for sentimentality or false consolations; her vision is lit by solidarity and compassion, a wounded optimism, ferocity and pride.
– Steve Ely, Director, The Ted Hughes Network
Ruth Aylett’s vividly-inhabited poems are full of the female experience, wit, anger – and the stuff of life itself.
– Fiona Sampson
In May, the flowering cherries, with resolute extravagance,
pile layer upon layer
of pink double-petalled blossoms along leafless branches,
filling the sky
with tutus and princesses.
Under the slow pink snowfall
mothers wheel pink pushchairs
carrying small girls in pink furry hats, with pink rabbits clutched in pink gloves, who later will ride pink bikes
and sleep under pink quilts,
in rooms from which
green, yellow, purple, red
and above all blue,
are expunged and deleted.
Their faces may glow pinkly but they will never sweat, always giggle helplessly
and wave long pink nails
at any difficult or challenging task. This pink nirvana
with its rosy Disney turrets requires no intellect.
And if they notice the
pink fluffy handcuffs,
complain about the pink
vacuum cleaner or the pink
extra high heels that hurt the feet,
designed to make escape impossible, they will be told not
to bother their tiny pink heads,
since all is for the best
in this pinkest of all possible worlds.
Here the blossom always drifts downwards; an elegant confetti fall
in which Barbie marries her Ken
and the pinkness is all.
EVERY DAY I PROMISE MYSELF by Rachel Davies
Rachel Davies’s poems of mothers and motherhood – populated by an irrepressible cast of characters from Boudicca to Rhona the Ratgirl – sparkle with humour and touch the heart with humanity.
– Jean Sprackland
This is an exciting debut from an assured voice with something to say. Always interesting and always varied in terms both of subject matter and approach, these are poems that make up that rare thing, a page-turner of a collection, and much more than the sum of its parts.
– Peter Sansom
Alternative Mother #10
Rhona the Rat Girl
and is your entire world this pen in this tent
this animal skin
this thigh bone
So where do I fit in?
You recline on a bale of straw draped in that mangy leopard skin in a distant approximation to sexy, while the public comes in to ogle.
You stir the somnambulant rats with a Brontosaurus thigh bone— like everything about you, it’s fake.
Of course the rats are too out of it on benzodiazepines to move around much.
When that kid tittered at your tits
all you said was You’re supposed to be looking at me rats.
Well, what did you expect—an Oscar?
The ambition it must have taken for you to become the Rat Girl, Rhona.
Every day I promise myself…
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.