Pulsar Poetry Webzine
       Pulsar Poetry Webzine

Publication Reviews: Years 2016 - 2018

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Pulsar Book Review Panel:

 

David Pike, Andrew Barber, Eve Kimber, Gwilym Williams, Will Daunt and Neil Brooks.

 

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If you have a newly printed poetry publication you would like to have reviewed then send your book / booklet or CD to: Pulsar Editor, 34 Lineacre, Swindon, SN5 6DA, UK.  It may take a while for a review to appear on this page; patience is required. Note: the editor may elect to refuse to review, depending on content.  DP. 

 

Note: all reviews contain the written personal thoughts of individual reviewers.  Pulsar Poetry Webzine may not necessarily agree with statements made or personal opinions stated therein.

 

Most recent reviews are at the top, filter downwards for earlier reviews.

 

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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine

 

Edition #37 (89) December 2018

 

Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #37 (December 2018), please see below.

 

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Baby Daze, poems about early motherhood, by Sarah David.

 

Walking, Falling, poems by Kelwyn Sole.

 

Sharps Cabaret, poems by Katy Giebenhain.

 

Egg Island Almanac, poems by Brendan Galvin.

 

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Baby Daze, poems about early motherhood, by Sarah David.  A5 size paperback book with a 4-colour cover and 46 pages.  Published 28th February 2018 by The Book Guild Ltd,

9 Priory Business Park, Wistow Road, Kibworth, Leicestershire, LE8 0RX. 

ISBN 978-1-912362-13-4 £7.99.

 

This book does exactly what it says on the tin. These are simple, sweet poems about the experience of having an adored baby and everything going to plan. Nothing unexpected happens, Nature does not pull off any tricks and neither does Davis. Most of the poems are in rhymed couplets, or four-line verses rhymed abab, but sometimes in the heat of a particularly intense moment of emotion Davis uses a short, passionate burst of free verse or a stanza with repeated first and last lines – “our little miracle.” Much of the time, though, I wished she would stop generalising and give us a telling detail:

 

“We talk about our babies

  And get stuff off our chest

  And reassure each other

  We can only do our best.” – very true, but it’s a relief to hear that

     “Its three days since I washed my hair!”

 

And, in “Bath Time for Boys”,

“Mummy bought Daddy an apron

  To save him from getting wet

  Not just from the bath water

  But from your inbuilt directional jet!”

 

There are moments of fun and observation – more as the book goes on (it’s a slim volume), and the astonished joy of the new-born phase morphs into poems about everyday motherhood and life with a baby. Davis unequivocally enjoyed the early years, that’s clear, and this is a happy book. There is nothing obscure or challenging about it, nothing modern, but if you would enjoy a timeless, sunny picture of a mother and child, this is for you.

 

Review by: Eve Kimber

 

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Walking, Falling, poems by Kelwyn Sole. A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 105 pages.  Published 2017 by Deep South, P.O. Box 6082, Market Square, Grahamstown 6141, South Africa.  www.ukznpress.co.za ISBN 9780987028280 £9.95.

 

Walking, Falling is a finely-stitched tapestry of South Africa life. Despite Kelwyn Sole’s academic background, his poetry is grounded in and by the landscape and its people. It bursts with vigorous imagery, at once sensuous, satirical and uncompromising.

            Sole’s arresting perspectives are delivered in five parts and he saturates the reader’s sensations in the lengthy poems that top and tail the book: ‘Vigil’ and ‘Cape TownTM.’ The latter fills its section, capturing the harmony and the conflict between humanity and its dazzling environment:

 

                        ... over the garden wall where razor wire

                        artfully mimics vines. There,

                        meat sizzles, and mosquito zappers

                        purple the night ...

 

            Sole is a master of synaesthetic evocation, leading his readers deep into how it feels to be in a particular place, at a particular time. In ‘Visiting a writer,’ “A group of women shell peas into tin bowls on his stoep/ and nibble at each other’s conversation.” One of many intimate moments is caught in ‘First light,’ where “An aroma of coffee/ broods upon itself, mutters/ unseen, in a corner."

            Poems in the ‘Politexts’ section present a lyrical and non-partisan ennui with leaders, past and present. ‘Content removed’ remembers the “long queues” of South Africans who “made marks on paper” when “freedom came.” Sole “cheered and cheered” with everyone else, yet now regrets how:

 

                        Yes. The vultures dress in suits

                        step over one another and us

                        in their haste for carrion.

 

            The fourth section’s title ‘(Pen/insular)’ highlights Sole’s ironical approach to his writing and subject matter. Poems like ‘Garden songbook’ capture the rewards of an intimate and articulate relationship with the local, the familiar:

 

                        I’m threatening to turn into

                        a twist of paper

                                                            shedding meaning,

                        a dust devil swirling out of shape,

                        a vast disheveled tree of birds

                        full of song and lice and secrets.

 

            Sole’s a poet first, and a South African second, but these two imperatives combine to make his writing something special.

 

Review by: Will Daunt

 

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Sharps Cabaret, poems by Katy Giebenhain.  Slightly larger than A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 70 pages.  Published 2017 by Mercer University Press, Macon, Georgia.  www.mupress.org  ISBN 978-0-88146-641-0   £14.95.

 

I think the first things I noticed were the titles. ‘Falling Asleep In a 300-Year-Old Industrial Cottage in Derbyshire Surrounded by Star Wars Action Figures,’ ‘James Bond and the Type 1 Diabetes Bridesmaid,’ ‘Kitchen Meditation on the 22nd Article of the Augsburg Confession,’ ‘Lord in Your Mercedes, Hear Our Prayer’... Before I’d even read any of the poems, the table of contents had established some interesting expectations.

The poems themselves were usually as thought-provoking as the titles. ‘James Bond and the Type 1 Diabetes Bridesmaid,’ for example, is great - what if, in the days before modern technology, a diabetic spy needed to surreptitiously manage her insulin and glucose levels using Q-type gadgets? Why would she not have jellybeans sewn into her bra strap, and elastic candy wristlets?

Diabetes is mentioned surprisingly often in this book. One of the early poems compares self-monitoring to vampirism and crime (‘A stabbing in miniature, it is / a tiny crime / my own blood parcelled / down by drop and set / on the flickering tongue / of this machine’). Most of the poems looked at common things in a way I’d not have expected, whether they were about identity, history, language, religion, the life of an expatriate or any of the other themes raised.

Collections like this that are a reminder of why I wanted to review poetry.

 

Review by: Andrew Barber

 

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Egg Island Almanac, poems by Brendan Galvin.  Slightly larger than A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 65 pages.  Published 2017 by Southern Illinois University Press. www.siupress.com  ISBN 978-0-8093-3607-4 £16.50.

 

Before reading this collection for review, I had not come across the poet or his work, so I have enjoyed delving into the observations, feelings and thoughts of Brendan Galvin. As a writer and poet myself I love using nature and the natural world for inspiration and exploration. With nature as a universal force in this collection I knew I would enjoy and learn something about American wildlife, birds and fish crows, and the chronicles of nature; I could sense the sea air and the beautiful observations, from year to year, or the rescue of imperilled Kemp’s ridley sea turtles—the bounty and cruelty of nature infuses this collection, which takes as its maxim finding the extraordinary in the ordinary all around us.

The poems chronicle the waxing and waning of the seasons from one winter to the next in the area around Egg Island, the dunes near a small seacoast town on the outermost reaches of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Galvin’s training as a naturalist and environmental writer is evident as his practiced eye roves the waves, marshes, and forests, finding meaning and beauty in the smallest detail— bird-watching, rebuilding a woodpile, or the flight of bobwhite quail. Other poems recall the poet’s affectionate memories of his deceased wife and the life they shared together, acknowledging grief without veering into the maudlin. Always present beneath the surface is the question of where humans fit into this wild, ever-changing landscape of the coast.

I admire Galvin’s choice of details, his love and knowledge of the natural world is so keen and fulsome that he finds precise language for everything he encounters.  I don’t picture him consulting the dictionary, as I sometimes have to do, in reading him.  In “Names by a River,” for example, he introduces the reader to glasswort (a traditional Korean herbal powder) and hudsonia (goldenheather, poverty grass), a small genus of three species of flowering plants in the family Cistaceae, native to North America, typical of sand dune habitats.  Scientific name.  English name. Hudsonia ericoides, Pine barren .  .  .  .  He is addressing a Captain Martin Pring in the poem, whom he imagines as “a handy little dude like Standish and John Smith, your chin-beard sharp/ as ado.” (Poinado: a small dagger). I scrolled through several references indicating that last term as a word used in scrabble, but the actual definition was tucked in at the end of one entry.

I want to quote a fairly long portion

All that is left of 1603 has been shifted,
wind and sea, ground down, sorted, re-pummelled,
blown sideways, sea and wind, processed and
overlain with grasses and snows among the vagaries
of the river, itself renamed: Pamet now for the tribe
you pressed into flight with the  mastiffs
Gallant and Fool.  After a few thousand walks
among the nesters here, I call these dunes
and flats Egg Island, in part to confuse
the local hiking club, identical in their
baggy shorts and yellow t-shirts, their catalog
explorer hats, absurd as those you gifted
the natives with, those “divers sort of
meanest merchandise."

Galvin switches gears through this section.  His affection for the land he knows so intimately leads to wholly understandable annoyance precipitated by the silliness of people we might
call Sunday Afternoon Explorers.  Naming is clearly one of his distinct pleasures, as it becomes the reader’s too.


Naming—the significance of names, the mutability of names, the sounds of names, the choice of names—all part of the pleasure in writing, and certainly in reading the poems.  Galvin doesn’t let us assume anything about where he’s going with the poem.

Throughout most of this collection, Galvin alternates between encounters with the outside world and references, sometimes subtle, often widely separated, that remind him and the reader of his loss. The last section moves from the stump of a Striped Maple with a few wispy sprouts the poet couldn’t resist planting by his door thirty years earlier, “fall’s counterpoint to forsythia,” –-“grandly disreputable,” but a bush he likes for its whistle-making possibilities and the birds that flit through when it’s grown big enough.   As he often does, the poet lets us know its other names----goosefoot, whistlewood.  One of the pleasures of these poems is learning the colloquial terms for the many plants, trees, and birds, the assorted flora and fauna he has absorbed over the years of living in his part of the country. 

There is beauty and wisdom and humour in these poems.  I love the Spadefoot Toads whose tunes are “less like a song/ than like a drunk hooting gibberish,” and  “the Canada Geese homecoming through /the February dark—their cries at first/ like a pack of hounds on the distant /trace of something—wake you smiling.”  I like to think I’ll remember these lines and pay attention to their admonition:

“The quotidian is no one’s birthright.”    

                        “Our obituaries
betray no inkling of the things
we will weep for in a coming world.”

But we are nowhere near obituary, as close behind The Air’s Accomplices comes Egg Island Almanac. The new collection takes up where the previous one left off.  Always in Galvin the natural world is a paradise at risk.  His reverence for wild animals, birds, even some insects, many animals now endangered, and for landscapes continuously encroached upon by builders and defiled by careless tourists, sometimes even by residents of the area themselves, is in full play again.  There are clearly no signs of human responsibility increasing.

The first poem in Egg Island Almanac is titled “Ordnance,” its subject the carelessness of those who have no regard for actions that endanger wildlife.  Galvin’s anger is righteous and right.  Water balloons “flashing colours like visual noise / in the marshes, and in pine groves / that trap their sheen.”.  .  .  is followed later in the poem by the restrained fury of “this balloon / may never get to strangle a turtle / let alone get sucked down / the blowhole of a dolphin.” 

In the newest collection too are poems for Ellen, the first a brief compendium of his earlier and failed relationships, followed by,  “I needed you to pry the rocks from my hands,” and leading to:  “ Thank you / for never looking at me this forty-eight years / as though I were some fish who just / walked into our house on my new feet.”   Galvin’s sense of humour is often the leavening in his poems of complaint and disappointment, and even in love poems, wild animals often play a part.

I am in awe of this poet’s encyclopaedic knowledge of his habitat. That’s not why I love the poems, or at least not the main reason, but it’s worth pointing out that one of the essential qualities that makes a superior poet is Galvin’s kind of purposeful noticing.  It leads to language like this from

“The Fish Crows”:

 . . . Fish crows: usually one or two
will be traveling with their larger cousins,
who keep above it all, out of range,
or loiter in the breakdown lane.

But here for the first time in my
three quarters of a century
is a whole flock of fish crows
celebrating a new beginning.

Hard to imagine them unwrapping
grief like a gift on a morning like this,
corporeal subdividers like their
relatives, while the lilacs

prepare to announce the bluebacks
are beginning to thread their way
up the herring runs.

 I really enjoyed reading and reviewing Egg Island Almanac, and I'm going to read some more of Galvin’s poetry.

 

Review by: Neil Brooks

 

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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine

 

Edition #36 (88) September 2018

 

Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #36 (September 2018), please see below.

 

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Selected Poems by Michael James Cook.

 

The Lover's Pinch, poems by Gareth-Writer Davis.

 

Spokes of an Uneven Wheel, poems by Colin Dodds.

 

Plainsong, poems by Stephen Bone.

 

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Selected Poems, take your pick, by Michael James Cook.  A slightly larger than A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 144 pages. First published during 2017 by Mereo Books, 1A The Wool Market, Dyer Street, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, GL7 2PR.  www.mereobooks.com ISBN: 978-1-86151-891-0 Price £8.99

 

Matador published Michael James Cook’s Collected Poems in 2015. Most of this new selection’s hundred poems are available in the ‘Collected’ volume, which is twice as long. For Take Your Pick, Cook has operated a voting system, where friends, family and professional contacts have picked their favourites. There are several pages of praise for the poetry, some of which is from the 1970s, when Outposts published three collections in quick succession.

Charles Causley’s characterisation of Cook’s work is helpful: ‘I’m very attracted by the clarity and precision ... as well as a very proper density of thought’.  Cook’s work sits comfortably within the Causley tradition: generous of spirit, uncomplicated and accessible, as in ‘At Seahouses’:

 

Seahouses, grey and so damp did seem

And dark were the islands of Farne.

The waves lay calm but the seagulls screamed

And still was the air with alarm.

 

Familiar forms and occasionally archaic syntax are supported by some approaches to rhyme and metre that are traditional – and some which are more variable.

The opening to ‘Last Orders’ captures more of Cook’s style:

 

Grieve not for me when I am gone

But fill your heart and mind with song.

Mope not nor hang your head for long

But gird your loins and journey on.

 

Such verse provokes conflicting responses: on the one hand, censure from those who think they know far more about poetry; on the other, the appreciation of people who like their poetry to speak clearly, first time around.

Take your pick.

 

Review by: Will Daunt

 

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The Lover’s Pinch, poems by Gareth Writer-Davies. UK (B) format paperback book with a full colour cover and 55 pages.  Published during 2018 by Arenig Ltd, (Arenig Press), Dolfawr, Cwmrheidol, Aberystwyth, SY23 3NB. ISBN: 978-1-9998491-1-5 Price?

 

This is a collection of poems solely on the subject of love and sex. That may sound like a cliché, but to be honest, it’s as refreshing as a stand-up comedian who tells actual jokes. I’ve reviewed Gareth Writer-Davies before, and this is up to the standards of his previous work. I got told once that men couldn’t write erotic poetry because they make it too calculating and precise, but I think ‘The Lover’s Pinch’ disproves that. There is a lively spontaneity to these poems that is very engaging. I had to check the publication date to make sure I wasn’t reading something from the 1960s. I mean that as a compliment. I loved the free expression of the 60s. And there seems to be an attempt to recapture the lazy, hazy, crazy days of free love with this collection, albeit in a more ‘real world’ setting. Personally, I think that should be applauded. If the theme is a cliché, at least the poems themselves speak with their own voice.

 

Review by: Andrew Barber

 

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Spokes of an Uneven Wheel, poems by Colin Dodds. A slightly larger than A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 104 pages.  Published during 2018 by Main Street Rag Publishing.  The advance review copy did not include an ISBN number or price information.

See: https://mainstreetragbookstore.com/product/spokes-of-an-uneven-wheel-colin-dodds/

 

The world of these poems is a vividly and inventively dark dystopia, rich in cynicism and anger. The images reference America, the boardrooms, the mirror glass buildings, the parks and thrift-stores, but it could be anywhere: corruption and disappointment in modern life:       

“every glittering municipality where women treat their dogs

better than most people treat their own souls.”

This is intelligent writing, the images are often startling and usually thought-provoking. Dodds’ free verse is spiked with wordplay and he makes use of invented characters that personify aspects of the human quest, while questioning the nature and integrity of the quest at the same time:          

“The Wandering Gamete was a vulture on a guardrail

pouring scorn and scoring porn, plumbing what remained

of profanity since the sacred got crowded out.”

The Wandering Gamete’s adventures occupy several poems, interrogating bad sex, yet also the search for love. In Dodd’s bleak vision of industrial and spiritual atrophy, the sense lingers that beyond all this there must be hope and beauty. In “The Late Train,” spring is           

“like being nineteen when every friend is a genius

every woman an unbearable beauty”.

Although the train’s doors are locked and its passengers are characterised as self-deluded “ghosts” and “bad news,” still their persistence in hope allows life to continue. In a poem for his baby daughter, “terror and love mingle, fuse” and there is a sense of revelation, watching her reactions to the world, that perhaps to be is enough. Powerful work and well worth anyone’s time to read and reflect on.

 

Review by: Eve Kimber

 

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Plainsong, poems by Stephen Bone.  A slightly larger than A5 size stapled booklet with a full colour cover and 23 pages.  Published during 2018 by Indigo Dreams Publishing Ltd,

24 Forest Houses, Halwill, Beaworthy, EX21 5UU.  www.indigodreams.co.uk

ISBN: 978-1-910834-71-8  £6.00.

 

Stephen Bone’s work has appeared in various magazines and anthologies in the U.K. and U.S. His first collection ‘In the Cinema’ was published by Play dead Press 2014. Stephen Bone`s second collection is out now via publisher Indigo Dreams. I found the title of this work to be interesting and realised there are a few other publications with the same title;

I like the definition- 

 

unaccompanied church music sung in unison in medieval modes and in

free rhythm corresponding to the accentuation of the words, which are

taken from the liturgy.

 

 The poet juxtaposes poems; some are sensuous and with exotic descriptions of nature, with a more carnal, lusty and sinister ecosystem. Throughout the pamphlet the poet uses sumptuous images of beauty and wonder with unnerving processes, both visceral and surgical. His use of language, and the scenarios that Plainsong imagines, are thought provoking and captivating.

 

The scope of Plainsong is broad, as the poet moves between time frames, context and personae with ease, contrasting repeated tropes of beauty or grandeur, written in a broad lyrical style, with more sinister sentiments. For example, ‘Walter Potter’ is a tale of delicately stuffed animals that a taxidermist gives an uncanny second life, and ‘Sundews’ depicts a gnat seduced by a carnivorous plant, in languid and psychotropic verse. Bone explores this latent horror in fascinating ways, and ultimately, it illustrates the text with a morbid but human energy.

 

Not out of the woods yet

 

Left with this, I watch
…..the scribble of your heart,

 

its flashed beat,
…..and I will you

 

to hack through branches,
…..dense undergrowth,

 

to reach open ground,
…..green and shadowless.

 

Some of the content leaves a lot open to interpretation, and readers will probably draw their own entirely different reflections from the sequence. In light of the title, some of the religious images particularly resonated with me. In ‘Boyhood of Sensesino,’ a piece about a famous castrato, the beauty of the young singer’s voice, or “God’s gift,” is grounded by a traumatic image of “polished knives.” Read in theological terms, the irony of this symbolism is pertinent: a deity’s creation is savagely mutilated to better praise and amplify the deity itself. At the same time, the poem touches on less transcendent narratives, the castrato’s father implied to have sold his son into his disfigurement. Perhaps Plainsong is a work focused on power struggles, demonstrating entrapment, exhibition, sexuality and ownership. Regardless of which reading carries more credence, this versatility and openness should be celebrated. Plainsong gives enough to the reader to allow them to make what they want from its imagery but holds back from being overly didactic.

 

I have enjoyed reviewing Plainsong: for its coherent, well-imagined and vivid imagery.

The poems in which the poet highlights animal and plant life are nice to read out loud.  I enjoyed the processes and perspectives. I value the modern human points of view, such as ‘Cold Sauvignon’ and ‘Aunt,’ which are, perhaps, less effective, possibly because the poet felt there was less room to illustrate mundane scenarios as vividly as some of his more inhuman narratives. Still, these pieces do little to disrupt the coherency of Plainsong, and indeed fit into the pamphlet very well.

 

Cold Sauvignon

 

long gone the denture pink

 

luncheon meat pressed
between sliced white.
The cheap red.

 

The moth-eaten Black Watch
rough beneath our backs; a tub
of soft scoop – forgotten about –
melting in the humming heat.

 

These days
you unfold a formality of table
and chairs, favour starched napkins,
cutlery.

 

Your hamper empties
baguettes, poached salmon,
Spanish hams. From the icebox
a too cold Sauvignon.

 

Plainsong was not actually what the title leads us to imagine, I was expecting some spiritual chanting through words. All the poems are short and accessible to digest and for me it was an introduction to Bone’s writing. I enjoyed, this publication and look forward to reading more from this poet in the future.

 

Review by: Neil Brooks

 

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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine

 

Edition #35 (87) June 2018

 

Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #35 (June 2018), please see below.

 

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The Empty Horizon, poems by Paul Terence Carney

 

Somewhere We’ll Leave the World, poems by Russell Thorburn

 

Galaxies, poems by Cathryn Hankla

 

Rosary of Ghosts, poems by Grant Tarbard

 

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The Empty Horizon, poems by Paul Terence Carney. A5 size paperback book with a full-colour cover and 51 pages.  Published by Live Canon during 2017.  Cover image: John William Waterhouse’s ‘Miranda’ (1875). www.livecanon.co.uk ISBN 978-1909703322

Price?

 

There are several strands to this remarkable first collection. At its heart are 36 pages of lyrical, captivating poetry that imagine the life of Roisin, an illustrator constrained by failing sight in the Devon town of Dawlish. She lives with a chaotic bunch of free spirits who have exploited her good nature, restricting her to little more than domestic slavery.

            Roisin’s voice is credible and poignant - ironical, rather than self-pitying. For example, ‘If We Ever Should Meet’ parodies gently her fantasies about being rescued by her Hughesian editor: hypothetically, she imagines how he would imagine looking after her. The fiction’s fiction ruptures in the final lines, where Roisin acknowledges where letters to Brian fester, “... still unopened, lying there/ on the locker, beside the framed cartoon/ of how you said you thought of me.”

            Roisin’s journey with Retinitis Pigmentosa reflects the author’s, and the intimate way in which one informs the other gives the poetry a unique sensuality. In ‘Roisin and the Stars’, she remembers, “... flapping downstairs, and out, on prickly grass -/ my nostrils tugging in wood-smoke and a tang/ of autumn’s last beheaded marigolds -/ fumbling along the conifer hedge ...’

            Yet pages of notes make the collection an enigmatic and unwieldy read: enjoying the poems, we’re given no indication about when to consult these. While the short introduction is helpful, the notes draw us away from Roisin’s imaginary world, and towards the poet’s and the reader’s preoccupations. Meanwhile, poetic fragments of the book’s ‘sequel’ tantalize with suggested extensions of Roisin’s story.

            Next time, more verse and less background, please.

 

Review by: Will Daunt

 

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Somewhere We’ll Leave the World, poems by Russell Thorburn.  Slightly larger than a A5 size paperback book, with a full-colour cover and 83 pages.  Published during 2017 by Wayne State University Press, Detroit, Michigan, 48201-1309, USA. Cover image © Danita Delimont / Alamy stock photo.  Cover design by Rachel Ross.  ISBN 978-0-8143-4254-1 £16.50

 

There’s a lot of power in this collection, and it’s usually the power of the association, the power of the intimate. There are descriptions of characters that are so vivid, it’s like being them. Some of the characters are from a world I’d never personally experienced, like Sergeant Reese, the Iraq War soldier who ‘boxes away his pain’ while his mother watches, encouraging him, and his father ‘avoided at all costs watching his boy battered by a big black boxer named Sugar Baby’. Some of them are characters I know too well, like those in Garage Band, where musicians are ‘separated by junk, like a stack of boards my father couldn’t throw away’. I dream of having enough space in my shed to fit in a band, but alas my stack of boards I can’t throw away has now colonised all available space. There are lots of musical references in this book. Proper 60s musicians too, like John Lennon, Robbie Robertson and Captain Beefheart. Even Willie Nelson makes an appearance. And some of the poems not specifically about music or musicians reference musicians. Eg, the letters between Sergeant Reese and his son are dated to refer to Lennon’s birthday and the date of his murder. I liked this book a lot. Even the names of the poems are a delight. I especially enjoyed ‘when one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.’ That’s how I felt reviewing this collection. It was hard to highlight specific parts of the book without doing a disservice to the whole, because anything I mentioned would have neglected something else that was probably just as good.

 

Review by: Andrew Barber

 

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Galaxies, poems by Cathryn Hankla.  Slightly larger than a A5 size paperback book, with a full-colour cover and 66 pages.  Published 2017 by Mercer University Press, 1501 Mercer University Drive, Macon, Georgia, 31207, USA.  www.mupress.org  ISBN 978-0-88146-616-4 $16.00.  UK £15.60

 

The opening poem, “The Labyrinth Galaxy,” is not a fair sample of what follows, as it is rather didactic in tone, though the closing lines suggest the personal – not everyone will meet their god “on a picnic bench surrounded by hedges.” What follows, however, is a wide-ranging collection, varied in form, mood and subject, and uneven in quality. At her best, Hankla can write poems of transcendent beauty, such as “Ghost Horses and the Morning Sky,” and “Cedar:”  “Saw through the curved branch, fibrous

 

                        bark sinew-wrapped as wisteria vine,

 

                         and unseal the waft that will knock you down.

 

                         Its scent a stain of blood.”

 

Hankla is open to sensation of the moment, aware of history, resonant echoes, finding singing metaphors. She uses irony to powerful effect, as in “Conquistadors in the Colonies,” where she imagines oppressors trying to break the spirit of birds and reflects on how the oppression of native peoples is accepted into wider unconscious assumptions.  Hankla deploys the prose poem form effectively in “Not Einstein,” where a repeated drumbeat of negatives dissects the interplay within a family of parents and three children, one apparently with learning difficulties, discovering how he is alive to the world around him and his family, rejecting and cold towards him.

 

There are poems that appear to lose their way, but they are far outweighed by the sensitive and insightful, and overall this is a thought-provoking collection that will challenge and inspire the reader.

 

Review by: Eve Kimber

 

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Rosary of Ghosts, poems by Grant Tarbard.  An A5 paperback book with a full-colour cover and 35 pages.  Cover design by Ronnie Goodyer.  Published 2017 by Indigo Dreams Publishing Ltd, 24 Forest Houses, Halwill, Beaworthy, EX21 5UU.  www.indigodreams.co.uk  ISBN 978-1-910834-47-3 £6.00

 

 

Rosary of Ghosts by Grant Tarbard is a brave collection, mostly dealing with the trauma of a stroke suffered by the poet. The poems explore the impact of life changing illnesses with flashes of sudden jolts through life, pain and love, a fight for sanity when your mind and body are not functioning and the sudden change of perception, because his world has changed in a moment.

I like the way the poet dealt with broken memories

 

Grant Tarbard subjects us to a world inside with his broken memories of a stroke, twisting and turning around the page into poetry. 

 
This collection conveys Tarbard’s complete confusion and loss of physical wholeness, using metaphor and imagery. You don’t need to understand his exact meaning to feel the reality of his words. The images are there in your mind. I enjoyed this collection and may well read more from this author. 

 

Rosary of ghosts in the bony shin

take possession of my streets playing spoons,

my skeleton is a ramshackle tin.

 

My heart is a feather, a bundled pin

that sticks in my chest and no more balloons,

my body is no place to be stuck in.

 

Spindrift pale night suspended like my sin,

made of in-flight mist in a steamed breath tomb.

My skeleton is a ramshackle tin,

my body is no place to be stuck in

 

Review by: Neil Brooks

 

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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine

 

Edition #34 (86) March 2018

 

Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #34 (March 2018), please see below.

 

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Technorage, poems by William Olsen

 

Cry Baby, poems by Gareth Writer-Davies

 

Local Colour, poems by Sam Smith

 

The Devil Gets Lonely Too, poems by Thomas R. Langton

 

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Techorage – poems by William Olsen. Slightly larger than A5 paperback book with a full colour cover and 96 pages.  Published during year 2017 by Triquarterly Books / North Western University Press, Evanston, Illinois, USA.  www.nupress.northwestern.edu       Cover art: Stagnant Waters by Elena Soterakis. Cover design: Marianne Jankowski.

ISBN: 978-0-8101-3512-3   $16.95

 

A bold serenity pervades William Olsen’s sixth collection. Its settings are intoxicating and its explorations of form and imagery give no hint of the next piece’s shape or flavour. ‘Technorage’ suggests some kind of eco-polemic, but Olsen is far more subtle and eclectic than that. For example, the pivotal couplet of the title poem is nine lines in:

 

                        ...it is the spell of sensations

                        that keeps our observations ...

 

            This unexpected use of rhyme typifies Technorage’s unforced shifts of focus, tone and imagery. Enlightened reasoning colours the dense and vivid prose poetry sequence ‘Marram Grass’; similarly, the ironical meditation drawn from the mundane in ‘Customer Service’.

            In another band of Olsen’s stylistic spectrum lies the evocative prose of ‘My Middle Name’, an engaging exploration of personal hinterlands: family, landscape, famous locals. Alternatively, the elastic diction of ‘Frost At Dawn’ sets its irresistible winter imagery against varying layers of rhyme, with a concept like time being allowed to fugue across several lines. It’s a seamless creation, charged with characteristic lyricism.

            Likewise, ‘Under A Rainbow’:

 

                        I was driving down a ribbon of road

                        black as a rifle barrel,

                        what sunlight showed

                        light rain put in peril.

 

            Like the sleeve notes for a symphony, an opening poem precedes the four parts of the collection. We imagine this ‘Posthumous Cabin’ of fantasy and wondering, existence and after-life – all drawn from a lakeside cabin’s peaceful isolation.

            Entering Olsen’s poetic territories is like exploring a forest, delineated by different stylistic gradients and thematic foliage: unending, elliptical, captivating.

 

Review by: Will Daunt

 

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Cry Baby, poems by Gareth Writer-Davies.  Slightly larger than A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 35 pages.  Published during year 2017 by Indigo Dreams Publishing Ltd, 24 Forest Houses, Hallwill, Beaworthy, EX21 5UU. www.indigodreams.co.uk  ISBN: 978-1-910834-51-0 £6.00

I enjoyed this book enormously. It’s quite a slim collection (thirty poems, most no longer than a page) but it’s the brevity that helps maintain the focus. Writer-Davies is telling a story.

I don’t know enough about the poet to know whether it’s an autobiographical story, but it’s a compelling one. It starts with the conception of the narrator (‘I was made / in a black iron bed / swaddled in a feather quilt / nylon slick / and fuchsia pink’) and provides a series of vivid snapshots of a mostly disappointing life. There are high points - playing Battleships as a child stands out although even that was ‘the game of imagination / that taught me all I need to know about explosives.’ And love is still a light in an otherwise dark life, although it’s shown as something nostalgic (‘is love / anything more than bare sentiment / arousal / that stirs us into action / back to the time when tired but true / our hot flesh was all innocence’). This is a primarily a story of fear - fear of the father, fear for the mother, fear for the child, fear for the future.

The character of the father throws a long, dark shadow over most of the poems here. He ‘had hoped to be a hard-boiled crime writer / then found he had nothing to say’ but ‘never missed a chance / to stick his tongue where it wasn’t wanted / to return a quip / doubled with a little extra acid ... this won him / many admirers but few friends.’ From the narrator’s perspective, however, there was little admiration for the father, and love primarily for the mother, who is mostly shown in the context of things that are done to her by her husband.

This was not an easy collection to read, but I’m glad I did, because it is very well written and shows, as poetry probably should, that there can be beauty in the unlikeliest of things.

 

Review by: Andrew Barber

 

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Local Colour, poems by Sam Smith.  Slightly larger than A5 size paperback booklet with a full colour cover and 35 pages.  Published during year 2017 by Indigo Dreams Publishing Ltd.  ISBN: 978-1-910834-72-5.  £6.00

 

This is some of the finest poetry I have read for some time, spare, sinewy and precise, each image created with deft touches of smell, sound or colour to draw the reader in. Smith uses each poem to sketch a character, or a scene, psychologically acute, often reaching into the person’s past to explain the painful dilemma of their present. I could not doubt the essential honesty of his observations.

 

However, I have a difficulty with many of these poems. He is writing about people, and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he doesn’t like many of these people much. In some of these poems he uses positively Victorian terms for people living with disabilities –

                             “Imbecilic farmboy licks and turns,”

is a refrain in “Only Natural.” This gives a snatch of the world from the boy’s point of view which is interesting in itself, but why, oh why, use such a prejudicial term?

Smith is concerned with human character and behaviour in extremes and under pressure, whether from old age, relationships turned sour, or mental illness. He is good at powerful last lines that sum up the pain of a person’s position: “He believes himself infested with rats and frogs; and the world of men is no help to him.” Or, closing a poem about a woman trapped in domestic abuse,“Her bruises are ignored.”

I liked the wit of a prose poem about Bhodhidharma teaching the shoppers from a supermarket trolley. Smith has a strong, original voice.

 

Review by: Eve Kimber

 

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The Devil Gets Lonely Too, poems by Thomas R. Langton. An A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 117 pages.  Published on 28th November 2017 by Matador.

www.troubador.co.uk/matador  ISBN: 978-1788038-843   £6.99

 

I enjoyed this collection and knew I would, because the author has a very definitive writing style.

The Devil Gets Lonely Too is the debut collection of poetry by Thomas R. Langton. Containing a wide range of themes, the book offers everything from hope to despair in an exploration of the darker side of life. Using a colloquial style, Thomas has written a succinct collection with poems about happiness, depression and the monotony of everyday life. This work explores more serious subject matter, including bringing light to deeper issues such as anxiety and suicide. Themes also range from love and lust to happiness, heartache and depression. Thomas punctuates his poetry with references to biblical and historical figures to help illustrate his writing.  A dark, twisted and at times sobering read, The Devil Gets Lonely Too takes inspiration from the work of Charles Bukowski and George Orwell, and from the music of Patti Smith. Thomas’s book stems from a lifelong passion for writing and a love of gritty literature. The book will appeal to fans of poetry, especially those who enjoy mature and honest Bukowskiesqe literature. The Devil Gets Lonely Too is a journey into the underbelly of poetry by Thomas R. Langton. Containing a wide range of themes, the book offers everything from hope to despair in an exploration of the darker cynical side of life. I enjoyed the humour of You`re a Crank

 

Don`t tell me to smile

I have nothing to smile for

What are you smiling for?

Yeah, well ain`t that good for you.

 

Using a colloquial style, Thomas writes a succinct collection with poems about happiness, depression and the monotony of everyday life. This work explores more serious subject matter, including bringing light to deeper issues such as anxiety and heartbreak. 

 

Review by: Neil Brooks

 

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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine

 

Edition #33 (85) December 2017

 

Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #33 (December 2017), please see below.

 

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The Siege of Monrovia a poem by Mark Huband

 

Drying Naked, poems by Theophanis Kleanthous

 

Carpe Amorem in Poetry, poems by Michele Ford

 

Three Feet Above the Ground poems by Heather Goddin

 

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The Siege of Monrovia, a poem by Mark Huband with photographs by Patrick Robert

A slightly larger that A5 size hardback book with a full colour cover and 67 pages.  Published during 2017 by Livecanon. ISBN: 978-1-909703-15-5  www.livecanon.co.uk or www.markhuband.com Email: markhuband@gmail.com £14.99.

 

Many risks pay off in Mark Huband’s long poem about the time in 1989-1990 when he was reporting on Liberia’s civil war. With graphic intensity, his reporter’s eye relays across the decades the brutalities committed, as rebel factions fought to control Monrovia: a father dragged away from his children, to be executed; numerous corpses, dumped in the mangrove swamp; women and children slaughtered in a church. The sadism of Prince Johnson - one of the leaders - is seen first-hand, and Huband himself escapes death more than once, prompting uncomfortable self-examination: “Can I kill to live? I saw men killing. //Will I be living when the day is dead..?”

            Such reflections are the book’s next strength. Huband’s decision to describe such a traumatic experience enables an exorcism of memory. As he puts it: “... me and the war are a memory now. / It saw me arrive and watched as I grew, // then it released me, but won’t let me go.”

            The gap of years allows Huband to align what happened with how he felt, providing a particular aesthetic integrity.

            Terza rima is an inspired choice of form, which supports this traumatic narrative. Like discrete stitching, it holds together the sense of a story being told, while guiding both reader and writer through the terror with a calm dignity.

            In a handsomely produced book, Patrick Robert’s black and white photographs capture strikingly the futility of civil – or any - war.

 

Review by: Will Daunt

 

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Drying Naked, poems by Theophanis Kleanthous.  An A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 108 pages.  Published on 28th July 2016 by Matador.  ISBN: 978-1-78589-136-6, £8.99

 

I do like poetry books with lofty ambitions. According to the blurb, this one would help me ‘find a deeper meaning in myself and my surroundings’ so I can better ‘determine how I measure my existence in an ever-changing world’.

Alas, after reading it, my levels of self-awareness and related phenomena are pretty much the way they were when I started, but this might say something about my existing understanding of the meaning of my life. To be fair, it’s something I’ve considered before.

The author has a distinctive style, which is usually a good thing. There are some great descriptions. Unfortunately, there’s a tendency to over-describe things that would usually be implied. There’s an obviousness to some of the comparisons, e.g., contrasting ‘the brightest whites’ with the ‘palest, dullest greys’. Some of the rhymes feel forced, e.g., ‘Unnerving Australia’s every batting flaw / The opposition’s pride was bruised and sore / Adding one more memory to our folklore’.

This is a shame, because there are some nice ideas fighting to come through.

Review by Andrew Barber

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Carpe Amorem in Poetry, poems by Michèle Ford. An A5 size paperback book with a full cover and 45 pages.  Published 2010 by?  ISBN: 9781456324285  Price?

 

The most striking feature of Ford’s work is her vivid and wide-ranging vocabulary; she clearly loves language and is bold in using Latin and German titles for her poems, such as “Carpe Libertem,” and “Die Winterreise,” (from the Schubert song cycle, presumably.) The poems are short, often nine to twelve lines, often three words to a line. I hesitate to call them minimalist, however, because they are bursting with emotive words and adjectives, movement and colour:

 

 

                     “Piercing scarlet satin bloom,

                       Twisting coiling intertwining

                        Silken threads of untold fate….”

 

The book jacket calls it gothic verse, and there is that element of outpouring of emotion into brief intimations of intense life shot through with tragedy. I have to say, though, I felt the results were mixed. A few worked as poems; others were so abstract that they seemed to be crying out for either illustration or music – they could have made good song lyrics, but were too fragmented to make a satisfying whole on their own.

One that followed a clear thread is “Carpe Mortem” (seize death);

 

                        “There is no turning back,

                           All the milestones that you pass,

                           Cats eyes rolling by,

                           Every mile getting nearer

                           To that eerie no man’s land,

                            Where you and I et alia

                            Can never see it through.”

 

    (Quoted in full).

 

There is good imagery in the poems, but they are generally too abstract and need telling details or touches of story to anchor them to lived experience, to sharpen their impact.

 

Review by: Eve Kimber

 

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Three Feet Above the Ground, poems by Heather Goddin.  Slightly larger than A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 89 pages.  Published 28th April 2017 by Matador.  ISBN: 978-1788036-405. Email: books@troubador.co.uk £8.99

 

This is Heather's second collection written over 35-year timeline, recalling themes of memories and travels. Her poems are deeply heartfelt, written with a warm hand, confronting love and loss with humour, as well as quirky touch. I really delved deep into this collection and enjoyed the range of Heather's words and the beautiful way she writes and creates emotional imagery. The collection starts with the title poem Three Feet Above the Ground, which is a poem Heather first wrote in 1980.

The day we met my life began.
What went before is void.
The world became more beautiful.
A wild enchanted place.
There was a brightness in the air
I had not known before.
You opened your heart to me.
Showed me the treasures of your mind.
My heart leapt at the sight of you.
I walked three feet above the ground.

I enjoyed the simplicity of the way the poet paints her pictures, to reveal the destinations of a sometimes haunting past. I liked many of these poems after re-reading, and letting the words sink in slowly. This a poignant collection of life affirming poems with the poet sharing her journeys with the reader in a very gentle, warm atmosphere of feeling. I really enjoyed and will read Heather’s first collection soon.


DEMENTIA

They brought you to the bar today,
An old tree, rocking in the wind.
Your eyes met mine
But in your absent face your eyes were dead.
I saw that you thought you knew me
But not who I was.

Amidst the noise and clatter
I watched you secretly.
You plucked at your sleeve again and again.
Lost in your world of silence.
Divided from us all.

I found this poem deeply moving as I was a support worker some years ago supporting someone with dementia.

 

Review by: Neil Brooks

 

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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine

 

Edition #32 (84) September 2017

 

Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #32 (September 2017), please see below.

 

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Tan Raptures, poems by Alan Morrison

 

You Beast, poems by Nick Lantz

 

Harborless - poems by Cindy Hunter Morgan

 

The Metropolis of Glass - poems by Chloe Lee

 

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Tan Raptures, poems by Alan Morrison.  An A5 size paperback book with a full colour and 191 pages.  Published 2017 by Smokestack Books.  email: info@smokestack-books.co.uk and www.smokestack-books.co.uk  ISBN: 978-0-9955635-0-6   £8.99

Alan Morrison’s eighth collection is a devastating and intense indictment of recent governments’ pursuit of benefit claimants. It demonstrates how the ‘tan’ envelopes dispatched by publicly appointed agencies embody that indiscriminate pursuit.

            This deconstruction of injustice weaves itself around an intricate historical tapestry of other struggles by the poor and disenfranchised. ‘The Moving Rainbow’ retells the story of the Bryant and May matchwomen’s 1888 strike, still ‘a light against intransigent grains/ Of industrial night’. Later, ‘Going Dutch’ is a sharp satirical riff on the dismantling of welfare state funding; ‘each pays according to their means (or mains), ... the less/ their means then the less they’ll eat – or heat’.

            Fifteen ‘Tan Raptures’ provide finely-wrought portraits of contemporary despair. For instance, ‘Shut Curtains during the Day’ exposes the government’s attempts to enlist people to spy upon supposed benefit scroungers. Like the theme of ‘The Bedroom Taxidermy’, the measure betrays no understanding of how people actually live. Finally, Morrison delivers a traumatic and moving roll call of many who have died, in the aftermath of receiving one of the dreaded ‘tan’ envelopes.

            This dense and detailed book contextualizes deprivation, presenting a studied gallery of how it looks, and why it persists. While the energy behind Morrison’s writing is unique and derived from his acute sense of injustice, it never loses its humour and linguistic vitality. It’s above all narrative verse, which, with compassion, colour and extraordinary knowledge shows us the trajectory of lives that are determined and suppressed by cant and denial.

Review by: Will Daunt

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You Beast, poems by Nick Lantz.  Slightly larger than A5 size paperback with a full colour cover and 94 pages.  Cover design: Jeremy John Parker. Wisconsin Poetry Series, editor: Ronald Wallace. Published 2017 by University of Wisconsin Press, uwpress.wisc.edu  ISBN: 978-0-299-31174-2 $14.95  £16.50.

This is a book that makes an impression. The cover photo is of a ram in a space suit, and the comma in the title changes the meaning entirely. It's not 'you beast', it's 'you, beast'. This is book about animals, humanity's relationship with them, and theirs with us. People have been writing about animals for a long time, of course, but this collection has some 'state of the art' ideas. One of the poems is based around Google autocomplete suggestions for questions asked by others. Eg, the partial question 'will apes ever...' elicited the suggestions 'evolve', 'talk' or 'take over the world'. Google autocomplete is probably a disturbingly accurate indicator of human curiosity nowadays. Other poems reference the joys of an earlier age, Mouse Trap board games and changing the tapes of a talking teddy bear to play Public Enemy and Metallica. There's a healthy dose of scepticism throughout this book, especially about politics, and throughout the book, Lantz assigns human characteristics to animals (and vice versa). This section from 'No Illeagles Here' (sic) is a good example: 'What to do with the sickly eagles, brooding In their brownstones and double-wides? They learned compassion from the fox That flees the henhouse with bloody lips, So how can they be expected to feel What the fish feels when it's swept From the river in their bright claws?' Most of the book is in poetry, but there are some interesting diversions. Several playlets crop up among the pages, some of which are very good, and draw heavily from the symbolism that infuses the poetry. 'The Prisoner' channelled Kafka better than many attempts I'd seen elsewhere. I enjoyed this book very much. I think it did well to stick to its theme so consistently for over 90 pages.

Review by:  Andrew Barber

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Harborless, poems by Cindy Hunter Morgan. An A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 63 pages.  Published 2017 by Wayne State University Press, Detroit, Michigan, USA. Designed and typeset by Libby Bogner, Good Don Daily. ISBN: 978-0-8143-4242-8 (paperback) and 978-0-8143-4243-5 (e-book).  £6.00.

This is a collection of poems on a theme, shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, USA. The poems are accomplished, coming from a teacher of creative writing, reinventing flashes of the experience of shipwreck and the lives of individuals affected by tragedy. A strength of the collection is Morgan’s total immersion in the experience of these long ago equals, whose hopes and dreams are as important as our own, through the daily stuff of their lives which can be very different: in “Independence, 1853” a man on a floating hay-bale relives the central place of hay in his life:

“Smelling all of central Wisconsin after rain,

something sour and musty and born

of the earth.”

Morgan shifts into a different gear when she changes form, as in “St Lawrence, 1878,” to something more experimental. Here, four stanzas of three short lines are transformed by repeating the poem four times on facing pages but blotting out most of the words, leaving different words standing starkly at each repetition. The effect is to transform the quality of the reader’s attention, investing the remaining words with power and forcing the reader to stretch their interpretation to new limits. I also admired “J. Barber, 1871,” a prose poem about peaches, dripping with sensuality. Less successful is a pantoum about a cargo of Christmas trees, which contains good lines but does not use the circularity of form to any particular advantage.

The collection is notable for fine, precise use of language and shafts of imaginative sympathy.

Review by: Eve Kimber

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The Metropolis of Glass, poems by Chloe Lee.  An A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 90 pages.  Published 28th May, 2017 by The Book Guild Ltd.  www.bookguild.co.uk email: info@bookguild.co.uk ISBN: 978-1-911320-89-0 £7.99 

The Metropolis of Glass is a poetry collection touching on many aspects of modern-day society. It spans a range of topics, including divorce, loneliness, infidelity and poverty. This is a debut collection of poems from Chloe Lee, influenced by aspects of current society, with a particular focus on the rise and use of technology. I like the range of topics she bravely covers and believe poetry should attempt to tackle current issues. Written by an exciting young, switched-on poet, with a lot of talent, The Metropolis of Glass is a poignant and relevant read designed to make the reader think. Sometimes it’s refreshing to hear a young poet’s perspective of the world. A lot of us grew up without the internet/social media and the fast-paced society young people are required to navigate during their daily lives.  I really enjoyed this excellent collection which describes what digitisation has done, and is doing, to a whole generation, namely staring into their smart phones and taking selfies. . .

 

So, it was good to get an insight into the world of technology and digital thinking. I liked this collection very much.    

 

“Her phone lost connection

 

The moment the doors banged shut.
It was then she saw her.
Not under the usual circumstances,
Distracted by her phone, or
Distracted by her watch, but
Her.
Just as she was.”

 

 

“But here they sat,

In front of their only medium,

Gripping steadfastly ahead,

Prolonging whatever would be left,

Minute by minute, even

Second by second, before she

Was engulfed once again into

The void of uncertainty”

 

Chloe’s lee debut collection provides observations and comments on various topics, including mobile phone signals and the both positive and negative issues often displayed in social interactions. Despite its sometimes negative tone, Chloe finishes her collection with a hopeful and optimistic outlook on our techno society. Whilst researching this poet I found out this debut has been inspired by John Ruskin’s ‘The Stones of Venice.’

Review by: Neil Brooks

 

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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine

 

Edition #31 (83) June 2017

 

Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #31 (June 2017), please see below.

 

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Post Office Poems, 2002 - 2016, by Simon Robson

 

Hurricane Walk, poems by Diann Blakely

 

Mean/Time, poems by Grace Bauer

 

Sisters, Cousins, and Wayward Angels, poems by David Tillinghast

 

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Post Office Poems, 2002 – 2016, by Simon Robson. An A5 sized stapled booklet with a two-colour cover and 21 pages. Drawings by: neil-wc.  Published 2017? by Grovsenor Road Books, 172 Grovsenor Road, Aldershot, Hampshire, GU11 3EJ.  No ISBN.  £1.50.

 

Simon Robson’s perspectives on Royal Mail employment are presented in his characteristically ‘twentieth century’ style. Here’s a homegrown, typed and self-published booklet, conversational in tone and small enough to post, like a letter...

            The format suits an irreverent and detailed exploration of Post Office life, although it’s the second - and larger - section that provides more literal narratives. In these seven poems, the frustrations of a humorous narrator characterise the workplace as chaotic and dysfunctional. Dickensian managers and union rep.’s populate the chapbook, like the ‘...grandiose/ mental midget for an inward packet/ sorting area manager’, or ‘My late shift union rep ... puckering/ licking his fat lips.../ health and safety, steel toe-caps, protective...’

            Robson pulls few punches in tackling the worst of what he’s worked with, and its unreconstructed attitudes. The image of dust expands through the final pieces, as a metaphor for something that’s beyond decay: ‘For years I’ve been inhaling/ Post Office dust .../ automatic failures, the future rise and fall,/ the levels and changes...’

            Boldly, the opening poems imagine four rock stars as Post Office workers. This generates a zany and intelligent satire of their world, and that into which they’ve been projected. Iggy Pop struggles to open sachets in the staff canteen, while Lou Reed commutes in a ‘rust bucket’, littered with peanut and biscuit debris. Meanwhile, Bowie is a model worker and Jagger ages with reasonable grace.

            Cartoon-style drawings by Neil add spice to that rare thing: a wry and coherent series of poetic workplace sketches.

 

Review by: Will Daunt

           

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Hurricane Walk, poems by Diann Blakely.  Slightly larger than A5 size paperback book with a full-colour cover and 64 pages. Cover photo: Nikita Petrov. Cover design: Erin Kirk New. Published 2017 by The University of Georgia Press, Athens, Georgia 30602, USA. www.ugapress.org.  ISBN: 978-0-8203-5067-7  £20.50  €24.00

 

It's not often that I can agree wholeheartedly with the blurb on the back of a poetry book, but when this one talks about Blakely's 'refined sense of intimacy' revealing 'the fragile essence … of the human condition', it's startlingly accurate. 'Intimate' and 'human' are certainly two words that popped into my head when I was reading this collection. There is something very human and fragile about the characters that narrate these poems, which are mostly in first person, and all from a female perspective.

 

This is a great collection, all the more so because it's Blakely's debut. These are well-drawn portraits of a wide range of characters. There is the puritan's wife planning to tutor her daughter away from the village, because 'this child is all mine – her fingers grasp roses and sunlight'. We get the perspective of the amateur stripper, encouraged by her husband, who's just looking forward to buying a new winter coat with her earnings. And we get the perspective of a ballerina at 80, her body having 'thickened, predictably. / It is no longer art'. I think my favourite was the narrator in 'Fever', which could have come from Kathy Bates' character notes from Misery – 'How I adored your illness! / I cuddled and coddled it, / prayed it would stay. / You became helpless, easy to love...'

 

These are very human characters who don't hide their flaws. There's an honesty to them that is refreshing. One cheerfully admits to being 'well-endowed with original sin'. They're not perfect, and they know it, but (probably because of this) they're usually likeable.

 

Review by: Andrew Barber

 

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Mean/Time, poems by Grace Bauer.  Slightly larger than A5 size paperback book with a full-colour cover and 78 pages. Part of the Mary Burritt Christiansen poetry series. Cover photo: The Void and the Comma, by Katie Merz.  Cover design by Lisa Tremaine.  Published 2017 by the University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque. ISBN 978-0-8263-5777-9 £20.50  €24.00

 

Grace Bauer is an American poet with a respectable tally of publications, but until page 48 I was thinking this was not poetry I could relate to. Much of it seemed to be, as Bauer says later in “Means of Transport,”

 

                                “...what may pass

                        for a poem – i.e., this

                        a meandering at best

                        through a state of mind.”

 

The words chosen are spare, scrupulous, the states of mind usually unremarkable – a moment of impatience, or watching a sunset. In the earlier poems there is a great deal of exploration of clichés, ironic use of clichés  and wordplay around them. Bauer’s use of words is often playful, combined with thoughts on the passing of time and the loss of friends, but these are the meditations of a corner table in a coffee-shop rather than a cell in the desert. Fair enough.

Then came p48 and “Fret.” This is a poem that evokes the modern plague of anxiety, that awful feeling that, though nothing particularly bad has happened, it will, and life is suspended in dread and anticipation. Bauer evokes a picture of Noah ready for the flood, his ark full of animals, but no flood comes. The absurdity and awfulness of this state of mind is powerfully expressed, and suddenly the work came into focus for me. Later poems in the collection, such as “Dusting the Angel,” look for gaps in the everyday busyness to hear the “call to work that feels more

worth your while, the necessary angel….

makes time matter.”

 

Review by: Eve Kimber

 

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Sisters, Cousins, and Wayward Angels, poems by David Tillinghast. Slightly larger than A5 size paperback book with a full-colour cover and 59 pages. Cover design by Nancy Parsons. Published 2017 by Texas Review Press, English Department, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX, USA. ISBN: 978-1-68003-123-2   £10.95 €13.00

 

I enjoyed the lyricism and tender references to friends, family in this collection. These poems echo the tender verse of W. H. Auden and the authentic sentiment of Louis Simpson’s poignant “Carentan O Carentan.” Similarly, it`s a difficult task for a poet to show his capability to write of family with tenderness, capturing friendships between the snapshot of stanzas including, snakes, wolves, mermaids, ghosts, the fragility of childhood, true love – and the things that matter the most in our personal worlds – without being held to criticism of sentimentality by some petty, obsequious literary critic.

 

The words of David Tillinghast illuminate the genuine definition of a style of poetry. I very much enjoyed reading this book out loud to get a feel for its mystery.  I read it with a pint of cider and imagined the places over the pond in the States. “Sisters, Cousins, and Wayward Angels,” will stay with you for many days and nights, these poems have invited themselves into my consciousness.  I enjoyed reviewing this book.  I read it to some of my poetry friends and they enjoyed it very much.

 

This book marinates in my thoughts for days and days. Anyway, it's a shame that there are not many full reviews. Surely someone, other than me, could capture the essence of these poems, maybe a reading audio file on YouTube.  I hope this review is fitting for these wonderful words.  Tillinghast has a fascination with nature and the beauty of friendships, family, and the strength of women, and the woods and trees seem to re-occur in many of his poems. Extracts below:

 

 

 NE M'OUBLIEZ PAS
 

She doesn't wear a coat,

 

Goes barefoot in the winter,

 

I think she must achieve

 

Symphony from setting.

 

She cocks her head and whips


Her hip out like a knife--

 

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SISTERS, COUSINS, AND WAYWARD ANGELS

My sister and I dwell in the lost
Gray nowhere of this October
Afternoon watching the slender
Water oak leaves twirl down
From their parents. She says
The leaves become inspired when
They hit the ground. She thinks
The little leaves dig in and sift
Through the earth like wee eels,
And when they reach the ninth
Level switch into swirly
Serpents on vacation to visit
Their country cousins in Hades.

 

Review by: Neil Brooks

 

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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine

 

Edition #30 (82) March 2017

 

 

Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #30 (March 2017), please see below.

 

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Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt - poems by John Cooper Clarke.

 

Poems from Guantánamo.  The Detainees Speak.  Poems from various contributors.

 

154 Poems by 154 Contemporary Poets in Response to Shakespeare’s 154 Sonnets

Poems from various contributors.

 

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John Cooper Clarke, Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt. An A5 size paperback poetry book with a full colour cover and 112 pages. Cover design by Mercy, www.mercyonline.co.uk   Artwork by Steve Maguire.  Adapted by Ken Goodall, www.byken.com  Published by Vintage, Random House in 2012, www.vintage-books.co.uk  ISBN 978-0-099-58376-9 £7.99.

 

I was very pleased to be given this book for review. I've been an admirer of John Cooper Clarke for many years. How you feel about this book depends largely on how you feel about the author. It's fair to say that he can be a controversial poet. He doesn't write about the things other poets write about, and he swears a lot more.

 

This is a re-release of a collection first published in the 1980s and contains many of his classics (e.g., 'Evidently Chickentown', 'Psycle Sluts' and 'A Love Story In Reverse'). It is worth bearing in mind that most of these were originally written for the stage rather than the page. Dr Cooper Clarke is primarily a performance poet, described by the Daily Telegraph as 'the godfather of British performance poetry'. This means that some of the pieces in this book can fall a little flat without the delivery. I found that I could enjoy the pieces more if I was already familiar with how they were originally performed.

 

On balance, though, I thought this was a wonderful book, from a period when the author was at his most effective. Like most punks, he was arguably of his time, and it was not a time of universal happiness. The best punk lyrics and poetry come from the boundary between anger and black comedy. John Cooper Clarke proved with this book that he knows that area better than anyone.

 

Review by: Andrew Barber

 

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Poems from Guantánamo.  The Detainees Speak. Edited by Marc Falkoff.  Slightly larger than A5 size hardback book with a full colour cover and 72 pages. Cover art by Paul J. Richards /AFP/Getty Images.  Preface by Flagg Miller. Afterword by Ariel Dorfman.  Published by: University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, 52242, USA.  Copyright 2007.  www.uiowapress.org  ISBN-10: 1-58729-606-3 & ISBN-13: 1-58729-606-2  $13.95

 

This compelling anthology depicts the multiple deprivations experienced by Guantánamo Bay internees. Its contributors – many facing no charges - capture the loneliness, humiliation, injustice and spiritual starvation endured there.

            Much of this unsettling but engaging poetry has been extricated only by the unstinting efforts of volunteer lawyers. The sense of negotiating each word’s safe passage is vivid.

            Yet, these are poems of sadness rather than bitterness, hope rather than hatred. ‘Cup Poem 2’ by Shaikh Abdurraheem Muslim Dost is drily ironic:

           

            Handcuffs befit brave young men.

            Bangles are for spinsters or for pretty young ladies.

 

            Writers like Abdullah Thani Faris Al Anazi portray their plight via the powerful backdrop of their immediate environment. ‘Ode To The Sea’ challenges the encircling Leviathan: ‘Gentle, deaf, mute, ignoring, angrily storming,/ You carry graves’. And there’s optimism in ‘O Prison Darkness’ by Abdulaziz:

 

            O prison darkness, pitch your tent.

            We love the darkness.

 

            The tale of a letter sent to the Briton,  Moazzam Begg, captures the scale and absurdity of Guantánamo’s security. He read only: ‘I love you’.  Censors removed the remaining, familiar lines: ‘One, two, three, four, five,/ Once I caught a fish alive...’ (etc.).  Begg’s seven year old daughter wrote them.

            These writers often lacked pen and paper and shocking accounts of how each one arrived at Guantánamo contextualize their  triumphs over hardship. All of this, some excellent commentaries and the book’s dignified appearance reverse some of the profound injustices exposed by these poems.

 

Review by: Will Daunt

 

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154 Poems by 154 Contemporary Poets in Response to Shakespeare’s 154 Sonnets.  Slightly larger than A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 319 pages.   Edited by Helen Eastman. Published 2016 by Live Canon Ltd. www.livecanon.co.uk

ISBN 978-1-909703-18-6  £5.00

 

The interplay between the Elizabethan originals and their young rivals, set in pairs on facing pages, is fascinating. A great many of the contemporary poets have chosen to answer a sonnet with a sonnet:  not always a wise decision, but there are some that really catch fire, such as Antony Dunn’s “Son,” blazing with fear for his child and the pain and hope of mortality, - a fine classic of the Shakespearean sonnet form, too, - or Mark D. Cooper’s tender and bleak meditation on loss, “Perseids.” 

 

Often the modern poet updates the concept of the original, as in Kostandinos Mahoney’s “Ladyboy,” though this made me appreciate that “the master mistress of my passion,” is actually equally frank. Some criticize and some rage against Shakespeare’s sentiments; some take a line as a starting point to set off on a totally different voyage, such as Sue Rose’s “The Injuries I do,” the thoughts of a suicide bomber, but tracking key words of Shakespeare’s lines to discover elements of a moral parallel, a self-destructive thirst, talk of duty and glory.

 

 Some poems are confidently modern in form. Sean Hewitt’s “Alder,” is delicate, unpredictable. It encapsulates a beautiful ability of the best poems to circle around a mystery, not telling the reader what to think. Amy Nielson Smith’s prose poem “Case Study,” blatantly gropes the mystery, but still leaves it unsolved. Weirdly resonant is leoemercer’s anagram poem on Sonnet 107, which concludes:

 

         “Whateer happens, we happened. Un-us.done “Us”

 

Undeniably true. Shakespeare happened. We happened.

 

Review by:  Eve Kimber

 

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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine

 

Edition #29 (81) December 2016

 

 

Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #29 (December 2016), please see below.

 

Swimming Through Marble - poems by Gillie Robic

 

Ezra Pound Land, poems by Simon Robson

 

Town Criers / Fliers, poems by Will Daunt.

 

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Swimming Through Marble, poems by Gillie Robie. Slightly larger than A5 sized paperback book with a full colour cover and 106 pages.  Published during year 2016 by: Live Cannon Ltd. Edited by Helen Eastman.  Cover image: New York State fossils, Sea Scorpions, (jaekelopterus rhenaniae), a series of extinct arthropod group, Eurypterid.  www.livecannon.co.uk  ISBN: 978-1-909703-17-9

 

Ms Robie is well-travelled, and it shows. Parts of this read as a travelogue, postcards from her journey around the world, Bombay to London to Paris and many more. I tend to think that the magic of a new place is best shown by a visitor to it – it's a device I use in my own writing. Those who are used to something can miss its magic to new eyes. It's a device that Ms Robie uses very successfully throughout this book.

 

It starts brilliantly, with a backwards-forwards poem called 'Shifting Time Zones' (the second stanza is the first stanza with the line order reversed), full of lovely imagery (I loved 'routines, unhooked from their outlined histories').

 

Some of the longer poems are prose-like, with dialogue. Parts remind me of Elizabeth Smart's collection 'By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept,’ with its theme of travel, and some lines I will never forget. There are some wonderful lines in 'Swimming Through Marble.’

 

Throughout this collection, there is a sharp eye for a memorable image. 'Venetian Roofscape,’ with its light-hearted pigeon's eye view of humanity and the world, is a delight. 'Every chimney is a work of art. / The pigeons know this', 'snuggling into warm terracotta gullies' as they 'congregate where people call for them to be culled, netted, killed' and 'huddle together on the rooftops, murmuring / about the consolation of the view.’

 

This is a great collection, full of interesting insights and unexpected delights. I can recommend it highly.

 

Review by: Andrew Barber

 

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Ezra Pound Land, poems by Simon Robson.  A5 Size stapled booklet with a two colour cover and 16 pages.  Illustrations by: neil-wc.   Published during year 2015 by: Grovsenor Road Books, 172 Grovsenor Road, Aldershot, Hampshire, GU11 3EJ.  No ISBN.  £1.50.

 

I like everything except the title – and yes, I get the joke, conflating Poundland stores with the exquisite poet, cartoon portrait of Pound looking shocked on the cover. Robson’s poems are at the opposite end of the spectrum from Pound’s subtly crafted work. Robson gives us a cheerfully incontinent torrent of images, contemporary dilemmas, complex pains and pleasures, jostling for our attention, but building through the poem to a multi-faceted and nuanced picture.

 

He uses the list poem as masterfully as Leonard Cohen, building portraits of 21st century characters and preoccupations. “The Best Dreams Ever” creates a remarkable portrayal of a fourteen year old girl in her own words, through her dreams, showing her teetering on the brink of schizophrenia, on the brink of individuality, looking for self in all sorts of settings, some childish (sherbert fountains), some cruelly accurate observations of adult failure, fantasies of power, poking curious fingers into death and political incorrectness, forbidden corners, dissing the establishment – dreams!

 

Several other portraits are equally insightful, demonstrating an acute eye for present day manners and voices. Where there are relationships, as in “Heavy Boyfriend,” there is

    “a chemical reaction between us,”

no mention of love, and the girl speculates that she could

                       “...bin him if I wanted, maybe Tuesday,

                           garbage day.”

 

The cover drawing, and the cartoon illustrations by neil-wc, are witty and accomplished, and fit well with a satirical note in the poems. There is a critique of modern ways, though so well understood and sympathetically drawn.

 

Review by:  Eve Kimber

 

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Town Criers / Fliers, poems by Will Daunt.  Slightly larger than A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 22 pages. Published during year 2015.  ISBN 978-1-329-66546-0

will.daunt@btinternet.com   £4.00

 

Will Daunt’s book has two titles and was initially designed for airing at Christmas 2015.  Town Criers/Town Fliers is a book about urban birds, their song, and habits.  The outer cover has no accompanying blurb but on reading a few pages the ornithological purpose becomes clear.  The photograph of a robin on the front cover is a bit of a give-away. All-in-all I found the contents of this short book to be charming and gentle – perhaps a twitcher’s eye-view? 

 

A couple of examples:

 

14:

 

Our sparrows

have given up gutters

of love and nurture,

 

quarrels at dawn

and scruffy rustling,

 

nestling instead

in other crannies,

 

flushed there

by rain, run awry.

 

16:

 

He stared out his patch

through summer hunts:

 

short nights, long lunges,

missing most,

 

showing off

and showing up himself –

 

this scrawny owl

of outcries,

 

learning to woe.

 

*

 

I can’t like every book I receive – but I do like this one.

 

Review by:  David Pike

 

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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine

 

Edition #28 (80) September 2016

 

 

Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #28 (September 2016), please see below.

 

Dragonsong: epic fantasy poem by Michael Forester

 

Chuckle Verse: humorous rhymes, limericks and parodies by Lizzy Wade

 

Baby Elephant in Bucharest: poems and artwork by Simon Robson

 

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Dragonsong  by Michael Forester. Epic fantasy poem of good and evil in the Arthurian tradition.  Slightly larger than A5 paperback book with a full colour cover and 253 pages.  Published in year 2016 by Matador, 9 Priory Business Park, Wistow Road, Kibworth, Leicestershire, LE8 0RX       www.troubador.co.uk/matador  and www.michaelforester.co.uk  ISBN: 978 1785891 274 £8.99

 

I like poets with ambition, and this is a very ambitious undertaking. It is effectively an allegorical fantasy novel written as a series of poems, which means this is the first poetry book I've reviewed where I'm concerned about giving away spoilers.

 

The blurb describes this as 'an epic fantasy of good and evil in the Arthurian tradition', and it certainly is. I would compare it also to Milton's 'Paradise Lost', as it's a very long poem written in a form of English that is no longer current – 'thee's and 'thou's abound. And like Edmund Spencer's later epic 'The Faerie Queene', which introduced the nine line 'Spenserian stanza', this uses an unconventional form – there are two ten-line stanzas to the page, in an 'ababc dedec' rhyme scheme, with a consistent change of meter. Four lines of iambic tetrameter are followed by one of iambic pentameter. For example, this stanza:

 

With flesh full-formed, the dragon stirred - a reflex moment to its wing. Then faintest noise, it could be heard and in the throats there did begin A sound familiar to the astral plane. The dragon moved and rais-ed up its scaly muscles, twitching now and from the air it sought to sup and sucking breath it did allow the scream of dragonsong to sound again.

 

Novels in the form of poems can suffer from a conflict of interests. The pacing requirements of the story can be at odds with the form demanded by the poetry. Even Vikram Seth's modern classic 'The Golden Gate' suffered from this on occasion, and Dragonsong is not immune, but the formal, courtly voice used for the writing does help to justify it.

 

The story itself is an entertaining one, and because it is pitched as a symbolic and allegorical fantasy novel, there's nothing really amiss about the mash-up of various myths into a new one.

 

I think Michael Forester has achieved something impressive here. The constraints of the form have largely been overcome by the strength of the writing, and while good vs evil as a story line has been done often, he has put his own unique spin on it, with a cast of characters that includes Shakespearean elves (Oberon is a main character), dragons, Norse gods and Merlin's daughter.

 

Review by: Andrew Barber

 

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Chuckle Verse, a mixed bag of humorous rhymes, limericks and parodies, by Lizzy Wade.  Slightly larger than A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 158 pages.  Published on 28th January 2016 by Matador.  ISBN: 978 1784625 061 £7.99

 

This is a coffee-table book rather than poetry. It would be unfair to judge it as poetry: the subtitle sets out its terms fairly and frankly – “a mixed bag of humorous rhymes, limericks and parodies.” The production values of the book are its strength, almost every double-page spread illustrated with expressive, witty line drawings with blocks of colour – a format which adds a lot of verve and flair.

 

The verses are mostly in a ballad form, four lines with the second rhyming with the fourth. The use of rhythm is clumsy, especially in last lines of verses where Wade often tries to fit in too many words to clodhopping effect. This is a pity; a good editor could have helped sort this out and the verses could easily have been made to flow better.

 

But the overall effect is funny, likeable and full of sketches of everyday situations which tip into the absurd – a pig swallowing a diamond ring, a driving lesson which ends in a collision. Wade has a line in self-deprecating humour and a keen eye for the telling detail in an everyday situation; most women will recognise her description of the tyrannical power of “The Hairdresser’s,” and the dismay of the unwanted cut. The book is aimed at women and features some unkind male stereotypes from which Wade escapes –“Though my best plans are often realised

                           When I am nonchalantly peeing!”

If you enjoy social comedy and a touch of satire, you may well enjoy this book.

 

Review by: Eve Kimber

 

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Baby Elephant in Bucharest, poems, artwork and photos by Simon Robson.  An A5 size stapled booklet with a two colour cover and 16 pages.  Published in year 2015 by Grovsenor Road Books, 172 Grovsenor Road, Aldershot, Hampshire, GU11 3EJ.  No ISBN.  £1.50

 

Simon Robson publishes A5 stapled booklets in what appears to be bursts of spontaneity; sometimes after experiencing specific events.  The “Baby Elephant,” he refers to is himself, possibly by way of feeling out of place, or as a non-conformist?  Not sure why he refers to himself as “baby,” other than, (possibly), he views himself as an innocent/awkward bystander?  The poems are observations of persons and places he has seen/heard during his sojourn to Bucharest.  Robson’s observations are sharp, bitingly humorous and on occasion caustic, but are nevertheless interesting - in spite of a slightly hangdog point of view.  For example:

 

No One Impresses Baby Elephant (part sample of)

 

English language students from Denver, Colorado,

well versed in in Harold Pinter and Shakespeare,

all the verbal subtleties, metaphors, similes,

San Diego big surfer-types with five day growth

beards, clever, clean, circumcised,

roundheads, bastards,

as described in the Bible. . .

 

Final Stanza

 

No one impresses baby elephant,

clowns and losers –

electronic Steve Jobs, iphones he can’t afford,

rattlesnakes and butterflies preferably. . .

 

The general feeling I personally received from this poem was the opposite from the stated verse i.e. that deep down the poet possibly was impressed, but felt inferior.  Oh well, that’s just my take on it.

 

I personally got the impression that Robson enjoyed his visit to Bucharest, but in an insular way.  Here’s another poem, (part sample of):

 

A Pint of Stella and a Camel Cigarette

 

Fragrant rich bastards, flowers, petals,

a sophisticated, elegant woman, Peggy Guggenheim –

a supposed takeaway, tossed Greek salad of

black olives and basil,

a tin of hideous tinned sardines, garlic

and cubes of

soft, gritty cheese, cat litter, cheese,

no accounting for taste –

some upside down glasses to amuse her further. . .

 

The booklet itself is roughly produced as a series of photocopied pages of type written script with photocopies of photos, tickets, etc.  The images and text are in sharp focus and easy to read. All in all good value at £1.50.

 

Review by: David Pike

 

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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine

 

Edition #27 (79) June 2016

 

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Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #27 (June 2016), please see below.

 

La Petite Mort - Gothic Poetry by Eli Wilde

Collected Poems - Revised, by Mary Christina St John

The Dwelling - poems by Eleanor  Zuercher

 

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La Petit Mort - Gothic Poetry by Eli Wilde.  An A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and ? number of pages, (no page numbers).  Cover and internal images illustrated by Anton Semenov. Published 28th March 2016 By Matador.  ISBN: 978-1-78589-101-4 £7.99

 

Maybe it's because I used to be a Goth, but I liked this book very much. It's always nice to see a poetry book with a theme, and the theme here is an unusual one – all of the poems are written from the perspective of a vampire called Rufus Hobster.

 

It reminds me of Ted Hughes' marvellous Crow collection. They don't write in a similar style – Wilde's Hobster character has a conscience, unlike Crow – but each piece is an extension of the same central theme – the life of a vampire.

 

There are some lovely insights here, and not just into vampires – the vampire has always been an outsider, and an outsider's perspective on humanity can be enlightening. There are philosophical diversions as well, for example in the poem 'I Am':

 

            I dream, therefore

            I am more

            than just a thought.

 

            Creator of worlds

            in a single night

            I am more than a god.

 

            I am every possibility

            imagined:

            limitless and meaningless.

 

That's the sort of ambition I can respect in a vampire. I can heartily recommend this book.

 

Review by: Andrew Barber

 

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Collected Poems – Revised, by Mary Christina St John.  Slightly larger than an A5 size paperback book with a 4 colour cover and 127 pages.  Published 2016 by The Book Guild Ltd.

ISBN 978 1 910508 770 £7.99

 

I confess I don't know what to say. Maybe it's me, maybe it's the poetry of Mary Christina St John, maybe it's a little bit of both, but all I can say is that I tried. I really tried. And all the time I was thinking of R S Thomas and his glorious religious poetry. His uncertain 'gravel thrown at the sky's window'. His longing for the supreme being to make contact. His painting his church interior black.

 

And I was all the time confronted, perhaps that's too strong a word, by the poetry of St John who writes love letters to Jesus and speaks of being 'tickled pink' or not leaving Jesus 'in the lurch'. 

 

This off the cuff poetry would be passable if it were not for the fact that St John threw the first stone in the first paragraph of her preface. 'Perhaps if more prolific poets, even the greatest, had been less indulgent towards all their offspring, it might not have been such a bad thing'. 

 

The 'greatest poets' are no longer around to defend themselves and it is up to those of us who owe them a deep debt of gratitude to stick up for them when they come before self-proclaimed judges. We can best do that by comparing like with like. And so to do I tried. I really tried. Sometimes I dozed off. But I did try. 

 

I leave the last word to St John. It's from the best part of her 'collected', her Juvenilia. 

 

They led him away to a secret land

where they charmed him into a magic sleep: 

the hawthorn berries his secret keep,

and the wild, wild briars understand. 

 

It's very beautiful and was doubtlessly written before Mary Williams of Wales became Mary Christina St John of Australia. There is a difference. It's always the difference that counts.

 

Review by: Gwilym Williams

 

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The Dwelling, poems by Eleanor Zuercher.  An A5 sized paperback book with a full colour cover and 116 pages.  Published 28th January 2016 by Matador.  Cover photograph by Bertie Zuercher.  ISBN 978 1785890 598 £7.99

 

This is a book of spiritual poetry, and a very fine one. Apart from a handful of poems, mostly towards the end of the collection (“Chronic Fatigue,” “Crispin with the cabbage whites,” (which speak of Zuercher’s everyday experiences), these poems explore the spiritual meanings and implications of everything Zuercher touches. History, places, nature, the sight of a peregrine falcon hovering – everything leads, through fine observation and description, back to a meditation or flash of insight on the nature of God or possibilities of the human relationship with God. It is a tribute to the honesty and depth of Zuercher’s writing that the poems continue to be thought-provoking and not preachy, or at least, I found it so. Nevertheless it is a book for the spiritual searcher; I can’t imagine that someone who was a convinced atheist, and content to remain so, would want to persevere with it for very long.

Zuercher loves the sound of words –“effulgent,” or the onomatopoeic “pools of aqueous light,” (“Churches of the West Buckingham Benefice”), and she loves paradox.

                                     “Lively in death; vibrant in silence,” (“Dark Radiance.”)

There is a sense being expressed here of the striving and fallibility of human communication, of perception straining at its limits. Zuercher sometimes uses an unrhymed ballad form punctuated by repetitions, developing the theme so that the meaning of the repetition deepens each time it appears, as in “Via Dolorosa.” In clear and musical lines she expresses searching and doubt, meditations reaching for hope in a troubling world.

 

Review by: Eve Kimber

 

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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine

 

Edition #26 (78) March 2016

 

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Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #26 (March 2016), please see below. 

 

A Woman by a Well, poetry by Emily Bilman

Resilience, poetry by Emily Bilman

Bodies, poems by Gareth Writer-Davies

 

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A Woman by a Well, poetry by Emily Bilman.  Slightly larger than A5 size paperback book with a three colour cover and 97 pages.  Published 2015 by Matador, 9 Priory Business Park, Wistow Road, Kibworth Beauchamp, Leicestershire, LE8 0RX.  ISBN: 978 1784623 135 £12.00.

 

It is a pleasure to discover a poet who writes with such beauty and depth of insight. Her language is dense with metaphor, images layered and reflecting on each other to advance the thought, observations piercing and precise. Bilman writes about her experiences of love, death of a lover or lying on a beach, but her meditations always reach towards the shared experience, the universal.

 

“We sat upon the rippled sallow dunes

 

While they toyed and coiled with the wind….

 

Like a handbreadth of sand expanding on the dunes,

 

Like the crystal weft growing within its ore, we grew.”  (“The Lattice”)

 

She loves the beautiful exact word and has no fear of making her readers reach for the dictionary – what does “Pentimento” mean? Perhaps you know, Bilman, who writes on the philosophy of art, certainly does. She likens the painter’s reworking of a picture to the process of poetry-making, alchemy, remorse, memory.   Bilman wears her learning like a comfortable jacket, writing about Renaissance paintings and their biblical subjects and classical allegories as a way in to reflecting on modern experiences. Bilman can be dark, writing about plague, or riots and personal loss in “Ire.” But in her work one feels she is aiming at that miraculous moment when disparate images strike a note of harmony and a multi-layered meaning is revealed. Often she succeeds – “Primal Sight” – sometimes, as in “The Twin-Deeds”, the daring seems strained and less successful. But all her work deserves a second and third reading.

 

Review by: Eve Kimber

 

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Resilience, poetry by Emily Bilman.  Slightly larger than A5 size paperback book with a four colour cover and 98 pages.  Published 2015 by Matador.  ISBN 978 1784623 159 £12.00.

 

I have mixed feelings about this book, and I'm wary about letting personal preference get in the way of a balanced review. I am a poet myself – I too have felt the need to luxuriate in the language, to enjoy it as a sensory pursuit, to feel the words roll around my tongue as I savour them. My own preference would be for less description, but that's not to say that 'more' is wrong in some way.

 

For me, there were parts of this book that were so rich in (often-hyphenated) adjective and adverbs that I felt walled in by them. Whole stanzas seemed to pass where every noun or verb had two or three modifiers, and some seemed unnecessary to the point of tautology ('wheel-wagon' being a notable example). It felt that once the poet had established a descriptive 'rhythm', everything would be described for consistency, whether needed or not.

 

As I say, that's just a stylistic opinion, and one not shared by Ms Bilman. For those who do enjoy their descriptions, many of them were original and unexpected. Like this stanza, from Cleanin' Asbestos:

 

Like iron-filaments, asbestos germ-dust clings to our lungs, clogging our breath, constricting our lung-trees like dried-out sea-stars.

 

There are some wonderful lines throughout. One of my favourites was:

 

Deceit, your hands are the tools of impunity. You hold a honey-comb inside one palm, A bitter scorpion-sting inside the other.

 

On balance, this probably is a good collection, and one that many can enjoy. There are nearly 80 poems in the book, collected into themed sections. There is a lot to like, and even if you don't like all the adjectives and adverbs, they are at least interesting adjectives and adverbs, beautifully written and usually apt.

 

I say this as a cake enthusiast of some years' standing. If I compare something to cake, it's a compliment. I feel like I've just tried a richly-layered gateau, pumped with cream, suffused with pleasing essences, artfully-cut pieces of fruit positioned decorously on top to provide an elegant accent colour. I can see it's a good cake, well-crafted and lovingly-made, but it's one that's a little rich for my tastes.

 

Review by: Andrew Barber

 

*

 

Bodies, poems by Gareth Writer-Davies.  Slightly larger than A5 size booklet, with a full colour cover and 35 pages.  Cover design by Ronnie Goodyer.  Author photo by jadefindlater@flickr.com Published 2015 by Indigo Dreams Publishing Ltd, 24 Forest Houses, Halwill, Beaworthy, EX21 5UU.  www.indigodreams.co.uk  ISBN 978-1-909357-71-6  £6.00

 

Make no bones about it here is a poet with an assemblage of
uncommon wisdom, a poet with
whom you would like to chew the fat.

The poems presented themselves almost as meditations. They
live inside us; they are us;

they are everything from teeth, to gut flora, even to the
bowels. We can all relate to them.

There are pearls within oysters:

In the poem 'Dental' for example we learn


there are too many teeth in the world
grinning their way through a steak
chewing on pencils

maybe they are macerating stars
in the inky throat of the night
pearly sentinels to the gums

Bodies is a meditative masterpiece; a zen like voyage
through the human corpus.

Take 'Elbow'

. . . without you
I couldn't cut my bread or itch my nose


Here's my tip. Read it while relaxing in the bath with your
body steaming before you. You'll never see
yourself in the same light again.


A fine body of work.
Thank you, Gareth Writer-Davies.   

 
Review by:
 Gwilym Williams

 

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