Pulsar Poetry Webzine
       Pulsar Poetry Webzine

Publication Reviews: Years 2019 - 2021

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Pulsar Book Review Panel:

 

David Pike, Andrew Barber, Eve Kimber, Will Daunt, Imogen Lee, 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, 90 Beechwood Drive, Camelford, Cornwall, PL32 9NB, 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 #47 (99) June 2021

 

Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #47 (June 2021), please see below.

 

No Refunds, poems by Paul Tanner.

 

Fires of Heaven, poems by James B. Nicola.

 

This Small Patch, poems by Tom Kelly.

 

No Refunds, poems and cartoons from your local supermarket, by Paul Tanner. A 6” x 9” paperback book with a full colour cover and 123 pages.  Cover art by Red Focks and Paul Tanner. Published by Alien Buddha Press, December 2020. ISBN 9798698778509.  Available via Amazon, £8.60.

 

No Refunds crackles with initial promise: its poetry and cartoons are from the front line of supermarket employment during a pandemic, and Tanner has the eye, ear and power of speech to champion this under appreciated workforce’s lot.

 

‘unbloomed’ is caustically ironic, contrasting others’ “flowery poems” with “the only flowers I see/ … starved and mummified/ under the shop floor fluorescents.”  Tanner notices repeatedly the absurd in the mundane. An excess of ravioli tins in ‘and it’s like’ prompts some retail slapstick, as the boss “has/ another one of his great ideas:/ let’s stack them in a pyramid…/…it’s retro! he says”. Chaos follows.

 

A piece like ‘puffs of breath and that’ is reflectively compassionate as the narrator passes an “old guy…still there” at the bus station, perhaps “waiting on a long- lost love.”

 

But as No Refunds progresses, its engaging charisma hardens to something else. By the 123rd page the relentless characterization of customers and management as implied enemies is taking a heavy toll. ‘don’t ask’, requests of supervisors, “have your fat wives/ long stopped putting out?” And we are invited to imagine another’s “fat dead wife” in ‘last shift there.’

 

Customers’ obnoxious treatment of staff like Tanner is shocking and a tale that needs to be told, as it is here. But there’s little variation, as shown by the depictions of “some little brat” in ‘Darwin to aisle 12’, or (all?) customers who “sometimes bother/ to cover up [their] smell,” in ‘modern pimping.’

 

All of that would feel very different if there was a sense of common cause between the narrator and his fellow employees, but this is rarely seen. Certainly, the book captures Marx’s theories on worker alienation, as ‘lonely vs lonely vs ditto’ suggests: “…fellow shop workers…/ …won’t join in/ and ignore you,/…it can get lonely, that.” And No Refunds has an important and distinctive voice – which must be engrossing at readings. But by the last page it’s sounding rather hoarse.

 

Review by:  Will Daunt

 

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Fires of Heaven, poems of faith and sense by James B. Nicola. A 6” x 9” paperback book with a full colour cover and 143 pages.  Published 2020 by Shanti Arts Publishing. www.shantiarts.com ISBN 978-1-951651-45-9 $14.95 USD.

 

This is a book of poems about faith and religion. I say ‘religion,’ but it’s really just Christianity, and there is a lot more to religion than that. However, I’ve always thought that why someone believes is a lot more interesting than what they believe, and Fires of Heaven is thankfully more concerned with the ‘why’ than the ‘what’.

 

The poems are in a range of forms, from limericks to sonnets. The narrative voice is often chatty and informal, which is a good thing. It makes the writing more relatable. Many of the poems are rhymed, but not at the expense of rhythm.

 

I think this one was my favourite:

 

The holiest, wisest man still flawed, I can’t say which is worse: creating in his image, God, or claiming the reverse.

 

Despite the overriding presupposition that there is a god, this is a book that probably has more questions than answers, and that’s how it should be. There are a lot of books of Christian poetry, and this one at least has a sense of fun.

 

Review by: Andrew Barber

 

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This Small Patch, poems by Tom Kelly. A 6” x 9” paperback book with a full colour cover and 76 pages.  Published 2020 by Red Squirrel Press, www.redsquirrelpress.com 

ISBN 978-1-910437-91-9 £10.00.

 

Kelly is a Jarrow man, a Tyneside man, from the boots up. He uses a variety of forms in his poems and song lyrics, which form part of this collection, but love and the knowledge of his native region, its people, their patterns of speech, their origins and their experiences, colour every line. He draws on the history of the area from the Anglo-Saxon origin of the name “Jarrow”, to the proud roll-calls of shipyards and trades in their glory days, to the passion and tragedy of the Jarrow Crusade. Kelly uses archive material to convey the march of Jarrow unemployed shipyard workers, on foot, to London to petition Parliament for work; notably a speech by one of the march leaders is presented like a found poem. Kelly leaves its refrain “Something must be done, and we shall not stop until something is done,” to stand unanswered, as it was in historical fact. He comments obliquely, following this with short, vivid portraits of his Uncle Johnny, one of the marchers, and another of the leaders – both masterful in their compression of essentials into brief, pungent lines, loaded with pain and tenderness. The poems in dialect convey a powerful sense of voices, individuals, speaking from the heart direct to the reader. Kelly draws on his Irish family heritage and childhood memories to build a people’s history, an insider’s view, complex, sometimes shocking, proud, grieving, arriving at some sort of resolution as he walks with the bairns into an unknown future.

 

Review by: Eve Kimber

 

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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine

 

Edition #46 (98) March 2021

 

Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #46 (March 2021), please see below.

 

Fractures, poems by Carlos Andres Gomez.

 

Perigee, poems by Diane Kerr.

 

Horsefly Dress, poems by Heather Cahoon.

 

 

Fractures, poems by Carlos Andrés Gomez. Winner of the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry.  A 9” x 6” paperback book with a full colour cover and 89 pages.  Published 2020 by The University of Wisconsin Press, 728 State Street, Suite 443, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA. www.uwpress.wisc.edu   ISBN: 978-0-299-32994-5 $16.95

 

Carlos Andrés Gómez has a gift for extracting the intangible from the everyday. Fractures is propelled by many small incidents, some mundane, some arresting.

‘Hijito’ prefaces Fractures’ four sections, introducing the reader to the book’s lingua franca. The ‘sonny’ of the title is watched through the “sly mirror” of “the glass of a grocery store.” Is this the writer’s son, imagined in the future, “calling out breathless / from the hollow lungs of night?”

To seek simple answers to such a question misses the point of Gómez’s vision: he shows how we think differently. In ‘Underground,’ when “my wife boarded the subway” a door opens into another remembered journey, travelled “on a Greyhound bus/ from Tampa to Talladega.” The subject is “her mother,” turned away from a “White Only” toilet and “forced to squat” in “a dung- filled field.” Gómez imagines “a child, four generations” on “who will remember a story he’s never //been told.”

Other poems shock more directly. ‘Thieves in the Temple’ is a brutal exposition of the hypocrisy of Christian anti- abortionists, while ‘A Blessing for the Internet Troll’ unflinchingly deconstructs the content and impact of hate mail that Gómez received on social media. But the poem’s mood shifts from anger to some sense of escape, even ironic redemption: “I wish you a version of// yourself that is better than/ mine.”

This resilient humanity is found in other poems like ‘Before the Last Shot,’ a teenage memory of a summer evening in Brooklyn, ruptured by a gunman, “his lanky silhouette stalking/ the abandoned sidewalk.” Fear is subsumed by an interrogation of other feelings: “I needed to see his face, half/ expecting to see myself.”

This is a book of repair, as much as fracture, from a writer whose supple and enlightened voice probes as much as it exhilarates.

 

Review by: Will Daunt

 

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Perigee, poems by Diane Kerr.  Winner of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry. A 9” x 6” paperback book with a full colour cover and 97 pages.  Published 2020 by The University of Wisconsin Press. www.uwpress.wisc.edu    ISBN 978-0-299-33024-8 $16.95

 

This is an extraordinarily powerful collection. It is not always easy to read, but it is compelling. It is the story of the author’s childhood, a horse-mad country girl being molested and impregnated at the age of 13 by her riding instructor. The poems are raw, visceral, and often filled with trauma.

 

The writing communicates that trauma very effectively. Too effectively for me sometimes; I could only read so far without needing a break. I can remember when my daughters were teenagers, and my worst fears of what might happen to them filled the pages of this book.

 

It isn’t all childhood trauma - there are some lovely vignettes of rural life, and others based on the author’s mother as a child, which are very well written. There are poems about modern day sex offenders. But the trauma casts a long shadow over this collection.

 

I think this is a good example of the writing here:

 

Meanwhile, Jerry sits in prison making his appeals: bad lawyer, should get a new trial, he says, statute of limitation was up, he says, as if suffering had a shelf life.

 

I didn’t always enjoy reading this collection, but I respect its power, and its emotional weight is undeniable.

 

Review by: Andrew Barber

 

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Horsefly Dress, poems by Heather Cahoon.  A 5.5” x 8.5” paperback book with a full colour cover and 76 pages.  Published 2020 by the University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona, 85721, USA.  www.uapress.arizona.edu ISBN: 978-0-8165-4093-8 £18.50

 

In ten years of reviewing new books of poetry for Pulsar, Cahoon’s is the most powerful and challenging I have encountered – apart from a new translation of the incomparable Anna Akhmatova. Cahoon confronts 21st century culture from a Native American standpoint, peeling back layers of unthinking certainties to reveal the differences that underlie everyday assumptions about history, the past, faith, language. Words in the Salish language are seeded throughout the poems, forcing the reader to investigate, think and question. (I can’t find the type symbols to quote Salish words).

“Which is the real world,

when language is scaffold for knowing…..

Unseen archers fire     words like rosewood arrows

that pierce the airy sky of flesh

            in a confrontation between past and present knowing

that spills           injured

and dying

words

across valleys and pages of memory.”

Cahoon uses the legends of her people – Horsefly Dress is the daughter of Coyote, leading figures in ancient creation myths which also unpack a way of understanding the world. Cahoon expresses and interprets the deep everyday experiences – motherhood, fear, hope – also through a minute observation of nature and imagery of birds, trees, insects. She uses dreams and unflinching accounts of painful memories to create poems that resonate between worlds, spare in structure, yet rich and complex.

“When the west surged into the center

of the world     the Word pulled back into heavy

honey-yellow lines

and scarlet patches drawn

across the slight shoulders of certain blackbirds.”

Review by: Eve Kimber

 

 

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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine

 

Edition #45 (97) December 2020

 

Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #45 (December 2020), please see below.

 

Brother Bullet - poems by Casandra Lopez.

 

Aurum - poems by Santee Frazier.

 

Our Bearings - poems by Molly McGlennen.

 

 

Brother Bullet, poems by Casandra López. A 6” x 9” size paperback book with a full colour cover and 95 pages.  Published 2019 by The University of Arizona Press. www.uapress.arizona.edu ISBN 978-0-8165-3852-2 £18.50

 

This is a beautiful elegy: profoundly sad and profoundly uplifting by turns. López responds to her brother’s brutal murder on “the porch you once painted baby // blue” without fear and with inspired energy. His “bullet” is characterized starkly: a bringer of tragedy but a catalyst for truth and hope.

Several imperatives drive Brother Bullet. First, the impact of a truncate d life is lovingly revealed, like the waves and fuguing lines of ‘Refugio Beach’ which then and now help to:

… find ourselves here marked

by a place named beautiful in an old language that knows

 

the sound the creek makes as it flows into the Pacific.

 

‘I Am Sorry For Your Loss’ is an astonishing exploration of grief. The following two lines are repeat ed, separately, and underline the depth of the atrocity and the particular light it throws upon the family’s rich heritage:

 

Under Brother’s Ethnicity write: Cahuilla, Luiseño.

I always pack Brother’s death certificate.

 

Family is the pounding heart of this collection: “Brother’s” intergenerational relatives embody his life and reflect its richness. ‘Remember This’ recalls the armed robbery of a shop, where a younger “Brother”:

 

…stood static – transfixed

 

by the gleam of gun, your legs were steeled

in place …

 

It’s an alarming signal of what’s to come.

Further creative impetus comes from the seamless way in which Brother Bullet connects emotion and memory, both always close to the bullet’s trajectory.

Here’s how ‘What Bullet Teaches’ opens:

 

I learn to speak in metaphor,

name your murder

Bullet. Call fear

my starless night, red ocean.

 

In ‘Some Boys’, the surviving son asks about where his father was killed:

 

… I tell him the truth, but feel heavy with the

            weight of witness, a wild gunshot ricochets in my

 

throat.

 

This is poetry of great integrity: crafted and unabashed, dazzling and trauma tic. What might have been only the legacy of a brother’s shooting becomes a life- giving celebration of who and how he was.

 

Review by: Will Daunt

 

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Aurum, poems by Santee Frazier. A 7” x 7” size paperback book with a full colour cover and 61 pages.  Published 2019 by The University of Arizona Press.  ISBN 978-0-8165-3962-8 £18.50

 

One of the joys of reading for me, and not just reading poetry, is the opportunity it offers to see the world from a new perspective. This book provides many such opportunities. It is part of Sun Tracks, an ‘American Indian literary series’.

 

The poems, on the experiences of being indigenous in a country taken over by invaders and colonisers, are extraordinary. They have an intensity that I have rarely seen. There is an American poetry tradition that I think of as ‘muscular’, each word attempting to stand its ground, and this is certainly in that tradition.

 

The poems are muscular, but they are also subtle, which is a hard trick to pull off. For the first half of the book, I assumed that the writing was that of a Black person in America, coping with grinding poverty and feeling like a second-class citizen in a land that seems so unfamiliar. The experiences may well have been very similar. ‘Slices of can-shaped meat fried in bacon grease.’ That they were written by a member of the indigenous population says way more than I can.

 

There is a great blend of styles in this book - prose poems, some that are only a few lines long, some that extend over many pages - but it is a beautifully presented collection that never loses its focus, despite many of the poems being quirky vignettes or character portraits.

 

Review by: Andrew Barber

 

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Our Bearings, poems by Molly McGlennen. A 7” x 7” size paperback book with a full colour cover and 72 pages.  Published 2020 by The University of Arizona Press. 

ISBN 978-0-8165-4017-4 £18.50

 

McGlennen’s writing inhabits a rich mosaic of interests and influences, speaking of both urban and ancient landscapes, basketball and resonant Native American words in almost the same breath. Not quite the same breath. The poems inhabit and circle around Minneapolis, a modern city and McGlennen’s home, seeing the city as it is now and above and beneath and beyond it, the lakes and trails and of her Native American homeland. Deeply conscious of her Anishinaabe family’s history of suffering and injustice, McGlennen weaves their story through the collection, but interspersed with all the complexity of modern life – Prince’s platform shoes in her dad’s friend’s attic, John B calling from prison at Christmas. She creates a many-layered picture of the place she calls home.

 

“While sandhill cranes stage for migration,

 

a home, a commons, shimmers in abidance.”

 

Through the book there runs a sense of how much has been lost, children stolen by a self-righteous State, traditions that belonged to “all the story carriers before us.” McGlennen and her father track almost unbearable family history through the letters in the Minnesota Historical Society archives; she tracks family records of a different kind trekking through pine forests looking at moccasin flowers and the right kind of wood for snowshoes.

 

McGlennen’s writing is subtle, a flexible instrument that moves to the rhythms of breath and footfall, adapting to the wide variety of moods and topics. It can embody outrage, or quiet exploration, or the patterns of speech, “carrying each one’s story like a mouthful of diamonds.”

 

Review by: Eve Kimber

 

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Edition #44 (96) September 2020

 

Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #44 (September 2020), please see below.

 

England's Edging - poems by Will Daunt

 

We Cast Pale Shadows - poems by James Rainsford

 

Just Words - poems by Heather Goddin

 

Loving - poems by Heather Goddin 

 

 

England’s Edging, part one, 2020. Poems by Will Daunt.  A 5.75” x 8.25” inch paperback book with a full colour cover and 56 pages. Published 2020. ISBN 978-0-244-58034-6. £5.00. Available via Amazon.

 

This is the first time I’ve reviewed a book by a fellow Pulsar reviewer, and I’ll admit to some trepidation, as I feared I would have to be diplomatic, which is always a challenge. Thankfully, my fears were groundless, and this is actually very good. The format is unique, in my experience. This is effectively a travelogue, impressions of specific places in England, each place name a title, each subtitle a postcode. Poems are often accompanied by a stylised black and white photo of the location, which adds to the feel that this is a holiday scrapbook, a memento of travelling. The poems themselves are concise and witty, with a surprising amount of detail about the history, architecture, etc, of the locations chosen.

 

I enjoyed this one in particular, and I think it represents the travel theme well. This is from M6 J27.

 

That’s not a postcode, it’s a junction. It unwinds us like clockwork cars... launching a life’s worth of bursts into who-what-where... We’ve edged north... passed firs trimming the wind fields... and unlocking hay slopes.... and deep leas in Bowland... the grey tops of Yorkshire... large Lakes.... or blind and slow pacts with the southern mesh... Always that red light builds up the slip road... asks do you live here?

 

Review by: Andrew Barber

 

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We Cast Pale Shadows, selected poems by James Rainsford. An A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 205 pages. Published 28th February 2020 by Matador Books. Email: books@troubador.co.uk  www/troubadour.co.uk/matador ISBN 978-1-83859-260-8 £9.99.

 

Above listing for viewer information only - no review..

 

Just Words, poems by Heather Goddin.  An 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch approx. paperback book with a full colour cover and 67 pages.  Published 28th January 2020 by Matador. ISBN 978-1-83859-208-0 £8.99.

 

Beneath the unaffected style and narrative clarity of Heather Goddin’s poetry there is a serenity and insight, drawn from a love of people and places, known and lost. Just Words doesn’t aim to excite or challenge, but it absorbs the reader by conjuring up encounters that feel strangely familiar.

Where poems celebrate, they rarely idealise. So, ‘Arboreal Imagining’ begins by suggesting that “the countryside of Belgium is so dull” before playfully personifying “a froth of emerald leaves” and other woods and copses glanced from a coach window. Goddin observes behaviour with a quizzical and sympathetic eye. In ‘Courting Couple’, two herring gulls reflect their human counterparts as:

 

They sit along a terrace wall.

Side by side, just feet apart,

Or back to back like bookends on a shelf.

 

Humour is well deployed, as in the recreate d cacophony of ‘In Praise of Snores’ or the playful restraint of ‘The Wee House In The Churchyard’.

There’s an occasional drift towards unqualified cliché (“flights of fancy;” “lovely day;” “too much to bear”) or archaism (“as once I did;” “when next we meet”). A small number of poems conclude rather woodenly, adding what isn’t needed, as in the message repeated at the end of ‘Progress’ (“There is now this thing called “Progress””), or in ‘The Little Mermaid’s concluding:

 

There is a price to pay

For everything.

 

Rare moments like these detract from the enjoyable work of an accessible, engaging writer.

 

Review by: Will Daunt

 

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Loving, poems by Heather Goddin. An 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch approx. paperback book with a full colour cover and 84 pages. Published 28th September 2018 by Matador. ISBN 978-1-78901-381-8 £8.99.

 

Heather Goddin’s poems are warm, vivid portrayals of poignant moments or memories of significant encounters in the past. Her writing is spare and delicate, making the links that join lives together and create webs of memory and romantic resonance:

 

“Deep in the shadows I see the brilliance of your smile

 

            And remember the first smiles that we gave one another.”

 

Other kinds of love are celebrated: “Mountain,” about her relationship with nature and the challenge of the climb, or “Vigil,” exploring her feelings for her house and home life. She also writes on Irish mythical themes: “Tir Nan Og,” is a moving poem in which she hopes to meet her beloved again in a Celtic heaven.

 

I did wish at moments for more irony – a poem calling pheasants “gormless” because they can’t understand modern life (cars) is set opposite one lamenting Goddin’s own difficulties because she can’t understand modern life (IT technology), not meant to be funny I think?

 

I enjoyed “The Social Life of Monkeys,” which plays very successfully on a single image – Goddin watches monkeys grooming each other and envies their sense of belonging, until she feels her lover picking hairs off the back of her dress and realises that he is grooming her and she, too, can feel that security of belonging. A very human sense of fun and resilience illuminates a number of the poems: Goddin’s affection for a nodding plastic flower, a teddy bear, her understanding of how real people get through difficult days.

 

Review by: Eve Kimber

 

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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine

 

Edition #43 (95) June 2020

 

Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #43 (June 2020), please see below.

 

 

Dialling a Starless Past - poems by Mike McNamara

 

The End - poems by Gareth Writer-Davies

 

Fruit - poems by Bruce Snider

 

The Candidate - poems by Mark Huband

 

 

Dialling a Starless Past, poems by Mike McNamara. A paperback book, approx. 8.5” x 5 3/8” with a full colour cover and 37 pages. Published 1st December 2019 by Arenig Ltd, (Arenig Press), Dolfawr, Cwmrheidol, Aberystwyth, SY23 3NB. www.arenig.co.uk  publish@arenig.co.uk  ISBN: 978-1-9998491-6-0  £5.99

 

Mike McNamara doesn’t short- change the reader in the thirty odd pages of this strikingly- conceived collection. The vivid, broad brushstrokes of the author’s cover painting bookend a world of reflection and memory that overflows with humanity and compassion.

The book celebrates a range of enticing contrasts, both in ‘Schooldays’ and (as here) in ‘Never to Return’. A childhood disturbed by a move from Ireland to South Wales returns in a mixture of nostalgia and sharp reminders of the early 1960s.

 

In the kitchen…

a stabbed sausage, the crisp fried bread still warm.

The lino floor, the loyal sold as seen cooker.

a coal fire spitting beneath the stone- look wallpaper.

 

But the book’s larger exploration is the sometimes damaged, always colourful shaping of the adult self. In the title poem, McNamara characterises his “starless past” through the minute fascinations of childhood and adolescence, the ordinariness or the temptations, observed, collected and experienced:

 

If stars shone out I chose to let them glow

jiving at The Living Eye, mooching around the low life

dockside caffs, limping from clinics after penicillin shots.

the sex roulette compulsion, pain for pleasure.

 

Yet this apparent rejection of the bigger picture, of art’s intoxicating abstractions, is in fact what frames and grounds McNamara’s growth as a writer, musician and artist. On the one hand, his 1976 stint in as a ‘Military Prisoner, Colchester’ uses short lines to bring back something both vivid and distant. Alternatively, ‘Adrift in the Asylum’ (for drug dependence, aged 17) is a terrifyingly re-awakened memory:

 

Laughing at silent asides the keyless pursers of cryptic monologues

word- salad profundities and meaningless, mindless mirth

sail their sound and fury ships

to unmarked destinations through howling inner storms.

 

McNamara’s musical career is captured by anecdote and his natural ear for the pulse beneath a good lyric. For example, the twelve lines of ‘Theatre’ deploy a strict form with a poetic subtlety, while ‘James Dewar, Loss, Addiction and E.C.T.’ channels the delicious damage of youth through a sonnet:

 

I see you again there on steps soft with leaves

in that coat that you’d wear with just courage beneath

braving sad tomorrows and smiling to cover

the fear of those dark clouds in one snapped forever.

 

This is a slim volume with a big heart, uncompromising, honest, evocative and accessible. A life re-painted in intense colours.

 

Review by: Will Daunt

 

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The End, poems by Gareth Writer-Davies. A paperback book, approx. 8.5” x 5 3/8” with a full colour cover and 35 pages. Published 2019 by Arenig Ltd, (Arenig Press). www.arenig.co.uk  e:publish@arenig.co.uk ISBN 978-1-9998491-4-6 £5.99

 

In this collection, Writer-Davies exposes the very things we all fear in the face of mortality, yet deals with them in a tangible and digestible format. In this very internalised and personal collection, there is little talk of others, reflecting the isolation and loneliness that can come with the premonition of death. Such private writing creates a very candour and raw journey through a personal experience of death, allowing the reader an insight into a kind of self-grieving that the poet deals with. The unceasing use of literary references are transformative in revolutionising a run of riotous but humble thoughts into a collection more clearly devised and composed. 

 

The two poems Request For Prayers and Fixed Price Service, cleverly come one after the other, detailing a journey from agnostic superstition to a dramatic outcry of desperation for belief. The stark shift in tone from needing something ‘more than superstition’ to his faith in God being ‘implicit’ reveal our innate response to question our future when faced with a lack thereof and how our circumstances often shape our beliefs more than we realise. 

Diagnosis, the most mundane of his poems, lacks vibrant imagery or literary reference (unlike the majority of the collection), in turn making it stand out as very ordinary. A sense of denial in his words, there is nothing dramatic or elaborate about this particular poem which mirrors the poets motive throughout the entire collection: there is nothing dramatic or flamboyant about death. Life goes on. 

 

The fragmentary composition of this collection complements the journey of emotions, the stages of self-grief and the ever-changing perspective one has on their own cessation as they tumble through denial, rage, bargaining, depression and acceptance. 

His acceptance is most beautifully illustrated in Dust and Ash. As the dust around him begins to coat everything, it becomes no longer the debris of everyday life but a visual embodiment of his looming ruination:

 

‘I sit in my favourite chair / gathering’

 

Meanwhile there is also a more intimate question that plays upon the poems in this collection: That most crippling fear that asks the question ‘Will I be remembered?’. The collection brilliantly explores this through the use of trees, from wanting to drive into one, watching one being cut down and then wishing for his ashes to be scattered under one. While the struggle of feeling unaccomplished battles it out with the bittersweet hope that death will bring more notoriety to his poetry, the fear of ‘a small death unnoticed’ is quashed by the final two verses of Ash, bringing the collection to a close that recognises the eternal print that we each leave on this planet:

 

‘so bury me

In the roots of the ash tree

 

That each year

Grows new

A prodigious canopy of three hundredweight’

 

Review by: Imogen Lee

 

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Fruit, poems by Bruce Snider. Winner of the Four Lakes Prize in Poetry. A paperback book, approx. 6” x 9” with a full colour cover and 78 pages. Published 2020 by The University of Wisconsin Press. uwpress.wisc.edu ISBN: 978-0-299-32674-6 $16.95 £18.50

 

The blurb says that this book is about what it means to be childless in a world obsessed with procreation. The blurb also says that the author is American, so this meaning does have a distinctly American flavour to it, especially in the interplay between religion, law and the human body. Freedom of religion does not seem to imply freedom from religion in America, despite the alleged separation of church and state.

 

I think part of the power of this book is the way it presents the scientific and scriptural explanations beside one another, and allows the reader to judge which is more plausible. Both are well researched and well written. Bruce Snider is a poetry professor, and clearly a man of erudition. There is something very knowing about a lot of these poems. I cannot recall another poetry book that taught me so much about either science or religion. You can take the professor out of the classroom, but you can’t always take the classroom out of the professor.

 

 

I have to say, I envy his students. The author is a good communicator. The language is rich and evocative, engaging, entertaining, but focussed on the point being made.

 

I think my favourite poem here is ‘The Average Human’, about the fact that human breath, once exhaled, is spread evenly through the atmosphere over time, and any of us could be breathing air used by anyone who ever lived:

 

Plato theorised atoms in 400 BC, and this morning outside Athens I took in his last breath, my lungs damp crypts where Charon’s oars dipped into the black waters of the River Styx, not knowing who would pay the ferryman and with what coin on what tongue.

 

This is a clever and entertaining collection of poems, and one which impressed me.

 

Review by Andrew Barber

 

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The Candidate, poems by Mark Huband. A stapled booklet, approx. 14cm x 19cm with a two-colour cover and 38 pages. Published 2020 by Yew Tree Press, Stroud, Gloucestershire, GL6 6HP. ISBN: 978-1-9161454-9-8  For further info about the Candidate email: markhuband@gmail.com Purchase via Yew Tree Press at yewtreepress@gmail.com. Will also be available via Amazon.

Price £5.00.

 

Mark Huband is a journalist and author of impressive works of reportage and analysis of war-torn regions of the world.  Now he turns inward to analyse the experience of being a Labour candidate in the 2019 election, and losing; and he tells it in a sequence of poems. It is reminiscent of Spenser’s Faerie Queene, or Gawain and the Green Knight, in telling the whole story in stanzas invented for the purpose, in this case a form of modern sonnet – three lines, unrhymed (triplet), triplet, triplet, then a rhyming couplet. In spite of the difference of unrhymed triplets instead of rhymed quatrains, he uses the verses  much as Shakespeare used the sonnet form, setting up a theme, questioning it, developing, attacking or inverting it, pulled up short by the wry resolution of the rhyming couplet – often with a bitter twist.

 

The language is vivid, dense with imagery, the words often short but visceral.

 

            “It is skin, stepping your path. Skin to speak

              of a soul wrapped in a scarf at your door.”

Or, “……..Darkness

             in the cold eye of a window. Darkness

             where the living is the drowning of a born

             dream” (speaking of a slum), the lines loaded with pain, grief and frustration. There is thwarted idealism here, and a degree of anger not often expressed in modern poetry. Huband uses hammering repetition and alliteration to express his sense of lost potential, of alienation from land loved and fought for,

 

          “a land that once was my country.” 

 

Review by: Eve Kimber

 

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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine

 

Edition #42 (94) March 2020

 

Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #42 (March 2020), please see below.

 

Earth Links, poems by Gary Beck.

 

Shop TALK, poems for SHOP Workers, by Paul Tanner.

 

If the House, poems by Molly Spencer.

 

Ganbatte, poems by Sarah Kortemeier.

 

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Earth Links, poems by Gary Beck. A 14cm x 21.5cm paperback book with a full colour cover and 104 pages.  Published 2019 by cyberwit.net. Info at: info@cyberwit.net   ISBN 978-93-89074-89-5 $15.00.

 

Gary Beck’s work is widely available and this – at least his fourteenth collection – was published in India. Much of its poetry has an immediacy which can be attractive, particularly when depicting ordinary situations with minimal artifice or digression. ‘Namesake’ is a case in point, celebrating “Patricia Darlington/ a head-strong woman …” [who] “…adopted a flower”.  ‘Summer Tourists’ is another unaffected snapshot of image and impression, as is ‘Recital’. The latter conjures up effectively the character of trees in winter, something which is rather diluted by the similarly-themed and executed ‘Upreach’, ‘Harsh Nudity’ and ‘Roots That Bind’.

            Apparently autobiographical, a longer piece like ‘Non-sentimental Education’ is a candid and engaging journey through Beck’s education:

 

                        I did not thrive

                        in the luke-warm habitat,

                        my talents and abilities

                        unexplored, unchallenged.

           

            ‘My Country’ begins also with a powerful narrative – this time about family settling in the U.S.A. - but (like ‘America, Where Art Thou?’) it mutates rapidly into a wandering reflection on nation and nationality. In these long but conversational poems, Beck flirts inadvisably with archaisms like “kin”, “eld”, “climes” and “sated”, while firing off unsupported observations like this (from ‘My Country’):

 

                        Ethnic groups

                        formed ethnic communities

                        and no longer learned English …

                        They lived in a sheltering country,

                        but didn’t become Americans.

 

Or this (from ‘America, Where Art Thou?):

 

                        It took a while for the Irish

                        to become Americans…

                        But somehow, in that weird American way,

                        they became semi human, then neighbors.

 

Beck’s creative energy is a vehicle that would benefit from better brakes. ‘Flight Risk’ pillories “the sparrows of Bryant Park” in the same way as in the concise and more effective ‘Avian Crisis’. There are other moments where the accessibility and impact of Beck’s chosen voice is deflected by clichés such as “eke a meager living” (‘Manhattan’) “the fruits of the Earth” (‘Weary Cinder’) or “aided and abetted’ (‘Corrosive’).

            Less is often more, in other words.

 

Review by: Will Daunt

 

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Shop TALK, poems for SHOP WORKERS, done by TANNER. A 15.5cm x 23cm paperback book with a four-colour cover and 143 pages. Published 2019 by Penniless Press Publications.   www.pennilesspress.co.uk ISBN 978-1-913144-10-4 £6.00.

 

You can look at this book in one of two ways - entitled millennial gets a job in retail and complains about apparently every single one of his customers, or something deeper. I do think it’s something deeper. It’s a series of poems about life from the perspective of someone who doesn’t usually get listened to. It’s an outsider’s perspective, because the cashier is never really included. It’s an unflinching analysis of working poverty and the social strata of the working class.

 

One of my favourite books as a young man was Keep the Aspidistra Flying, George Orwell’s first novel. The main character, Gordon Comstock, was a poet who declared war on money. Paul Tanner reminded me of him. Not in terms of writing style - all of Comstock’s poems rhymed - but in terms of the aggrieved passion that makes a poet want to declare war on money.

 

The poems are cynical, and angry, and judgmental, and misanthropic, but they do have a point, which is that everyone seems to need someone to look down on. No matter how far someone falls, they still see the retail worker as beneath them, because they still serve the customer, no matter who the customer is. There is a lot of frustration in this book. Parts of it read like a confession, parts of it as an accusation. It’s not all pleasant. But it’s powerful.

If you work in retail, you will probably relate to a lot of the experiences described here. If you don’t, you might see it as a reason to fear a large angry underclass of the marginalised, driven to desperation by survival wages, uncaring management and entitled customers who want to take their problems out on those who can’t really defend themselves. If that’s the case, I suspect the author has done what he intended. It reminded me of an Orwell character, but it could also have been a prequel to Fight Club

 

Review by: Andrew Barber

 

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If the House, poems by Molly Spencer. A 15cm x 23cm paperback book with a full colour cover and 82 pages. Edited by Ronald Wallace and Sean Bishop.  Winner of the Brittingham Prize in poetry. Published 2019 by The University of Wisconsin Press.  Distributed by eurospanbookstore.com  www.uwpress.wisc.edu  ISBN 978-0-299-32594-7 £17.50 / $16.95

 

This is a collection of austerely beautiful, subtle and moving, melancholy poems. The method has something of stream of consciousness about it, building an interior life from fractured images, insights from memories pieced together to form new and unexpected shapes. Spencer is looking back over long vistas of childhood, marriage, motherhood, places she has experienced. The house is a motif, roofs and joists seen as parts of a body; the bed inhabited, its smallest conversations and movements invested with significance; and in poem after poem, moving day, the house sold, broken up, haunted by crows. Husband and wife try to envisage what the new house should be like, but their visions painfully fail to coincide. The imagery is always original, delicate, exploring interior spaces and creating a sense of memory, of loss. Ordinary acts and places, a meadow, a boat at the edge of a lake, are layered with meaning and loaded with pain.

 

The poems often explore and hover round familiar forms while refusing to be tied down. “Interior with a woman peeling oranges, snapping beans” 3 is a tour de force, terse as a haiku:

 

“I think her mother’s bones must heave in their sockets – a pendulum

 

slowing – one way        then the other, toward

 

                                                                  the curve of a tiny apricot cheek, then

toward the open mouth

 

of the mute        and patient earth.”

 

“Meadow/ A Reckoning”, seven modern sonnets or near-sonnets (a couple have 13 lines) explore the place of the human in nature. This is poetry to take your time and dwell on.

 

Review by: Eve Kimber

 

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Ganbatte, poems by Sarah Kortemeier, winner of the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry. A 15 cm  x 23cm paperback book with a full colour cover and 71 pages. Published by The University of Wisconsin Press during 2019. www.uwpress.wisc.edu  Distributed by eurospanbookstore.com ISBN 978-0-299-32514-5 £17.50

 

Through this collection of poems, Sarah Kortemeier explores the intricacies of experiencing history and different cultures as a tourist. A mosaic of carefully picked out moments, that yet are clumsily natural and peculiar in nature, her work conveys the true reality of travel; that it is in its essence often anticlimactic and even in the moment barely real, startlingly benign, and yet so wonderfully colourful. It is indeed the subtle and shockingly mundane aspects of new places that make them special. Her words are frank and at times even abrupt and unpolished, acting like a train of thought, but thoughts that are through a lens of deep appreciation and the desire to truly see; see what is really there and not what you are shown. Her work carefully assesses the levels of comfort between cultures and nationalities, making short but impactful comments on broad issues through context and simple first person examples. The marrying of foreign language and the continuous mention of specific people, either by name or nationality, both work to allude to the importance of communication and universal understanding. Travel and tourism is not airbrushed or ‘aesthetic’ but a raw, benign scene with which the reader steps into, only to realise that it is uneventful and mundane to those who exist within it, but in fact that this is what makes it so beautiful and special. 

 

Through her work we can understand that our spheres of influence and understanding are all so different, and yet we are still united.

 

Review by: Imogen Lee

 

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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine

 

Edition #41 (93) December 2019

 

Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #41 (December 2019), please see below.

 

Storyteller; on the Journey of Poetry, poems by David Hamilton.

 

The Stock Exchange of Ideas, poems by John Gohorry.

 

Sleepless Nights, poems by Dennis Tomlinson.

 

The House Is On Fire And The Kids Are Eating  Icecream, poems by Thomas Langton.

 

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Storyteller, on the Journey of Poetry, poems by David Hamilton. A 24.5 cm x 19 cm sized paperback book with a full colour cover and 126 pages.  Published 2017 by Matador.  IBN 978-1-78803-911-6 £12.99.

 

This book is large in size and ambition. There are 126 pages of text, with eight more of colour photographs. Hamilton’s poetic vision is similarly enterprising, achieved through his idiosyncratic reinvention, in contemporary settings, of extended forms like the masque and the dramatic monologue.

            The over-long introduction would have been sharper if Hamilton hadn’t taken one of his critics to task, while attempting a circuitous explanation of the ‘confusion over what I write.’ More illuminating is his description of how he compiles books:

 

                        of verse rather than individual poems ... a cast of characters in imaginary worlds

                        inhabited by mythical and historical figures ... Like Led Zeppelin, I release albums

                        not singles.

 

            Double albums, at least. Hamilton leads us repeatedly into unique and extended dramatic conversations (often with himself as a character) which feature great writers and fictional or mythical figures. The effect is of taking a curious journey through half-familiar literary landscapes while absorbing contemporary commentaries on subjects as diverse as urban foxes, the despoiled countryside, mortality and drug abuse. So speaks Edmund Spencer in the ‘The Masque of Titania: Prologue:’

 

                        I had to peek behind the curtain to see if your land of Faerie is like mine. Is Gloriana

                        still Reigning? Oh I see Titania is ruling now. Knights on chivalric quests, dragons,

                        giants, monsters, the evil arch-magus and the sensually tempting Duessa haunted my world.

 

            The verse is driven by a bewildering energy and a determination to convince the reader that they are part of some kind of audience of the mind, envisaging a series of spoken exchanges, with little dynamic action. The diction wanders towards the prosaic and the archaic, where, for example, some of Hamilton’s established patterns of enjambment are forgotten, or a contemporary tone is lost to something quite different. In ‘The Hall of Fame:’

 

                        I looked up and a steep stair beheld, rearing up before me high on a rock it

                        Rose, from where I stood still, craning painfully to peer at its prospect, a

                        Facade of gold and silver it presented ...

 

            Hamilton’s website explains how his recent work has been produced despite considerable personal struggle, and the sheer effort and the volume of knowledge behind this behemoth of a book is undeniable. Nevertheless, you wonder whether its author has really considered how much he is asking of the reader, by inviting them into these vast and strange imagined worlds.

           

Review by: Will Daunt

 

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The Stock Exchange of Ideas, poems by John Gohorry.  A 20 cm x 13 cm paperback book with a full colour cover and 57 pages.  Published 2019 by Arenig Ltd (Arenig Press), Dolfawr, Cwmrheidol, Aberystwyth, SY23 3NB.  Cover: Circles in a Circle, by Wassily Kandinsky, 1923. www.arenig.co.uk   ISBN: 978-1-9998491-5-3 UK £8.99.

 

Gohorry is serious about the “exchange” in the title; clearly a man of wide-ranging enquiry and learning, he revels in exploring writers from many cultures and acknowledges their influence. I enjoyed his “Eight septains after Octavio Paz,” the Mexican existentialist poet, delicately capturing the edgy intelligence and elusive insights of the master; and “Two Chinese reflections:”

 

         “The clothes we hide in are watching

          from hangers, the backs of chairs.

          Now you frown, hunting a thimble,

          a small poem scorches my heart.”

 

He uses elements from Greek and Roman poetry too, sharing with Aristophanes a love and respect for birds – images of birdsong as voice, beauty and consolation recur: not an easy consolation, though:

            “…… the challenge of making,

             The bird’s gift, enigmatic and fabulous.”

 

The book moves from poems set affectionately in childhood, through some medical adventures – a cardiology appointment, “The pulse of your life passing round

                            With the hiss of an ice-skater’s blade” –

to reflections on ageing and its limitations. Gohorry also takes on a range of contemporary political themes, and here I felt the quality was more uneven. The title poem plays with the words “Brexit means Brexit” with wit and aplomb, and “To the Piraeus, 2015” is powerful and moving on the Greek debt crisis, but “Other”, I felt, is a trifle obvious. “At Sea” made a brilliant play on Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” – subverting it with a heavy rhyming scheme – to satirise attitudes to migrants.

 

Poetry rich, rare and contemporary, a book to treasure.

 

Review by: Eve Kimber

 

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Sleepless Nights, poems by Dennis Tomlinson. A 10.5 cm x 14.5 cm stapled pamphlet with a two-colour cover and 26 pages.  Published 2019 by Stevenage Writers Group, pocket read series 4.  ISBN 978-1-911377-09-2. Price £2.70.  Further information thro' author via:  d.c.tomlinson@aol.co.uk  

 

This is one of those rare things – a good idea done well. In Stevenage, a group of writers apparently get together in a pub called the Dun Cow every Wednesday and help each other with their writing. Then they publish them, one writer at a time, in 'pocketbook' size, and I have just reviewed one. If this is what they're like usually, I'd like to review more.

 

 Thematically, it reminded me of Roger Waters' 'The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking Album', which is never really a bad thing. Like that, this has the sense of a long, nocturnal voyage of musings. Like that, this did it well.

 

The poems range freely across subject matters, as you'd expect from the premise, do capture the strange rhythms of night thoughts. The style changes too, from sparse haiku to something a little more dense.

 

I really enjoyed most of the poems, and the way they brought the eternal and the mundane together, eg:

 

The red bus bends towards Jupiter

 

the man beside me buried in his sport

 

and the Bringer of Jollity hidden by the tower of B & Q.

 

I liked the book, and I especially liked what it represented: poetry in pubs, where it belongs. It was being read aloud in the tavern long before it was being studied in the library.

 

Review by: Andrew Barber

 

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The house is on fire and the kids are eating ice cream, poems by Thomas Langton. A 19.5 cm x 12.5 cm paperback book with a full colour cover and 214 pages.  Published 2019 by Matador.  ISBN 978-1-78901-866-0.   £8.99.

 

The blurb on the back of Langton’s book states, “Dark Poetry for Dark Hearts.” With this in mind I braced myself to be thoroughly depressed.  However, I needn’t have bothered because this is an eclectic mix of doom, ("dancing in the eye of oblivion"), despondency, triviality, a slant at religion, the weird and wonderful, telling insight, and a fair sprinkling of hilarity. As ever, and with reference to the benefits of poetry, I feel the poems are, perhaps, a form of therapy, to expunge the crud of life, a kind of sluice channel.  Here are a few examples:

 

Black Days – Blue Nights.  “. . . seeking thrills in paying bills/ This is life – A queue/ Where too few stay true/ Pushing and shoving/ To reach the exit . . . Chasing tarmac/ Dodging dog- shit/ Stepping in gum/ I wouldn’t mind/ But it’s not even Monday/ Fuck. . . it’s a Saturday/ But it’s still grey . . .”

 

Some of the poems are worth their salt thro’ their titles alone, such as, Rainbows, Fairies, Farts & Hangovers.  I found myself smiling at this one which included, “I nearly got run over by a lorry/ As the wind blew past me/ A pigeon flew at me / And shit on my head/ Laughing as it escaped my clutches . . .” Why do we laugh at other people’s misfortunes?

 

Leaning to the darker side you have poems such as, Neon – An Ode to Japan which mentions the horror of the bombing of  Hiroshima, but ends on a intriguing note, “Beautiful mountains, forests and cities/ Lit in neon for all to see/ The Yõkai that still roam.”

 

There are also references to insomnia and “Writing poetry at 4am.”  On an inspirational note there is “Where’d You Learn to Write Poetry?” which mentions devouring Bukowski and Byron and “That’s all it took/ To get me scribbling.”  Devouring the previously mentioned poets could surely lead to indigestion! One or two of the offerings seemed a bit weird, (at least they did to me), such as Rape in Paris.

 

This book tends to remind me of the hippy in The Young Ones,  or Marvin the depressed robot; on a downer, but amusing.

 

Review by: David Pike

 

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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine

 

Edition #40 (92) September 2019

 

Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #40 (September 2019), please see below.

 

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Simply Modern Life, poems by Claire Baldry.

 

Mirror Lake, poems by David Van-Cauter

 

The Holy Longing, poems by Vera Graziadei.

 

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Simply Modern Life, poems by Claire Baldry, illustrated by Amber Gee.  A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 45 pages.  Published 28th August 2018 by Matador. Email: books@troubador.co.uk  www.troubador.co.uk/matador ISBN: 978 1789015 324  £5.50

 

This may be the bravest poetry book I’ve reviewed. It is a very unusual poetry book, because every poem rhymes. I don’t think I’ve had one of those before.

I don’t see a problem with this. Like justice, poetry needs to be seen to be done, and most people see poetry as rhymes. It does rather invite comparisons to Pam Ayers though, which is unfortunate. Light comic verse has been a staple of poetry for centuries.

The author was a head teacher before retirement, and you can take the headteacher out of the school, but you can’t take the school out of the head teacher. I think that would have come across with the foreword. The poems are written with a sense of authority that can only come from experience. Sometimes this adds power, sometimes it just suggests that disagreement is futile.

And there is a sense that the author has spent a long time talking to children, which creates an interesting juxtaposition of writing style and subject matter. Walter de la Mare writing about diabetes and spam PPI calls, Roald Dahl railing against Ofsted inspections and internet trolls. This style is more effective for the lighter subjects than the serious ones. It works less well for subjects like immigration policy and global inaction on climate change.

The more comical ones though are very effective. I especially enjoyed knowing that school AGMs are just as boring for the teachers as they are for the parents (I had my suspicions) and the poems on diabetes are very well observed, especially the need to celebrate a good weight test with a massive cake. We’ve all been there.

 

Review by: Andrew Barber

 

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Mirror Lake, poems by David Van-Cauter. Slightly larger than A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 34 pages.  Cover: Morning on Mirror Lake, Yosemite Valley by Frederick Ferdinand Schafer (1839 – 1927). Published 2019 by Arenig Press, Dolfawr, Cwmrheidol, Aberystwyth, SY23 3NB. ISBN: 978-1-9998491-3-9  Price: ?

 

This is a collection shaped and shot through with Van-Cauter’s grief and reflections on the illness and death of his beloved wife. We discover the couple’s shared love of travelling and walking, Van-Cauter struggling to keep going, trying not to admit his pain to her, but seeing his wife in everything –

     “the jagged contours

               the sweep of yellow in the folds carved by the valley

       the panoramic view

was you – it was all you.”         

There are glimpses of earlier days, house-hunting, differing views on managing finances; doctors’ pronouncements, “Nothing we can do;” the bed in the living-room, searingly painful details as the couple share “the space we have left.” No one could fail to be moved by these delicately spare poems of lived experience. But alongside these Van-Cauter layers poems reflecting on space and movement, transience and vulnerability, using richer and denser language and verse forms – finding loss and yet survival carved into the very stuff of the landscape. He travels, carrying his wife with him in imagination:

   “……and so I fall and clamber

   for both of us. I imagine your terrified face,

descending into the smoky, otherworldly air….” to be rewarded with “constellations of glow worms” on a cave roof.

Humour acknowledges the reality of being human: “Your bloody shoes” tripping him up, or a game in ancient Siam where the royal court were entertained by “Gangnam-style” dressing up and showing off. Technically accomplished, intelligent and frank, Van-Cauter’s poems in this collection are both enjoyable and thought-provoking.

 

Review by: Eve Kimber

 

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The Holy Longing, poems by Vera Graziadei.  A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 70 pages.  Published on 28th August 2018 by Matador.  ISBN: 781-1-78901-567-6 £8.99

 

This is a debut collection of poems that celebrate the trials and tribulations of everyday things such as creativity, solitude and human relationships. I really enjoyed delving into the poems, reading them out loud and mulling through them in the heat of yes, an English summer. The poems have life affirming resonance and maturity of experience. There are spiritual reflections and mindful moments. I have a few favourites and as I haven’t reviewed a book for a while this was a great publication to start with.


I found romance, love and longing in this collection; the poems sit well on the page and have a nice rhythm when read aloud.


I'm Listening

I'm listening
to the glow
of the golden seed of the black earth
which fills my mouth:

I'm listening to the moisture
seeping through the pores,
the hunger of roots

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With you

With you
breaking waves
at the speed of waves
of unrestrained passion


With you
as untamed winds tousle our hair

 

Review by: Neil Brooks

 

 

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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine

 

Edition #39 (91) June 2019

 

Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #39 (June 2019), please see below.

 

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River Lane, poems by Simon Cockle.

 

Gloss, poems by Rebecca Hazelton.

 

Juice, poems of passion by Gilda Clark and Cath Davies.

 

You're the Froth on My Soy Cappuccino, poems by Don Behrend.

 

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River Lane, poems by Simon Cockle.  A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 63 pages. Sleeve note by Gareth Writer-Davies. Published 30th November 2018 by Arenig Press, Arenig Ltd, Dolfawr, Cwmrheidol, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY23 2NB. publishing@arenig.co.uk www.arenig.co.uk   ISBN 978-1-9998491-2-2  £8.99

 

River Lane feels like Simon Cockle’s fifth or sixth collection, but it’s his first. This is an impressive book, its poems propelled by a maturity and a wisdom that provoke, as much as they please. Many of these pieces are magnificently rooted in place, including rarely visited or concealed parts of Britain. Like the title poem and ‘Beachlands, Hayling Island’, ‘5 Poems about the Isle of Sheppey’ is an expansive exploration. It begins with a searing challenge to the “no man is an island” maxim, showing us someone leaving a wine shop:

 

shock-haired with yellowing skin ... like canvas on the wings of a Wright Brothers plane crazed eyes like black cherries rolling around in bone cups

 

The other poems in this remarkable sequence include accomplished imaginings of folklore and history and a wonderfully panoramic evocation of the strand at ‘Minster Leas’. Cockle crafts his work with considerable skill. This enables him to capture the relationship between humanity and the land with great clarity. A piece like ‘The Dedicated Seat’ remembers - or imagines - the small parts of an unnamed life and the ordinary fragments of the views from this seat. Together they explain why it has been placed in the particular spot. The rediscovery of ‘Branch Lines’ recalls a childhood encounter with a steam train:

 

The iron shriek of brakes and the engine as it slowed like a vast beetle, cloaked in iron and sulphurous smoke ...

 

As here, Cockle uses rhyme and assonance astutely: subtly and infrequently. This gives extra impetus to a narrative piece like the second part of ‘River Lane’, as an excruciating rite of passage is recalled. A poetic voice as supple as this creates transcendent moments, showing the reader how to think and imagine in new ways. ‘The Synesthesia Procedure’ characterises this via a mind’s journey through an anaesthetic:

 

... so blossom sounds just like a choir singing thunderstorms taste of old silver fillings

Friday is grey but Sunday’s magenta ...

 

Similarly, ‘Father’ redefines a relationship by reminding us that there’s no clear division between memory and imagination. It reflects:

 

You left me with little to show for those years of front and fireworks.

 

The lines’ irony extends through these rewarding and timeless poems, which have much “to show”. River Lane has a stunning Eric Ravilious cover, and Arenig’s production values are excellent.

 

Review by: Will Daunt

 

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Gloss, poems by Rebecca Hazelton.  Slightly larger than A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 69 pages.   Edited by Roland Wallace. Cover design by Debbie Berne Design.  Published 2019 by The University of Wisconsin Press, www.uwpress.wisc.edu

ISBN 978-0-299-32164-2 $14.95 UK £15.50.

 

This is clever and subtle writing; even the title appears to be a play on words, with a cover illustration of a woman’s thumb sweeping her lip gloss crookedly across luscious lips, while many of the poems spin meanings and reflections from a painting or a children’s story – like an adult, worldly gloss on Beatrix Potter or Peter Pan. There are echoes of regret for loss of a simpler world-view, but Hazelton evokes a complex mesh of passions that sear and fail and shifting perspectives, lovers masquerading as animals, longing and memory. Her language captures the ambiguity of felt experience:

 

“…where dragonflies dip and skim

               the surface of the lightly poisoned water

                                                             some of them

                              coupling on the fly

                    as if sex weren’t already awkward

when I fuck I hardly levitate at all

                                  and when I dive

                                  beneath the water

               I want to be detached

                         from the searing world above but how

                                              does one stop caring.”                      (Self-portrait As A Very Good Day.)

 

There is beauty found in the most painful moments, but also a straining for honesty, to look unflinchingly behind public masks and cinematic sentimentality, finding brokenness within. Hazelton is not satisfied with easy explanations: hers is a modern USA where advice on how to amuse your child is found on the internet, and the smell of earth after rain is “produced/ by soil-dwelling bacteria.” Yet her poems cross over constantly into images of fantasy to explore reality, flickering with salty humour. I enjoyed reading this very modern poet.

 

Review by: Eve Kimber

 

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Juice, poems of passion by Gilda Clark with Cath Davies.  A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 31 pages.  Published 2018 by Matador. Email: books@troubador.co.uk

www.troubador.co.uk/matador  ISBN 978-1-78901-526-3 £6.99.

 

For some reason, I’ve always enjoyed romantic poetry more than romantic novels. I suspect it’s because they’re generally about passion, and while love is a process, passion is a moment, better suited to a poem than something longer. It’s well suited to these ones.

 

These aren’t just about passion. A collection of poems about alcohol couldn’t reasonably neglect a few about hangovers, and heartbreak is also a theme. And the passion is for, and heartbreak from, a range of things, There is more to love than romance. There is more to heartbreak than infidelity.

 

Some of my favourite parts of this collection are not really about any of these things. ‘Money made us sinners and sin made us money’ is a wonderful line.

 

The blurb speaks of the influence of Jeanette Winterson and Charles Bukowski, and they’re certainly present and correct, but there’s something of the movies to it as well. It reminded me of Peter Greenaway too, in the blurring of the lines between food and sex, even Mike Leigh, from one all too memorable scene.

 

This is a relatively short book, at 31 pages, and most of the poems are on the shorter side - a mix of haiku, free verse, the often overlooked cinquain, and a limerick that really isn’t - but as I recall from an advert for oranges I saw once, ‘small ones are more juicy’, and Juice is full of zest.

Review by: Andrew Barber

 

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You’re the Froth on My Soy Cappuccino, poems for the present and more. . . by Don Behrend.  Approx. A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 88 pages, published 28th February 2019 by Matador.  ISBN 978-1-78901-678-9   £8.99

 

The poems in this collection are pigeonholed under the following categories: Poems for the Present/Life, the Universe and a Few Other Things/Our Fellow Creatures/Sins and Follies/Some Useful Words from the Oxford Dictionary/With Apologies/The Carnival of Animals/The Highway of Existence. 

 

I feel this collection will instil a marked reaction.  You either like the humorous rhyming / chiming poems, which have a limerick-type appeal, (or you don’t).  There is no ambiguity regarding the content.  The poems are easy to comprehend and occasionally Mr Behrend has provided explanatory historical / factual notes, to help the reader interpret where he’s coming from, (although some of the explanations are obvious).  Here are two examples:

 

Parental Indulgence

 

From all the normal rules your child’s exempted:

“The little scamp’s so natural, so cute!”

But, when he comes to play, we’re sorely tempted

To Whack the kid – and Mum and Dad to boot.

 

*

 

The Woodwind Player

 

The digeridoo is an Australian Aboriginal wind instrument in the form of a long wooden tube.

 

Said a musically-skilled kangaroo

Who was learning the digeridoo:

“I’m improving my sounds

In great leaps and bounds.

Shall I play you an octave or two?”

 

Numerous topics are covered, with many interesting asides such as The Good Sense of Mr Thomas Senior. The explanatory note refers to the Demise of Dylan Thomas’s father and mentions “rage, against the dying of the light.”  Behrend’s poem hints that Thomas, (junior) should possibly have followed his own advice, and “alcoholic abuse is a meagre excuse. . .” 

 

You’re the Froth on My Soy Cappuccino is a humorous, (relaxing) read.  It’s not intended to be overly challenging. Why not imbibe a warm beverage, dunk some biscuits and enjoy the verse.

 

Review by: David Pike

 

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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine

 

Edition #38 (90) March 2019

 

 

Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #38 (March 2019), please see below.

 

 

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Finally, The Moon, poems by Kimberley K Williams.

 

Writing on Rock, poetry by Tim Noble.

 

Pleading at The Bar of Truth, poems by Eddie Wainwright.

 

The Human Ape, poems by Mark Cox.

 

*

 

Finally, The Moon, poems by Kimberley K. Williams.  Slightly larger than A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 97 pages.  Published 2017 by Stephen F. Austin State University Press, Nacogdoches, Texas 75962, USA. Book design: Thomas Sims. Cover design: Allyson Williams-Yee. www.sfasu.edu/sfapress  ISBN 9781622881567 £16.50.

 

Kimberly K. Williams’ first collection has a captivating spirit of its own, shaped by the book’s native Texas and numerous other settings. This is an extensive and exhilarating read, with a poetic confidence that is as fresh as it is mature and as accessible as it is provocative.

            About halfway through, the title poem depicts the poet’s work through a brilliantly re-enacted nocturnal car journey:

 

                                                            This moment becomes the sky

 

              ahead, expanding bloody reds and fuchsia with yellow

              outlining the horizon. She cups this bounty.

 

       Simultaneously, Williams isolates craftily the relationship between a poet’s experience and chosen form:

 

                                                                                    After she arrives,

              she will transcribe the lines of the road into lines

 

              of a poem and see letters coalesce into words.

              She will seek stanzas, experiment with enjambment,

              deliberate form.

 

       And ultimately:

 

              Seventy-five miles per hour reveals ideas born

              in places: canyon, volcanic rock bed ...

 

              ... and finally, the moon, blossoming into crescent.

 

Here’s a book that explores ‘otherness’ boldly with wit and finely-drawn evocations of the ordinary. Searches for and encounters with angels punctuate the poems. Do these numinous moments have more than a figurative significance? Well, Williams at least teases us into wondering whether they might have. The title of ‘Sometime An Angel’ recurs through the poem, ultimately as a paradoxical, humorous prompt:

               

                                                When

              he arrives, standing

              like a column beside

              you, and he realizes he’s

              been abstracted into metaphor,

              he’ll likely guffaw.

 

       ‘On The Metro’ winds something darker into the reader’s consciousness, aligning the angelic with the kinds of human contact that disturb us in to writing:

 

                                    He

              enters the train wailing

              like a siren, cracking

              morning like a fallen

 

              egg, demanding bread.

 

       This compelling read is divided into four sections that reflect the phases of the moon. In ‘Waning’ - and through several poems - Williams writes about her father’s death with a searing integrity. Other sections allow meditations on baseball, (more) angels and the poet’s many journeys to colour a particular phase of the creative process.

            But the book never takes itself too seriously. ‘Pocket Poem’ manages to create (rather than find) some verse by simply trying to sort through the various contents of the persona’s Tardis-shaped purse. It’s another creative flourish from an enlightened and gratifying new voice.

 

Review by: Will Daunt

 

*

 

Writing on Rock, the poetry of Tim Noble.  Edited by Will Daunt.  Preface by Joanne Clarke.  An A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 93 pages.  Published 2019 by The Ormskirk Imprint.  ISBN 9780244717513 £7.50.

 

I have a new life goal. When I die, I’d like to know a lot of articulate people who appreciate poetry, like Tim Noble did. This is a wonderful tribute to what seems to have been a full and accomplished life.

The late Mr Noble was a teacher and rock climber, and this book is half poetry, half eulogy (which takes the form of both prose and poem). Both are touching and well written. If the test of a man’s life is what people say about him when it ends, Tim Noble clearly made quite an impression.

The poetry itself is very good. There’s even a villanelle, which I think is one of the hardest forms to pull off successfully. There are just so few lines that don’t lose something with the repetition. In this case, the changes of context and punctuation make the repetition almost invisible. E.g., “Suffer little children who come to me” never appears in the same form twice.

The poet’s love of Shakespeare comes through strongly (proceeds from this book even go to the Royal Shakespeare’s Company’s education department). There are Shakespearean references peppered throughout, and one on how the challenges of teaching the bard is made easier by having a class which loved murder stories. It ended on a hopeful tone:

The lesson ends ambiguously:
life shocks more than art (seriously)
but the boy in front takes the play
home and doesn’t grin. I dare say
he’s now somewhere he’s never been.

There seems to be no ambiguity to the ending of Mr Noble’s lessons. Life shocked those around him (his death in 2014 was sudden) and this book was what resulted. I have no doubts he would have been pleased by it. Even though ‘he’s now somewhere he’s never been,’ he’s still encouraging people to write. That may be the biggest tribute of all.

 

Review by:  Andrew Barber

 

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Pleading at The Bar of Truth, poems by Eddie Wainwright.  Edited by Will Daunt. Cover painting, Someone at Home by Edgar Wainwright, 2018. An A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 132 pages.  First published 2018 by Lapwing Publications,

c/o 1 Ballysillan Drive, Belfast, BT14 8HQ. Email: lapwing.poetry@ntlworld.com  www.lapwingpoetry.com  ISBN 9781910855874 £15.00.

 

Edited by Will Daunt, this is a collection drawn from across Wainwright’s life’s work of some four hundred poems, 115 presented here. Alongside Wainwright’s poetry, Daunt has included illuminating writing by his daughter Sonja recalling childhood memories, and affectionate but shrewd perspectives by fellow poets, one in the form of a poem by Roger Elkin. 

 

A comment is made that Wainwright was more interested in writing the next poem than revising the last one, which may explain why the quality is uneven. It ranges from the piercingly poignant and economical “Graham from Nailsea,” capturing the courage and dignity of the ordinary man in the face of death, with the pitch perfect detail of a dropped crumb ground into the carpet representing him after he’s gone, to “Lying in Wait,” which does feel as if it is still waiting for him to glance over the punctuation. This is about his Army days and how it felt to go on leave, leading on to reflect on the different nature of uncertainty in the present day; but one convoluted sentence stretches over three verses. It is an interesting insight, though – Wainwright’s poetry is full of original viewpoints, fearlessly expressed. He throws his politics down like a challenge: “Commemoration of D-Day, June 2004” will either delight or infuriate the reader. His wide-ranging work sparks with unexpected sympathies – “The Invasion of Lower Austria, 1945” is a dramatic monologue taking an Austrian villager’s viewpoint and compares favorably with Browning. Poetry to savour and return to.

 

Review by: Eve Kimber

 

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The Human Ape, poems by Mark Cox.  Slightly larger than A5 size paperback book with a full colour cover and 105 pages.  Published on 28th May 2017 by The Book Guild Ltd.  www.bookguild.co.uk  Email: info@bookguild.co.uk  ISBN 9781911320982 £7.99.

 

In this debut collection of poetry inspired by the scientific explanation of the universe, Mark Cox considers humankind's place in the modern world and how we have lived during our time on Earth. "The Human Ape" covers themes such as nature, knowledge, science, conflict and mortality.

 

I really found this book interesting and engaging in the way it read and was perfectly categorised The poems cover a wide range of subjects and topics which are, by-and-large, informed by the philosophical view of Cox.


Sleeplessness, homeless children, the exact meaning of the term atheist, the philosophical basis for keeping pets, natural phenomena such as rivers, sunsets and a speck of dust, children, evolution, recycling and even more besides.

The style is sparse, yet compelling and the thoughts behind the poems are lucid and clear and sort of scientific. 

 

It’s a very inspiring, questioning, life examining and life affirming debut from Mark Cox, a Haulage driver from Taunton.

 

 

Sunset

 

The red cloud deepens

As the sun dips lower

And the sky blackens

With its starlit cover

 

The refracted light

Has gone from view

The world keeps rotating

So the day can renew

 

 

The Human Ape

 

I am an ape

An ape of the human kind,

I am not a baboon,

Gorilla or Chimpanzee

But a man

A man with my own thoughts and mind

 

Review by: Neil Brooks

 

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