Link: Return to Home Page
Pulsar Book Review Panel:
David Pike, Andrew Barber, Eve Kimber, Will Daunt and Neil Brooks.
* * *
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.
* * *
Book & Booklet Reviews
Pulsar Poetry Webzine
Edition #39 (91) June 2019
Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #39 (June 2019), please see below.
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.
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. email@example.com 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
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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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:
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
Book & Booklet Reviews
Pulsar Poetry Webzine
Edition #38 (90) March 2019
Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #38 (March 2019), please see below.
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,
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:
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:
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
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,
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
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: email@example.com 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.
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
Click: Return to Home Page