Pulsar Poetry Webzine
       Pulsar Poetry Webzine

Publication Reviews: Years 2022 - 2023 

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Pulsar Book Review Panel:


David Pike, Andrew Barber, Eve Kimber, Will Daunt,  Neil Brooks, Carla Scarano D'Antonio, Dominic James.  Please note, sadly, Carla passed away on 10th March 2023, RIP.


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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 #57 (109) December 2023


Index of Reviewed Publications

Pulsar Poetry Webzine #57

(December 2023), Please see below.


We Are All Doing Time, poems by Dan R. Grote.


The Adam of Two Edens, poems by Darwish Mahmoud.


Colonies of Paradise, poems by Matthias Goritz.


The Professor of Forgetting, poems by Greg Delanty.


We Are All Doing Time, poems by Dan R. Grote.  A 5.5” x 8.5” paperback book with a full colour cover and 59 pages.  Date published? Published by Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books, PO Box 253, Seaside Heights, NJ, 08751. ISBN: 9798373319676. Email: thedangrote@gmail.com Price US $10.


This collection of thoughtful and hard-hitting poems centres around the theme of how to live, survive, stay sane, and find some realistic reason to hope, in prison. It is not descriptive – on the last page you would not know much more about what the prison looks like, the characters of other prisoners, or Grote’s early life. But he does interrogate with courage, dry humour, and a burning honesty, his life now and what has happened to him, what he can do to reinvent himself as a writer (a person who still has a function in the greater world) and whether this creativity can really lead him to hope. Because he looks so unflinchingly at himself, his insights often open doors onto truths of wider application: “This Addiction,” for instance, follows step by step how he becomes addicted, to poetry, but the process would apply equally to an addiction to drugs, or to unhealthy eating habits, and could raise a shiver of recognition in many of us; there is a witty play on our perception of poetry as a “good” addiction while questioning, is it? Can too great a reliance even on poetry, on any one thing, get out of control? The last words of the poem are “ask/ for help.” In “Even the dirty get a soapbox,”


Grote reflects that whether the prison is built of stone

“Or of insecurities and

squandered opportunity, every-one

takes a turn as their


Own jailor, everyone is

their own lock in a world

of keys that could open”

their eyes, but “we are all doing time.”

Grote’s interest in the wider world of poetry is evident in his references and quotations from sources ranging from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Tang dynasty Li Po, and in his exploration of various forms in his own poems, from free verse to tanka (a favourite, which he uses a good many times to make strong and salty points.) He experiments with villanelles, a sonnet and forms of his own invention. It is good to encounter a fresh voice exploring and using poetry so fearlessly and purposefully.

Review by: Eve Kimber




The Adam of Two Edens, poems by Mahmoud Darwish, introduction by Munir AkashA 6” x 9” paperback book with a full-colour cover and 206 pages.  First published 2000 by Syracuse University Press and Jusoor, NY, USA. 

ISBN 978-0-8156-0710-6. $19.95 £15.96


A revisiting of the work of this revered Palestinian poet is all too timely. Alive at the time of its original publication, Darwish died eight years later, thus making his legacy – as seen through The Adam of Two Edens - the more powerful.

Munir Akash’s assiduous editing of Darwish’s ‘first serious collection in English,’ is supported by Daniel Moore’s curation of the work of several translators. The thoughtful and detailed introduction contextualises Darwish’s work in the tragic circumstances of his childhood and homeland. But Akash goes a lot further in demonstrating with considerable skill how Darwish is driven by poetic imperatives first, even if the editor has had to watch the poet ‘bear the brunt of his audience’s zeal.’ This included the condemnation of Darwish by a compatriot and friend, when he ‘published a collection of apparent love poems.’

As with Seamus Heaney, Darwish has a unique gift for redefining his homeland through a determination to explore and deconstruct culture, history, faith, mythology and landscape from the out, as well as the inside. He has a rich and similarly independent poetic vision, scarred by exile as a child to a refugee camp, after the obliteration of the family’s village. Yet in ‘Hooriyya’s Teaching,’ even that expulsion draws the unexpected from Darwish as he address es his/ a mother:


Do you remember our migration route to Lebanon?

Where you forgot me in a sack of bread

(it was wheat bread).

I kept quiet so as not to wake the guards.

The scent of morning dew lifted me onto your shoulders.

O you, gazelle that lost both house and mate.


In a visionary sequence like ‘Eleven Planets in the Last Andalusian Sky.’ Darwish celebrates the Moorish legacy in Spain as something that is alive in the imagination:


I’ll shed my skin and from my language

words of love

will filter down through the poetry of Garcia Lorca

who’ll dwell in my bedroom

and see what I’ve seen of the Bedouin moon.


‘Speech of the Red Indian’ is an extended celebration of Darwish’s

natural affinity with the culture and struggles of Native North Americans:


A long time will have to go by before our

present becomes our past, just like us.

We will face our death but first

we’ll defend the trees we wear.


We’ll venerate the bell of night, the moon

hanging over our shacks.


Akash’s introduction concludes poignantly by recounting Darwish’s

     preoccupations as, when he emerged from his:


second heart surgery, he found himself in a spiritual openness to the

                entire Semitic

            tradition, including that of Judaism. His subconscious, still recovering

 from anaesthesia,

         mirrored the depths of his humanity and the spiritual strength of his nobility.


Thus, a poem like ‘As He Walks Away,’ which imagines, with ironical sadness, the visits of an ‘enemy who drinks tea’ in the narrator’s ‘hovel.’ Defined by the differences of conflict, this visitor is described through the humanity and ordinariness that they might have shared with the visited:


Our flutes would have played a duet

if it weren’t for the gun.


As long as the earth turns around itself inside us

the war will not end.

Let us be good then.


More than ever, Darwish is a voice for our times.


Review by: Will Daunt




Colonies of Paradise.  Poems by Matthias Göritz, translated by Mary Jo Bang. A 6”x 9” paperback book with a full colour cover and 92 pages. Published 2023 by TriQuarterly Books / Northwestern University Press.  www.nupress.northwestern.edu ISBN 978-0-8101-4581-8

US $18.00 UK £17.95


You must find your own bearings in this rich, sparse book of translated poetry that might seem at first Hard Sodoku, playing Watson without Holmes. Then, with an adjustment of sense, a change of approach, the scenery looms large. Göritz opens landscapes, urban squares and childish thought as memory and mind beat their progress through the impressions of present and past. Here sober, here warm, now in some anxious sweat, the work throughout is immediate and sudden. As we might expect from a poet credibly described in the blurb as a must for anyone with an interest in contemporary European poetry.


Translator Mary Jo Bang, with her work cut out, says these poems merge inner and outer life with a brilliant economy: “The traffic in my head / and the street traffic / tie themselves together.” Drawn in to Göritz’s approach, her idiom – American, with soccer for football – adds another layer of foreignness to poems rife with wordplay and on the march from Zurich to Moscow. Yet everywhere location is as local as our own experience and largely familiar. Vocabulary tugs at thought:


I think about everything

 that has happened is happening


In a lightning storm, undistracted by his mother, the child sees: “At the window’s backside // a backup generator/ the lights go out // Grandad’s been dead for twenty years / but his garden is throwing a fit.”


Lines run between brief and lyrical. From the homely phrase or simple metaphor to recognition of a view that is in reach but sometimes through a glass, then close but inaccessible through the reader’s lens. The troubled mind is much indulged. Primal Crow:


Below, in the inner courtyard of a butcher shop,

Jewish, Rue Oberkampf,

over the trashcans a rancid layer of steaming frost.

Smoke break.


The apprentice butcher in his stained tunic

hits a few tennis balls against the brick.


I do what I want.


Göritz parades a light-footed, quick-witted poetry. Excavate its meanings and the lode broadens as it comes to light. This is tightly written, serious poetry – in that sometimes-pejorative phrase. It is a heady mix.


Review by: Dominic James




The Professor of Forgetting, poems by Greg Delanty. Paperback. Published August 2023, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, ISBN 9780807180143 £15.95


This book grabbed me from the first page. Going Nowhere Fast, the first poem, is great fun. 


We have all heard it, “Be in the Now,” but

no sooner than you are 

than the mule of Now bolts free of the harness,

hightails it, leaves you on your ass

in the cart of Then or When

holding the limp reins,

wondering where Now’s gone…


Alas, poor Now, I wish I knew him, but we only met briefly… yes, we’ve all heard it, we’ve all seen the Now gallop out of view. But I expect there will be another one along any minute.


The next two poems really show the author to be a man of learning. A translation of an Irish poem, and one responding to a Victorian textbook on psychology. It gets off to a strong start.


And it maintains it. There are poems about missing socks, and wordplay, the problems of teaching poetry, and one that just has a winking emoji for a title. There is one about his mother passing that was beautifully heartfelt. 


This is a great collection - funny, quirky, touching, well observed and well written. There are a variety of types of poem, some which flirt with prose poetry, some defined by their brevity, but all with the same voice - that of someone who gets the absurdity of the world, and wants to celebrate it, or at least discuss it. 


There are a range of themes here, some funny and some sad, but more than anything, this book reminds me of the opening lines to Scaramouche, the old Stewart Grainger movie - ‘he was born with the gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad.’


Review by: Andrew Barber




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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine


Edition #56 (108) September 2023


Index of Reviewed Publications

Pulsar Poetry Webzine #56

(September 2023), Please see below.


Our Lady of Bewilderment, poems by Alison Pelegrin.


now you can join the others, poems by Taije Silverman.


With Every Step I take 2, short stories and poetry by Avotcja.


Ambrosia of the Netherworld, poems by H. D. Moe.


Our Lady of Bewilderment, poems by Alison Pelegrin.  A 6” x 9” paperback book with a full colour cover and 70 pages. Published 2022 by Louisiana University Press, Baton Rouge, lsupress.org ISBN 978-0-8071-7679-5 £16.95.


I enjoyed this collection. It’s part of the American school of poetry that I think of as ‘every beat is meat.’ There’s no filler. Like a meat pie with no gravy, just pastry wrapped round a steak, these are poems that are ‘on’ from start to finish.


And they are very strong poems. Like a lot of American poetry, I learnt some things about the US, and the subtle and less subtle differences between our two cultures. I am struck by the bravery of some of them. Louisiana is probably not the safest place in the world to publish poems about a woman’s right not to want children, for example, or poems with forthright views on organised religion. These are emotive issues to a lot of people, but thankfully poetry is the spiritual homeland of emotive issues. As Salman Rushdie said, ‘a poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it from going to sleep.’


This is from one of my favourites here - ‘Our Lady Of Whatever:’ 


I shall require a toolbox shrine, with mirrored walls, stuffed with party mints and candles stoked against my legendary wrath, a target practice ace of spades with all four corners clipped, and an alias worth embroidering on pillows, inking on knucklebones.


I’ve been to Cemetery Number One in New Orleans, final resting place of Marie Laveau, the ‘witch queen of New Orleans’, and that sounds a lot like her grave. That sort of spirit of New Orleans - Catholicism and Voodoo living together as naturally as its French past and American present - runs through this collection. It’s the same spirit that gave us jazz.


Review by: Andrew Barber




now you can join the others, poems by Taije Silverman.  A 6” x 9” paperback book with a full colour cover and 96 pages. Published 2022 by Louisiana State University Press. lsupress.org ISBN 978-0-8071-7853-9 £17.95.


These are lyrical and deeply felt poems of love and loss, questioning the nature of time and memory, dreaming and death. Silverman’s perspective is wide, drawing on insights and images from an Ancient Greek lawmaker and a modern Indian murder, Mussolini’s Italy and a children’s party in Chuck E. Cheese, questioning the differences in meaning between apparently similar words in different languages. She takes as her starting point her own life in present day America, relationships, pregnancy, being a mother, wife, daughter, describing her experiences in delicate, fractured images, questioning, analysing, and moving from the immediacy of the moment out to the universal questions.


“Inside the house, his sister’s two children


slept in a room below their parents. A family intact


as a snakeskin cast off from the body. Weight of the air,


but that density, rooted and linked, of their each of them sleeping.”


These beautiful poems express the humanity of the writer and her exploration of meaning in her life and relationships in a way which leads the reader to relate to her search, and to read on through the collection. Silverman’s fascination with words is evident in her precise and subtle vocabulary, and her preservation of other people’s speech in some poems; she analyses her three-year-old’s use of language, even his favourite invented word, “mebble.” This is one of the happier poems, though even then there is a sense of fragility. Many of these poems seem flooded with grief, such as “Orphan Letter,” about her sister’s lifelong experience of bad dreams, and now, her cancer; or “Littoral,” in which Silverman dreams that the bed made for her by her parents is disintegrating piece by piece, memory by memory, into the sea.


“Sharp as a heart, the metal ends, the birthday gift


once set on rugs they spread across our lawn and made


with new red sheets that patterned giant peonies.”


But Silverman’s keen observation of nature often redeems the sadness of human experience, as in “Grief,” when cicadas hatch from under the ground and


“For days the whole town will sing.”


Review by: Eve Kimber




With Every Step I take 2, short stories and poetry by Avotcja, with artwork by Eliza Land Shefler. A 6” x 9” paperback book with a full colour cover and 271 pages.  Published 2013 / 2022 by Taurean Horn Press, Petaluma, CA, USA.  ISBN 978-0-931552-23-6 $23.


This second edition of With Every Step I Take is an expanded version of the 2013 original.

At 270 pages, it’s a book that’s as generous in size as it is big- hearted in conception. For several reasons this is much more than a poetry collection, and the better and more charismatic for it.

            Avotcja (pronounce d ‘Avacha’) has create d a kind of literary community of poems, stories, essays and creative non- fiction. And within these genres there is much variety, especially in those pieces particularly well- suited to Avotcja’s regular performing. The contents are multi-dimensional, with tributes, clarifications and references, while being further enhance d by Eliza Land Shefler’s bold line drawings.

With Every Step I Take has considerable soul: compassionate but never mawkish, political but never hectoring, sometimes angry but never cynical. It seeks out to defend those repressed because of race, heritage, language, poverty and sexuality, and it champions the soul of the Earth. The book’s extraordinary energy is encapsulated by the prose piece ‘The Unrighteous Rites of Reverend Wright,’ a gloriously funny depiction of the transparently corrupt methods of a “double- dealing, unscrupulous Preacher.”

Elsewhere there are strong Caribbean and Hispanic seams, manifesting themselves in many allusions. Some poems appear in Spanish as well as English. For example, ‘Diaspora Negra’/ ‘Black Diaspora’ expands on the tragedies of slavery by deploying on facing pages two of the languages of its proponents - and victims:


 …my Great Grandparents threw our language in the waters

Better a meal for the Sharks in the Sea

Than a trivialized game for the Sharks that walk the land.


Avotcja’s devotion to music is reflected in the rhythms and the momentum of her poetry. As she says, in ‘Music Is My Name:’…


I’ve always been the kind that won’t be quiet.

An uncontrollable sassy vibration, a song that sings forever

I’m an in-your-face melody that will never be gone.


This vibrancy and humanity make it easy for the reader to imagine Avotcja’s work being made even more vivid when read aloud, and set alongside her considerable musicianship. Piri Thomas introduces the book as:

…a record of collective memories …[and] a history of leontine courage. With Every Step I Take is this, and more: a celebration of survival, energy, integrity – and the power of language to galvanize our search for the common good.


Review by: Will Daunt




Ambrosia of the Netherworld, poems by H. D. Moe. A 6” x 9” paperback book with a full colour cover and 156 pages. Published 2023 by Taurean Horn Press, ISBN 10: 0 -931552-19-2.  ISBN 13: 978-0-931552-19-9. $17.95.


A jazz poet, a baby Beat poet, missed and revered in San Francisco for which I hesitate to say a word against him. One can imagine a chuckling, lank-haired writer, trotting out his text ‘in the tradition of Dada and the Flux Correctionists, part trickster, part scholar…’ Often a pleasing phrase occurs: ‘peachy nietzsche,’ ‘uranium fish’ ‘hindu tobacco.’ However.


I did hesitate at the poorly cut jacket, Wikipedia definition of ambrosia, promise of ‘genius oxymorons’ which, like the title itself, smacked of a spoof. In the end, I thought the writer would reveal his mettle as he writes himself (no pun intended). A coincidence then to find the introduction quoting Milton, saying pretty much the same thing: the more apposite in a posthumous book.


We are told: ‘it is wonderful to encounter the patented madness of this poet of dreams and language…’ Moe faces his netherworld, Orpheus-like: ‘and just maybe, language can bring him back.’


But the verse, to me, is not ambrosial. It has panache, there are rhymes, quick runs of rhythm that emerge to be left unsorted, unhatched; as if all the pieces – and it comes more or less of a piece – have verse in mind and some momentum; but not its shape, perspective, not the angles, say, of Frank O’Hara, it barely has direction, un-stoppered the language pours forth and skips sense in Moe’s frantic, word associations of sound alone.


Dizzy locks

traduced vim subliminal, episodic

huskinawing my blizzard of Elizabethan wigwams signalling

in flames of invisible heat, visceral quandaries

riddled paradox bowtie tripling serendipitous numbskull

feeling you

chucking popcorn in your diamond mirror

glucose hilda dolittle & the red swift willow

lifting bluebells joycean fin de siècle ololiuhqui


It feels like an approximation of spontaneous; loosely edited and what of that? Notwithstanding all the vocabulary, it seems all we get is nonsense. I am drawn back to the pronouncement supplied by the introduction, almost at odds with itself:


‘The words here sound like a man talking fast – saying anything that pops into his head in an effort to stave off his all-too-imminent eternal silence.’


Review by: Dominic James


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Edition #55 (107) June 2023


Index of Reviewed Publications

Pulsar Poetry Webzine #55

(June 2023), Please see below.


Selected Poems, by Patrick Kavanagh.


Light at the Seam, poems by Joseph Bathanti.


Looking Up, poems ǀ 2010 – 2022 by Dave Smith.


The Boiling Point for Jam, poems by Lynda Tavakoli.


Customs, poems by Solmaz Sharif.


Selected Poems by Patrick Kavanagh. A 6” x 8.5” paperback book with a full colour cover and 115 pages.  Edited by Paul Muldoon.  Published 2022 by Wake Forest University Press,

wfupress.wfu.edu  also wfupress@wfu.edu.  ISBN 978-1-943667-02-4 (paperback) and ISBN 978-1-943667-03-1 (cloth). £16.95.


In her excellent editing of Patrick Kavanagh’s Collected Poems, Antoinette Quinn explains unapologetically why she has not curated the complete article and why “hundreds of poems are not collected here.” In the same way, an even more concise celebration of the great Irish writer’s canon is timely.

Of course, within the constraints of the slimmer volume there are options when you are paring down and explaining the work of such an important poet.

You could provide a methodical introduction, mapping out the poet’s influences and chronological development, while providing a flavour of their stylistic character and range. The reader might also be given some overview of how the whole was selected and ordered, not least because of the size and diversity of Kavanagh’s legacy. You could include a bibliography, and an index of first lines and/ or titles, while sub- dividing the book to reflect its sources. And so on.

Paul Muldoon’s approach is different. In this boldly edited and beautifully produced book, he is clear that – despite their short introduction – most of the poems should travel without contextual passengers. Yes: he does explain the important inclusion of the two great poems that occupy about half of the book. ‘The Great Hunger’ and ‘Lough Derg’ remain such humane, humorous and colourful depictions of different corners of Irish life, and unique poetic journeys. That is why some readers might adjust to them better if they were in sub- sections of their own, which could be structured without interfering with the book’s broadly chronological sequencing.

A few other poems are discussed in the introduction, including ‘Epic,’ which is referred to - and then returned to - and ‘Threshing Morning,’ which isn’t included here. These perspectives (and a longer section on possible influences from neorealistic Italian cinema) will intrigue those familiar with Kavanagh. For the novice, they might feel like more arbitrary starting points.

But the poems are assembled with skill and authority, and like them, the book speaks for itself.


Review by: Will Daunt




Light at the Seam, poems by Joseph Bathanti. A 9” x 6” paperback book with a full colour cover and 65 pages. Published 2022 by Louisiana University Press, Baton Rouge, lsupress.org ISBN 978-0-8071-7692-4. £15.95.


Acknowledgements in Joseph Bathanti’s narrow collection give much credit to the local photography of Carl Galie. Both have invested love and concern in evocative chronicles of Appalachia, the damage done there, broadly speaking, to and by the mining community.


Bathanti couples great descriptive power to local knowledge, then – testing the bounds of poetic license with his assonance and consonance, bent word bent – invocations of ‘Shakespearian mien,’ ammonium nitrate, Bible. He is more Thomas Hardy than Ezra Pound, both mentioned here, and the language can be archaic.


Vernacular applies. ‘Light prilled upon us,’ brings a shower of fertilizer pellets; ‘plat’ a measured plot of land. The possible meanings of sole: singular, shoe or human, confuse me. Yet one can well understand how Bathanti has published so many books and for a term was poet laureate of North Carolina. If his language pulls this way and that, or connotations lead back to their primae facie meanings, the flow is constant and does not impede water pressure on the land.


From Postdiluvian: Mingo County, West Virginia.


It’s had too much to drown – more mine-rain runoff


than Mingo tribal land would suffer. Its breach was obscene


massing diluvia bent on blood feud.

Sycamores snapped in tandem.


Roil stormed the house,

cleaved its seams and sockets…


it swamped, then sundered, vitals bared,

the yard washed off to Pike County


through the Tug River Valley.

The bones of the Hatfields and McCoys


bristle in beds of coal silt.

Nary a crow circles.

Light at the Seam evokes disaster. Removing the mountain from the coal, lorries at that altitude defy gravity… ‘cross-hatching/a bric-a-brac of switchback Zs/ – their unearthed ruin in the clouds/ its overburden in the valley…’


Throughout, the anguish of abandoned, ruined places and recognised old haunts of folks rings true. Read it if it comes to hand. The human is near in these tales of sundered mountain tops, rich names listed with pride of place and keep in mind: ‘the old out of the New’ and ‘the Wolf rants into the New’ incline to rivers. Bathanti’s formula:


Praise the world of names –

Tuckasagee, Oconaluftee, Wayah


Review by: Dominic James




Looking Up, poems ǀ 2010 – 2022 by Dave Smith.  A 6” x 9” paperback book with a full colour cover and 111 pages. Published 2023 by Louisiana University Press, Baton Rouge, lsupress.org ISBN 978-0-8071-7852-2 £18.95.


My favourite poetry books are those that teach me something about poetry, or something about the world. Looking Up often does both. Dave Smith is clearly someone who knows a thing or two about poetry. He’s written 25 books, and taught English or poetry at two major US universities. He has a distinctive voice, and these are well crafted poems. There is nothing accidental about any of them. Every word seems calibrated for maximum impact.


The author seems to have had an interesting life, growing up in the American South after WWII. I’m a city boy myself, but there is something fascinating about tales of a more rural life, in a less developed age. One poem I thought very powerful was ‘Dressing,’ about going hunting with his grandfather, and the effect it had. ‘No matter what you do, it won’t be a good taste / comes back when you see another dead body / on the asphalt but flare of the odour gushing out / like the worst moment on the toilet, new wife / lifting your head from your hands, all the dead / in the world seems to want to come out of you, / you can’t push it back, and you can’t forget it.’


There is a satisfying balance of themes to this book. Visceral poems about dressing hunted animals and the vagaries of human nature are interspersed with more sentimental ones about favourite dogs and horses, even some romantic ones. This is an entertaining book with some interesting stories, and to this ex-Londoner at least, the ones about man’s relationship to country pursuits were educational.


Review by:  Andrew Barber




The Boiling Point for Jam, poems by Lynda Tavakoli. A 5.5” x 8.5” paperback book with a full colour cover and 82 pages. Published 2020 by Arlen House, Dublin, Ireland. arlenhouse@gmail.com arlenhouse.blogspot.com ISBN 978-1-85132-249-7 £20.95.


This is a collection spanning a range of times and themes, but strongly rooted in a childhood in Northern Ireland, with notes of family, rural life and enduring relationships with ageing parents. The history and pain of the Six Counties is part of the picture, sometimes referenced in taut, powerful poems such as “Bully’s Acre,” sometimes in meditations on the effects on family members, or friends who emigrated. Tavakoli herself has long experience of living in the Middle East, and many poems are set there, observing the warmth and humanity of street life and also the dreadful effects of war; in “Game On” she documents how snipers score points for shooting the target of the day, maybe a pregnant woman.


A deep sympathy for nature is tuned to understand also the human place in it:


“Winter’s snow still wraps its cover


 around the earth, your child’s fingers


 ice-burned on the hoarfrost railings” (“Fenced.”) Tavakoli’s gaze is unflinchingly honest and searching, seeing the pain and wrong, but searching also for redeeming moments of love and kindness. She traces her own love of words back to her father’s lack of education, which he was determined to make up for by discovering words and teaching his children their value: “offering them up to us like something unexplored


and waiting only for the joy of their release.” (“Words”)


Tavakoli’s rich range of language and delicacy of touch are defining features of her poetry. She uses words creatively, as in:


“Bullet holes scab forgotten walls


while the hush of the dead


still rinses through your bones


with the coldering of war.” (“Altered”) The image of deathly silence endlessly washing the returned survivor’s bones with the chill of memory is made more powerful by the condensed, taut lines and the use of “cold” as a verb and intensifier in one. The reader is obliged to pause and look again to take it in. The poem describes how, though his pain is beyond their comprehension, the survivor is embraced by his community and the poem ends on “loved.” This is a fine and thoughtful body of work.


Review by: Eve Kimber




Customs, poems by Solmaz Sharif. A 5” x 7.75” paperback book with a full colour cover and 112 pages. Published 27th April 2023 by Bloomsbury Poetry, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 50 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DP, UK. ISBN 9781526655295 (paperback), 9781526655271 (eBook) and 9781526655264 (audio). Enquiries UK, Brittani.davies@bloomsbury.com. £9.99 paperback.


Solmaz Sharif is an Iranian-American poet and academic, born in Istanbul, and is currently an assistant professor at Arizona State University.


The blurb on the rear cover of the book mentions poetic refusals, “what it means to belong to a place…” and “structures in society, in language itself, by which these limits act on us.”

The reader may acknowledge the aptly named book title, ‘Customs,’ – a good starting point for what this book covers and is about.


In an opening poem, Dear Aleph, the reader is advised that, like Ovid, the poet will “have no last words,” after implying that the Greeks from antiquity heard the poet’s speech / language, as the vocalising of sheep, beasts, bar bar bar, (barbarians). The name David was offered, to the Philistine, as the one to aspire to, but the poet states, “I’ve known I am Goliath / if I am anything.” The reader feels the chill of nonchalant exclusion, of being dismissed, perhaps as an outsider, a lesser being. The poem title, Dear Aleph, appears again for poems at pages 11 and 20.


In my view Sharif’s poems convey, (among varying topics), feelings of isolation and the burden of distrust, borne by others.  Perhaps of being present, though seemingly invisible, or not belonging?  Observations are made, with gentle irony included.


Poem He Too, page 19, focusses upon the wearing annoyance, of patronising petty officialdom.  Poem extract, as follows:


“Upon my return to the US, he

asks my occupation.  Teacher.


What do you teach?



I hate poetry, the officer says,

I only like writing

where you can make an argument.


Anything he asks, I must answer.

This, too, he likes…”


The poem, An Otherwise, refers back to the times of The Shah, part extract, as follows:


“Downwind from a British Petroleum refinery, my mother is

removing the books she was ordered to remove from the school

library.  Russians, mostly.  Gorky’s Mother among them.  The Shah

is coming to tour the school.  It is winter.


In the cold, the schoolgirls line up along the front of the main

building and wait for his motorcade.  Knee-highs and pleated

skirts.  Shivering in the refined air.


Wave, girls, the teacher says.


My mother, waving…”


The reader contemplates the scene, persons rushing around to please high-ranking dignitaries who barely acknowledge the fuss and discomfort caused, but expect the effort to have been made, including a requirement to remove books of Russian origin…  The poem, An Otherwise, is included in part III of the book and continues from page 67 to 88. It’s fairly easy to lose your place in the array of wordage, but it pays to persevere. Verse continues in a measured manner, with many topics and remembrances covered.


Customs is Solmaz Sharif’s second poetry collection. Sharif’s book contains thoughtful observations of time and place, the burden of isolation, with references to officialdom and the resulting barriers imposed, albeit temporary. A need for subservience is acknowledged, to pander to the self-worth of others.  A thought provoking and enjoyable read.


Review by: David Pike


* * *


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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine


Edition #54 (106) March  2023


Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #54 (March 2023), please see below.


Mondegreen, poems by Mike McNamara.


South Flight, poems by Jasmine Elizabeth Smith.


Selected Poems by John McAuliffe.


Cardinal In My Window With A Mask On Its Beak, poems by Carlos Aguasaco.


Ornaments, poems by Dennis Tomlinson.



Mondegreen, poems by Mike McNamara, A 6” x 9” paperback book with a full colour cover and 58 pages. Published 2022 by AJI Magazine, www.ajimagazine.com Also view www.blurb.com/b/11356127-mondegreen  ISBN 979-8-21-178850-3   £10.00 plus p & p.


Mike McNamara has been busy, producing four books in as many years. Mondegreen is a large advance on, for example, 2019’s satisfying Dialling A Starless Past. Peter Kay would like the title, which defines how words, lyrics and so on can be replaced by what the listener believes that they’ve heard. The original mondegreen – “Lady Mondegreen” – was “laid him on the green,” misheard.

McNamara’s mondegreen s are multi- sensory and pierce layers of the universal and the personal, present and past, niche and mundane. This can be both intoxicating and disorienting, as the poet stirs sharp but reflective cocktails, strengthened by the spirits of a life fully lived, and served in accomplished forms.

The first section’s title poem, ‘The Human Condition,’ moves disconcertingly from the known or imagined sounds of a train overhead/heard, “piano music” and “windchimes,” towards a hyper- vivid analogy for societal breakdown:


On its knees. Chequered. Soured

Strawberry Fair, one who lived there

all buckled at the gates of ruin.


Yet their last lines ground each stanza: “Nice day,” “Nice place;” “Nice arse.”

The conclusion to the ironically- titled ‘Simple’ shines back a fractured light over the poem’s honed- prose stanzas and vignettes of life’s contradictions:


… the source of all


existence understands our words and our innermost desires, as it understands the light of the stars and the rays of the sun. Perennial philosophy: nothing changes but perception.



Here’s poetry that doesn’t inveigle sensual empathy: instead it shows how we make sense of the world, conflictingly.

The third section is concise like the first, nevertheless containing two lynch pins. ‘Mondegreen’ as multi- layered as ‘Simple,’ playing on the ironies of how half- heard lyrics prompt regurgitations of memory:


Someone was singing about Hector and Achilles toe to toe

Outside the walls of Troy, Mycenaeans vs. Luwians,


But I thought they sang, “Do you remember those two bare- fisted gypsies you saw rucking in Romford?”

That’s a smart McNamara trick: daring us to laugh (and then asking us why we laughed).

In ‘What Then, What Now?’ four provocative reflections – some anecdotal - follow separate scenes outside a Spar, each kick- started by a quotation. One from Ulysses connects to the pre- Troubles tale of a Belfast lad, recollecting with a dark humour how:


 … a teenage friend of his

had committed suicide years earlier…

 ‘Why?’ I’d asked casually.

‘Because he wasn’t Elvis,” he’d replied nonchalantly.


The heart of the book is its middle section, ‘True Stories’. The three stanza title poem satirizes how truth is calibrated:


I will tell you everything

but the whole truth

so help me God.


Then it’s re- invented as ‘Miltonic Sonnets,’ that inception deploying the form with conversational aplomb. ‘God On A Stick’ mocks the ‘truth’ of faith:


…maybe you should tell me

how many guises you have worn:

sky, sea, flame, storm, harvest,

 flood, death, blood, sacrifice.


Other poems (re)imagine stories from a life, sometimes through a lens of rollicking dysfunction, as in the adventures of ‘Slipping through the Net,’ or through something blunter, like the poignant obituary for long lost ‘Donald Brown …,’ who raised “an unremarkable dust storm/ in an unswept gutter.”

Around the Bohemian narratives at Mondegreen’s core, McNamara has built a unique meditation on the defining ambiguities of perception and memory.


Review by: Will Daunt




South Flight, poems by Jasmine Elizabeth Smith. A 5.5” x 8.5” paperback book with a full colour cover and 88 pages. Published 2022 by The University of Georgia Press.

www.ugapress.org ISBN 978-0-8203-6090-4 £18.95.


The Oklahoma- based author Jasmine Elizabeth Smith explores the history of the massacres, displacement and discrimination that black people experienced during segregation in the US. She traces a map of the territory where people lived as if they were in exile. She specifically refers to the Tulsa race massacre (1921) in which white people attacked a thriving community, destroying properties and killing about three hundred people, who are ‘[a]ll […] disposed in mass / graves / of nonhistories.’ In the poems, grief mixes with resistance to the barbarities, killings and injustices that her people suffered daily. The author is part of a community of artists that, similarly to their ancestors, fight against the threat of extinction – of their body and soul. Loss, misery, and witnessing are imperative as they may give rise to survival and secure evidence so that no one can forget and there is hope that a fairer society will be built.


The ‘southern blues’ are dense with sadness: stories of lynchings and the resulting bodies disappearing alternate with love letters written to a faraway lover who fled the ‘terror of discrimination’ (a quote from Josephine Baker). The letters of Beatrice Vernadene Chapel to Jim Waters are imagined conversations that focus on the everyday, on their possible reunion and on the unjust treatments suffered:


Before you visit, I must set things right.

The fly door unhooked from its hinge,

a napkin folded thick to lengthen a chair’s short leg.

How I scrub one room to top to bottom,

even baseboards belvedere like clean church shoes.


(‘Beatrice Airs Out the House before Jim’s Return’)


In the love poems there is passion but also fear that persecution might hit again, breaking ‘a man who stands upright.’


Smith also refers to the strength and determination of her mother and grandmothers and to the church parades that inspired her poetry and supported her commitment to the cause. Her poems are fresh and compelling; they sing about the loss, love, courage and resilience.


Review by: Carla Scarano D’Antonio




Selected Poems by John McAuliffe.  A 6” x 9” paperback book with a full colour cover and 163 pages. First published in Ireland, 2021, by The Gallery Press. Published 2022 by Wake Forest University Press, Winston-Salem, NC, USA. ISBN 978-1-943667-04-8 $18.95 UK £20.95.


John McAuliffe is by no means the only poet prone to finishing a piece with an oblique conclusion, as if to say, there, it has been shown, leaving the reader to wonder, What? but in the main, this accomplished writer, with verses punchy/brief/long and eloquent in ‘Selected Poems’ offers up a clear picture of the man himself. One encounters a life, a maturing spirit, the bending of idiom with accents and location and the reflections of a poet whose work plumbs his own depths.  Accordingly, there is something here for everyone.


I was drawn in by the early recollection of ‘Going Places’ – which resists plucking a line from the whole. From the universal mundane McAuliffe registers insights, here of a childhood impression, that lift his readers’ eyes from the page to experiences and imagery of their own, or that could be so.  On the strength of this I moved confidently on to later, stronger pieces, many of which have appeared in auspicious journals such as Poetry, TLS, Poetry Review & etc.


Technically, while familiar enough with form to pull it around to his own ends, the work is established by the generally reliable lilt and measure of the verse.  His images are provocative or satisfactory – which says a lot – and, enticingly, the poems carry an edge. Adding to many acute observations of himself and those around him, we find McAuliffe the educator in – again, an earlier poem – ‘Today’s Imperative:’


…Then there are the argonauts
who labor in the interstices of a language, or two at most;


and that crowd whose ambition is to introduce gender
to the reader who hasn’t got one on him:


long warm-ups, agreed movements from a to b, and put up the shutters
with a lyrical turn or various little-known fabrics and figures,


such as you often find in those who use family detail as glitter
to stud the rough black rock of their fictions.


And I like all this, but…


In short, we find a man of letters not so parceled up in himself that he cannot reach into a post bag of the lingua franca and light the occasional blue touch paper or two.


Review by: Dominic James




Cardinal In My Window With A Mask On Its Beak. Poems by Carlos Aguasaco.  Translated by Jennifer Rathbun. A 9” x 7” paperback book with a full colour cover and 102 pages.  Published 2022 by The University of Arizona Press. www.uapress.arizona.edu

ISBN 978-0-8165-4515-5 £19.95.


The poems are written is Spanish with the translation, by Jennifer Rathbun, on the facing page. They are the work of an established master, confident, erudite, steeped in the history of South America and Europe and involving a cast of historical characters, especially in the opening poems of the collection, who react to historical injustice and oppression. Aguasaco is a leading figure in American literary and academic circles, and won the Ambroggio Prize for American poets writing in Spanish.


In the poems focussed on the abuses of historical individuals, Aguasaco analyses the motives of the oppressors and the response of the person, reaching subtly beyond the obvious to deeper layers of meaning and resilience. He moves on to poems reflecting on his own experiences, of Covid and lockdown, of love and grief, written in a very personal style which uses the white space on the page to frame but also to interrogate ideas and images, sometimes reversing word order or interweaving revealing metaphors:


“I don’t want to die but to blossom


to allow life to burst my bowels                                 Teresa


may your song make the stem grow                          that tomorrow will be fruit


and then a sacred drink of maize and cacao               liberation in the throat


of she who walks barefoot and blindly                       on cobblestones of ice”


The “Teresa” in this poem, “Echo in the throat woven with sabers,” is Saint Teresa of Jesus, a Spanish mystic of the sixteenth century. Aguasaco enters into dialogue with her ideas here, and in other poems references the work of great writers of the mediaeval and Renaissance periods in mainland Spain and influential South American intellectuals, adding depth, complexity, and wider perspectives to his work.


For instance, “Portrait of a Poet,” “Based on the sonnet ‘To her Portrait’ by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz”


“This one you see                                           coloured treachery


horror of art                                                     and its texture


syllogism                                                         of flesh


and its miseries


doesn’t allow                                                  memory


to do its trickery”


imports an unfamiliar view of art – is the fixed, unchanging portrait really more meaningful than human memory?


This collection is full of challenging insights and questions much that is easy to take for granted in modern life.


Review by: Eve Kimber




Ornaments, poems by Dennis Tomlinson.  A 5.25” x 8.5” pamphlet, with a two-colour cover and 19 pages.  Published 2022 by Paekakariki Press. www.paekakaripress.com

No ISBN. £12.50 plus p&p.


Are you the sort of person who stores your memories in things? I am. One of my favourite things is a toothpick that once held together an overstuffed burger, the first time I took my partner for lunch. One glimpse of it and all the memories come flooding back. This is essentially the theme of Ornaments.


Each poem is about the memories that are stored in ornaments. ‘Ornaments’ is used loosely; one is about the graffiti in a park. But each is an emotional journey.


The poems are not long, but they do not have to be. Mr Tomlinson can fit a lot into a few lines. Lauren Catling’s illustrations are quite lovely and add much to the experience.


I am wary of reading poems too literally, but if this book is, as it appears to be, a collection of cherished memories, written to a beloved wife who had suffered a stroke, it is a sweet and touching gesture. If it is not as it appears to be, it is still a collection of quality poems that confirm that brevity is indeed the soul of wit.


Review by: Andrew Barber




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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine


Edition #53 (105) December 2022


Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #53 (December 2022), please see below.


Help Me Information, poems by David Kirby.


Sonnets for Albert, by Anthony Joseph.


Love in a Time of Pestilence, poems by Heather Goddin.


The Parisian Prowler, poems and prose by Charles Baudelaire.


Workwear, poems by Carla Scarano D’Antonio.


Help Me Information, poems by David Kirby. A 9.25” x 6” hardback book with a two-colour cover and 119 pages. Published 2021 by Louisiana State University Press, www.lsupress.org ISBN: 978-0-8071-7594-1 £34.50.


This is an unusual poetry book by David Kirby, notably because it challenges the definitions of what poetry actually is. Is it based on the form, the feeling, the intent, etc? Do poems have to look like poems? I guess my working definition of poetry is that it’s a way of looking at the world, exploring it en route to understanding it, and expressing any questions or conclusions in a condensed and stylistically-entertaining way. On that basis, this is a book of poetry. If you’re looking for something more formally structured, you may disagree.


A lot of this book reads like a standup routine or a comic monologue from a novel, with poetic line breaks. There are some excellent insights, and some parts that are very funny, especially when he writes about music, a field in which he seems to have a lot of experience. These sections reminded me of Kinky Friedman, the country songwriter who became a detective novelist.


There are some fascinating tidbits of information, like Robert Louis Stevenson basing the character of Long John Silver on his poet friend W. E. Henley, author of Invictus, and who had one leg amputated in his early twenties. His strength in the face of adversity was an inspiration to Stevenson. Mr Kirby teaches English at a US university, and is clearly an erudite man.


I enjoyed this book. The author has an engaging style, a sense of humour, and he asks some interesting questions. I admired the book’s ambition. It was not content with the constraints of traditional poetry, and it would not surprise me if Mr Kirby’s next work is a novel. Whether you view ‘Help Me, Information’ as a successful attempt to fuse poetry with prose or as a series of prose pieces formatted as poems depends largely, I suspect, on your definition of poetry.


Review by: Andrew Barber




Sonnets For Albert by Anthony Joseph. A 7.5” x 5” paperback book with a full colour cover and 75 pages.  Published 9th June 2022 by Bloomsbury Poetry. ISBN: 9781526649942 £9.99


This sequence of modern sonnets explores, investigates and questions Joseph’s memories of his father, and beyond that, who his father was – a man of myth, powerful even in his absences, yet often vulnerable in Joseph’s recent meetings with him. Looking beyond that, Joseph questions what death is, loss, and family, Albert’s far-flung family linking the Caribbean, London, and New York but with


“the same almond, Amerindian eyes.


He speaks deeply, lovingly. We are brothers…..


The grist and very mystery of blood.”


The brother being Joseph’s brother Brendan. His father, Albert, was a fascinatingly complex man, charismatic and stylish but full of contradictions and eluding every attempt to understand him more fully. In “Answers are important,” Joseph’s brother Dennis had arranged to meet Albert, who had “promised to tell” crucial stories, but Dennis finds he had died. Joseph reflects on death, loss and memory in poems so poised between love and frustration, so generous, tender and so lyrical, that this is writing of the highest order. Joseph evokes the flavours and voices of the Caribbean (great dialogue) or the insights of Kierkegaard, weaving a meditation that has moments of humour, but moves towards transcendence. One such moment, in “Precipice,” finds Joseph, as a boy, sent to find his father, who is gambling in the quarry. Joseph can’t recognise him and turns back, discouraged, but suddenly the sky “burst with celestial light,” giving him a moment of costly insight into “what death would feel like.” This is a book to keep and return to.


Review by: Eve Kimber




Love in a Time of Pestilence, poems by Heather Goddin. A 5.5” x 8.5” paperback book with a full colour cover and 71 pages.  Published 28th July 2022 by Troubadour Publishing Ltd. ISBN: 978-1-80313-213-6 £8.99


Love in a Time of Pestilence, Heather Goddin’s love and compassion are the main focuses of her latest collection. The positive and hopeful attitude she had during the pandemic shines through in the poems. She felt that the isolation of the lockdown was ‘like being in prison,’ like a bird in a cage, and she yearned to fly freely and be with someone she loved. But this condition had its positive and sometimes funny sides as well. The situation triggered her imagination and enhanced her observation of what was around her:


The rusty screech of pheasant,

Murmuring collar doves,

Chaffinch, blackbird, chiff-chaff, tit,

The songs we take for granted

And often scarcely hear.


(‘Small Pleasures’)


 She concludes that ‘Lockdown’s not all bad,’ as it renews the importance of simple pleasures: the passing of the seasons that we take for granted or waiting for a friend’s phone call, which became so significant when we were not allowed to meet people in person.


The poems are in chronological order, dating from March 2020 until August 2021 with a few poems that date back to 2019. Most of them are addressed to an anonymous ‘you’ – maybe a friend she cannot meet or hug and kiss as she would like to, or a family member she misses. The ‘you’ might also be her friend Christer who passed away and to whom the collection is dedicated, or an ideal reader she is in conversation within the solitude of the Covid isolation.


Because the shops are closed, hair and beards grow, ‘long, flowing tresses, grey or white, /Blowing in the breeze/ […] like weed;’ they symbolise the uncertain future that she is facing. We cannot control what is happening during the pandemic but can only stay still and wait. However, she remarks that ‘Exciting days still lie ahead,’ which is an open and optimistic attitude that reflects the readable and straightforward language of the poems. Their compelling narratives and apparently simple form are engaging. The delightful stories in this collection tell the reader about the sorrows of Covid but also the tender longing for renewed connections, warm encounters and unflinching hopes.


Review by: Carla Scarano D’Antonio




The Parisian Prowler, 2nd edition, poems and prose by Charles Baudelaire, translated by Edward K. Kaplan.  A 5.5” x 8.5” paperback book with a full colour cover and 139 pages. Published 1997 by the University of Georgia Press.  www.ugapress.org Price ?


Edward Kaplan’s translation of Baudelaire’s Le Spleen de Paris is, of course, one of many. This second edition, which first appeared in 1997, has some distinctive features which may be of interest to those familiar with or new to the work and life of the 19th century French writer. Perhaps Kaplan’s boldest decision was to abandon the common English title – Paris Spleen – for something more sinister and provocative. But that decision reflects the reference by Baudelaire to “Le Rôdeur Parisien” in a letter of 1861. Equally, as Kaplan explains in his Introduction to the new edition, this title:


…typifies more than any other title Baudelaire considered, the

intellectually curious, though alienated, narrator’s repeated journeys

of initiation.


That narrator is the voice that draws us into a portrayal of Parisian life through 50 prose poems, each filling from one to several pages. In a letter to Arsène Houssaye (included here as an appendix), the poet describes the organic relationship between each component part:


Remove one vertebra, and the two pieces of that tortuous fantasy will

reunite without

difficulty. Chop it into many fragments, and you will find that each

one can exist



Kaplan’s excellent Preface and (revised) Introduction combine with helpful notes to draw the reader into a better understanding of the work’s concept, content and form.

From the outset, we are invited to see The Parisian Prowler as a distinctive project and an exploration of ourselves as a reader:


Baudelaire forces us to respond, to examine ourselves, and to scrutinize the narrator

…What I call “ethical irony” is the key to penetrating his poses and disguises … Beneath

his alienation, the narrator proves to be attuned to his human environment.


Of course the reader’s experience of the book will determine whether this works. Baudelaire takes us deep into the colour and conflict of the unnoticed parts of the city: we meet the old, the intimate, the strange and the lonely. They are seen through a lens sometimes distorted or shaped by the writer’s intoxications: sensuality and laudanum, or, as he puts it in ‘Get High,’ the effects of over- indulging “On wine, on poetry or on virtue.”

Kaplan explains how his translation renders in “present- day English” the “British ornate style and … many Gallicisms” of its predecessors. However in avoiding “Latinate words and syntax”, he goes on to argue that he has “preserved intricate word order and formality when found in the original.”

The book’s twenty or so illustrations have been curated with great care, and Kaplan contextualizes his choices in the Preface. Manet, Delacroix, Daumier and Whistler are joined by other artists whose work characterizes the lives of the flamboyant as much as the forgotten, and their works’ monochrome reproduction suits the moods and the settings of the book.

Regardless of the reader’s knowledge of Baudelaire’s writing, The Parisian Prowler is a unique reinvention of a classic, and an enticing read.


Overview by: Will Daunt




Workwear, poems by Carla Scarano D’Antonio.  A 8.25” x 5.75” paperback book with a full colour cover and 111 pages.  Published October 2022 by The High Window Press of Peatmoor, Swindon, Wiltshire. Email: abbeygatebooks@yahoo.co.uk

ISBN: 978-1-913201-29-6 £10.00


Beside a notion of Francis of Assisi’s missing hat I would have liked more rhyme. D’Antonio writes engrossingly but initial poems, taken from paintings and other works of art, despite their pop – “The smell of dirt from the melting snow.” – did not carry me away with their invitations to character and situation. I was not moved by the accretions of jewellery and clobber.


A different matter was the second section of the book. Here we encounter mothers’ longing: grandmothers, the poet’s mother visiting comfort in a dream, occasions of her own motherhood all of which open up, in intimate detail, loyalties and shared love – and, if not shared, given – that provide all the forward, touching energy the verse requires.


And sympathies range across the years, from Conforta, ‘flexible and untameable,’ to the responsive stomach- living of a child. There are also excellent descriptions of movement blurred and the transient colour blue.


I would not dwell on the occasional foreignness of the work. The language is always effective, and one is drawn to Italian diminutives, pastas and D’Antonio’s own appetites, at once universal and particular. In regard to writing itself, the poet’s certain purpose is lightly illustrated in ‘Words are good’ where she asks, what is her pleasure in using words? She encounters them:


reimagining the past

in a memoir of self- discovery

turning at last


to the bottom of the pool.


And all the elements combine to great effect in the pretty much un- put downable last section, where a smell of dirt from snow is re- encountered and family ties are bonds which hold - a ship in quarantine, the invasive hurt of a pandemic, the re- emergence of cycle rides:


From ‘Tasting blackberries:’


I have no plastic bag or bowl

so I gather them in my surgical face mask,

collect quite a few

gobble up some,

their wild taste bursts black under my fingers.

I feel satiated by the little sweetness,

treasure their blackness

that absorbs the late summer sun.


In all, ‘Workwear’ is a pleasure to read. I too was: “… picked up and swept away / to a horizon I some what remember.


Review by: Dominic James




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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine


Edition #52 (104) September 2022


Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #52 (September 2022), please see below.


Inter Alia, poems by Bruce McRae


Come Clean, poems by Joshua Nguyen


Lures, poems by Adam Vines


Smudge, poems by Dominic James.


Inter Alia, poems by Bruce McRae. A 22-page stapled booklet.  Published 3rd June 2022 by originator. Available via: bpmcrae@live.com or http://fourfeatherspress.blogspot.com

Canadian $5 as a PDF, or £10 as print copy.


Apparently “Four Feathers Press publishes four pdf chapbooks two times a year” and Inter Alia is one of their 2022 cohort. The review copy was a Word file, with FFP offering to “print only by request”. So, this reviewer’s head began by working hard to overrule the heart: Inter Alia may have read like a manuscript, but it has since materialized on the publisher’s website.

     Quibbling apart, these twenty pages of poetry impress with the articulate, well-versed voice of a confident writer. McRae’s worldly settings are often underpinned by quasi-metaphysical explorations of who and why we are. In a piece like ‘That Red Thing’, the onslaught of vivid metaphors demonstrates the best of the writer’s wit and diction:


       I think your heart is a suitcase

       being thrown out a high window

       or box of old love letters

       you can’t bear to part with.


Yet perhaps the concluding lines are unnecessary:


       There’s a stranger knocking at your door.

       It could be anyone.


       ‘Soldiers of Darkness’ imagines worldly angels, playfully, while ‘Irreducible Minimum’ is a further verbal jeu d’esprit, in its exploration of the concept, nomenclature and physical shape of zero:


       Zero boasts of cardinal and ordinal values

while being of no influence and scant importance….


       Nada, nadir, goose-egg, blank . . .

But zero has grown accustomed to the name-calling.


       There’s intrigue too, in the sinister infatuation of ‘A Seven-headed Love Story’. Its narrator suggests they’ve allowed a fixation  to mutate into violence:


       It’s about your husband, Mrs. Anderson.

       The water on his brain. That unavoidable accident.


It’s a pity that this piece too, concludes verbosely. Generally, McRae’s skill as writer deserves at least Inter Alia’s waif-like publication. As well as the pdf copies, print versions are now available but non-U.S.A. postage prices are not given.


Review by:  Will Daunt




Come Clean, poems by Joshua Nguyen.  A 7” x 9” paperback book with a full colour cover and 92 pages. Published 2021 by The University of Wisconsin Press.  Edited by Ronald Wallace and Sean Bishop.  uwpress.wisc.edu ISBN: 978-0-299-33604-2 $16.95


How can we make sense of our past and order our memories? Joshua Nguyen, an American- Vietnamese queer poet, attempts to revisit, unpack, repack and sometimes trash his physical and emotional ‘items.’ He conveys his sense of life in his poems, which might be chaotic but are also heartfelt and sincere.


Past traumas surface: they are stories of abuse, especially sexual abuse, in which death lingers at the brink of suicide, but eventually a creative instinct prevails. Nguyen’s poetry expresses this vitality in experimental witty verses that are connected to traditional Vietnamese poetry and to Mitski Miyawaki’s songs. Her lyrics are quoted at the beginning of the different sections of the collection, such as ‘And you’d say you love me & look in my eyes/but I know through mine you were/looking in yours’ from the song ‘Last Words of a Shooting Star.’ It is a nihilistic approach that expresses the isolation of the individual, but it is also an honest way to investigate the self and answer questions about identity.


Pain and desire mingle in the complex love affairs in which there is friction between the body parts and our whole existence is at stake:


I said I blame my cousin, but in fact,

I blame myself. I said I blame the basement, but I blame the washer


that ruined the sound of doing laundry. The violent tumbling

of my body down the stairs, a wet ball of clothing.


(‘Come Clean’)


Following Marie Kondo’s method seems a good option to tidy up your life; she suggests keeping only the things that speak to the heart and discarding what does not give joy. However, this method might work in everyday routines, such as folding undergarments or tidying books, papers and komono (miscellaneous items). Cleaning your soul seems to be a much more complicated process and requires a deeper investigation into our intimacy and the awareness of human vulnerability. Family connections and everyday routines might help to find a new, clean vision that is not necessarily perfectly organised or pure but nevertheless has a sense of place and of belonging that helps the author to find his own way. This original vision develops in Joshua Nguyen’s poems, challenging traditional roles and poetic forms.


Review by: Carla Scarano D’ Antonio




Lures, poems by Adam Vines. A 9” x 6” paperback book with a full colour cover and 58 pages. Published 2022 by Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, lsupress.org

ISBN: 978-0-8071-7689-4 £14.60


Maybe it’s because I’m middle-aged, and I have an appreciation of simple tools that I did not as a younger man, but I really liked this book. It has the feel of a kitchen sink drama, in the sense that big issues are discussed in a mundane context, but they tended to be urban, and this is rural Americana. But simple tools like hammers, trowels and fishing rods are endowed with some real emotional heft. The sharing of fishing equipment with his father becomes an exploration of their relationship, their shared history, etc. The mundane is a metaphor for some eternal themes.


This is true from the very first poem (‘Maintenance for the Heartbroken’) which had some gloriously evocative lines. I especially loved ‘the ball of our love’s hair / we snake up from the shower drain / and lift in a pinch of nape / as if it were a mouse.’ The act of cleaning a shower becomes an act of love, of protective empathy and compassion. I only wish I could see cleaning a shower in such romantic terms. I would probably have a cleaner shower.


It’s hard to define, but there is something about some American poetry that I really like - it has its own unique rhythms and vernacular which seemed to be formalised in the jazz age - and this seems like an authentic addition to that canon, despite the seemingly humdrum subject matter and folksy setting. Simple tools are simple because there was no need to improve them. improve them. They already worked.


Review by: Andrew Barber.




Smudge, poems by Dominic James. A 5.75” x 8.25” paperback book with a full colour cover and 61 pages.  Published 2022 by Littoral Press, 15 Harwood Place, Lavenham, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 9SG.  ISBN: 978-1-912412-37-2 £8.50


These poems distil years of travel, experience of life and a keenly observant eye. James is good at recognising unexpected moments of kinship with the creatures that he observes, often spiced with wry humour, as in a sonnet about goats, titled “me, eh?” He has been watching the goats feeding: “darkness transfigures

                        spider geckos, pebble toads, and triggers

our kinships face to face. In this case, sight

 of me, close up, browsing softly as I light,

in stark relief, the last of our cigars.”

This is James’ adaptation of the Petrachian sonnet form, altering the rhyming scheme of the final sestet in particular, highlighting a change in theme from observing the scene of feeding goats to identifying with them. His sympathy with what he observes often infuses the poems with tenderness and humour, as in “Gazelle,” when he writes about stray cats: “In town one sees the little cats

in ecstasies of expectation,

pregnant at any time of year and,

when they have their little bodies:

 great purring, great purring.”

James also reflects on themes of ageing, mortality and loneliness, including the poem for which the collection is named. The “smudge” is the mark on the window where he pressed his forehead, looking from the “spacecraft” of his home at the world outside; “a greasy badge of doubt”, questioning the transience of apparent security.


A number of poems in this collection take as their starting point a myth or historical event, such as the Ring cycle with its hero Sigurd, or the murder of Thomas Becket in the cathedral, and reimagine the core and central story with a critical eye. James questions the story with a modern sensibility – Sigurd’s coolness and lack of fear appears monstrous, rather than heroic; Becket reflects on the realpolitik of his relations with the King and that it was his sharp tongue and outspokenness that got him killed – “not caught exactly at the altar.”

James enjoys experimenting with forms, particularly the sonnet, with mixed results. At its best, his writing is vivid, insightful and full of memorable images


Review by: Eve Kimber


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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine


Edition #51 (103) June 2022


Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #51 (June 2022), please see below.


Marples Must Go, poems by Greg Freeman.


The Works of Gwerful Mechain, poems translated by Katie Gramich.


England's Edging, Part II, 2021, poems by Will Daunt.


American Parables, poems by Daniel Khalastchi.


Marples Must Go, poems by Greg Freeman. 5.75” x 8.25” size paperback book with 74 pages and a full colour cover.  Published 2021 by Dempsey & Windle, dempseyandwindle.com . ISBN 978-1-913-32950-1. £10.00.


This is an engaging and accessible collection and its opening twenty pages are a glorious evocation of growing up in and around the 1960s. Whether they’re your memories, or those of your older relatives, Marples Must Go! plunges you into a world of Watch With Mother, free school milk, scout camps, West Indian cricketers and a medley of musical backdrops. In ‘Crossing the [Abbey] Road,’ Freeman characterizes the ironies of and parallels with the Beatles’ break up, as resembling the …



gasp of the British Empire.

England wouldn’t swing anymore.


The title poem remembers the 1960’s scandal of a “peculiar transport minister” who put Beeching up to the “vandalism of the railways,” Marples fled to Monte Carlo, to escape his debts, “putting his foot down on our road to ruin,” while the famous graffiti on a motorway bridge prophesied his fate

With wit, insight and a journalist’s eye, Freeman explores a life chronology, including some amusing cultural skirmishes from early adulthood, such as the British context of ‘Chuck Berry’s Ding- a-Ling,’ with its famous double-entendres.

And there is space also to explore those modern dividers, Brexit and Covid. Anger about the former drives the satire of a piece like ‘Return of the Daleks,’, where the subject becomes a mouthpiece for a point of view:


Destroy! Destroy!

Take back Control!

Nothing has changed!


There’s wry humour in ‘How I Failed to Stop Brexit,’ where the narrator recalls a moment in 2009, when he braked to avoid David Cameron as he led his children across a busy London street.

Most affecting perhaps, are the poems set in Spain, before the pandemic and during a relaxation of restrictions. Like many other pieces here, ‘Love Makes You Reckless’ - via a family reunion - celebrate s a victory of the human spirit. And more:


The cactus, the palm and the orange chrysanthemum

blooming brightly in November …

On San Pedro’s paseo I remove my mask,

and for the first time smell the sea.


Review by: Will Daunt




The Works of Gwerful Mechain, A broadview anthology of British literature, edited and translated by Katie Gramich. 5.75” x 8.5” size paperback book with a full colour cover and 157 pages.  Published 2018 by Broadview Press, www.broadviewpress.com

ISBN 978-1-55481-414-5 £13.50.


This comprehensive collection of the poems of the accomplished Welsh poet Gwerful Mechain, who lived from c.1460 to c.1502, and the insightful introduction by Katie Gramich set the poet and the poems in historical and literary context. The edition highlights Mechain’s multifaceted personality and her awareness of the literary tradition of her time. She voiced the female perspective in her boldest poems in conversation with the major contemporary male poets. She mastered traditional prosody such as the cywydd (seven- syllable rhyming couplets) and the englyn (four- line verse form) to the point of intentionally breaking the rules, creating fresh images and rhyme schemes.


Her work is conventional and subversive. She wrote spiritual and devotional verses as well as erotic poems. In the medieval context, this coexistence of mysticism and the expression of sexual desire was not unusual. Mechain’s poems denote a ‘lack of inhibition and her direct engagement with the “gut truths of womanhood” that has prevented most of her work from seeing the light of day until relatively recently’, Gramich remarks.


Her most popular poem, ‘Cywydd y Cedor’ (Poem to the Vagina), may be a response to Dafydd ap Gwlym’s ‘Cywydd y Gal’ (Poem to the Penis). Mechain teases the poet, who ‘praises the hair, gown of fine love/And all the girl’s bits up above,’ instead of singing about ‘that place where children are conceived.’ The description of the female genitals and their virtues is straightforward:


The warm bright quim he does not sing,

That tender, plump, pulsating, broken ring,

That’s the place I love, the place I bless,

The hidden quim beneath the dress.


Together with ‘Poem to the Vagina,’ other famous poems by Mechain, such as ‘To jealous Wives’ and ‘To her Husband for Beating her,’ can be considered feminist today, brave examples of female power. The poems are original versions, translated literally and freely, with notes. They illustrate the importance of Mechain’s poetry, after more than five hundred years, and of her position as an intellectual of her time.


Review by: Carla Scarano D’Antonio




England’s Edging, Part 2, 2021, poems by Will Daunt.  8.25” x 5.75” paperback book with a full colour cover and 56 pages.  Published 2021 by author.  ISBN 781678162245 £5.00.


I reviewed part 1 of England’s Edging for the September 2020 edition and enjoyed it greatly. This is the sequel. Like its predecessor, the poems are snapshots of places, complete with dates, postcodes, and often photographs, to give the feel of a holiday scrapbook. This is a very effective way of presenting the work.


Part 2 of England’s Edging continues the high standard of Part 1. Again, the author has chosen places not necessarily chosen by the average tourist. I used to live in Hoddesdon, Herts, the subject and title of one poem, and we did not get many tourists. It is not that sort of town.


The poems are arranged chronologically, from September 2019 to August 2021, and it’s easy to see when the pandemic started. ‘Did we dream it / this incarceration?’ asks the poem written in Goddards, York, as the first lockdown ends. And in March 2021, one set in Berlin reflects on ‘a year lived like a lifetime.’


This is the first poetry book I’ve read so far that mentions the pandemic, I think, and it does it with a light touch. This is a good sequel to a good collection, and I hope to review Part 3 in a couple of years


Review by: Andrew Barber




American Parables, poems by Daniel Khalastchi. 5.5” x 7.5” paperback book with a full colour cover and 104 pages. Published 2021 by The University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 978-0-299-33574-8.  $16.5 £15.95.


This is powerful and wise, analytical poetry, but be prepared to devote some time and close attention to reading this collection and feeling your way into Khalastchi’s irony, and the often-fantastical way he layers his personal history and the society around him into the images he uses. The effect is startling and illuminating. His father escaped from Iraq, and Khalastchi explores the complexity of living as an immigrant and an Arab Jew in an American society staggering under the weight of its own contradictions around him. His writing is full of pain, lit by shafts of hope, and embedded in this is universal human experience: I can’t think of a better expression of the core stresses of a marriage than this, from “Laid Land:” “The anxiety


to celebrate what little we have


left leaves us as every couple


twined together and alone. So


                        we argue. We yell and


stomp and scare the cat and


one of us pretends to sleep


folded on the couch.”


However, this follows after mordant images of undervalued democratic freedoms filling the home, the homeland, with the materials for fire and explosion, fire triggered and collapsing, the author “this Middle Western wretch,” and his father a Middle Eastern immigrant haunted by “fabricated” fears of “location tracking lice” bringing shame on the family. It is an immense canvas of complexity and interactions on many levels. The collection is divided into three sections and Khalastchi returns, like the ebb and flow of a tide, to reconsider troubling topics; altogether there are six poems called “Trigger Warning,” all with the opening line “When the school shooter arrives,” six called “American Parable.” Each of the “Trigger Warning” poems posit a different character as the shooter, Khalastchi as an academic, and give his reflections in the first person, with humour and irony –


“… the Division of Irrational Cross –


Cultural Debt-Inducing


Activism open their lunches


 and count aloud


the calories.” Khalastchi uses formal structures, such as couplets, and richness of language to strive against and perhaps contain the chaos he perceives around him. The values of honesty, survival, and hope shine through.


Review by: Eve Kimber


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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine


Edition #50 (102) March 2022


Index of Reviewed Publications, Pulsar Poetry Webzine #50 (March 2022), please see below.


A Snowman Alone, poems by Soran M. H.


Born-Again Anything, poems by Kara Krewer.


Out of Violence into Poetry, poems 2018 - 2021 by Margaret Randall.


Eileen Duggan, Selected Poems, edited by Peter Whiteford.


A Snowman Alone, poems by Soran M. H  5.75” x 8.75” hardback book with a full colour cover and 94 pages. Published 2021 by 49plusbooks, Sharokh Arjangi, Stockholm, Sweden. The book also contains poems translated into Pashto language. ISBN 0-953681-7-0 £9.00.

Publisher address, (as shown above), was supplied by the author. No trace found.


A Snowman Alone is a unique project of about 94 pages in a book more than twice that length, with its poems printed in English from one end and (I think) Pashto from the other. Daniel Brick’s effusive introduction is something of a distraction: it dwells for too long on the parallels between his writerly companionship with Soran and those that he believes existed between Shakespeare/ Jonson, Wordsworth/ Coleridge and so on. Brick reflects on a few of the poems – but nothing is said about the book’s formatting, bilingual concept and cultural hinterland.

To distribute evenly the Pashto and English scripts, the latter’s font size is larger than usual, which means that many poems run to more than one page, stretching their visual impact. How would the book have read with the translations on facing pages?

A Snowman Alone looks to a wide audience. Its introduction describes Soran’s poetry as ‘supple,’ which is helpful. Its voice can be engagingly simple, as in ‘Little Souls:’ “For a few years/ a black cloud has/ rained on the farm of/ my poetry;” or evocative: “The sun has seen/ feebleness/ in the river/ like an old man …” (‘A Quiet Night’).

The title poem explores the book’s mystical seam, with a series of apocalyptic freeze frames: “The apple falling from the tree/ remains in the air/ … Time - such a bright bulb/ Suddenly turns off/… The snowman stays alone/ in the garden/ for all seasons”. This is Soran at his most compelling: lucid and provocative.

The poems’ diction and, specifically their conjugation of verbs is odd sometimes: “but the flame consume it” (‘Crying of the Pen’); “Suddenly the wind/ destroy it.” (‘Olives’ Branches’); “the only thing/ that break the silence” (‘Behind the Wall’). This, and the inconsistent use of punctuation, stray beyond an intriguing otherness towards an impression of the untended.

A Snowman Alone is full of promising originality, but its English texts would have benefitted from a third pair of eyes. Good Luck trying to find out where to buy a copy: this reviewer has searched in vain.


Review by: Will Daunt


Editorial note.  Soran M. H has since contacted me to state that a second edition of A Snowman Alone was published in January 2022 and is allegedly available via Amazon at a cost of €6.00 plus postage. 




Born-Again Anything, poems by Kara Krewer.  5.25” x 8.5” paperback book with a full colour cover and 41 pages. Published 2019 by Texas Review Press, Huntsville, USA. texasreviewpress.org  ISBN 9781680031904  £15.95


I don’t know if I am right or wrong in interpreting it so, but I would take the title Krewer has chosen for this collection as a cry of freedom. She writes about growing up in rural Georgia, socially quite a constraining experience, but giving her a deep knowledge of nature and nature’s insights, which have a universal relevance: “The fruit’s benevolent trick


being that you eat it whole and take it far away….

worth anything, let it be the knowledge

of bodies offering themselves up.”


Krewer writes in delicate, precise words about her experiences of childhood, doubts about her appearance compared to her mother’s “blond eddies,” but even then she does not dream of becoming more beautiful, she dreams that “I became strong enough


to swim across the lake

where I wished to loosen

gravity and sex,

might emerge amphibious.”


Krewer struggles to find her own interpretation of planetary rings, extreme weather, the words of the preacher, an experience of dumbness, and again and again, her mother’s illness. Her words turn over images of each memory with an unflinching honesty, a desire to pinpoint the truth of what happened and weave it into a narrative sparkling with images both full of love and gritty:


“When I was a child

I pretended the glass shards

from the old burn heap were diamonds.”


Growing up, Krewer moves away, moves on, seeking her diamonds in towns and cities, in encounters with lovers who offer many different experiences. The tattooed girl temporarily abandoned by the roller derby coach; the aspiring chef who fed Krewer mouthwatering confections in a mansion on the cliffs; a woman who had been trafficked, and became an activist; Krewer’s husband crawling back into bed with her for some extra moments before he leaves for work. And spiked between poems about experiences of love, are poems about her mother’s illness. This is a brave and life affirming collection, but it acknowledges the complexity and many textures of experience, the importance of family alongside the importance of striking out into the unknown to seek one’s own truth.


Review by: Eve Kimber




Out of Violence into Poetry, poems 2018 – 2021 by Margaret Randall.  9” x 6” paperback book with a full colour cover and 118 pages. Published 2021 by WingPress, San Antonio, Texas. ISBN 978-1-60940-619-6 £15.95


This is that rarest of things - a book that gives me hope for old age. Margaret Randall is now in her 90s, and yet she’s filled a 113 page book just with poems she wrote between 2018 and 2021. That’s what I want to do when I grow up.


I think the blurb is a little misleading. It gives the impression that the poems are about revolutions in Latin America, but the poems themselves are very personal, and smaller in scope. Perhaps this is the best way to tell history - using the experiences of individuals. And their memories. The author remembers Castro coming to power.


There is a lot here that is thought provoking, either because the things being discussed are better or worse than imagined. And there is a lot of hope, which might be considered unusual in a nonagenarian. E.g., one poem is subtitled ‘written during the Coronavirus Crisis of 2020.’ Two years later, many would say the crisis has never really passed.


I think my favourite poem here is ‘Banana. Sunrise. Chair.’ This is about memory tests for the elderly, and how the author was required to remember these words. This is the ending:


I don’t need to be reminded of the touch of your hand against my cheek, The way your skin feels against mine, its temperature and breath. I hope I never forget these things no nurse asks. Banana and sunrise and chair Take up dubious residence in me: Imposters defeated before the game ends.


There are parts of this book that I will also remember for a long time. It is beautifully written and full of wisdom and experience.


Review by: Andrew Barber




Eileen Duggan, Selected Poems, edited by Peter Whiteford. 8.25” x 5.5” paperback book with a two-colour cover and 228 pages. First published 1994, reprinted 2019 by Victoria University Press, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. ISBN 9781776562824 £18.95


The poetry of Eileen Duggan celebrates her Irish- Catholic background and the landscape of New Zealand. She was born in Tuamarina in 1894 and died in Wellington in 1972. Her poems were largely published and appreciated in Ireland, Great Britain and the United States but were often undervalued in her own country. She graduated from Victoria University College in 1918 and was a teacher and lecturer for a while. Afterwards, due to poor health, she gave up teaching and dedicated her life to writing, publishing four collections of poetry and quite a number of articles, essays and reviews. Catholicism, Ireland and New Zealand inspired her poems and her writing. She adopted traditional forms but they did not exclude occasional experimentation. Selected Poems was first published in 1994 to celebrate the centenary of her birth and was reprinted in 2019.


Though Duggan is considered one of the most accomplished New Zealander poets, her reputation declined and today her writing is mostly out of print. This is due to criticism of her work as nationalistic, clichéd and conservative. However, she earned her living via her writing, which was a significant achievement for a woman at the time. Her poetry has personal and lyrical tones that are reminiscent of the metaphysical poets and is connected to the simplicity of New Zealand rural life. She also explores the natural world and Māori legends and expresses sympathy for the poor. In her last publication, More Poems (1951), her meditation is more sober and coherent, and her style shows more mature thought:


You are the still caesura

That breaks a line in two;

A quiet leaf of darkness

Between two flowers of blue;


A little soft indrawing

Between two sighs;

A slender spit of silence

Between two seas of cries.




This selection of poems includes representative examples from all of Duggan’s poetry collections as well as some uncollected poems and prose pieces from her journalistic writing on New Zealand literature. The collection is rich and well balanced; it gives an accurate and thoughtful account of the New Zealander poet


Review by: Carla Scarano D’Antonio


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