Pulsar Poetry Webzine
       Pulsar Poetry Webzine

Publication Reviews: Years 2022 

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Pulsar Book Review Panel:

 

David Pike, Andrew Barber, Eve Kimber, Will Daunt,  Neil Brooks, Carla Scarano D'Antonio, Dominic James.

 

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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 #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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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

separately.

 

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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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.

 

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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 …

 

…final

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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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. 

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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.

 

(‘Night’)

 

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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