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Pulsar Book Reviews 2024 

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Pulsar Publication 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 #59 (111) June 2024


Index of Reviewed Publications

Pulsar Poetry Webzine #59

(June 2024). Please see below.


Girls That Never Die, poems by Safia Elhillo.


A Ribbon The Most Perfect Blue, poems by Christine Kwon.


Dreaming of endangered Species, poems by Anand Prahlad.


Pickers & Poets.  The Ruthlessly Poetic Singer-Songwriters of Texas.  Various contributors.  Edited by: Gary Hartman, Craig Clifford and Craig D. Hills.




Girls That Never Die, poems by Safia Elhillo. Paperback book with a full colour cover and 101 pages.  Size 5.25” x 7.75.” Published February 2024 by Bloomsbury Poetry

ISBN 978-1-5266-6554-6 £9.99.


This book is a revelation, both in the power and intensity of the poetry and the close focus and immediacy with which it presents experiences most of us will never face – in their richness and in their terror. On the one hand Elhillo gives us herself as a child in a crowd of cousins exiled to Cairo,

“i place inside me figs and nectarines, gnarled tomatoes

of the season, limes split and salted to eat like we did

in childhood, collected as cousins, faces always sticky

with fruit”

                while on the other, she asks hard questions about infibulation, FGM, “cutting.” Counterpointing the language of trauma with the words of euphemism, expectations of purity and silence, she challenges and at the same time draws in the reader to follow her on a path of exploration and protest which feels palpably dangerous. Dangerous to Elhillo, that is, and the girls burdened with purity and silence while carrying their family honour. Elhillo shows us a girl coming of age with knowledge of both English and Arabic, traditional Sudanese culture and modern American life:

“…..rather the overeager mosaic

i hoard          i steal          i borrow


from pop songs          & mine

from childhood fluency     i guard


my few swearwords like tinkling

silver anklets         spare and precious”

Elhillo’s evocative vocabulary and delight in using varied poetic forms to structure her meanings show exceptional skill. She often layers meanings in a single line, playing on the sounds of words, parts of speech, words speaking of tradition and of trauma:

“though i read that family honor is in the body of the girl, i spilled it

i overflowed and was called a flower

i grew up mapless and was pointed to a maple tree

i shrank my own body until the blood stopped coming

until i dropped my every suffix & woke up to the sheets still white”

There are poems written in couplets, prose poems and particularly effective contrapuntal poems. The collection has a strong thematic unity, progressing through fear and questioning, danger and loss, to a sense of discovery and empowerment together with her community of friends.


Review by: Eve Kimber




A Ribbon The Most Perfect Blue, poems by Christine Kwon. A 6” x 9” paperback book with a full colour cover and 73 pages.  Published 2023 by Southeast Missouri State University Press.  ISBN 979-8-9868593-0-9 $16.00 £15.95.


Christine Kwon hints that her first book’s gestation may have been arduous, but it has emerged with a fully-formed poetic charisma and voice. The diction is supple, releasing its subject matter with an ease that belies the complexity and cultured ambiguity of what’s happening in the poems.

This is a work of crafted exploration, as shown by the opening poem, ‘The River (1963- 2019)’. A father’s death is imagined as both a vivid conversation on the River Styx and a suicide in another river, the Hudson. We’re brought to consider the separation of death as a speculative dialogue:


I heard father say

close in my ear,

‘Oh, I don’t want to go to hell.’

Fear had filled his voice

like a girl’s choir.

‘It’s not that I want you to,’

I said.


Repeatedly, Kwon’s poems are portals into memory and imagination, and they take us where we are not expecting to go. In the wit of ‘Little Mother’ for example, the personification of poetry as a series of mainly female character s develops each of these creations within their own worlds, like seeing through a window into a cupboard:


            …one poem gave birth to me,

another sewed a dress,

a burning document I could not take off,

and in one poem I went to H Mart,

I pushed the shopping cart.



The variety of form in Kwon’s work is pleasing and wide. The concrete poem ‘Monday In City Park’ is skilfully minimal, while there are surreal analogies in pieces like ‘Lazy Boy’ or ‘One Arm’: “Father” as a chair; arms and a tongue as players in a nightmarish distortion of domestic life. Much humour comes from other re- shapings of the mundane: poetic one and three line poems which work like jokes, or the colourful examples of the “chaos people” the narrator does not “do well with” in ‘A Chambéry Stroll.

’In the collection’s second section the poems are stalked sporadically by “the colonel”, a kind of anti- muse/mentor but, in ‘A Little Drop Of Blue’ a soldier too, who:

… thinks of the weeds that sprouted

 From the young men

 From their pink mouths …


And the final, title poem achieves that tricky feat, an open ending:


now you see


where I live


in some






Kwon’s work is a study in unanswered questions and enlightening the mind's eye. This is tricky to deliver. But here’s poetry that does.


Review by: Will Daunt




Dreaming of endangered species, poems by Anand Prahlad.  A 6” x 9” paperback book with a full colour cover and 93 pages.  Published 2022 by Stephen F. Austin State University Press. sfapress@sfasu.edu. ISBN 978-1-62288-928-0 £17.95.


At first we meet with the  poet embraced on a bed of pain, on  the cusp of consciousness, articulating a sarcoma which he finds, at times, articulating him. Prahlad’s acutely worded

dream-states strike the reader as risen images still directed to their source; in memory, or the memories of ancestors, the prophets and ‘hostile/ tribes / roaming jungles / of my marrow.’


As Lucifer appears in ‘My Bladder’s Dementia:’


You must be

the orchid

lipped one,

mad man lunatic

once favorite

prodigal cast out

you must be

the nimbus

cloud steam

in the kitchen

a kiss, a clap

of thunder,

the wronged witness

the desperate one

my heart

warned me about

so far away

from home.


The verse bristles with insight and turmoils of the ‘flesh.’ Cocoon finishes:


…Am I still

here for real, am I dreaming,

are those wings I hear, an engine

turning, a drill, a door, is this sand

in the dry roof of my mouth, a hand

brushing against my arm, warmth?


At the halfway ‘Bridge,’ there is surgery, the amusing conceit of ‘My Life as a Banned Book’ then we surface in the world. Prahlad’s essentially generous disposition introduces a child’s beating, slave ghosts, the malicious, awful crime of ‘The Platoon’ ‘with whispers in my ears / of freckled boys / in bathroom stalls.’ Here are no vested rights, only realities of experience: sex, death, life in terms of wolves and junkyard, of diagnosis.


No hurry of direction in ‘dreaming of endangered species. If a

restlessness emerges in the second half – the first so out of time one wouldn’t notice – perhaps it reflects speed of thought, a symptom of living which only makes the verse more human than sublime. The appetites and food on the kitchen table are universally share able. It’s very fine work.


‘in the shadows / of my hand / a leaf / on bark / on your thigh / i see myself / in a dream / paralyzed / but i think / i can get

up / and  then / i think I am up. / i think i’m walking…’


Review by: Dominic James




Pickers & Poets, The Ruthlessly Poetic Singer-Songwriters of Texas.  John and Robin Dickson Series in Texas Music History.  Editors: Gary Hartman, Craig Clifford and Craig D. Hills. A 6” x 9” paperback book with 27 pages and a full colour cover.  Third printing in 2023, Texas A&M University Press.  ISBN: 978-1-64843-211-8. £32.95.


Pickers and Poets This book is quite unlike any of the other books I’ve reviewed here, because it’s not a book of poetry. It’s a book about poetry, specifically that represented by the songs of the ‘ruthlessly poetic’ singer / songwriters of Texas. It’s a book of essays.


I found it absolutely fascinating. I’m a songwriter myself, and one who knew almost nothing about country, except that I didn’t like much of it. I knew that country and western were actually different kinds of music - it wasn’t just a blues Brothers punchline - but little else. It was genuinely educational. I see country songs with a new respect now. Some of the lyrics are extraordinary.


Townes Van Zandt is one such writer. His songs are probably older than Nick Cave, but are similarly apocalyptic. I loved this, from My Mother The Mountain: I reached for her hand, and her eyes turn to poison. Her hair turned to splinters and her flesh turned to brine. She leapt cross the room, she stood in the window, And she screamed that my firstborn would surely be blind.


That is a long way from Rhinestone Cowboy (which was western, not country. Western was the country that went to Vegas).


There are sone fantastic chapter titles, e.g, The Great Progressive Country Scare of the 1970s. Some essays are analytical, and discuss the songs. Others are vignettes, character portraits, of noteworthy writers. The one on Kinky Friedman, ‘the Mel Brooks of country music,’ who I knew from his detective novels is especially good, as is the one on female country songwriters and the challenges they face. Some of the lyrics are really thought provoking. I enjoyed this one, from Marcia Ball: She holds the world in the palm of her hand; She’s just a girl in the arms of a man, And when she’s hurt, she folds like a fan.


That says so much about the character. It reminds me of Helena, in Midsummer Night’s Dream, although that is probably because I’m currently rehearsing for it. But it’s a classic archetype - the powerful woman who’s used to being in control but is a fool for love - and it’s beautifully crafted.


I could have said so much about this book, which covers a very broad range of subjects, and is 300 pages long, but I have a word limit! I can’t recommend it as a book of poetry, because it’s not a book of poetry. But if you’re someone with even a passing interest in Texas country music, a songwriter, or interested in Texas generally, you will probably love it. Texas is a character in this book. I have no inclination to visit Texas, but I know it much better than I did before reading Poets and Pickers.


I had wondered why it mentioned ‘ruthlessly poetic’ songwriters, as I’d never thought of poetry in these terms. Then I read this, and never felt more like a cowboy - ‘on the frontier, there’s always plenty to do, because it’s an exacting place, requiring both energy and attention just to stay alive…’ So when there’s plenty else to do, to choose to write songs over all the other things that can, and probably should, be done just to stay alive is to say that poetry is the most important thing, a thing worthy of an everyday ruthlessness in its pursuit. Ruthlessly poetic - I think I’m beginning to understand it now.’ Because of this book, so am I.


Review by:  Andrew Barber




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Book & Booklet Reviews

Pulsar Poetry Webzine


Edition #58 (110) March 2024


Index of Reviewed Publications

Pulsar Poetry Webzine #58

(March 2024). Please see below.


Panzer Herz, poems by Kyle Dargan.


Owed, poems by Joshua Bennett.


Once This Forest Belonged To A Storm, poems by

Austen Leah Rose.


Below Zero, poems by Carol V. Davis.




Panzer Herz, A Live Dissection, poems by Kyle Dargan.  A 6” x 9” paperback book with a full colour cover and 98 pages. Published 2023 by TriQuarterly Books, Northwestern University Press. ISBN (paper) 978-0-8101-4568-9 - eBook 978-0-8101-4569-6. US $18.00 UK £17.95.


This is a remarkable collection by a highly-skilled writer whose bold usage of form and content is justified by the tenacious vision that underpins it. The blurb tells us that the “Panzer Herz” of the title is  the “armored heart – a site where desire, violence, family, politics, blackness, and capitalism all intertwine with gender”. That reading is exemplified by the brilliant cover photograph of a “presumed suit of bear-baiting armor”.

            Here is a largely figurative exploration of the male heart: what drives, excites, infects and stalls male impulses and behaviours. The book is shaped by cardially-constructed sections - ‘Diastole’ and ‘Systole’ - introduced and separated by two poems, both called ‘Pericardiectomy’. These draw us abruptly into a perspective which (in the first) links what to “manhood... [may be] just a sack” with the urge for that sack:


                        … to be filled. How tough a never-

            stretched sack can become. How hard.


That nod to the sexual imperative prepares us for more, elsewhere.

            The second eponymous poem brilliantly develops further abstracted images of the empty, even diseased heart, its “pericardium … a corset of calcified or billowing tissue”. Then, with an arresting shift, a ‘Brother’ is addressed in an illustration of how male relationships warm sometimes through sharing the simplest of tasks (here, preparing to bake biscuits):

                                                                                                                                                          You press the curved

     metal along the seams of the packing.  Until it bursts     

(I know you love that part) and the dough releases into forms that the can could never imagine.


            Dargan explores his stated themes with formal dexterity. ‘Man of the Family II’ is a wry depiction of paternal fury, fantastically drawn yet disturbingly grounded. There are many other honed and memorable vignettes of the ironies and embarrassments of the male journey through life. ‘Her’ follows to adulthood the slow kindling of an adolescent relationship:


            I remember feeling hollow…

                               I remember believing

            I had crossed some threshold,

            but it would be a slow march of years

            before she kissed me.


            Dargan is an astute satirist. ‘A Man with Nothing to Lose’ enumerates an exhaustive and sometimes amusing catalogue of indispensable ‘male essentials’, culminating in “ownership/ of this wallet-sized tomb -/ these six crisp walls”. Alternately. ‘The Type of Wife I Have Made’, plays beautifully on the provocations of a ‘wife’ narrator describing the flaws in themselves which men uncover too late:


    I would have done well as a modern woman’s Wife.

    Instead I spend the mending hours pondering why


                                               so many women took me

       but never took me in.


            Panzer Herz surgically examines and develops the many significances of the human heart and Dargan depicts the human condition from an intimate distance: close enough to dissect, objectively enough to engage.


Review by: Will Daunt




Owed, poems by Joshua Bennett. A 5” x 7.75” paperback book with a full colour cover and 97 pages. Published 9th November 2023 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.

ISBN paperback: 9781526665270, eBook: 9781526665263.  £9.99.


In this book of accomplished and often beautiful poems, Bennett explores and reflects on the multitude of experiences and relationships that make up a life, an African-American life in particular. His vision is unflinching, analytical, but lyrical too; he celebrates the huge place and influence that everyday things have in a person’s experience of life, notably in the “Owed” series of poems on hairstyles and fashions, sport and the social life of kids on the school bus. In other poems he mourns powerfully over shining lives cut short, institutional injustices and brokenness, and just how damn difficult modern life can be. I suspect most of us can relate to the wry honesty of the opening lines of “Reparation:”

How are you feeling? is always your opening question

& you know me. I invariably take it the wrong way

when you say it like that.”

Although most of the experiences explored with such attention are specifically African-American, Bennett’s analysis of how everyday fashions, objects and relationships shape a life is universal. Nothing is insignificant or unworthy of consideration, as effects can ripple down the years. He shows, for instance, how his father’s psyche was affected by being sent to Vietnam and wounded there, but also by having to eat lunch alone at school; and yet he dared to dance and find love, to harbour the “quiet

power of Sam Cooke singing,” and


                   “….still votes still prays that his children might

                 make a life unlike any he has ever seen. He looks

                at me like the promise of another cosmos & I never

                know what to tell him. All of the books in my head

                have made me cynical & distant, but there’s a choir

                in him that calls me forward…”


Bennett’s poetry is complex and multifaceted, making use of a range of poetic forms to express his reflections, from elegies on lost friends to the tight tercets of “owed to the 99 cent store,” celebrating item by item “Your tenacious meditation

                                     on excess….”  He shows how, in spite of being shaped at every point by this history, the human spirit harbours a capacity to break free and reach for new possibilities.



Review by: Eve Kimber




Once This Forest Belonged To A Storm, poems by Austen Leah Rose. A 6” x 9” paperback book with a full colour cover and 95 pages. Winner of the Juniper Prize for poetry.   Published 2023 by University of Massachusetts Press. www.umasspress.com

ISBN: (paper) 978-1-62534-727-5 £14.95.


The poems of Austen Leah Rose’s first collection are eery and compelling. In the immersive fall line of modern style, where half-rhymes avoid old tendencies of form, whether spare or expansive her writing richly deserves our close attention.


The work is laid out in sections interleaved with prose passages that set the tone and mental area of the verse. They are useful introductions to such personal poems: as wide-embracing and articulate as they are intimate and revealing. It seems a privilege to watch the narrative unfold.


In the acknowledgements, Rose credits Mark Strand, his voice: ‘indelible in her mind’. Rose’s poems too are conversational. There are conversations with her sister, a husband perhaps, certainly herself with images returned from her past in mirrors or window glass, a medium in view from the start.


Introducing Memory: “Always this divide, this sheet of glass convincing me that what is is only in my mind.”


One recognises the poet following her sister when, ‘inviting a boy over’ in  A Difficult Situation she conjures up:


… I am often shocked to look in the mirror
and see a beautiful woman.


I am frightened by enlightenment.
I don’t want to forget what unknowing is like.


Then, in one of several addresses to her husband:


…yesterday, I unzipped the translucent skin of my tent to watch the mountains glow pink somewhere
in Arizona. I swear


I saw a spark
ignite between two mirrors that faced each other in a field.


Separation looms over the work as it draws from childhood and early marriage, sometimes reminiscent of Sylvia Path, behind The Bell Jar or Ted Hughes’s Crow in the tall grass of its catechisms. Introducing Conversations with Angels: “… she wanted to name the child Lavender. Is naming an act of tenderness or aggression?
Would it make you uncomfortable if the answer was both?


Every poem in Once, This Forest Belonged to a Storm is carefully composed, combed-through for meaning, complete in itself and part of the whole. In acknowledgements, Rose gives much credit to her mentors; all can take pride in this first rate debut.


Review by: Dominic James




Below Zero, poems by Carol V. Davis. A 6” x 9” paperback book with a full colour cover and 83 pages.  Published 2023 by Stephen F. Austin State University Press.  sfapress@sfasu.edu  www.sfasu.edu/sfapress ISBN: 978-1-92288-946-4 £17.95


This collection would best be read in the warmer months, when the sun is shining. It’s very evocative, and a reader may find themselves shivering involuntarily and empathetically. 


In essence, this is a book of travel poetry, the author documenting her experiences of exploring Russia, during winter. It gets cold there. One poem, ‘It Is Even Colder In Irkutsk,’ makes this clear from the start. ‘I no longer understand numbers. / -22 °C, -33 °C, what’s the difference?’


The fact that Ms Davis is American gives this collection the ‘fish out of water’ perspective I enjoy in writers such as Bill Bryson. It’s only really an outsider that can see the full picture. Perspective comes with distance.


Another poem that brought this across talked of how an official could tell Ms Davis was not Russian because ‘her face was too open,’ even when dressed in Russian clothing. It’s observations like this that give the collection the stamp of authenticity. It really feels like a glimpse into someone’s lived experience.


This book tells a story of nature at its most extreme, but it still tells a story of hope. ‘I cannot imagine such temperatures,’ says the author in ‘Below Zero, The Temperature Falling,’ after reeling off an increasingly disturbing list of negative numbers, and yet she survived them. It’s a testament to the indomitable human spirit, and our capacity to adapt. As another poem suggests, it’s not that Siberians don’t feel the cold, it’s that they know how to dress.


Review by:  Andrew Barber


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