Tuesday 30 December 2014

Review by Morgen Bailey of Kate Atkinson's "Behind the Scenes at the Museum"

I first read this book in 2006 as part of a three-part college course analysing Kate’s first three books, this being the first. I remember struggling with it because of the number of characters (from memory, eleven maternal women) but I persevered because of the course. I was glad I did because I enjoyed it, helped by having drawn a family tree – which would have been useful to have in the printed version – and the memory of having visited York Castle museum as a schoolgirl.

This time I’m listening to the audiobook which can often be trickier to keep up with because of distractions (I’m usually walking the dog).

We follow Ruby’s progress through life and a child’s interpretation of the world and those (her family) around her including her uncaring mother who, when one of her daughters says, “I don’t like porridge,” replies “Well, I don’t like children so that’s too bad for you, isn’t it.”

Although I’m not a fan of history, it was interesting, and often poignant, listening to the sections about Ruby’s ancestors. That said, I would have preferred a larger portion dedicated to Ruby’s present day (especially where her wonderful imagination is told with charming humour) and less about the ancestors as they didn’t feel overly relevant at times.
With audiobooks, the narrator is a big part of the listening experience and some are better than others. This is the first I’ve heard with Diana Quick and while I enjoyed her most of the time, there were instances where her childish narration of Ruby grated but that was as much about the writing than the voice.

Although not my favourite of Kate’s, she’s still my favourite living author.

About the reviewer 
Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a freelance writer, editor, tutor, blogger, and speaker. Like her, her blog, http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. Her debut novel, several short story collections, and writer’s block workbooks are available from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Smashwords. 

Astonishing Rings of Brightness: Review by Roy Marshall of "Black Country" by Liz Berry

There are references  to ‘black’, ‘coal’, ‘dark’ ‘darkness’ and ‘dusk’ in most of the poems in this collection. But this is various and multifaceted darkness. In the opening poem, ‘Bird,’ in the moment of transformation into a bird, a moment of transcendence, the speaker’s voice becomes ‘no longer words but song      black upon black.’ It is fascinating that the song here is black rather than, for example, white or silver to contrast with the world from which it arises. This suggests that the poet is singing of and from the black; that she is so much a part of it as to be inseparable from the darkness of her Midlands homeland even as she rises up from it.

This is Berry’s mission statement – to sing and celebrate the darkness of her Black Country, in its many manifestations, a darkness that harbours the hard lives of the people from across the centuries that saw the heyday of industrial revolution and the subsequent demise of its industries.

In ‘Nailmaking’ a new black hammer awaits a girl who is newly-wed to a nail maker. But in other poems darkness also provides refuge, intimacy, sex and comfort.   Above all it is the backdrop to contrast against the white of clouds, bones, feathers, and to the pale of a silver birch. It is a darkness emblazoned with the searing colour of a blacksmith’s furnace, of crimson shoes and the oysters that ‘clem their lips upon pearls in the muck’ (‘The Sea of Talk’).

In poem after poem Berry’s imagery casts an ‘astonishing ring of brightness’ (‘The Patron Saint of Schoolgirls’), a brightness that is all the more astonishing for being set against the dark. Birds appear throughout. It is not unusual for birds to provide symbols of transcendence and escape. But, like the darkness, Berry’s birds are vehicles for multiple ideas and emotions. In ‘Birmingham Roller’ several aspects of this collection combine. The homing pigeon of the title is addressed with great tenderness in the dialect of Black Country by its keeper:

Little acrobat of the terraces,
we’m winged when we gaze at you
jimmucking the breeze, somersaulting through
the white- breathed payer of January

You don’t have to know the meaning of the dialect words to appreciate the richness of this language, and many of these words are guessable, but there are well placed footnotes at the bottom of the pages where they feature. Scots has long been celebrated and kept vital by contemporary poetry, and here Berry succeeds in breathing life into her own region’s dialect and revealing its quirkiness, individuality and beauty. It is an act of celebration, of reclamation and of preservation which feels like a gift to the reader rather than the bombastic statement of pride it may have become in the hands of a less sensitive and skillful writer.

Berry’s loving relationship with her landscape and language allows room for ambiguity and does not prevent her from detailing its derelict factories and closed pits where a ‘wingless Pegasus’ appeared (‘Black Country’) and ‘Old men / knelt to breathe the smoke of its mane, whisper in its ear, walked away in silence, fists clenched faces streaked with tears.’
In ‘The Red Shoes’ the moralistic ending of the classic tale is subverted. In Berry’s retelling the girl out dances the axe until ‘the sun laid the sky down, crimson at my feet.’ Similarly ‘Sow’ (perhaps a relative of Jo Shappcott’s  ‘Mad Cow’) subverts notations of received femininity to celebrate sexual appetite via a joyful and luxuriant wallow in dialect. Fat is still a feminist issue.

‘Christmas Eve’ reminded me of a Black Country version of the introduction to ‘Under Milk Wood’ for its descriptive power and  skilful lyricism.  Sleet is

blowing in drifts from the pit banks,
over the brown ribbon of the cut, over Beacon Hill,
through the lap-loved chimneys of the factories.
Sleet is tumbling into the lap of the plastercast Mary
by the manger at St Jude’ s, her face gorgeous and naïve
as the last Bilston carnival queen.

In this poem Berry, like Thomas, is tender and generous and benevolent in voicing the dream’s despair and mundane realities of her characters. She is also highly convincing in evoking the lives of the people who populate her poems, and it is no surprise to find that ‘Darling Blue Eyes’ was written using extracts from her grand-parents’ wartime letters.
In places, Berry’s romanticism and passionate interest in the past (not to mention the fluidity, control and richness of her writing) make these poems seem closer to Anne Bronte, Blake or Dante Rossetti than to the ironic approach of much contemporary poetry. Black Country contains poems of emotional and spiritual depth; there is a willingness to engage with ideas and emotions which seems to have much in common with poetics of the past.
But whilst envisioning and invigorating the past, many of Berry’s concerns are utterly and pressingly contemporary. The feminist themes and portrayal of economic depression are still depressingly relevant.

In ‘When I was a Boy,’ ‘Trucker’s Mate,’ ‘Fishwife’ and several other poems, Berry explores gender roles along with the sensual and sexual.  Again Berry’s explorations are multi-faceted, moving from the celebratory to the disturbing. In ‘The Silver Birch’ Berry manages to convey the mystery and newness of burgeoning sexuality. ‘Woodkeeper’ uses the imagery of a woodland setting and the names of various fungi to create an unbelievably rich and sensual love poem, crafted with exquisite control.

There is another surprise here – the use of biblical language, some of which is recognisable as the sort of language still current in English primary schools where bible stories are read to infants and hymns and carols are sung. In ‘The First Path’ foxes bark ‘alleliua.’ In ‘Owl’  the cattle are lowing. In ‘The Assumption’  ‘that daydream picture of Christ the Lamb’ appears. These images contrast starkly with the dark violence and Victorian gothic horror of poems like ‘The Black Delph Bride’ and ‘The Bone Orchard Wench.’

I must briefly mention of Berry’s humour. It is present in ‘Carmella,’ a celebration of ‘Our Lady of The Hairdressers,’ her staff and clientele, but is also present here and there in a turn colloquial phrase, and in the primary school teacher’s description of her classes activities in the wonderful ‘Miss Berry.’

Black Country is impressively coherent, passionate and accomplished. Berry is a Maestra (I had to look this word up- a less familiar word than ‘maestro’, since female conductors have only appeared relatively recently) at linking poems and exploring the many facets of her chosen subjects. I recently read an interview somewhere where Liz Berry speaks of her love of ‘wildness’ in poetry. These poems are wild in their ambition, diversity and surprise, but they are also meticulously crafted so that her flights and swoops are as controlled, balanced and bold as that ‘little acrobat’ the homing Birmingham Roller.

This is a book rooted in real places and real people. It is sung on the wing. It is classy, classic poetry.

About the reviewer 

Roy Marshall currently works in adult education. His poetry has been published by Crystal Clear (Gopagilla) and Shoestring Press (The Sun Bathers). He blogs at http://roymarshall.wordpress.com/about/

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Review by Roy Marshall of "I Am a Magenta Stick" by Antony Rowland

I Am a Magenta Stick, by Antony Rowland, published by Salt, 2012.

Like his first collection The Land of Green Ginger (Salt, 2008), many of these poems are rich in culinary and gastronomic language.

Rowland has a deep understanding of how food can be used to explore themes of national, regional and class identity. He also understands the central position that food holds in all our lives, and its importance as a normalizing factor, a potential  source of refuge and comfort, as in this stanza from ‘Arras’: ‘Chocolate gift before the fighting patrol: / it feels like you are holding the whole Front / with a lost bolt. Three weeks is the average death. / Instead, have a do at this cake on the grass.’

In the opening poem, ‘Berlin,’ a sign advertising Ice Cream peeps through Eisenmann’s Memorial and the speaker feels too uncomfortable with his own tourist status amongst such landmarks to settle for ‘café patter that holds the roll/ above unguilty pleasures, bullet pocks.’

Rowland is on a mission to use words that normally only reside in dictionaries. The appearance of ‘discombobulate’ in a description of unwrapping sandwiches is perhaps a mouthful too far, but it is an example of Rowland’s ambition to fully utilise language, and not just English but a whole range of European words. I would have liked this poem and several others in the collection to have had footnote translations.

This aside, the unease of a tourist surrounded by physical reminders of horrific historical events is evoked here, and again in the deft and affecting ‘Serchio Bathing Party’ which details a tour of the house in which Holocaust survivor Primo Levi committed suicide . The tour is contrasted against later experiences the same day including the delights of a plunge pool, a gelato hatch and the Po’s ‘Olympian serenity.’

Similarly, ‘The Fuhrerhauser’ is a journey through Soviet and Nazi landmarks including Birkenau. In clipped three line stanzas, observations of the banal mix with the horrific to evoke the incongruence at being tourist among remnants which stand testament to unfathomable inhumanity. This sequence is well placed at the end of the collection where it remains likes a monument in an empty landscape.

‘Bitter’ celebrates and mocks a variety of Real Ales. Some of the beers speak for themselves in a masterful blend of overblown advertising and bawdy language. Wordy mouthfuls beg to be relished aloud, my favourite being ‘Oban’s Fair Plugged wants frottage with a Cornish.’ There is another dimension in the remembrance of a less sophisticated drinking culture ‘where Tetley glasses used to sail the air / changing the channel to random violence.’  This is Rowland at his funniest and most poignant, switching quickly from humour to grim unsentimental realities in one fluid journey.

In ‘Sausage’ we disturbingly find ‘the sausages that glitter in the Somme moonlight,’ and  ‘Arras’ contains the sort of absurdly comical anecdote that is passed down through a family by word of mouth: ‘Someone shot the brigadier’s dog in no-man’s land: / no password.’ And: ‘Your keys to the door arrive in a trench / with two birthday cards in bits: birthdays / would gift the enemy information.

The sheer inventiveness of much of this book kept me engaged, entertained and rewarded.  If I were to be negative I would say I had too much on my plate with ‘Engrish’ (there are two poems with this title in the collection) which seemed over long.  Then there are several ‘Hotel’ poems, surreal ‘Tripadvisor’ style accounts which I found a bit too thematically and technically similar to all merit inclusion.

On the whole Rowland succeeds brilliantly in bringing a surprising mix of ingredients together in a celebration of language. This is a big book in more ways than one. Not everything here was to my taste, but there are enough exquisite and memorable dishes to make this the equivalent of a Michelin star experience.

This review was first published in the journal Critical Survey.

About the reviewer
Roy Marshall currently works in adult education. His poetry has been published by Crystal Clear (Gopagilla) and Shoestring Press (The Sun Bathers). He blogs at http://roymarshall.wordpress.com/about/

Review by Morgen Bailey of "Classic Crime Stories"


Discover a world of heroes and villains, suspense and intrigue. This riveting and comprehensive collection brings together some of the best crime writing of all time. Ruth Rendell and Frances Hegarty spearhead the modern genre, moving through the popular and rarely recorded Graham Greene, to Edgar Wallace and G.K. Chesterton and his master detective Father Brown. And that's not all.

You can find the following stories in this book: 'Loopy,' 'The Missing Romney,' 'Insufficient Evidence,' 'The Compleat Criminal,' 'The Case for the Defence,' 'Markheim,' 'The Blue Cross,' 'Bluebeard's Bathtub,' 'Nine Point of the Law,' 'Arsene Lupin in Prison.' This collection includes stories from Ruth Rendell, Frances Hegarty, E.W. Hornung, Graham Greene, Margery Allingham, Charles Dickens, G.K. Chesterton, Maurice Leblanc, Edgar Wallace, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

This collection is available here.  

Review (of the audiobook – timings in brackets):
The collection starts with Ruth Rendell's 'Loopy' (37.34), a strange tale about a man, Colin, who takes his role of Little Red Riding Hood's wolf far too seriously. His relationship with his fiancée sours as he grows closer to his mother, who had made his costume, amid discussions of their living arrangements.

Next up is Edgar Wallace's 'The Missing Romney' (21.50), a stolen painting taken from a deserving arrogant aristocrats - those with bloated bank balances earned by dubious means - by the elusive Robin Hood-type serial thief Four Square Jane. She's investigated by Peter Dawes who admires her for being a criminal with a brain. It appears to be the perfect crime and when it's revealed, it shows how clever Jane, and therefore, Edgar is. My favourite of the collection.

The third story, 'Insufficient Evidence' by Frances Hegarty (18.39), is a sad tale about a woman who seeks retribution and gets it, but not to her or others' expectations. Another well-written piece.

The fourth (and narrator-heavy) story sees the return of Edgar Wallace and his 'The Compleat Criminal' (25.29). The main character is Felix O'Hara Golbeater, a solicitor who has come in contact with many criminals. He appears to commit the perfect crime under another identity but his plan starts to unravel. The crime may have been clever but the ending was predictable and I guessed it.

'The Case for the Defence' by Graham Greene (7.58) is another classic and well-described story, and the shortest of the collection. It features twins and I expected a clichéd ending but the one given was satisfying.

Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Markheim' (45.25) is a strange tale about the interaction of an antique dealer and a customer, named Markheim. It lost me a couple of times but will appeal to surreal lovers.

'The Blue Cross' by GK Chesterton (45.29), like the three stories before it, is narrator-heavy with character description at the start. The main two characters are the criminal Flambeau and his pursuer Detective Valentin. My favourite line was about coincidences and how a Williams killing a Williamson, a case of infanticide. A very clever tale, one of the best here..
Margery Allingham's 'Bluebeard's Bathtub' (25.18) – also known as 'Three is a Lucky Number' – is another clever story but Ronald Torbay meets his match.

The last but one story is EW Hornung’s ‘Nine Points of the Law’ (35.47), a cat and mouse-type story of Harry ‘Bunny’ Manders attempting to outwit Raffles. He appears to have done so but is everything as it seems?

Finally is Maurice Leblanc’s ‘Arsene Lupin In Prison’ (42.54). Another incredibly clever tale which seems impossible but there’s always a way.

Generally the writing is very strong, albeit outdated in some respects, and, like most compilations, some stories are better than others but enough will appeal to any reader, especially those who enjoy historical crime mysteries.

This review was first published on Morgen Bailey's blog here.

About the reviewer
Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a freelance writer, editor, tutor, blogger, and speaker. Like her, her blog, http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. Her debut novel, several short story collections, and writer’s block workbooks are available from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Smashwords. 

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Maria and The Mullet, Upstairs at the Western: Reviewed by Charles Wheeler

This review is late. Even later than I was to the event itself. But while my lateness on 3rd October gained me nothing but a few disapproving glances as my awkward search for a seat undermined the enchanting atmosphere of the Western's hidden-gem attic venue, the lateness of this piece has proven useful, providing me with glorious, enriching, relevance-granting context. How fortunate for me.

Y'see, in the weeks since this event (during which I moved house, started a new job, and tripled the amount of pets I own - legitimate excuses to go alongside my myriad apologies to the unreasonably patient Jonathan Taylor), Leicester, host city of Everybody's Reading, City of Culture contender, and my dear, dear hometown, found itself the centre of what I'm told is "controversy", which we know by now to be a synonym for "a ham-fisted Channel 4 documentary". Make Leicester British raised plenty of ire for plenty of valid reasons, and one of the most common seemed to be that people from Leicester simply didn't recognise the city being shown to them. I was one of those people, and as I watched the hopelessly contrived 90-minute bigot-baiting session unfold, I couldn't help musing on the stark contrast between what some TV producers had decided to make some people from Leicester do in a room, and what some other people in a room in Leicester a few weeks earlier had done for themselves.

I found my seat. Shruti Chauhan was on stage already, launching into a heartstring-pulling account of social media-age romance, posing huge, world-shaking questions of self-worth and self-care in a new, commodified dating scene, hitting cultural touchstones that resonated with the world I know from friends, from life, from Twitter. Other pieces spoke of a life I hadn't lived but that I knew from friends and colleagues. Here was a poet speaking truths I recognised, illuminating experiences I've seen transpire around me. Here was artistic and cultural kinship, happening starkly and obviously for one of the first times I can remember. Channel 4 would presumably prefer Shruti and I to be having a challenging discussion about whether we should even be from the same city.

Mere minutes later, we arrived at our first headline act (oops, I was late). Maria Taylor's work, whether on page or in person, is near impossible to summarise, and that's a case of quality as much as quantity. While her observational scope is undeniably massive, it's the detail with which she attends her subject matter that truly impresses. Jumping effortlessly between diverse ideas, Taylor led us by the hand through ever-changing worlds, never once letting us feel alienated, always hitting home. She is a singular poet and a natural, organic performer.

Post-interval (feat. free cakes! Who could possibly object?), James Mcatear and Jitendra Bhatt presented a set of music-verse collaborations that were both delightfully indulgent and grounded in salt-of-the-Earth charm. I'll stop short of saying "only in Leicester", but if multiculturalism is apparently failing, it's doing so with style, heart and a deceptive amount of success round these parts.

Between all this, compère Lydia Towsey held the evening together in her inimitable style, a whirlwind of personality that can be described as "quirky" if one doesn't mind things being described in woefully inadequate terms. Her offbeat humour made for a perfect backdrop to the acts, but was revealed to be little more than sly disarmament towards the end of the night, as she blew the entire room away with a stunning ukelele-led epic poem about her grandfather's experiences in the war.

And so it was on to the veteran, Andrew 'Mulletproof' Graves, to close proceedings. Moving quickly from wry self-deprecation to wry deprecation of pretty much everything else, Graves is nothing short of a spectacle when mid-performance. With a slickness, easy charisma and hyper-assured delivery of culturally cutting pieces, he is nothing short of a consummate professional who somehow manages to remain a hundred times more relevant and believable than any consummate professional should ever be able to.

But while Graves is sharp, and cuts deep, his touch is every bit as deft as the acts around him on this night - and crucially, it leaves them unmarked. Every act who took the stage at Maria and the Mullet managed strikes to the hearts of their various and just issues with the world, but none ever came close to treading on the others' toes. These commentaries, these experiences, sat alongside each other - not in harmony, but in glorious intersecting solidarity.

If it seems trite to suggest that art will bring us together, it's still better than the implicit insistence that diversity will tear us apart. Whether expressed through creativity, commentary or simply conversation, whether integrated with each other or presented in worthy, safe single-issue spaces, it is the voicing of people's lived realities wherein deeper, more engaged understanding is fostered. Maria and the Mullet was a microcosm of Leicester, and was more representative than any unwieldy attempt to "make" Leicester anything.

And that, surely, is as good an argument as any to get everybody both reading and reviewing.

Monday 10 November 2014

Review by Roy Marshall of "Versions of the North" ed. Ian Parks

Versions of The North, Five Leaves Press 2013

The contemporary poetry anthology seems to be in rude good health. There are anthologies based on ‘new generations’ of poets, poets under thirty,  anthologies to showcase or create a school or genre. Others, like the Forward, gather prize winners and well established poets. Still others try to counterbalance these by  presenting the ‘best’ poems from small presses in any given year; many are enjoyable and some are useful, for example, in bringing new voices to the fore.

But few feel ‘necessary’, or give the impression of being able to stand the test of time. Fewer still could be given out in a pub, to be understood and enjoyed by the recipients. I suspect that Versions of The North could.

Subtitled Contemporary Yorkshire Poetry, this is an anthology from Five Leaves Press, edited by Ian Parks. Paradoxically, given its stated geographical borders, the one hundred and forty-seven pages of poems cover a huge variety of themes and gather a multiplicity of voices to celebrate and reflect upon the physical, historical, political, geographical and emotional landscapes of the north of England.

This is a generous book in more ways than one. Ian Parks defines Yorkshire Poetry in the introduction as ‘poetry written by poets with a strong connection to Yorkshire either by birth or close association.’

Major strengths are that poems by deceased poets and sit alongside work by rising stars like Helen Mort and David Tait, and that the ‘celebrated’ sit beside the ‘overlooked’ or less well known.  A democratic accessibility is at the heart of this collection; I was originally going to title this review ‘A new republic of the head and heart,’ a line borrowed and adapted from a poem by Ian Parks.

But the inclusively and accessibility of this collection doesn’t mean the book isn’t full of surprise, confrontation, celebration, grief, humour and moments of astonishing beauty.
The opener is the wonderfully inventive and assured ‘Frost-Gods’ by the late Harold Massingham. Within three lines the reader is located in a landscape where there is ‘Frost-flack over these collieries.’ We are also located in language at once direct and inventive, no-nonsense and dour, exhilaratingly vivacious and, to quote the poem, ‘energied with Reverie.’  There is a self-knowing and perhaps humorously deployed line about surveying a post industrial landscape, and it might stand for much of what this book is about: ‘I look it over, warming / To that grim aura:’

Throughout the collection I encountered, and warmed to, the geography of old-mill workings and slag heaps, the ghosts of heavy industry, the echo and sometimes physical reminders of territorial and political battles, the landscapes of moors and crags as well as great cathedrals, tea shops, rivers and the sea, all described by a spectrum of distinctively individual but collectively ‘northern’ voices.

These lines from Maurice Rutherford’s ‘Outlook on Monday’ put me in mind of Les Dawson’s housewife in a pinafore, arms folded, alert and primed for gossip: ‘A neighbour swabs her doorstep / the clothesline a farcical can-can / incontinence knickers in chorus / high-kicking out of time.’ Dawson’s characters were archetypes, but they were recognisable and loveable ones, and his portrayal of stereotypes was never malicious. The same can be said of the many characters that inhabit this book.

George Kendrick finds cause to celebrate a bicycle tyre in a tree, and this highlights a key aspect of this collection, namely a lack of obscurity, an absence of the deliberately ‘clever’, the flashy or brash. Most, if not all, of the poems, are written using ‘everyday’ language, and many refuse to be tidied or clipped into neatness, but maintain the expansiveness of real speech; perhaps Les Murray’s antipodean ‘Quality of Sprawl’ has its equivalent in northern England. This anthology serves to remind the reader how richly expressive and elegant everyday English can be.

Together with explorations of the seemingly ordinary, there is much bravery in dealing with big themes. This anthology doesn’t shy away from conflict, whether it is the bitter confrontation of the miner’s strike or issues of identity, class and race. Nor is there any trace of a simple romantic view of long gone industries. Instead there is ambiguity in poems which deal with this loss, an acknowledgement that whilst these industries provided livelihoods and a sense of community, they also laid scars across the land and the lives of many of its inhabitants.

Glyn Hughes’s ‘Rock Rose’ is a celebration of the reclamation of the land by nature: ‘Hammer and Chisel, ledger and pen, / cradle and loom are rested / hewn stone is overgrown or sweetened.’ Those who were lucky enough to have known the late Ann Atkinson will be particularly moved by her poem ‘Petrifying Well,’ in which Ann seems to be expressing acknowledgement of the passing of all things.

There are far too many standout poems to mention here, but the delightful invention and controlled rage and humour of Ian Duhig is well represented by his five poems, as is the masterful control of Pat Borthwick in ‘It’s Only’, a tour de force in which she sardonically shines light on the dull waters of the Humber and uncovers a dinosaur’s scaphoid (or does she?) among the brickwork and slack on the foreshore. There is a lot of weather in this book; inevitably rain and snow, but also sunshine, notably in Jules Smith’s poem ‘The Barefoot Bride’.

Elsewhere Ann Sansom sings the hymn of a humble slug, while Paul Mills captures the power of nature on a different scale in ‘At the Lake House’: ‘Stronger than love / is stone’s connection with water. / Anchored and fluid among the peaks / they sculpt each other with force, with likeness, with nearness’. Another stand out poem is Graham Hamilton’s heartbreakingly beautiful tale of salmon and his reflection of changes in the lives of the men who fish and fished them.

I know that  editor Ian Parks had to persuaded into including two of his own poems by a delegation of the anthologised poets. This comes as no surprise since self-promotion doesn’t seem to be Ian’s priority.  But his own ‘Strikebreakers’ is an essential part of the picture, containing a line which conjures a state of civil war in which ‘the mounted men broke through’. In this remembrance, there is a chilling sense of the inescapable and inevitable legacy of such a bitter division and conflict. This is followed by Ed Reiss’s biblical take on un-forgiven scabs. In different ways both poems perform the difficult task of describing the detail and legacy of such battles without becoming overtly polemical.

This is not a mono-cultural  anthology; Liz Cashdan, Debjani  Chatterjee and Ian Duhig among others remind us of the history of migration and the variety of Yorkshire voices and experiences. But I would have liked to see a few more voices springing from differing ethnic backgrounds. Perhaps with the passage of time these voices might come to the fore. This small point aside, Ian Parks has selected and sequenced these poems to create an enduring map of a past and present Yorkshire as seen and described by several generations of its children.  That he has succeeded in his ambition is testament to the sheer quality and variety of the poems.

Thursday 16 October 2014

Review by Emma Lee of "Beyond the Tune" by Jayne Stanton

The title of Jayne Stanton's collection comes from the opening poem, 'Grace Notes,' a journey to Ireland via ferry where the final stanza invites readers to

'Wave on your luggage, walk the only road there is
till it runs out of tarmac and the salt air draws you. Listen
for the notes between the notes. Slip beyond the tune.'

It’s an apposite title because most of the poems invite readers to look beyond the words on the page to the images and thoughts conjured within. For example in 'Suave and debonair' a girl’s pride in her father glosses over but still recognises his faults:

'Daddy’s girl, my angle’s blind
to a thinning crown, the comb-over;
a weak heart under peacock swagger – and
you’re taller, somehow, out of overalls
in slacks with knife-edge creases down
to split and polish; hands in pockets
weighing small change possibilities.
You shrug your shoulders
into a hounds tooth blazer, square
the broken checks of green and cream;
leather buttons left undone, token casual.

My formative years in toughened hands:
our lifelines grafted till you learn the art of letting go.'

The accumulation of details allows the reader to build the picture in their mind’s eye. The use of end of line enjambment hurries the reader over the suggestions of doubt; the 'weak heart' is brushed over to the emphasis on 'peacock swagger.' 'Suave and debonair' isn’t the only poem to touch on memories of growing up, but, like the others, it doesn’t dwell on sentiment. There’s an acknowledgement of things not being ideal, but no hagiographic embellishment either. 'Vintage' epitomises this with a look back to family seaside holidays, triggered by discovering an old case in the attic, with its sense of making the best of things.

'Rediscover Pac-a-Macs as beachwear,
resurrect the swing coat, tartan duffle bag;
own the promenade in red T-bar sandals.
Strike a pose in that ruched nylon swimsuit
christened in trawler oil, your profile
caught in the blink of a box Brownie’s eye.'

'Pac-a-Macs as beachwear' is a succinct description of summer on a UK beach. Swing coats are back in for Autumn/Winter 2014 but are never fashionable in summer. Fortunately the Brownie isn’t high definition enough to capture goose-bumps. It’s the telling choice of which details to record that create a solid foundation for these poems.
The tone of the tune changes too. Near the middle is a sequence of four poems, 'Some stories from the other side' which take a darker tone. In '2. Pet' an ambiguous her has learnt to reduce her world to his house:

'feigns pleasure, throaty
as his fingers find the chip
that keeps her his.

He likes her stone-bellied;
she dreams of slipped collars,
a quick way out.

Each time he sidles back. Redolent
of feral nights in back alleys, he pins her down
with stories of newborns drowned in buckets.'

There’s love too, and not just in the poem’s title, 'Love in Led Zepplin album covers'

'We pissed lyrical in pseudo-psychedelic dreams;
dawns bled tangerine, our zepplins crashed
manila skies with hummingbirds and butterflies
whose roundel-painted wings we glued
in grounded chips of china blue.

The towers on Dudley Road are long gone;
you and I, my rock, my song, still ramble on.'

The shorter 'i' vowel sounds give way to the longer 'o' sounds as youth became older and the initial urgency of romance became enduring love. 'Beyond the Tune' lives up to its apt title.

About the reviewer
Emma Lee has published two poetry collections, Mimicking a Snowdrop (Thynks Press), Yellow Torchlight and the Blues (Original Plus) and has a third, Ghosts in the Desert, forthcoming from Indigo Dreams Publishing in 2015. She blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com and is a blogger-reviewer for Simon and Schuster. She also reviews for The Journal, Elsewhere and London Grip magazines.

Sunday 12 October 2014

Live the Life You Love: A Review by Paul Towers of Carol Leeming's Choreopoem

This review was originally published in Western Park Gazette.

Everybody’s Reading is a 9 day festival of all things reading; whether it is about starting to write, read or just discuss, this Leicester festival aims to facilitate that interest.

A Chorepoem is really a dramatised monologue, but acted rather than just narrated. The form is something that the author is rapidly making her very own.

Local writer, singer and teacher Carol Leeming was commissioned to write three pieces of work based around Leicester’s Cultural Quarter. Live the Life You Live is the second of this trilogy following on from The Loneliness of The Long Distance Diva.

Tonight was the very first reading of the piece by the author at Leicester University’s Embrace Arts Centre in the Richard Attenborough Centre on Lancaster Road.

An expectant crowd gathered for a very different piece from Long Distance Diva. Written to be performed by a beautiful 20 something, mixed race gay man this was the story of 1980′s Leicester and how a young man could not feel part of any community due to his heritage. Abandoned by dysfunctional parents, Maz grows up using the one thing he has, his body, to get by.

Carol Leeming’s uncanny ear for the Leicester vernacular, honed no doubt by her undoubted musical talents, peppers this tale with her very idiosyncratic aphorisms, beautifully descriptive 2 or 3 word phrases which invoke all manner of emotions. Her reading of the piece brought it to life like no other.

Meeting a Scouse Toff in a gay club, Maz has to confront racism and mental illness and almost his own demise before hopefully emerging a more centred person.

I can’t wait to see this transformed into a complete theatrical show

See also: http://ptreviews.blog.com/?p=208
About the reviewer
Paul Towers is a writer and performer based in Leicester who regularly writes for The Western Park Gazette. See also: http://ptreviews.blog.com/.

Saturday 11 October 2014

A Joiner Shows Us the Clues: Review by Rebecca Bird of "Melanchrini" by Maria Taylor

Maria Taylor’s debut collection Melanchrini is the music of archaeology. She digs deep trenches in the right places, uncovers the right amount of dust and earth, knows the histories and peculiarities of her subjects, yet finds inevitably that these past peoples – embedded as memories in her poetry – have been living deficient: missing something from their lives. Maria Taylor has an assured and informed grasp on this nature of absence, of departure, of death and importantly, of not-quite-yet and such excavation, we get true lyrical glimpses at the underside of normal and how the impact of ‘not-having’ resonates throughout ordinary lives.

The entire first section illuminates ‘not-having’ with family and personal memory. ‘Outside’ offers a stunning lyric about pregnancy and the expectation of birth: ‘I stroke your head through my flesh/the moon curve of you.’

‘At Her Grandmother’s Table’, almost a cold opening, references morning coffee over the years and the participants now long gone: ‘your grandfather hushed and stormless’ is a typical Taylor usage, similar to ‘unhistoried’ ('99/2000') and ‘unfathered’ ('Folk Tale') in that it implies something that is lost that can perhaps never be retrieved, or righted.

‘Par Avion’, an ode to air mail, lingers on homesickness as ‘an open wound’ and she seemingly lampshades these 'lost' themes in her work with the stanza:

Faces, half-recalled, revived by pen:
sisters getting married, fathers always busy,
babies getting born, you missing.
Taylor has a very self-aware, authoritative voice and it is striking to see how complete this collection is to itself. Although I cannot work out why the three sections to the book have been ordered so, there isn’t a single poem that does not belong. Put that down to a decent editor and a hard-working author.

Taylor does have a tendency to revisit ideas: ‘I keep my knees shut’ ('Thea') and ‘That I should keep my knees together’ ('Three Things I Learnt In Church') for example, but in the context of the collection as a whole, this works. It creates a fullness: too many collections of poetry turn out to be collections of poems. Not this one. Taylor creates big, beefy images, which sustain and keep you full until dinnertime.

The hit of the collection, for me, is ‘I Woke Into Birth’. It serves as the pinnacle of Taylor’s mastery of line-control and structure:

as if surgeons were washing up in the bowl of my womb
as if I were a matryoshka, exposing lathed children
as if a hunter had slit the belly of a doe to reveal butterflies’

I returned to this poem considerably during my inhalation of this book. All poets are at some point taught to not use too many images within a poem, as it leads to a kind of metaphor saturation which makes the writing inaccessible. This poem, perhaps in itself, taught me that if you have control over your structure and control over relevance, you can arrive anywhere you want to in a poem and let the reader look out the windows. It is Taylor's control within the line that means that the poem doesn't dry out from the weight of metaphor: everything that needs to be examined in a particular line is examined.

And it is this line-control that makes it the book. Pound would have it that poetry begins to atrophy when it is too far from music. I think Taylor would agree because she blends keen rhythm and timbre with informed verse and it is so akin to when good rock bands start bothering with their lyrics. She has a bass player in the walls of her writing hand.

Her poem ‘The Language of Slamming Doors’ could represent the collection, in that that she herself is a ‘joiner pointing out the scars’ of an old, empty house. She knows every bad floorboard, every secret passage. And she wants to show you.

Melanchrini is available from
Nine Arches Press.

About the reviewer
Rebecca Bird was born in 1991 and is the editor of Hinterland. She has been published in magazines including The Rialto, The Interpreter's House and Envoi. She currently lives and works in Guildford.

Friday 10 October 2014

The Collected Works of Gabrielle Zevin, reviewed by Rachel Wheeler

The Collected Works of Gabrielle Zevin.

I’m going to be completely honest with you; I am a MASSIVE Gabrielle Zevin fan. I have all of her books. One might say I’m obsessed with them, but I would probably use the word “enchanted”.

For many years, her debut novel for young adults Elsewhere was my absolute favourite book. I got it for Christmas when I was 15 years old (a random purchase by my Mum, an excellent choice!) and I remember sitting in the room we were staying in at my Granny’s house, completely avoiding my family (and crying, because the book is both so tragic and so beautiful) because I simply had to keep reading it. It tells the story of a girl, Liz, who is sadly killed in a road accident just before her Sixteenth birthday, and ends up in a place called Elsewhere. It is a gorgeous book full of lovely words, and so many beautiful quotes; my favourite being;

A human’s life is a beautiful mess.

After that Christmas, however, I didn’t really think about seeing if Zevin had any other books out, and although I occasionally got Elsewhere off the shelf and read it (usually in one sitting, or at least the same day!) I didn’t think about it all the much, and even quite forgot all about it at one point.

Several years later I was clearing out my bedroom, fishing around under my bed, and lo and behold one of my attempts pulled out my well-worn copy of Elsewhere! Cue me spending the next 3 hours reading it, crying even more than ever before and completely neglecting my tidying duties! It was then that I decided I needed more, and naturally I got online to see what else Zevin had written.

This led me to Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac and All These Things I’ve Done- which is the first book in the Birthright Trilogy.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac deals with a teenage girl who suffers a fall and winds up with amnesia, finding that her personality and interests have completely changed. This is particularly tricky as she now doesn’t remember her boyfriend or find him at all attractive! The main struggle for Naomi however, is trying to do what makes her happy, without disappointing her friends and family, all of whom expect her to remember and be her ‘old self’. There is a very valuable message in this book about being honest, being yourself, and also about giving people second chances.

In contrast, All These Things I’ve Done is about New York in 2082; Chocolate is illegal (I know, I am as appalled as you are!), paper and water are very hard to come by, and our protagonist Anya- whose family are one of the main illegal chocolate manufacturers and distributors- is in a constant struggle to stay on the right side of the law, and do her best for her siblings, Leo and Natalia. Her parents are both dead from chocolate gang-related violence and her Nana- their legal carer- is bedbound, leaving Anya arranging pretty much everything, with the help from her father’s lawyer. Reading something so removed from real life is a breath of fresh air, and I was soon anticipating the release of the second book in the trilogy Because it is My Blood. Whilst browsing Zevin’s website, I found out about a competition to win a signed copy of Because it is My Blood, and you could enter with fan art. Naturally, this was my entry:

To my great delight, a couple of weeks later I found out that I was one of the winners! And after several more weeks of waiting (as the book was coming from America) I received a beautiful package in the post! The box itself was nothing special, but the book is just gorgeous. Remove the dust cover on any of the hardback books in the Birthright trilogy, and you are greeted by a chocolate bar! Not a real one, unfortunately, but I adore the attention to detail and inventiveness of the design. I was so excited to receive this book, not only was it signed but there was also a lovely personal note in there from Zevin, saying that my picture brightened her day! To be honest though, I have far more to thank her for, as her words never fail to brighten my day!

Mmm...books! Unfortunately my copy of “All These Things I’ve Done” is a paperback, so I only have two of the chocolate bars!

One of my favourite things about the Birthright trilogy, is how Zevin doesn’t shy away from challenging issues. There really are times, especially in the final book In the Age of Love and Chocolate, where you question whether our protagonist will even make it to the end of the series. Although these books are supposedly for young adults, I would certainly think plenty of adults would find them very engaging and thought provoking.
Moving onto Zevin’s books more specifically for adults; last Christmas I asked for The Hole We’re In and Margarettown. I unwrapped these on Christmas morning with much delight, and then hilarity ensued as I tried to read the blurb of Margarettown and realised that my Mum had managed to accidentally order it in Spanish! So I began with The Hole We’re In. This book takes a very different format to Zevin’s other books; every few chapters you find yourself hearing the story from a different family member’s perspective, and the story takes place over many years whilst you watch the family grow up and change. I didn’t find this quite as enchanting as Zevin’s other books, however with the subject matter (family falling outs, debt) don’t quite lend themselves to that so much anyway. The thing I do really like about this book is how down to earth and honest it is about life and families.
When I eventually got Margarettown in English, I found my new favourite book. It is about one woman, but how ultimately one woman can be many different women at once. I adore the metaphor used here. Although at times the storyline does seem a little far-fetched from realism (although to be honest if you want a realistic storyline I suggest you stick to the encyclopaedia or get an imagination... however the emotions and messages in Zevin’s work are always realistic and truthful) Margarettown can teach us all a lot about what it is to be human, how nobody is perfect and nobody is the same person every single day, but learning to love those little imperfections and changes in people is beautiful.
Margarettown proudly wore the title of being my favourite book for several months, until I got my hands on a copy of The Collected Works of A.J.Fikry (alternatively named The Storied Life of A.J.Fikry in the US, however the Collected Works is the original title.) The first thing that hit me was the gorgeous cover artwork. It is a sculpture by an artist called Su Blackwell, whose work I would highly recommend looking at! This cover hands down beats all of the other cover artwork (Yes, even the chocolate bars!), and it makes me very happy that such a beautiful book has a cover so befitting of its loveliness. As with the other books I really don’t want to give the plot away, in case someone reads this then wants to read it, but in a nutshell I would say this book is about someone being found when they didn’t even know they were lost, and also about the power of books, which seems an incredibly fitting way to round up this review, and indeed my collection (although I certainly hope there will be more books to add to it soon!).
When I mention Gabrielle Zevin to people I am still astounded at how rarely people have heard of her or her books, so I certainly hope at least one person reading this decides to give her a try, and I have to say in a way I’m almost jealous of anyone who gets to read them all for the first time! I don’t quite know how to sum up her work and do it justice, certainly my favourite thing about it is that she uses so many different topics, yet there is always a relatable message. However I think probably the best way to leave it is with a quote from Zevin herself (this one is taken from The Collected Works of A.J.Fikry):
I want to leave you with something cleverer than that, but it’s all I know.

Thursday 9 October 2014

Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come to You, My Lad: A Review by Caroline Gregory of M. R. James

Montague Rhodes James is, without a doubt, the ‘Founding Father of the Modern Ghost Story’ (Peter Haining, The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories, 2007, p.xix), and our concept of the quintessentially English ghost story was perfected by James through the publication of over thirty supernatural tales during his lifetime. To read his stories of apparitions and the paranormal in the twenty-first century, one needs a quiet, dark candlelit room with the autumn winds howling outside. Or how about the 600 year old Guildhall in the heart of Leicester city; a place where history and mystery merge, apparently hosting five ghosts of its own before R. M. Lloyd Parry introduced further horror on the night of Wednesday 1 October to perform a reading of two of James’ tales – 'The Ash Tree' and 'O, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,' the latter which will be reviewed later in this article.

James was always interested in the supernatural. The superb 2013 BBC documentary, M. R. James: Ghostwriter, written and narrated by Mark Gatiss, explores the author’s early fascination with this topic and Gatiss reads an excerpt of a short ghost story written whilst James was in Sixth Form college (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOGZ4WQT2vg). He clearly had a knack for the genre from an early age.

Later, in 1893, just before Halloween, M. R. James enraptured his audience at the Cambridge Chit Chat Society gathering with the telling of ‘Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook’ and James would continue to entertain fellow scholars with further readings throughout his lifetime, including what we now consider to be the traditional telling of horror stories on Christmas Eve. Indeed, most of his stories sound as though they should be read out loud, as shown during the Guildhall’s event, and the narrator’s voice often comes through as though he is talking directly to the reader, with comments and asides as if he knows the characters personally.

That first reading of ‘Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook’ set the template for James’ work yet, somehow, he is never repetitive, or if his style is, the writing is so tight, the audience doesn’t notice or simply enjoys the similarities between his stories whilst waiting for the next twist in the tale.

His style is now known as the Jamesian technique, and his stories were either set in an idyllic country / coastal location or an ancient European town; the protagonist is usually an erudite scholar with a hint of naivety or a reactionary view on the world outside his understanding, and something is discovered which is linked to the past and, therefore, becomes the conduit of whatever malevolent force James will unleash onto his hero and the expectant audience.(See

Another key aspect of his tales, as laid out in his Some Remarks on Ghost Stories, is that his stories were set in present day. What could be more spookier to his Chit Chat Society friends than hints of the supernatural experienced by characters that sounded like them, who visited the places they visited, and had the same interests; as opposed to the Gothic novel, popular in the earlier part of the Victorian era, which often created distance between the reader and the events because there was little, if any chance, of the reader experiencing the horrors of Gothic events.

M. R. James is described as combining the ‘mundane with the horrific’ (
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOGZ4WQT2vg), and this is what piques our imagination because James will describe something ordinary, if not a tad boring, and then suddenly we are presented with the horrific. James developed the technique of not giving too much away and he seemed to appreciate that the imagination of the reader is far more creative than anything he could write. He never truly explains what is actually happening so our minds are left to their disturbed devices.

‘Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Comes to You, My Lad’ published in M. R. James’ 1904 collection Ghost Stories of an Antiquary contains all these tropes and, even now, the 21st century reader relishes the chills that tingle down the spine because we don’t really understand what is happening to the protagonist, Professor Parkins.

Parkins is visiting the East Coast for a golfing holiday with the Colonel and where he will also take advantage of exploring a part of the shoreline where the Templars were reported to once live. Whilst rambling and excavating, he comes across a small object. He knows it is of ‘considerable age’ but Parkins quickly forgets about it, until the servant of the Globe Inn tells Parkins he has placed what appears to be a whistle, on his chest of drawers in Parkins’ room after finding it in latter’s coat. The fact he has forgotten it rings alarm bells for the reader who knows instinctively it will be the cause of later mayhem and should not have been dismissed.

On finally examining the whistle, Parkins sees there is a Latin inscription which translates as ‘Who is this who is coming?’ Can a single line be any more haunting and loaded with mystery? Parkins blows the whistle and seems to become entranced by it. Only when he realises that the wind is howling outside, is he shaken out of his reverie.

That night, Parkins has a distressing sleep, tormented by a bad dream. The nightmare is universal in the sense of who has not experienced a dream of being chased by something, trying to get away from something and ‘looking up in an attitude of painful anxiety’? (M. R. James, ‘Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Comes to You, My Lad’ in Peter Haining, ed., The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories, p. 12). When he awakes, James continues to appeal to our own experiences of waking up, confused and distressed, convinced there is something in the room with us, and we all know the feeling of that blurred reality between waking and sleeping which James plays on so sinisterly.

Parkins is established from the beginning, though, as a rational man and even when the maid comments on the dishevelled state of the second bed in his room, he has a logical explanation. Again, whilst playing golf with the Colonel, Parkins continues to dismiss any notion of the supernatural or myths of ‘whistling the wind’ and he only seems mildly perturbed by the young boy who crashes into them, when they return to the Globe, saying he has seen something in the window that turns out to be the Professor’s room.

Professor Parkins’ refusal to acknowledge there is any malice associated with the whistle until the final act, as it were, makes it all the more terrifying when he is finally confronted that night by the ‘thing’ that is in the second bed:

Now it began to move, in a stooping posture, and all at once the spectator realised, with some horror and some relief, that it must be blind, for it seemed to feel about it with its muffled arms in a groping and random fashion. (p.19)

The description of the professor’s cries, as the thing comes towards him until he is half out of the window, is actually very limited. We don’t need James to give us any extraneous detail because we can ‘see’ it. An author can never know the true limits of an individual’s imagination, but our own mind certainly does! Our own supernatural ‘horror’ haunts us in this final scene because leading up to that point, James provides all the mechanism for our imagination to fill in the gaps at the crucial moment.

M. R. James is succinct in his endings. It is jarring when the Colonel saves Parkins yet there is no discussion of what has happened. The protagonist is clearly affected by the horror in his room, but that’s all we need to know an
d we are always left wondering.

About the reviewer
Caroline Gregory is a Leicester born writer who is finally gaining the courage to share her work! She specialises in Victorian Studies, graduating with an MA from the University of Leicester, and her favourite genres are sensation fiction and the supernatural (although she makes a clear distinction between horror and the horrific, and you’ll never catch her watching Saw!). She is also passionate about animal welfare and her three rescued pooches sit at her feet whilst she researches and writes, and occasionally they even inspire the creative process. Caroline published several articles in Dubai, where she lived for six years, about the plight of abandoned pets in the UAE. She is currently working on a screenplay with her husband and the plot exemplifies her love of the macabre.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

The Chemistry of Holding: Review by Maria Taylor of "Nitrate"

This review was first published in Under the Radar Magazine, published by Nine Arches Press.

 Nitrate by Simon Perril (Salt, 2010), reviewed by Maria Taylor

The history of cinema began with an antivivisectionist. The French physiologist E. J. Marey wanted to understand the rudiments of movement without physically tampering with the living creatures he was studying. He invented the chronophotographic gun, an instrument which didn’t hurt flesh but instead captured time and space. The gun itself was actually a camera, capable of taking twelve photos a second - a device which, rather than compromising skin, fur or feather, could only ‘graze the skin of space,’ as Simon Perril puts it in his new collection Nitrate.
Nitrate is a collection born out of Perril’s interest in the birth of cinema and Marey’s work. Perril himself has described the collection as ‘idiosyncratic’; he does not write of actors or Hollywood glamour, but instead deals with the mechanics of early film and the constituents of which it was made: ‘bladders, putty, collodion.’ He is also interested in the scientific processes used to keep the image on the frame, what he calls ‘the chemistry of holding.’  In particular, Perril is intrigued by the notion of the still, as well as the moments in between these images that Marey couldn’t capture:
I reached The Intermission
fallen through a here-shaped hole.
The minutes pile up like snowflakes.
‘Here-shaped’ would be a good way of describing Nitrate; since many of his poems are concerned with the static rather than the mutable. In ‘Death by Snowflake,’ not only are there more snowflakes, but also inertia and the relentless nothingness of nothing:
The minutes cover a man
like snowflakes
lost on impact, skin
thinks nothing
Marey’s experiments in the 1890s fortuitously collided with the arrival of the moving image; with his chronophotographic gun he’d inadvertently invented the ‘shot.’ Of course the term still exists and Perril pays homage to Marey in ‘The End of Portraiture.’ Here, Perril considers ‘photography’s slow thaw’ from static freeze to movement. He is concerned with the concept of that ‘thaw,’ when the still wings of a bird assume movement on the ‘lunar slither’ of photographic film. No accident perhaps then that the front cover of Nitrate features a collage by the poet himself of a camera being destroyed - or perhaps vivisected - to show the release of birds from within.
Which brings us to the title, Nitrate: Cellulose nitrate was the substance used as a film base in early cinema photography. It had one significant drawback in that it was highly flammable, so much so that the US Navy showed trainee film projectionists warning films of nitrate reels on fire even when they were fully submerged in water. Perril describes ‘the nitrate symphony / glinting incandescent / for an age / learning to dissolve. ‘And yet collodion was also used in early film, a substance which in liquid form was used for dressing wounds. The irony of early film having healing and destructive properties emerges as a significant theme, as evinced in ‘Succession’:
Each time we talk of the ‘shot’
a glass plate drops: pieces of photo, gun cotton collodion
continually dressing the wound
leaking frames.
There is an implicit appreciation here that the materials used to capture film have their own inherent life and purpose like the images they depict. The beauty of this poetry is its immediacy and its ability to crystallise language. The poet’s skill is in achieving directness and economy, there is nothing superfluous here: ‘flux-wrapped / wave-swept / pulse thwacked.’ Perril succeeds in balancing delicacy with punch.
The collection is divided into three parts: Nitrate, The Intermission and Forward. The second of these, The Intermission, is Perril’s attempt to capture ‘lost time,’ the moments in between Marey’s shots, ‘an enforced intermission in which we’re waiting for our lives to begin’. These poems are much more personal and have a ‘lived-in’ feel whilst still retaining the cinematic themes of the collection itself:
The idea of cinema
in the mind of a painting,
my daughter puts small objects to bed
they dream
the idea of audience
in the mind of a poem.
There is here a more domestic, dreamier outlook on the notion of the still, whereby inanimate objects somehow conjure themselves into life. In Perril’s hands, the poem similarly conjures itself into life:
The radioactive weaponry of the poem
comes to life; the fructification of nothing
Echoing Auden’s ‘poetry makes nothing happen,’ Nitrate could be seen as a comment on the beauty, intricacy and nothingness of art.
About the reviewer
Maria Taylor is a Leicestershire-based poet. Her debut collection, Melanchrini, was published by Nine Arches Press in Summer 2012, and was subsequently shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize. Her writing has been published in The North, The Guardian, The TLS, Staple and others. She blogs at http://miskinataylor.blogspot.co.uk/