Tuesday 23 October 2018

Review by Paul Taylor-McCartney of National Poetry Day Event at Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham

Time is of the Essence: Three poets launch their latest collections at Five Leaves Bookshop, Nottingham and help celebrate National Poetry Day, 4th October, 2018.

It could be argued all poems reveal an obsession with time. The form itself demands something else of the writer: a sort of shorthand or sketching ability over the usual compulsion to provide readers with a full, intimate study of a particular setting, character or situation. Poems have to be compact, immediately engaging - the voice, everything. It is not that good verse does not require a great deal of time to craft, but even the heavily revised and redrafted can be read aloud in a few minutes, which makes them of the moment: of the present.

Five Leaves Bookshop (Nottingham) is hidden away down a side alley in the city centre, and has recently been named Independent Bookshop of the Year (British Book Awards, 2018). This event was held to celebrate National Poetry Day and mark the launch of three new collections by local writers.  Rebecca Cullen’s Majid Sits in a Tree and Sings (Smith/Doorstop Books) is centred on the power of memory to shape and re-shape subjective experience. Sue Dymoke’s What They Left Behind (Shoestring Press) celebrates the immediacy of the present and the poet’s role in capturing the small and powerful details of life going on around us. Whilst Jonathan Taylor’s Cassandra Complex (Shoestring Press) serves as a meditation on the long-standing power of prophecy in shaping our perceptions of personal and political biography. 

Standout moments from Cullen’s choice of readings this evening included ‘Majid Sits in a Tree and Sings,’ which explores the impotency of a mother unable to shield her child from the horrors of a conflict going on around them, where ‘the guns shine in the sun' and even a blackbird ‘likes the meat hanging on the goalposts’ of a local football stadium. In ‘Swimming in a Lake,’ sensory experience is personified, becoming ‘the shock of cold water, swallowing your thighs’ or the ‘metal taste of ache.’ Many pieces gain additional weight when performed, not least of all ‘When I found my father in my thirties’ where Cullen issues a warning to a man who suddenly appears and expects to assume a critical role in the lives of those he has ignored for decades. ‘You can’t give up your daughter, then collect her children.’ For this poet, errors of the past cannot always be so easily undone and she reminds us that time is not the greatest of healers.   

Dymoke treated her audience to a number of humorous and poignant poems from her collection, including ‘Their Pinnies,’ whereby generations of women from the same family are adorned with this ‘household armour’, the poet using this single motif to remark on the confines of female identity and servitude - an item of clothing ‘Never ever worn by men.’  In the equally-amusing ‘I Know this City’ she brings to life a local Wetherspoon’s pub, of people who ‘like to drink and plan their stages of inebriation,’ warning the ‘wrong kind of Sambuca selfie shot can be a horror.’ Her collection contains some visually challenging poems for readers to enjoy, but one she shared with us that evening, ‘What They Left Behind,’ is presented as a list of objects that were discovered in Hiroshima following the atomic explosion of 1945.  People and objects are organised as a mere inventory: ‘Her uniform / His tricycle / Her daughter’s hair.’ Here, the poet re-visits a defining moment from history and shows how personal artefacts – including poems – are there for future generations to use as a way to collectively remember the horrors of the past. 

Taylor’s poems also gained a great deal in performance. The author provided some context about Cassandra of Greek mythology - a princess of Troy and daughter to Priam and Hecuba - who was blessed with the gift of seeing the future, but cursed in that no-one ever believed her. Taylor uses this conceptual framework to revisit a tapestry of long-forgotten myths, not least to comment on the cyclical nature of civilisations: the rise and fall of human endeavour. He often casts himself as the poet-clairvoyant, with ‘refugees from an Apocalypse yet to happen … flooding through the time-gate in bloodied rags,’ predicting it will be the ‘godless, hairdressers, authors … ’ who will be ‘shoved back / whingeing they can’t win on either side of history’ (Teleology II). Other highlights include ‘Determinism’ in which he ponders how chaos theory may or may not have played a pivotal role in bringing he and his wife together, the highly comical poems ‘Pitch for a Horror Movie’ and ‘Person Specification,’ as well as the emotionally-charged ‘Liar,’ in which a father’s assurances to his son following an accident that ‘everything – head, world, etcetera – would be okay,’ are considered a lie by the adult left alone in the world. Taylor’s collection proves time sets out to make fools of us of all, holding us to account for the words we once said – either in jest or all-seriousness - whilst holding a mirror up to the mistakes yet to be made by our future selves. 

About the reviewer
Paul Taylor-McCartney is currently Head of Secondary Teacher Education at the University of Warwick. He has enjoyed a long and varied teaching career in the discipline of English/Theatre Studies and is following a part-time PhD in Creative Writing with Leicester University. His research interests include dystopian studies, narratology and 20th century literary criticism. His poetry, short fiction and academic articles have appeared in a range of publications including Aesthetica, Birmingham Journal of Language and Literature and Education in Practice (National Association for Writers in Education).

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