Friday 29 October 2021

Review by Matt Nunn of "Sin Is Due to Open in a Room Above Kitty's" by Morag Anderson

The title of this slender debut chapbook gives off a whiff of seduction and promised delight, and whilst it is not sin that Morag Anderson is serving up in these thirty-three brief pages dripping with senses and emotions, she very much seduces with calm, concise writing amongst all the storms that are erupting and bashing her characters around. This fully stocked cast of, one assumes, dramatis personae seems to be constantly enduring things that happened to them, rather than possessing the agency to control the things that happen. Yet endure they always seem to do, despite themselves on occasion, emerging triumphant and in full poetic voice ready to sing of these forbearances and victories.

These are poems where nothing much seems to happen on the surface, yet when they intrude, like slow gentle ripples, into the consciousness of the reader, they explode and clout you about the senses, announcing their business as they do, showering the reader with shards of insight into the modern condition.

Whilst initially you may have some sympathy for the titular character of “Last supper with Sarah,” it is a poem that seduces and wraps itself around you until you get to the denouement when you discover that Sarah is almost certainly a much-deserving recipient of the punishment being meted out to her.

For days after my first read of these poems, my head was full of echoes of Morag Anderson’s poems that I just couldn’t shake, each wave full of poetry that I had enjoyed and needed to mull over. She also owns that super-power, that electrical surge in her nib, that can re-cast the apparently mundane into something of fascination worthy of interest and celebration. I’m not sure there is a better compliment for a book, or for a poet.

About the reviewer
Matt Nunn is the author of five poetry collections, the latest of which is St. Judes College Reject (RedSox Press). He works as a freelance writing tutor, writing coach, editor and writer and teaches Creative Writing at Solihull College and has performed his work on TV, radio and a million different venues, to audiences big and small, enthusiastic and indifferent, for over 25 years. He’s still amazed at how he gets away with it all.

Thursday 28 October 2021

Review by Inés G. Labarta of "That Was" by Sarayu Srivatsa

‘My memory, like an ant, stops at each hurdle and drifts down a less difficult path.’ Such is the start of this lyrical, bittersweet novel, which follows intimate moments in the life of a young Indian woman, Kavya, who, thanks to his uncle's trading business, spends long periods of her life in Japan. That Was has well-crafted language and heightened attention to detail, and Kavya’s voice is honest and compassionate when narrating the experience of the woman she once was. Each of the novel's short chapters is in itself a meditation on enlightenment, love, adventure, grief, and passion.

But perhaps the most powerful aspect of the novel is its celebration of multiculturality. In Sarayu Srivatsa’s work, ‘multiculturality’ is not a token or a cliché, but a way of existing. Her character, Kavya, spends most of the novel trying to remember and come to terms with the traumatic attack she suffered in her Indian hometown when she was a child. Travelling to Japan and getting immersed in its new culture with the help of a cast of well-rounded and diverse characters is what allows her to process those terrible memories. As any traveller will already know, having the ability to put distance between oneself and one’s familiar environment allows for deep introspection and enrichment. And this process is embodied in Kavya’s own story. She embraces Japanese culture with candour and enthusiasm, to the point where, at times, she brings in Japanese words to her narrative when they express concepts that don’t exist in English: ‘The reflection of the sunset in the pond was a shot of red-orange silk. Simple. Subtle. Indefinable. Shibui.’ 

Ultimately, That Was reminds us of the strong, yet often forgotten links between cultures. This is beautifully expressed by S-san, a Japanese woman who ends up becoming a mentor for Kavya. When discussing the iconic Japanese red torii gates, she says ‘Did you know that the word torii comes from the Indian torana, and its design originated from the gates of the Sanchi monastery? And did you know that Baizaiten, the Japanese goddess, was derived from the Indian deity Saraswati? Some Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines have halls dedicated to her. She is the goddess of everything: water, time, language, music, knowledge.’

About the reviewer
Inés G. Labarta is a Madrid-born writer and artist currently based in the northwest of England. She is the author of a collection of middle-grade novels, Los Pentasónicos (Edebé, 2008-2010) and two novellas, McTavish Manor (Holland House, 2016) and Kabuki (Dairea, 2017). She lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Wolverhampton and directs The Wandering Bard magazine and podcast.

Wednesday 27 October 2021

Review by Matt Nunn of "Records of an Incitement to Silence" by Gregory Woods

Many of these rigorously formal poems in this collection occur in a catch-all city, never named yet a definite state, awake with both loss and discovery, that is known to all in its haunted folds and enveloping shadowless twilight. Yet still it tingles with the unfamiliar, as the poet curates a guide to all its buzzes and charges written in intellectually enlightened neon.

Most in the sequence of unrhymed sonnets that form the discordant narrative, with varieties of  character, if not always voice, that underpin the collection, are connected, if at times only vaguely, by a mutual sense of disturbance and displacement. Sometimes these searches are fused by erotic fissions for loves that are sometimes found, but often lost.

These metrical compositions, never co-joined in rhyme but certainly held together by straight lines, are both bare and stark yet are never pruned into mystery and inaccessibility. There is no pressure to have to work over-hard to crack the monochrome edges, to dive into the centre were meanings are easily divulged and distilled. That’s not to say that they roar with neither welcome nor ease; there’s education and erudition ahoy here. Each line doesn’t say much, but throbs with meaning until in aggregate a large part of our shared experiences are raked up and presented back to us as a restrained wildness.

These poems are tuned and primed with a certain knowledge that they sail with full stateliness and grace towards their final destination, immaculate and exact

It is a feat to describe a world so brimming over with dissatisfaction and disappointment with such precision. But of course, Gregory Woods, a poet with an engineer’s eye for angles and plans, the economical lyricist and master of understatement, pulls it off as a coherent narrative whole from a collection of fractures, without a wasted word, nor sentiment.

About the reviewer
Matt Nunn is the author of five poetry collections, the latest of which is St. Judes College Reject (RedSox Press). He works as a freelance writing tutor, writing coach, editor and writer and teaches Creative Writing at Solihull College and has performed his work on TV, radio and a million different venues, to audiences big and small, enthusiastic and indifferent, for over 25 years. He’s still amazed at how he gets away with it all.

Tuesday 5 October 2021

Review by Tracey Foster of "Fan-Peckled: Twelve Old Shropshire Words in Poems and Pictures" by Jean Atkin and Katy Alston

The smooth, matt cover of this illustrated book of poems gives a hint to the landscape of texture within. The onomatopoeic sounds of gates closing with a ‘clicket’ and footprints tramped through ‘slud’ echo through the lanes, hedges, skies and streams of these old paths. We get to feel the earth between our very fingers, ‘grey clay marbled with yellow’ as it ‘clarts’ up behind the heavy horses’ hooves. We feel the warm air of long summers past as the red kites take to flight ‘like a loaf rising,’ and we watch field furrows, dreaming of ‘the golden rustle of next summer’s wheat.’

Katy Alston’s grainy pencil sketches, splashed with wet tints, sit beside the words and capture images of a Shropshire past: narrow barges, shire horses, dappled undergrowth and red kites overhead. She uses a muted pallet to convey a disappearing pastoral life, as beautifully described in 'Noon-spell,' where a resting labourer, watches the sunlight on the cobbles:

          How the sun, in an odd trick,
          is spelling time to turn 
          a man from cartwright to mechanic.


The native dialogue is annotated with simple footnotes that explain the colloquialisms, giving us a deeper understanding of the poems, which were originally inspired by The Shropshire Word-Book: A Glossary of Archaic and Provincial Words (Georgina F. Jackson, 1879). This is an exercise in keeping alive our ancient words, much championed by author Robert Macfarlane, who advocates the retelling of our forgotten lexicons - ‘language is fossil poetry’ - and who would no doubt applaud this exercise. 

Twelve expressions taken from the Word-Book are the starting point for the poems:

  • Buts and Feerings - a number of furrows ploughed onto the land
  • Lady-With-The-Ten-Flounces - a child’s term for a goldfinch
  • Clicket - the fastening of a gate
  • Fan-Peckled - to be freckled
  • Keffel - a worthless horse
  • Talking to Moments - mumbling to yourself
  • Geolitudes - a burst of temper
  • Shalligonaked - a useless, thin overcoat
  • Glid - term for the Red Kite
  • Noon-Spell - a labourer’s lunch time
  • A Corve of Oddlings - a wicker basket of many things


From Fan-Peckled:

         Last night there were the speckled lakes
         On a sickle moon not watched
         Nor wished upon through glass.

         Then morning fetched a dot-dance in the woods
         Of deckled oak leaves and the bee-pad
         Footfalls, pollen-tickled, in the foxglove.

A collaboration of poet and artist, this is a lovely collection that is a timely diversion from modern problems and will apply a balm to the mind, through language, image and texture.

About the reviewer
Tracey Foster has been teacher of Art and Design in schools in Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland for over 40 years. She took part in the Comma Press short story course in 2019 and had a short story published in a collection, Tales from Garden Street. She had a poem about Covid published by BusPoetry Magazine and has since commenced an MA in Creative writing at Leicester University.