Friday 26 November 2021

Review by Cathi Rae of "is, thinks Pearl" by Julia Bird



It is almost completely apposite that I almost didn’t get to read this collection, because the younger French Bulldog (a voracious consumer of all books) got to the post before me. The first piece “Helium Pearl” describes the chaos of the helium balloon seller trying to manage his fat cartoon dogs – I know his pain.

This is a hard-to-categorise collection – poems, prose poems, tiny gems of memoir. I don’t think it matters – imagine Pearl, the jewel at the centre of each piece as the perfect flaneuse – taking you by the hand and opening up the marvellous, the mysterious and the beautiful within the humdrum.

Julia Bird’s powers of observation are razor-sharp; these pieces read like perfect icons where every detail is imbued with leaf gold. In "Liquid Pearl,"

          when the Mayor reopens the lido 
          Pearl takes to the water
          in a blow-up chair the shape
          of a size fourteen flamingo

There is magic, magic realism, another way of seeing at the core of so much of this work. Describing a night club in “Violette Pearl,” Bird writes:

          ... but how the haze, the synthesis
          of dry ice and Silk Cut smoke,
          looks for all the world like
          bluebells in a birch wood seen
          from the far edge of a distant field.

Take a walk with Pearl – you may never see the world in quite the same way.


About the reviewer
Cathi Rae is a spoken word artist and poet. Her debut collection is Your Cleaner Hates You and Other Poems (Soulful Publishing, 2019). She is currently working on an M4C-funded Creative Writing PhD at the University of Leicester on telling marginalised lives through poetry.

You can read a review of Cathi's collection on Everybody's Reviewing here

Wednesday 24 November 2021

Review by Katharina Maria Kalinowski of "What Meets the Eye: The Deaf Perspective," ed. Lisa Kelly and Sophie Stone

What Meets the Eye: The Deaf Perspective is an anthology that registers UK Deaf, deaf and Hard of Hearing experiences by British writers. It does not, as the editors write, aim for a definitive account of deafness, but rather seeks to offer a kaleidoscopic view on (not-)hearing. To that end, Lisa Kelly and Sophie Stone beautifully assemble a variety of forms, including poetry, short story, journal entries, and short plays loosely linked to the theme of movement: voices are “in the movement of our hands,” words “moving pictures / Building scenes.” The anthology also provides videos of the texts in British Sign Language (accessible here), which enact the powerfully loud speech of the “silent linguist” and are highly recommendable.

Acknowledging that “life moves and / I with it,” the various perspectives gathered in this anthology take the reader on a multi-faceted journey exploring the “spaces / in between.” These include questions of identity, troubled relationships, family stories, human-animal bonds, and reflections on maps, internal and external, that light up new paths enabling everyone to travel at their own pace. Snapshots of a coastal walk during which “the wind is a bully in hearing aids” joins the “MAPping of a new landscape” that also describes the testing of threshold limits in hearing aid fitting. “Lockdown lyric” accompanies everyday struggles of signing a coffee order in a language that has no legal status. Accounts of contemporary routines involving taking the “cochlear implant off first, then mask, then implant back on” feel urgently political, bearing in mind face masks complicate lip reading, and “people are quick to judge on appearances.” Sometimes unmistakably direct, sometimes subtly entrenched in lines that are audible for some and visual for others, a manifesto for access takes shape, for “deaf rights / to be amplified,” “firmly rooted in society.” 

Inviting the reader to meet “eye to eye” in a world that seems to move faster than our senses can follow, these pages spell out the need to listen vigilantly, not only with the ears. The in-between spaces of what meets the eye are full of inspirational inner strength fuelling a continuous “fight against all / that deem us too small,” fuelling the many dances of hands that “ache” but “never tire.” Hearing is remapped, communication envisioned in different, more accommodating ways, tied to a longing for life without labels and respect without conditions.

About the reviewer
Katharina Maria Kalinowski is a bilingual poet and holds a PhD in English Philology and Poetry: Text, Practice as Research from the University of Cologne and the University of Kent. Her creative-critical research focuses on ecopoet(h)ics, translation, and the Anthropocene. Her work can be found in the Journal of British & Irish Innovative Poetry, Ecozon@, and the Irish Poetry Reading Archive

Saturday 20 November 2021

Review by Richard Byrt of "Bollocks to Brexit: An Anthology of Poems and Short Fiction," ed. Ambrose Musiyiwa

I strongly recommend this entertaining collection. Authors consider Brexit from a wide variety of viewpoints, frequently with passion, and sometimes movingly. 

Virtually all the contributions are anti-Brexit. The title reflects many people’s views but might be seen as disrespectful to Brexit voters, including those living in very deprived areas. However, Joel Baccas observes that the term “bollocks” is not always disrespectful. 

Topics of poems include Jo Cox (Mark Connors, Paul Francis), the campaign “Brexit bus” (Anthony L. Church, Tracy Davidson, Lizza Lane) and young people’s futures (Carole Coates, Josh Granville, Kelly Knight, Wayne McDonald, Jacob Spivey). Pessimism is expressed (Nicollen Meek) in relation to shops (Colin Gardiner), splits in the UK (Selina Lock) and the island of Ireland (Richard Kilian Neville). “Brexit” is described as a “synonym for … boring” (Chloe Jacquet). 

Unusual “starting points” to poems include “pictures of derelict factories” (Stephen Wylie); scenes of Harwich (Harry Gallagher), Whitby Abbey (Deborah Harvey) and a “Servants’ Ball” (Nathan Evans). Effective contrasts are made between Brexit and memories of Europe (antonia langford, Isabella Mead, Pappageno). Several poems contain vivid concrete details and original metaphors, with Brexit compared, for example, to birds (Yvonne Reddick), and the breakup of close relationships (Ayodele, Ellie Curtis, Steve Pottinger). Brexit is also considered in relation to Pandora’s box (Nathan Evans), an Italian café (Pam Thompson), chess (Trinity-Grace Robinson), “red boots” (Mariya Pervez), and voyages to the moon (Mantz Yorke), and by ship (Carole Coates, Elizabeth Uter). There are four refreshingly different treatments of the topic, “March” (Anne Howkins, Melissa Oram, Bethany Rivers, Mark Rutter). 

Effective short prose pieces include a conversation about the consequences of Brexit (Danielle Allen), an account of a small girl who joins in the shout, “Bollocks to Brexit” (Anne Howkins), and a presentation on “The Sundering of the Kingdom” (Selina Lock). 

There is a wide range of free verse and fixed forms, the latter including “No country for young men” (Wayne McDonald), a version of Psalm 23 (Trevor Wright), and four sonnets (Gareth Calway, Isabella Mead, Glen Wilson, Michael Woods). There is also a terza rima (Sarra Culleno), a pantoum (Tracy Davidson), and a modified rondeau (Charis Cooper). 

Songs include a ballad (Gareth Calway), a “Hokey Cokey” poem (David R. Mellor), and a stirring “Song for Europe” (Joe Williams). There is a reverse poem (Rachel Hardisty Vincent), skilful use of couplets (Pam Thompson), and an exhortation (Michele Witthaus). Serious messages are conveyed in witty poems, “Deal or No Deal” (Garry Maguire) and “How to Skin a Cat” (Joe Williams).

Congratulations to the authors and editor on a thought-provoking, enjoyable read. 

About the reviewer
Much of Richard Byrt’s work is concerned with the experiences of those of us who face “othering” and discrimination. This is reflected in some of his published poetry, facilitation of creative writing and work for an LGBT+ history project. 

You can read another review of Bollocks to Brexit on Everybody's Reviewing here

Saturday 13 November 2021

Review by Gary Day of "Disappearances" by Kathleen Bell


Kathleen Bell’s debut volume is a thing of beauty, a joy forever, or at least until the global temperature rises beyond the point of no return. Her poems are poised, delicate and occasionally devastating. The book consists of three sections, the second concerns memory, the third magic.

The first deals with the musings of medieval spinsters on matters such as  church, childlessness, beatings and scars from harvesting the corn, a kind of earthly stigmata. These women bear their sufferings with a grim fatalism. Their incessant struggle to reconcile what they are told by the priest or the lord with their own experience is expressed in voices both lyrical and authentic. 

The final poem in this sequence, ‘La Dame à la Licorne,’ is a delight. It is based on six tapestries of the same name woven in the style of ‘a thousand flowers’ at the turn of the fourteenth century. Five of the pictures represent the five senses, the sixth is something of a mystery. The brilliance of this poem lies not just in Bell’s riff on the pictures of the lady with her unicorn but also in the way she subtly relates it to the poems that have gone before, where her women are fluent in their senses but flounder in their minds.

My favourite in the collection is ‘Palais des Beaux Arts’ which revisits Auden’s magnificent ‘Musée des Beaux Arts.’ It strips the original of its calm beauty revealing the horror beneath. Wherever Auden’s landmark poem goes in future, it should be accompanied by this one. 

Each page of this well-produced book is an entrance to an exquisitely constructed little world, whether it is a painting by Vermeer or a card trick. Bell takes us down the side roads of history, showing with great tenderness and truth, what was missed.   

About the reviewer
Gary Day is a retired English lecturer. His research mainly lay in three areas, the  history of literary criticism, the workings of class in British literature and the persistence of sacrificial ritual in the development of drama. He had a column in the Times Higher for a number of years and has also edited two volumes on the history of British poetry as well as the three volume Wiley Encyclopaedia of British Literature 1660-1789. He hates management speak, has been involved in amateur theatre for over thirty years and is still trying to write poetry.

Thursday 11 November 2021

Review by Richard Byrt of "The Other Side of Hope: Journeys in Refugee and Immigrant Literature, vol.1," ed. Alexandros Plasatis et al

I strongly recommend this collection. I was moved by many of the gripping, “hard-to-stop-reading” stories and non-fiction, skilfully constructed poems, often with striking images, and comprehensive, interesting book reviews. There are contributions by both widely published and new writers. My only quibble concerns minor punctuation and other errors in some prose pieces.

George Sfougaras, who provides a striking cover illustration, refers to “losses and gains of leaving your country of origin to seek safety.” Reasons for staying and leaving the homeland are movingly considered by Madalena Daleziou. Some writers describe the need for people to emigrate because of war and terrorism (Marina Antropow Cramer, Jhon Sanchez) and this is also considered in book reviews by Lucy Popescu and Kathryn Aldridge-Morris. Banoo Zan indicates the importance of editors being prepared to accept poets’ criticisms of oppression in their home countries. Kimia Etemadi writes:

          … anything would be better than
          • the flogging
          • the torture
          • the executions
          • the mass graves…
          All you are is Other. 

Alberto Quero writes: 

          I was born in a place which became …
          an everlasting war,
          tears and exile …

Some authors indicate specific factors increasing migrants’ feelings of alienation, for example, in moving accounts of depression (Radhika Maira Tabrez) and relationships with unloving fathers (Dan Alex and Marina Antropow Cramer). Experiences of racism are described by Murzban F. Shroff and in J. B. Polk’s thought-provoking account of a First Nations woman who is exhibited in a circus. Sahra Mohamed writes vividly about considerable difficulties that she experienced at work as a Black Muslim woman. Musembi Wa’ Ndaita’s intriguing story concerns experiences of the son of American missionaries in Kenya. 

The wish to move to a better life is considered: for example, from China to the USA (Qin Sun Stubis), and from rural Hamirpur to a large city (Radhika Maira Tabrez). Murzban F. Shroff’s vivid description of his teenage trip across America is reminiscent of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Hardships in new countries are described by several authors, including Bingh and Amer Raawan: “The walls were tall, the gates were tall / my fear increased daily.”

People’s homelands are remembered in poems by Atar Hadari, Kimia Etemadi and Banoo Zan. Alberto Quero describes “belonging to no land.” Striking contrasts are made with host countries:

          We found a safe place
          for our children to grow
          but we don’t know
          if they will remember

          our language, the words
          that tell of their past …

Congratulations to the editors, authors, cover artist and everyone involved in The Other Side of Hope

About the reviewer
Much of Richard Byrt’s work is concerned with the experiences of those of us who face “othering” and discrimination. This is reflected in some of his published poetry, facilitation of creative writing and work for an LGBT+ history project. 

You can read a review of Richard's poetry collection, Devil's Bit, on Everybody's Reviewing here

Friday 5 November 2021

Review by Rosa Fernandez of "The Mask" by Elisabeth Horan

‘A celebration and [a] tribute’ is how the author describes The Mask, a collection of nineteen poems directly inspired by the paintings of Frida Kahlo (and a guide to which ones is helpfully included). The mask of the title itself refers to a specific painting and one that sums up the whole concept of the collection: a self portrait where Kahlo’s face is hidden and yet still full of emotion. 

The poems in this collection are all spoken by the imagined voice of Kahlo and have a flow to them that feels like the brush in her hand, sweeping her feelings onto canvas. The voice is direct and powerful and peppered appropriately with Spanish, ‘somehow separada’ and ‘into the rear of el restaurante’ where we can understand more than we think about Kahlo’s world in the writing. You don’t need to see the paintings to get the imagery; in ‘Nectar of the Gods and a Woman’s Throat,’ the animals, her face and the thorns are all described and weighted with meaning.

I really enjoyed the knowingness and humour of this imagined Kahlo, and the witty double meaning of ‘stanza’ in ‘The Mask, Vol. 1’ was a wonderful poetic highlight: ‘I’ve told Eli to make a new stanza,’ the poem ending with the spectacular line ‘Come and f*** me in my mind.’ The respect that the author has for the artist is evident and this poetic tribute is eloquent and sensual throughout, without shying away from Kahlo’s pain or rage.

Sensitive readers may query the fearless language throughout, but Kahlo was a unique individual with an unflinching perspective on the world, and it feels authentic. This collection is as colourful and vivid as its inspiration and can be enjoyed as both enjoyable poetry and as a companion to some fascinating paintings. 

About the reviewer
Rosa Fernandez is a slam-winning poet and sometime proofreader. She also enjoys wearing silly hats. 

Thursday 4 November 2021

Review by Kathy Hoyle of "Ways of Living" by Gemma Seltzer

This wry, strange collection of stories was a delight to read from start to finish.  

Seltzer’s writing is quirky yet visceral. The collection is filled with wonderfully peculiar stories that pique the reader’s imagination and take us on a journey through familiar London streets, yet with each one, we find ourselves challenged with the unfamiliar. 

Imagine having bath time with a ventriloquist's dummy that has mind of her own and a scathing wit to boot. Meet Other Esther, Esther’s friend and sometimes nemesis, both vying for their father Raphael’s attention. A curious exploration of childhood yearning, Seltzer captures the confusion and bewilderment Esther feels when her father's love seems impossible to hold on to. 

How about taking a picnic with a miniature Mum, long dead, yet happily ensconced in a dressing-gown pocket? This is a strange and complex story, where a mother-daughter relationship is examined with real insight. Wry and witty in places yet dashed with poignancy and absurdism, Seltzer showcases her wonderful originality in 'Some Women Carry Silence in Their Pockets.' 

In 'Get Away from Earth for a While,' Andie is shocked when she receives a telephone call from her friend Leah: 

          ‘You’re joking.’
          ‘I’m not, Andie. Why are you being weird?’
          ‘It’s marriage, Leah.’
          ‘Don’t be bitter.’
          ‘Don’t be a facsimile of every other woman who ever existed. I thought you had principles.’ Andie regretted the words as soon as she had said them.

Instead of attending her friend’s wedding, Andie takes herself to the top of a tree in a London Park to eat ice-cream in her underwear and avoid the awful, yet inevitable, breakdown of their friendship.  

These are just a few examples from this fascinating collection. I thoroughly enjoyed every single story; each one was surprising, often uncomfortably sharp, yet beautifully written. I look forward to reading more of Gemma’s work. 

About the reviewer

Kathy Hoyle is an MA graduate from the University of Leicester. Her work has appeared in literary magazines such as Spelk, Virtualzine, Reflex Fiction and Lunate.  

She won the 2021 Crossing the Tees Short Story Prize and the Retreat West Themed Flash Fiction Prize and took third prize in the Cambridge Flash Fiction Prize and the 2020 HISSAC Flash Fiction Competition. She was a finalist in The Forge Flash Fiction competition, a semi-finalist in the LISP Flash Fiction Award and her micro piece 'My Devil' received a Special Commendation in the 2021 Blinkpot Awards. She is currently working on her first Flash Fiction collection.

Wednesday 3 November 2021

Review by Joe Bedford of "Tenderness" by Alison MacLeod

It’s telling that Lady Chatterley’s Lover, named Tenderness in its working-title and concerned in so many ways with the theme of tenderness, should have been the subject of such a vicious campaign of censorship. The trial that surrounded the novel’s unexpurgated release put our conception of tenderness on trial – a tenderness defined to exclude the physical, visceral, expletive nuances of human intimacy. It is this trial that Alison MacLeod explores in her latest novel, both through D.H. Lawrence’s life and works, and through the support Lady Chatterley drew later from First Lady Jackie Kennedy, herself a woman ‘on trial.’ The intertwining of these two lives, touching one another across time, elicits not just our sympathy for those whose inner-selves are deemed unacceptable, but a wider feeling that any of us, at any time, might fall vulnerable to the subjugation of our intimate needs. For MacLeod, this threat of subjugation is something built into the fabric of Western civilisation – into our structures of family, work, government and society. The pressure on the free-thinking (or free-feeling) individual is so great that it appears as though the whole world is willing them to fail, to concede. In this sense, there’s something fundamentally challenging in MacLeod’s worldview, resisting the self-censorship that Lawrence felt acutely and that many of us, like Jackie Kennedy, still feel circumscribing our daily freedom to live and be. MacLeod’s integration of Lawrence’s prose speaks to that inner-voice whispering beneath our reserve and tact, and works to interrogate the problematic lines between social norms and intimate needs. Like the mechanisms of self-consciousness that muddy our lives, the voices of both Lawrence and Jackie Kennedy reflect our desires, pains and confusions in equal measure. In that respect, MacLeod’s novel is tender not in the manner of a gentle lover, but in the way we are tender after the most passionate, open and human forms of intimacy.

About the reviewer
Joe Bedford is a writer from Doncaster, UK. His short stories have been published widely, including in Litro, Structo and MIR Online, and are available to read at

Tuesday 2 November 2021

A Book That Changed Me, by Katie Sone: "A Woman in the Polar Night," by Christiane Ritter

A book that changed my life is A Woman in the Polar Night by Christiane Ritter. It is her memoir of her journey and year spent in Spitsbergen (Svalbard) in 1934 with her husband. She writes of her life in a tiny bleak hut where her life is paired down to the simplest of tasks, scrubbing the cabin, chopping logs for the stove, and where a cup of rationed coffee is an event to be revered and sipped in quiet contemplation. She writes of the foreboding landscape that is bleak, dark and harsh and the pure joy she experiences when, after a long winter, the sun appears. She writes of spending months alone, surviving storms that battle with the hut, and of crawling on all fours twenty times round the hut to get her daily walk. She knows she must. On her journey to Svalbard she is told by the manager of the telegraph station: “Madam, if you want to survive the winter well you must remember three things … you must take a walk every day, even in the winter night and storms. That is as important as eating and drinking. Always good temper. Never take things seriously. Never worry. Then it will be fine.”

I read this in March 2020 when all our worlds turned upside down. I sought solace in books that would take me to distant places. I could travel without leaving the house, escaping somewhere, whilst our worlds and lives became smaller. I took comfort in Christiane’s resilience and determination, thought of the simplicity of her life and her life being stripped back to basics. It was a calming read, her words comforting and helpful. I remembered the Telegraph Station Manager's words and, even though anxious and scared of what was happening all around us, I took a walk every day and found joy in the simplest of things and revered my daily cup of coffee.


About the reviewer

Katie Sone is a writer and delivers writing for wellbeing workshops. She is also a part time librarian for Leicester Libraries. You can find out more here.

Monday 1 November 2021

Review by Cathi Rae of "A Voice Coming from Then" by Jeremy Dixon

I have been carrying this book with me for weeks now, carefully transferring it from bag to rucksack to bike basket, partly because I wanted to be able to dip into it again and again, but also because, somehow, I wanted to take care of the child / the boy / the young man in this work.

This is not an easy collection – it comes with trigger warnings of suicide and bullying – and includes description of the author’s suicide attempt age fifteen, teenage diary entries, notes from teachers and psychiatrists and heart-breaking contemporary statistics on suicide and mental illness amongst young LGBTQA+ people.

These poems are deceptively simple with razor sharp observation, brutal honesty  and a deftness of touch that gives space for the reader to understand both what is said and what is left unsaid. It would be easy for a less skilled poet to create a collection that shouts its polemical heart – and yes, of course, there’s anger and sadness here. Many of the poems commemorate a gay male world as AIDS / HIV took hold and a time period where being identifiably gay was still enough to fear violence, bullying and prejudice – but they are also a celebration of love and toughness and survival and managing grief.

I am delighted, beyond delighted that the fifteen-year-old Jeremy’s suicide attempt failed – actually I’m delighted when anyone is able to come back from that brink of despair – because now we have this collection and it’s beautiful and important and needs to be read.

About the reviewer
Cathi Rae is a spoken word artist and poet. Her debut collection is Your Cleaner Hates You and Other Poems (Soulful Publishing, 2019). She is currently working on an M4C-funded Creative Writing PhD at the University of Leicester on telling marginalised lives through poetry.

You can read a review of Cathi's collection on Everybody's Reviewing here