Monday 24 April 2023

Review by Jane Simmons of "Kitchen Music" by Lesley Harrison

Lesley Harrison has published six collections of poetry, and now, in her first Carcanet collection, she turns her attention to the north and to the sea in poems which focus on northern lands and waters – to the Orkneys, and Iceland, their histories and stories, their flora and fauna, to northern seas, wild weather, whale-hunts.

In a foreword to the collection, Kirsty Gunn gives a powerful account of her own repeated and deepening encounters and engagements with these poems and tells the reader to expect "A book of poems, a book of voices. A book that is also a map, an almanac, a report – of histories, of stories, of lands and waters. A book of poems made and arranged in such a way as to create harbours and enclosures: the contained order of narrative brought to a wild scattering of events; a careful arrangement of whale bones on a gallery floor to tell the tale of that great singing creature now stilled to silence."

It is a book of poems which engage with other books, texts, poems – think Icelandic rune poems, sagas and folk-tales, the lives of Northumbrian saints, the personal diaries of sea-captains on whaling ships, glossaries of northern dialects. However, it is a book which also engages with music – with gaelic psalm, hymnals, and even the work of composer John Cage. There are poems which are songs – written in numbered parts, part songs – and the reader’s attention always being drawn to the musicality of even the smallest fragments of text. Sometimes, poems combine the two, books and music, to resemble the appearance and musicality of Anglo-Saxon verse – as illustrated in the opening poem:

Wou as in Wound 

WOU    as in wound
   HU    as in hunt
    AH    as in raft 
     LL   as in fall
      E    as in breech
WOU   as in bow
   HU    as in tump
    AH   as in slight
     LL   as in blink
      E    as in swell
WOU   as in fluke
   HU    as in tongue
    AH   as in ebb
     LL   as in oil
      E    as in jaw

WOU    as in run
   HU    as in calf
    AH   as in eye
     LL   as in blow
      E    as in breath 

WOU    as in sound
   HU     as in hull
    AH    as in wash
     LL    as in shelve
      E     as in dive

This is a collection to sit with.

About the reviewer
Jane Simmons is a former teacher now PhD student. She won the University of Leicester’s G. S. Fraser poetry prize in 2019, 2020 and 2021, and the Seren Christmas poetry prize in 2020. Her work has appeared in Ink, Sweat and Tears, The Blue Nib magazine and on the Seren blog, as well as being long-listed for both the Mslexia Poetry Prize and The National Poetry Competition in 2022.

Tuesday 11 April 2023

Review by Jon Wilkins of "The House of the Interpreter" by Lisa Kelly

What is it we are interpreting and from whose house? They are legitimate questions and all becomes clear as soon as we investigate the poetry of Lisa Kelly.

Kelly has right-sided deafness which does not define her, and is a glorious poet which does.  Her work illuminates that fact through the three parts of her collection, each named with a double meaning in mind relating to hearing: Chamber is part of the ear and also a room. Oval window is self-explanatory and also a small membrane in the ear. Canal relates to the ear canal and a stream or waterway, perhaps highlighting the journey she has taken as a poet.

The poem "The House of the Interpreter" is a visceral attack on the different approaches to communication for the Deaf: Oralism, the theory, practice, or advocacy of education for the Deaf chiefly or exclusively through lipreading, training in speech production, and training of residual hearing, as opposed to Manualism, the theory or practice of education for the Deaf employing and promoting the use of sign language as the primary means of communication. Kelly has taken one and rejected the other. This is partly explained in this piece and raises questions the vast majority of us cannot answer. Indeed should we answer on behalf of others? I think not. This is their world, their body, their truth.

I find the section Oval Window most fascinating as she relates mushrooms and fungi to deafness. In a talk she gave on YouTube she tells us about this and how fungi communicate. She talks of the world wide wood and her interest in the different ways that life forms communicate. This was very important to her during lockdown and in her studies she learnt how the misunderstood fungi could talk to us and still leave us so much to learn.

"If My Deaf Ear Were a Mushroom" is perfection and the final line - "it would be valued for signing the way to alternate reality" - sums up he words perfectly as she takes on myriad adventures full of vivid colour and images to highlight her world. The mystery of the mushroom she communicates with is epitomised in "Mushroom Stones" where we see normality and mysticism unravelled and almost explained. This a fascinating approach and opens up a bright new world for us to explore and to discover. But discover what? Kelly takes us down the rabbit hole and we have to decide for ourselves.

Later in Canal we explore her journey and we read of the misogynistic world she faces and how, in "A Diptych is not a Dick Pic," she has to confront it. Not a pretty sight in anybody’s world. The colours of "Metamorphoses: Colours, Marks and Signs" contrast perceptibly with her own world. "Blue Hydrangea" epitomises this with the struggle to turn the pink flower blue, the disappointment of having a girl rather than a boy.

This collection is as varied as it is powerful, as imaginative as it is self-possessed with a strength the reader can feel in the writing of a poet secure in their place in the world and confident enough to examine the failings and successes we all have. This is an incredible piece of work and must be read for its insightfulness and its beauty.

About the reviewer
Jon Wilkins is 67. He is married to the gorgeous Annie with two wonderful sons. He was a teacher for twenty years, a Waterstones bookseller and coached women’s basketball for over thirty years before taking up writing seriously. Nowadays he takes notes for students with Special Needs at Leicester University. He has had a work commissioned by the UK Arts Council and several pieces published traditionally as well as on-line. He has had poems in magazines and anthologies, art galleries, studios, museums and at Huddersfield Railway Station. He loves writing poetry. For his MA, he wrote a crime novel, Utrecht Snow. He followed it up with Utrecht Rain, and is now writing a third part. He is currently writing a crime series, Poppy Knows Best, set at the end of the Great War and into the early 1920s. Next year he takes up the UEA Crime Fiction Creative Writing MA. The game's afoot!