Christine McNeill’s Sehnsucht reviewed by Wendy Holborow
Sehnsucht by Christine McNeill. £10. Shoestring Press. 978-1912524631
An unusual title fortunately explained on the back cover as something that can be defined as an intense longing. Sehnsucht bridges the gap between reality and possibilities, similar to the untranslatable Welsh hiraeth. This collection of 50 poems focuses on sehnsucht as its central impetus.
What an excellent image to begin this collection in the first stanza of the very first poem, ‘Outing’, as the poet tells us ‘Your car moved away like a whale / freed from a sandbank, / out into the open / I did not know.’ And later in the poem, ‘I drew the final minutes of the return journey / in long, winding threads.’ A premonition of many more jewels of imagery to come, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The more of the collection I read the more aware I became that birds were an important motif in the collection. Over half the poems mentioned birds by name: Owl, Larks, Heron, Swans, Hawk, Bee-eaters, Orioles, Pied Wagtails and so on, as well as generic references to birds such as birds singing, (Mahler orders their death as they distract from his composition in ‘Gustav Mahler at Attersea’), bird’s hop, feed the birds, the shrill call of birds, borne away by birds of prey. The poet’s sehnsucht is the longing for the freedom of a bird, if only she had wings to fly.
McNeill uses a delicate touch in her poems, as in ‘Owl Watch’ when she says:
Daylight ghosts over the tree-tops
and we’re still waiting;
by evening we’ll be back in our garden
with its scent of lavender and lemon-balm,
and from the porch a radio voice
will pour like warm milk.
And in ‘Lark’, ‘Listen to the lark / pull up its bag of trills / from the ground / to rise up, / letting it drop / over the long field.’
We move to poems dealing with a sense of ageing and a longing for the life people had known as in ‘In a Japanese Garden’ where an old man watches a heron lift off after feeding on koi, then ‘watching a small boy running / round and round the blossoming cherry tree / muttered under his breath: / I wish I could still do that.’ While in ‘Solitary’ an old man equates the monogamy of a pair of approaching swans to his own sixty-year marriage and tells the narrator, ‘That’s how it was for sixty years, he says ¬- / together. / The swans drift apart. ‘
A poignant poem, where a dog is aware of the gap between reality and possibilities, waiting for his master in Paradise: ‘Dog Waiting in Paradise’ begins ‘He waits in fire-ravaged Paradise / by the ruins of his owner’s house. /’ ends:
He listens to the crackling embers.
Only things humans can’t see exist for him.
He knows the soil has absorbed more
than the mutilated silence. Sniffs it.
Head on front paws, keeps vigil.
Continuing the theme of old age and loneliness, McNeill writes of an old woman in ‘Steam in the Kitchen’ ‘as she unleashed her life to the willing listener: / son killed in war, husband hanged, / others who rarely called.’ And the old academic suffering with dementia in ‘Birth of a Philodendron Leaf’ where the birds are not the longing but the curse:
After a life in academia
he didn’t expect to end
in this incoherent darkness.
Mandarin, French, Italian
borne away by birds of prey.
McNeill introduces us to artists; Schiele, in ‘Ways of Seeing’ where the narrator who discovers the art of Schiele is an eye specialist who ‘didn’t need special glasses to see / the worth of this artist.’ And in ‘The Connoisseur’, who says: ‘With Rembrandt, eating mint chocolate, / he dwells on the meeting-point / between life and art.’
The last few poems in the collection strike me as the antithesis to the freedom of the birds or maybe a parallel of escape as they deal with the topic of migrants and asylum seekers who have fled the wars and ravages of their own countries. In ‘The Offer’ we find ‘A stranger. A refugee. / A Syrian medical doctor / with wife and children still weeping / on the threshold of what was once their home in Aleppo.’ In ‘Bazella Wa Riz (peas with rice stew)’ The mother and daughter ‘stir the green of nature into the boiling rice. / In Damascus, children will play with a brighter yesterday / among rubble.’ And finally, in ‘Home’ the young boy is travelling:
Mid-afternoon, back to his lodgings, day in, day out
through this unloved landscape.
Mouthing words from the Koran
he glimpses something green
under the seat in front;
on his knees, cups it in his palm:
a grasshopper – alive!
Big as the ones in his country.
Reminder of heat and dust …
… he lets go of the insect
and the country of his birth.
For these migrants, perhaps sehnsucht has bridged the gap between reality and possibility, although it is the freedom illustrated by the birds that many of the old people crave in McNeills poems. I would thoroughly recommend this collection.
Wendy Holborow‘s most recent collection is Janky Tuk Tuks published by the High Window Press.
Nadine Brummer’s Whatever it is that Chimes, New and Selected Poems reviewed by Christine Tipper
Whatever it is that Chimes – New and selected poems by Nadine Brummer. £15. Shoestring Press. ISBN: 978-1-912524-57-0
This collection of new and selected poems by Nadine Brummer has been collated from four previous collections: Halfway to Madrid (2002), Out of the Blue (2006), Any Particular Day (2013), What Light does (2017) and her latest one, Whatever it is that Chimes (2020) all published by Shoestring Press.
Nadine Brummer’s poems are vivid portraits of the world of nature, sounds, colour, music, art, relationships and religion, that encourage us to consider existential questions. Her poetry prompts us to reflect on our personal responses to life as we are drawn into her vibrant, colourful world. It is her use of colour that I particularly like and, I’m pleased to say, that this is a constant theme throughout her work.
For example, the striking description of the Mediterranean at sunset in ‘What the sea was like’ (Piana Corsica) (What Light does) took me back to the many evenings I have sat on a balcony watching a Corsican sunset:
That time the sea wore red
that time the sea wore
ultra-violet light beyond
the luminous, after storm’s
violence, violent red
beyond day’s shifting blues
that time the sea became
a field of shed, red petals
or rather, stepping out
of its water-body
a naked glow
when sky let go of cloud
allowing sunset through
to take away
a limiting horizon –
I particularly like the image of the sea as ‘a field of shed, red petals.’ We can see the waves gently moving the setting sun’s reflection on the water. In ‘Blue’ (Any Particular Day) land and sea are joined when the poet observes the sea-holly in her garden. The colourful, detailed observation leads to a questioning of what it means to be free:
like the purply blue
of sea holly in the garden
which this year stopped me dead,
thinking, if I looked hard enough
I’d know what it is
to exist intensely
not closed in
by walls, trees, fence –
to enter one’s lifeblood
like the ocean without horizon…
Several of her poems are about art gallery visits and paintings by Lucien Freud, such as, ‘At the Lucien Freud Exhibition’, (Halfway to Madrid) which includes the following line ‘I am forced to look again/at how I live.’ The painting and its props push the poet to search for what lies beneath the surface of our own body’s coverings to, ‘find bodies we’d not bargained for.’ The poet presents what is visible on the surface but then leads us to deeper existential questioning. In ‘Doors’ (Whatever it is that Chimes) we are given a glimpse of heaven in the first stanza, followed by an image of hell in the second one. We are led from the heavenly beauty of the blue of Michaelmas daisies to the uncompromising blue of a Greek summer sky:
Even in autumn a door
opens, sometimes, into a day
for you to see heaven, at least,
Michaelmas daisies vibrantly blue.
And in Greece, in hot, high summer
a cry breaks a hole in the day
when a tethered donkey brays,
unshaded, and you see hell.
Brummer’s Jewish heritage and her parents’ beliefs are explored in some of her poems from What Light does and Whatever it is that Chimes. In the poems from What Light does ‘A Narrative of Nothing’, ‘The Menorah Tree’, ‘Tattoos’ and ‘My Parents’ Gift’ the poet remembers events in her life concerning religion. There is a sense of missing the security that her parents’ Jewish faith gives them and her struggle to find ‘belongingness’. In Whatever it is that Chimes the poet declares in ‘Doorpost’: ‘like survivors/of tradition I’m a secular Jew-’ yet she still keeps the mezuzah from her childhood home and cannot envisage throwing it away. In ‘First Books’ she recalls the book of bible tales that an aunt gave her. Her aunt had not realised that the book contained tales from both the Old and New Testaments. The poet describes how she would furtively read the stories about Jesus and ‘If I heard mother’s tread come near/as I read about Christ, I’d rush/from back to front in the book.’ She was more worried her mother would discover her reading about Jesus than a sex-book.
Often Brummer takes us back to incidents in her childhood and how, as a child, she tried to make sense of the adult world. In ‘Rose Bay Willow Herb’ (Any Particular Day) she describes how she picked Rose Bay Willow Herb for her mother, who refused to let the flowers enter the house, ‘The child I was remains in shock/ each June/July when Rose Bay’s pink/becomes a pang of mother saying “No”/ to my good flowers.’ At the end of the poem comes the personal questioning, ‘But how do I learn to love again/ weeds tough enough to break/ through hard ground, wayward/ the way forgiveness is/when it finds a crack?’ This seems to be a metaphor for the poet’s relationship with her mother.
In ‘The Kaleidoscope’ (Halfway to Madrid) the poet relates the personal anecdote of when she saved her pocket money for fourteen weeks to buy a kaleidoscope only for it to shatter and break on her way home. ‘When it slipped and broke/my mother laughed.’ After this statement the poet attempts to reframe the memory so that her mother is also crying with her. ‘Or I see us weeping for each other/ Could that be true? I need it to be so… nothing is broken beyond repair/and there are only patterns.’ The coloured patterns of the kaleidoscope merge into the patterns of life and lead to the question of what can or cannot be repaired both physically and emotionally.
In ‘Full Circle’, (Whatever it is that Chimes) the poet weaves the pattern of the spider’s web using beautifully worked alliteration and assonance. She is a keen observer of the natural world.
Today thin, twisted threads
create a perfect circle
drawing gaze into gauze and shimmer
as did yesterday’s web.’
Brummer’s poetic imagery is visually compelling and her ability to create concise vignettes is a real talent. She takes the reader on thoughtful, colour-filled journeys through landscapes, art galleries and life. The reader can luxuriate in the beauty of language, colour and detail but, there will come a point when the reader will be prompted to question, consider and reflect upon what lies at the heart of being human.
I would thoroughly recommend this collection of Nadine Brummer’s poetry.
Christine Tipper holds a PhD and an MA in French Literary Translation from the University of Exeter, England. She is poet, author, artist, translator, interpreter and French lecturer and an internationally published poet and translator. Her translation publications include Changing Shores by Nadine Ltaif, Where Spaces Glow by Francis Catalano, Smile, you’re getting old by Evelyne Wilwerth (Guernica Editions). I write these words by Lélia Young (Inanna). Journeys by Nadine Ltaif (Guernica, 2020). Her anthology of 12 contemporary French-Canadian poets in translation was published by ‘The High Window’ (2020).
Penny Sharman’s Fair Ground reviewed by Carla Scarano
Fair Ground by Penny Sharman. £6.50. Yaffle Press. ISBN 9781913122003
Sorrowful memories and a hurtful past can haunt people’s lives and come back in dreams and nightmares, or be revisited in writing. Penny Sharman’s debut pamphlet bravely collects and explores scattered recollections at the threshold of daydreams. Her work is drenched in the landscape of North West England, a slippery place but nevertheless her ‘fair ground’. She creates self-protection through the lines of her poetry, building a shelter for her younger vulnerable self. Her work is an attempt to understand past and present events and hopefully heals the scars left by her traumatic experiences; her process is consoling and revealing at the same time.
A promise of renewal is present in the first poem, where the image of the eggs conveys openness in a world of innocent dreams:
each egg waits
in every dotxxxxxxx spec of life
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx it begins before birth
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx goes on and on
xxxxxxspirit-child exists in dreamtime
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxwithin the dark egg
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx millions of stars
each one blessing
never letting go of memory
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxeach and every tiny dot
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx hands holding
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx our dreams
The poet confidently offers her lines to the readers; she makes a ‘coat’, a protection for them and for herself, ‘to pull down knowledge,/to weave them as jewels into fur and skin’ in order ‘to grow me,/to humanise me into new skin’. (‘Making a winter coat’) It is a transformation that allows her to revisit her past through her poetry and to develop her vision. She is the girl who plays ‘alone in her passionflower dress’, enchanted by the bright colours of nature and the excitement of a life full of expectations but also marked by an occasional ‘streak of liquid blood’:
She’s at home in her wired cage
where a pedestal is a substitute for sky.
She still dances when her eyes are closed.
In her passionflower dress she forgets her mouth,
how often she has spoken in tongues, how often
she had hugged all those sweet birds.
She forgets to copy, be a parrot or budgie,
follow the path of an upright flight.
She misses her beaks of song,
their cut-throat ambiguities, so called love.
She has a lump in her throat that won’t go away.
All that panic in the room when they went mad,
feathers abandoned in the parquet floor.
(‘Girl in a passionflower dress’)
Passion and innocence mingle in the girl’s imagination – excitement for a life that is dreamed rather than actually experienced – but her dreams were shattered by a brutal reality. Penny Sharman had a baby when she was a teenager. She was sent away from home to Camberley to live with a couple and then to Yateley to a mother and baby home. These traumatic events affected her whole life and left indelible marks. She now lives in North West England with her husband, Keith Lander, her ‘wonderful wizard’, to whom she dedicated Fair Ground.
These events resonate in her poetry and are transposed in a surreal dimension. In this way, the poet finds her place again in the natural world of birds, foxes and spiders and in the landscape of the Lake District. From the margins to which she was relegated, she finds her voice again, which is stronger than ever, and positions herself at the centre through the healing process of her writing. Nevertheless, this progress is not very easy or straightforward, and hopes and dreams alternate with recurring nightmares and fears:
In my dream state I keep my monkey in a violin case.
Every daybreak I unclip the clasp and let the inquisitor out.
She greets me with a pale face, jumps onto my hand
with a chitter-chatter and pisses over my skin.
The poem suggests that the figure of the monkey-inquisitor is interiorised, and it reiterates the detrimental and judgemental attitudes the protagonist underwent in her past life. Bad memories cannot be completely erased but can be exorcised through revisitation in order to understand them and maybe transform their negativity into a more positive outcome. In some poems, repetitions in the form of anaphora reflect the recurrence of haunting memories, as in ‘Coleridge Cottage’ or in ‘You may have seen me’:
You may have seen me moving fast,
like galloping clouds above the rocks.
You may have wondered at my freedom,
my big eyes that look into yours.
You may have seen me once,
you might see me again.
When I stand still on the headland
all I see is big water and unreachable land.
(‘You may have seen me’)
The rhetorical device is skilfully used to express the tension between longing for freedom and the hope of reaching a stable but ultimately unattainable definite conclusion to her wandering and dreams. In a similar way, the poem ‘Flamenco’ is particularly effective in merging form and content. The short, broken lines communicate the essence of the rhythm of the music:
rapture finger articulation
Flamenco is love song
beating a rosewood floor
heel howl heel howl
tradition is voice
it’s from the blood
It is a vibrant piece in which sounds and imageries work in unison to convey the musicality of the poem, which brilliantly evokes the dance. The repetitions and the double space between some of the words reflect the movements and tapping of the dancers.
The poems at the end of the collection emphasise the importance of writing and relationships in the poet’s life. ‘Calligraphy’ connects writing to the landscape in an act of survival:
a mark across white paper
a statement of living
a pattern on a whiteout
survival in the landscape
The double line space between the lines emphasises the crucial quality of the statements as well as their isolation, which is something that makes writing unique and central in the poet’s progression. The final poem, ‘Cutting rice’, is an outstretched hand to the unknown listener or reader, an act of profound empathy:
Let me stroke your hair, calm your thin-moon of stone,
your rock strangers that run through a corridor of minds.
Here’s a lemon’s balm to smooth out your wrinkles.
We cannot help but accept these generous verses that evoke past sorrowful memories in a surreal dimension that is sometimes sad but at other times joyful. They aim to heal and to provide hope for a rebirth that is uncertain but constantly pursued. The poems evolve in enthralling imageries and interesting forms in which repetitions reiterate traumas but also open up to new possibilities and renewed confidence in human relations.
Carla Scarano D’Antonio lives in Surrey with her family. She obtained her Master of Arts in Creative Writing at Lancaster University and has published her creative work in various magazines and reviews. Alongside Keith Lander, Carla won the first prize of the Dryden Translation Competition 2016 for their translations of Eugenio Montale’s poems. She is currently working on a PhD on Margaret Atwood’s work at the University of Reading. Her most recent publication is the chapbook, Negotiating Caponata (Dempsey and Windle, 2020). http://carlascarano.blogspot.com/ http://www.carlascaranod.co.uk/
Mary Rose Boehm’s The Rain Girl reviewed by Rowena Somerville
The Rain Girl by Mary Rose Boehm. £9.99. Chaffinch Press. ISBN: 978-1838104108
Rose Mary Boehm is a writer of allusiveness and elusiveness; many of the poems are short and impressionistic, many longer poems are made up of short sketches, predominantly visually descriptive. She has worked ‘on the edge of the film industry’ according to the cover blurb – and her poetic style works in a filmic way, describing exteriors and surfaces, often leaving the readers to work out the plots for themselves and to attach/attribute their own emotional values and assessments.
The book is divided into sections, the second of which (and the opening poem of which section) is called ‘Instar’ – a word I hadn’t known – which means ‘a phase between two periods of moulting in the development of an insect larva or other invertebrate’ (thanks, Google). That suggestion of continuous change and impermanence seems well chosen by and for this poet, a German-born UK national, who has lived in a variety of circumstances, and in a variety of countries, including Peru, where she is now based.
The poem ‘Instar’ is written in the first person, and tells the story of a child growing up – the poem suggests – in or near pre-war Germany, whose family life is dismantled by cruel outside forces:
‘Caterpillars go from instar to instar.
They shed their skins, molt to grow.
By the time of my tenth instar
When they called me a stranger,
I had learnt to fly on my own.’
Some of the shorter poems do create an arresting image, but I’m not quite convinced that they necessarily do too much more than that – although perhaps that is enough? This is the whole of the poem ‘Bared’:
‘Wafts into the room.
Flows across the parquet.
Turquoise chiffon undulates.
from her shoulders.
Blue fish glide
along her swell.
Surely a seductive film noir vamp up to no good at all?
In ‘While I prepare lunch, my lover sulks’ another plot begins to unfurl, this time one of domestic tension:
‘My face is distorted in the bowl
of crimson water. My hand slides
into that silver body, empties
it of all life. When I feel his breath
in my neck I turn.
Knife in my bloody hands
I am ready to excise the boil.’
Though that is a little grand guignol for me……….
She often writes about refugees and wanderers – those who have had to flee or seek safety, those who have been driven from their homes by war or tyranny. This is done with insight (see ‘Instar’, above, as an example) and an empathetic eye for the telling detail, but sometimes I found her writing less engaging, as in ‘Once upon a time he’d been granted political asylum’:
‘The anacoluthon of struggle.
Perhaps we did.
Apophasis. He had no intention
of talking about pharisaic canticles
or fiducial point failures.’
I’m afraid I struggled with that stanza, even when I had looked the words up.
In the section called The Old Gods, the poems touch upon the eerie, the lost and the other-worldly. Her poem, ‘Haunting’, alludes to impermanence and incorporeality, with what I thought was a lovely final image:
‘No legs will carry
what I have become:
the note between the
harmonies, the breach
between severed limbs,
and the twilight
between worlds. When you count
the time that passes between
lightning and thunder,
that’s where you’ll find me,
leaning into the quiet
where I feel lace cascading
from insubstantial sleeves.’
The final section is entitled ‘It’s a Wrap’, which gives each of the poems in that section a certain undertow of finality, and also adds to the sense that the whole book has been a kaleidoscopic cinematic ride, eventually disgorging us from the darkened screening room, blinking into the daylight. In the sectional title poem she offers scenes and gossip from a completed film shoot, ending with:
‘Back home will they understand
In ‘Stars and Constellations’ she says:
‘Would that Taurus were conspicuous
overhead. Aldebaran (the hunk), Hinds
(bewitching and delicate), then the Pleiades,
the Seven Sisters:
‘an open star cluster containing middle-aged
hot B-type stars’.’
In ‘Changing of the Guard’ she addresses the wrap-up of the year:
‘September moves in gently,
his coffers are full
of purple, burgundy and gold. The first
harsh winds hint at skeletal trees
naked black against pale grey.’
The final poem of the collection is ‘Wings’, and the accretive imagery of this poem brought to mind a plane or drone mounted camera, flying over the planet, recording and broadcasting its beauties:
‘Wing it through the underbrush,
confuse a gaggle of late snow geese,
undulate the manta rays,
spread sails under the condor, the falcon
and the royal vulture,
unfold the crows from their cut-out spaces.
Ride the dust of ancient burial grounds,
colour the desert greys,
Suspend the stars on silver wires
flying in formation.’
The Rain Girl is a collection of sharply judged images and suggestive scenes, with an unusual range of reference, character and geography, it offers a stimulating ride.
Rowena Sommerville has written poems and made things all her life, the last thirty years of which have been lived in lovely Robin Hood’s Bay. She has worked in a huge variety of community settings and arts organisations. Having left full-time work in 2017, she is now freelance, both as a creative and as a project producer. She also sings with and writes for the acappella band Henwen which has been performing locally and nationally for a long and harmonious time.
Mike Di Placido’s Alpha reviewed by Pam Thompson
Alpha by Mike Di Placido. £10. Poetry Salzburg. ISBN 978-3-901993-80-0
Alpha is Mike Di Placido’s fourth collection after Theatre of Dreams (Smith Doorstop, 2009), A Sixty Watt Las Vegas (Valley Press, 2013) and Crow Flight Across the Sun (Calder Valley Poetry, 2017) – a tribute to Ted Hughes. The short title poem, ‘Alpha’, last in the book, is a good place to start a review so a reader can appreciate because its wry, self-deprecating tone, and so sample the approach by which the poet brings his diverse alpha subjects to life.
I’d like to be an
alpha male – but do you think
the others would mind?
Di Placido’s home town of Scarborough is a frequent backdrop, as are other places in Yorkshire. Ferocious warrior leaders are playfully, and poignantly depicted. The poet/narrator greets Genghis Khan , “freshly disembarked from the Orient Express’ / new branch line to Scarborough”, causing consternation to onlookers “when we hug, people are unaware / of the connection, due to a dipsomaniac / Venetian ancestor …” (‘Genghis Khan’)
In ‘Hardrada in Scarborough Bay’ the poet addresses the Norwegian king as embarks on a planned invasion of Northern England:
You know what it’s like
to bide your time in a bay,
to wait for the moment, the right moment,
before you’re off and in –
but this is different …
Different because “Hardrada, Harald / Hardrada (the Ruthless), to be exact” has felt fear
and the poet speaks with prescience .” … how could you know of the force / that will butcher you and your men just / days from now …” but that there is only one way forward, “Do what you’ve always done – / act: marshall the fear to work for you, / push on into hell.” Humour is dialled down and poem speaks movingly to the alpha male’s vulnerable underbelly. People are vulnerable when their ego-saving armouries are punctured and Di Placido explores these exposures, not least in relation to himself. The opening poem illustrates this perfectly:
Someone said he looked like Al Pacino.
So he dug out a pair of shades, came up
trumps in the British Heart Foundation,
with a navy linen suit and Armani tee-shirt,
then hung around the precinct all day.
Nothing. Not a flicker. Not a glance.
The film-star comes up again when Di Placido meets Simon Armitage in a Huddersfield tea-room, “ We were getting on famously till I started to choke – / too many fluffy nibbles and not enough tea” When Armitage queries the other poet’s surname, Di Placido makes a diversionary, “ I don’t usually sound like The Godfather”, to which Armitage replies “.. I did have a look of the Al Pacino / about me. This I took as a compliment // and not some marker of perceived threat.” Armitage leaves and Di Placido imagines him “nervously checking over his shoulder / as he made his way back to his golden life.” The poem works enjoyably – as so many do in this collection – via several different layers: the poet’s clear heroism – for Pacino and Armitage; the anti-heroism of the situation, meeting a poet you admire and choking on a cake and tea. The poet/narrator embellishes the scene while, at the same, placing himself within its ‘mythology’.
The mundane and the mythic are juxtaposed as in ‘Tiresias and the Bottle-Bank’.
The poet meets the seer, Tiresias, outside the bottle bank, “ Tiresias, he announced, / when my last bottle was posted, was there anything / I’d like to know?” . The poet asks Tiresias a series of questions about how certain events of the future will pan out, “ ‘Did global warming get us?’ … ‘A non-event’ … ‘Nuclear destruction …?’ … ‘… no …’”. Also if he ever “gets lonely or burdened / on your cosmic, two way street” . Tiresias replies that “we all have our crosses to bear” and hands the poet “ a wodge of cash”. The poet’s anxiey that it might be a “set-up” is assuaged somewhat by a charitable act and the poem ends on another act of flight, the poet-narrator’s, “past the Pound Shop, and slipping in through the doorway of HMV, without looking back.”
Central is Di Placido’s love of literature, especially poetry, and he adopts various types of rhetoric to highlight this – the parody of a Shakespearean monologue:” We shall prevail, friends! Our barbies will burn! / Our sausages shall spit and sizzle.” (’As the onset of rain threatens the barbecue, he adopts a Shakespearean persona’) or the imagined speech by Caitlin Thomas to Dylan, in ‘Boathouse’, “’It’s the shed for you boyo. Go and gaze over / your starfish sands, your dab-filled sea.’” The three poems in the series ‘Wilfred Owen in North Yorkshire’ are more elegiac in tone. A note explains that after recovering shell shock (neurasthenia) in the Edinburgh hospital Owen was transferred to the Clarence Gardens Hotel in Scarborough where he was put in charge of the domestic staff In the first poem, Wilfred Owen meets Siegfried Sassoon in Craiglockhart Hospital, the younger poet, “approached the great man / tentatively … offered him those attempts at verse” , the poem concluding, “ … together, like the sound of / some tragic choir, / you would rise above the poppies – ring around the world.” (i. ‘Craiglockhart and Sassoon’)
The dialogue on life and poetry between John Keats and John Ashbery is something of an ongoing project. It materializes in two letter poems, ‘A Correspondence: John Keats to John Ashbery’, where Keats, in reply to Ashbery, speaks of “the wondrous nightmare that you describe as your time” and goes on to expound upon “negative capability” as if doing so for the first time. Ashbery responds with empathy, in expounding more on his times, says “ … we are all categorised … I have been described as a leading light of postmodernism … and you, Keats, are a Romantic …”. Their correspondences are made possible via the time tunnel of poetry. It would be intriguing to read more.
The male poet’s shed is affectionately sent up in a parody of John Masefield’s ‘Sea Fever’:
I must go down to the shed again,
to the shed and the lonely sky,
I’ll take some WD-40
but please don’t ask me why.
More on the shed in a follow-on poem, this time in the style of Chapter 17 of James Joyce’s Ulysses.
Were the sheddee’s family and friends at all concerned with his increasing shed time?
Possibly. However, they reasoned that, at the very least, he was safely
contained and occupied in his harmless and persistent – though mostly
probably futile – venture of writing.
Mike Di Placido is an ex-Professional footballer and England Youth International and so we might expect poems about football and footballers, that most outwardly alpha of professions. “Goal Scoring’ gives a true insider’s glimpse, “ And when it comes off … // … it’s as though you’ve materialized / with the ball tucked up your shirt.”, as does ‘The Beautiful Game’:
In those days the balls were bread puddings
and heading the lace meant early onset.
Other poems worth mentioning are those where ‘alpha-ness’ comes at us sideways. In ‘Red Hot Pokers’ those weirdly vibrant phallic flowers are characterised in all manner of alpha signifiers:
In Greek myth they’d be rampant love gods.
As cars, Maseratis or Ferraris.
As rock stars, Lemmy or Freddy Mercury.
They’d be the only pillar box in the Sahara.
In ‘And how …’ the poet looks on at men who seem to have it all. it’s a wistful but slightly suspicious observation:
They don’t check and double-check
and retrace their actions, they just do things
and nothing stops them. Look, there’s one, there,
mowing the lawn and whistling.
He’ll be painting his house next.
‘Party Animal’ contrasts the veneer of occasional celebrity glamour with what’s most real and sustaining in the end:
… I can wear a gold lame suit
with the best of ‘em. But here will do. Here
in this walled garden, dense with peace …
This is a collection that wears its heart on its poet’s sleeve, touching, funny and celebratory. The Di Placido in the poems is frequently hapless, slightly out of step, with his family raising their eyes at his exploits but loving him and them all the same. It’s a collection filled with love and empathy – for example, in ‘Jezza’ where Di Placido, holding, as he says, no particular political line, recognises injustice when it comes from all quarters:
… but it’s his back I wanna see.
It must be bloody huge!
It’s got to be, really, hasn’t it –
to fit all those knives in?
And heroes are heroes, aren’t they; about that, there’s no disguising
under the treads of my tyres
the horizons come.
(‘Ted Hughes’s Mountain Bike’)
Pam Thompson is a writer and lecturer based in Leicester. Her publications include The Japan Quiz ( Redbeck Press, 2009) and Show Date and Time (Smith | Doorstop, 2006) and Strange Fashion( Pindrop Press, 2017). She is a recent Hawthornden Fellow.