Reviews of Recent Chapbooks

*****

Rosie Jackson and Dawn Gorman’s Aloneness is a Many-Headed Bird,
reviewed by Ian Royce Chamberlain

Aloneness is a Many-Headed Bird by Rosie Jackson and Dawn Gorman.
£5.99. Hedgehog Press. 978-1-913499-45-7

True collaboration is a joyous thing. Whether it’s poets and painters, dancers and musicians, actors and writers, few pursuits bring as much sheer satisfaction as the joint production of work that really chimes.

Aloneness is a Many-Headed Bird was conceived with the announcement by Hedgehog Poetry Press of a competition in early 2019, the latest in their ‘Conversation’ series. A dialogue of 20 poems by two writers was required. Rosie Jackson and Dawn Gorman had no trouble in deciding on their theme: women, sex, ageing bodies and mortality, with occasional related digressions into the Natural World.

The process of creative collaboration stretched and delighted them both. Dawn says, ‘I found myself reaching higher, further, and focussing on our themes with heightened awareness – I was constantly gathering in related snippets, so as soon as a new poem from Rosie plopped in to my inbox, I was ready for the off, and would respond, with a first draft at least, more or less immediately.’ Rosie explains further, ‘We read our first drafts out loud to each other as a sequence, dropped some and rewrote some, then redrafted the whole as poems in their own right. So this was not just collating poems we’d written separately, but the slanting of poems against each other.’

The result is not the first book of poetry which might be sub-titled at-this-stage-of-my-life, but it is the most open and honest I’ve come across. That rawness is combined with the confident lyricism of two writers clearly at the top of their game. Reading and re-reading this consummate selection I was continually reminded of Sharon Olds, pieces like ‘I Go Back to May, 1937’. It’s easy to see why Aloneness… rose to the top of the judges’ pile.

And Hedgehog have done it proud – the finished product is beautifully designed and produced. Its contents, by and large, document the personal philosophies of two women who have adventured far and wide: women who possess the acute self-awareness which comes with maturity and – inevitably – magnifies perception of the ageing process. They have mis-adventured too, usually accompanied by men who were unsuitable or worse. I am only surprised they are not angrier; perhaps it’s because both poets appear to have arrived – eventually – at a selective groundedness.

In the largely conversational ‘All that Glitters’, Gorman presents arguments against the struggle for eternal youth; she sounds pleased to have become:

…someone who doesn’t shout but listens,
hears the groan of the wheel of the world,
steps up, presses her shoulder to it.

On the opposite page, after a harrowing memory of her mother in Untouched, Jackson ends on a positive note to herself:

… grateful to be carried safely thus far.

There are more and similar reflections. In The Light We Can’t See, Jackson reports the sudden death of a friend – and how such tragedies offer a new perspective:

… I don’t care any more who wears

the medals or feathers, I’m just thankful to have arrived
at the harvest of myself…

Perhaps that harvest is still going on: five poems end with question marks – mostly rhetorical, but enough to show that the new-found groundedness doesn’t include all the answers. In Treadmill, the opening poem, Jackson lightly contemplates the body’s ageing process; towards the end she admits:

… the treadmill is moving faster than I can run,
each day a scramble up the chute that tips us towards landfill.

The language throughout remains as plain as that – nothing is left open to misinterpretation, nothing is left unsaid. One poem in particular is shockingly direct. Jackson’s Floored begins with a vividly painted couplet, no more than a hint of the horror to come:

I try to erase the day my father died, because pulling it
out of history’s python mouth brings shame sticky as coal dust.

Some readers have been appalled by Floored, genuinely upset. ‘I didn’t write it for shock value, simply to record what happened that day,’ Jackson has said. But shock it certainly does, the simply-told narrative clattering around in the mind for days – without doubt the most troubling poem I’ve read in years.

Men have much to answer for: three more lines from Gorman’s ‘All that Glitters’

all those bloody men,
too much screaming, too much booze,
too many lies (mostly theirs)…

And in ‘The Ground We Stand On’ Jackson’s mother:

… longed for a real bloke
who could mend cars, win the pools, have a backbone

that didn’t cave in to illness…

To balance the darker memories, both poets find room for optimism, but on their own terms. In Bloodlines Gorman reveals:

I love my solitude, would rather wake
to the natter of sparrows under
centuries’ old eaves than to some man’s
flicked-on radio beside me…

And Jackson, reviewing her career and the place she stands now, admits to:

‘Folly, of course, from a worldly point of view, to fall
under the spell of words, to live so near the breadline.

But it taught me to hear things in shells, to notice the in-between,
the weeds (les mauvaises herbes), the hidden path, interstices.

Gorman’s ‘Hands Like Ours’ brings the book to a homespun conclusion

We are capable of more love than we know.
That’s something to reach for, isn’t it,
in the dark of the night?

Rosie Jackson has called this project, ‘… the collective voicing of female experience from our era.’ She added, ‘Perhaps the effects of #MeToo have allowed this voicing more openly…’ I doubt any woman of her generation will fail to connect with it. Men should read it too, be ready to learn – and to hang their heads.

Ian Royce Chamberlains latest publication is an illustrated pamphlet from Mudlark Press, Not Forgotten / Nicht Vergessen. Earlier work has appeared in many anthologies in addition to two full collections, stumble into grace (Wylde, 2012) and Vertigo & Beeswax (Oversteps, 2017). Ian has a strong stage presence and is an accomplished reader of his own and other poetry. In 2014 he co-founded Teignmouth Poetry Festival.

*****

Claire Booker’s The Bone that Sang reviewed by Alan Price

The Bone that Sang by Claire Booker. £6. Indigo dreams ISBN: 9781912876396

Dark humour, ironic detachment and acute social observation brim over (though never over the top) in Claire Booker’s The Bone that Sang. Here is a poet concerned with social injustice and individual hurt: however her controlled anger doesn’t make Booker a political poet or one of excessive self-examination. The hurt that concerns Booker never falls into obvious categories such as social commentary or personal confession. She’s more a dispassionate onlooker at the habitual imperfections of living and how to deal with them. Things might be difficult. But there are ways out to a necessary, if hard won compassion. Booker’s title poem, ‘The Bone that Sang’ announces her intension to make her finely crafted poems (or bones) command our attention: ‘The bones sing when they find a ready ear.’

Booker’s subject matter is extensive and intense. The plight of a would-be asylum seeker, the violence of a child in poverty, a homeless man swept up into a bin wagon, a weary billboard man and even a paving stone’s cry of freedom as it’s attacked during a riot. That last poem ‘A Paving Stone fights for Freedom’ being a remarkable example of duality – an inanimate object is made to feel exhilarated by its uprooting and continues to comment on a demonstration. It’s quite something to imagine such a concept! Those poems, and others, announce a lyrically indignant voice, refusing to be easily politicised.

Of Booker’s more personally reflective side we have her memories of a relative devouring TV nature films, the tense intimacy of a couple holidaying in Greece and Spain, the chatting up by an unsuitable man (“So he Scarlet O’Hara’s her up the stairs”) and a poem about Booker’s dead mother concluding with the lines:

a handkerchief
drops out of my hand like a dove.

It smells of her.

Tender writing of this high quality reveals how Booker can cut through the business of dealing with the affairs of the dead to perceive a small object so piercingly as to make her mother live again. A Resurrection? Redemption? Maybe these are tricky words to now employ in criticism as they can have negative religious connotations and risk sentimentality.

Booker does have one very powerful, stand-out poem about religious ritual. Called ‘Passion at Oberammergau’ it concerns the villagers of Oberammergau in Bavaria who have staged a Passion play every ten years since 1633.

Her poem cleverly circumvents Christian belief for this is dubious theatre replete with ironies and disturbances – the actors remembering no performances taking place during 1940 because of the holocaust and its later legacy of great guilt.

Of Judas, Booker says:

Tomorrow, he’ll betray again with a kiss.
Cheek will touch cheek and a great love will be traded.
He takes the word forgiveness; pins it to his chest.

Forgiveness is an apt noun for Booker and not just for irony. In spite of her unflinching eye, in the face of cruelty, Booker very much cares, whilst never pinning things obviously down, finding solutions. For the very last lines of her collection, settle the reader, gently and coolly, to deal with the outcome of hunting for all those bones and truths that must sing out.

The quiet truth of you
breathed out in snowdrop and celandine.

Claire Booker is a serious poet with serious concerns that are tightly packed with intelligent, startling and rigorous imagery to make you read on. Perhaps at times she’s just a little too detached from her subjects and a shade self-conscious, but not much. Give me some of Booker’s brilliant standing back than the emoting of much current English poetry. A terrific pamphlet.

Alan Price is a poet, short story writer and film critic. Two collections of his poetry, Wardrobe Blues for a Japanese Lady (2018) and The Trio Confessions (2020) have been published by The High Window Press. He’s also the author of two collections of stories, The Other Side of the Mirror (Citron Press, 1999) and The Illiterate Ghost (Ebionvale Press, 2019) Alan has recently completed a series of prose poems about films and has finished a novel called Dangerous Optics.

*****

Carrie Etter’s The Shooting Gallery reviewed by John Rogers

The Shooting Gallery by Carrie Etter. £7.50. Verve Poetry Press. ISBN: 978-1-912565-45-0

Carrie Etter’s new pamphlet, The Shooting Gallery strikes at the core. If her previous collection, The Weather in Normal responded to environmental crisis, the prose poems here are responses to other human-wrought catastrophes: they deal with the aftermaths of unparalleled violence, until the reader gets to the next poem and finds something equally heinous playing out again.

The book is divided in two. The first half responds to the line drawings of Czech surrealist transgender artist, Toyen. Her art, also entitled ‘The Shooting Gallery’, depicts nightmarish landscapes, ones which are plagued by death, and the deeply confusing internal/external worlds of being young. The troubles Toyen presents were invariably influenced by the beginning of the Second World War, in addition to her own difficult formative years, and Etter communicates this darkness. For example, ‘The Shooting Gallery XII’ opens with a problematic closed question: ‘Is this the end of childhood?’ The abstract noun fits with the ambiguous question: whose childhood? The girl’s? Everyone’s?
The pamphlet’s genesis came from Toyen then but, during the writing process, became bound to the second half: US school and university shootings. Educational settings, as well as shooters infiltrating the privacy of dreams (from Toyen) are two of the most sickening places for violence. The poems in the second section continue to be called ‘The Shooting Gallery’ with a tag-line that denotes the specific tragedy. The reader is therefore unable to escape the relentless attacks on innocents and, though there are poems about attempts to take flight (birds are a motif in the first half), Etter tersely conveys how this is no option: ‘Yes, there are birdcages here and there, but none has held a song’ ends ‘The Shooting Gallery IV’.

There is a danger that the work could become predictable—each US atrocity being vividly presented with an all too overt call for reform on gun law, but Etter keeps her poems’ perspectives fresh until the last. Yes, she does depict the violence, but there’s equally cool reportage in ‘The Shooting Gallery, Normal Community High School, Illinois, 2012’. Etter turns to the first-person here to explore the closeness of shootings in her hometown, but still from a distance: ‘I Googled. I found in my town Darnall’s Gun Works & Ranges, C.I. Shooting Sports. I found photos of the aftermath, the brawny teacher leading a column of students / away, away’. The plain language points to a systematic search for information, and how disbelieving she must have been on encountering the images. There are echoes of Linda Black’s economical use of the form too. Black also presents difficult subject matter with easy language in a poem like ‘My Father’: ‘My father wore braces and shat in a bucket under the stairs. My father sat on a low stool lighting the boiler for hours.’ Etter finds a similar menace in her simple sentences and repetitions.

Could she bring the prose poems into dialogue more by selecting a Toyen poem to support what, for readers, is likely to be the more prominent topic of the school and university shootings? Perhaps, but this would disrupt the opportunity to read the Toyen poems as a sequence, and they do make a compelling set. A reader wants to turn from the haunting but is drawn right into the next poem: ‘You will be sated, but first you will bleed.’ ends ‘The Shooting Gallery IX’ before the next picks up ‘Across the desolate plateau / battlefield / meadow.’ The threatening modal verbs in the former suggests that the speaker is concluding some sadistic game (perverse forms of entertainment feature elsewhere, most notably ‘The Shooting Gallery, Santa Fe High School, Texas, 2018, where the killer sings, “Another one bites the dusts”), before Etter thrusts the reader back into an unfathomable landscape of paradox: all that grows is death. The Shooting Gallery is no comfortable read then, but it’s immediate and pertinent.

John Rogers is an MA Creative Writing student at Nottingham Trent University. He studied BA English at the University of Hull and was awarded the Joseph Henry Noble Scholarship in both 2012 and 2013 for continued performance. He achieved a PGDE in secondary education in 2016 and maintains a keen interest in providing English Language and Literature tuition.

*****

Three collections reviewed by Kathleen McPhilemy.   All available from Poet’s House, an imprint of Mulfran Press.

This trio of elegantly presented pamphlets from Poet’s House is presided over by Jenny Lewis and it is to her credit that the only thing each of these short collections has in common is their quality; there is no attempt at a house style.

The Tyring House by Lyn Thornton is a beautifully lucid series of poems, mostly, though not entirely, based on Shakespeare’s characters and plays; there is an excursion into Greece and the classics at the end of the book. Thornton is clearly steeped in the plays and her poems are informed by her close familiarity with the texts as well as the many productions she has seen. This can be seen in ‘Lear’ where the strong visual detail suggests the theatre:

above them
their father’s feet, tiny in kid leather, assault
the air

nothing
to rest on
while the ‘nothing’ opening the next stanza isolates and foregrounds a key word from the text.

I remember, when I was a teacher, how A-level classes used collectively to fall in love with Hamlet. Lyn Thornton’s Fortinbras seems also to have succumbed. The poem, despite its name, is all about Hamlet, from a hero-worshipping portrait of him as a student in Wittenberg, ‘all purpose and defiance’ to the tender final image ‘when [the light] catches your hand/slender and white as a girl’s’. Usually, Thornton avoids such almost sentimental involvement in the characters as she explores their back stories and futures in clear-sighted language. She shows Paulina, from The Winter’s Tale, creating order and calm in the midst of chaos and heartbreak. The austere, controlled couplets mimic Paulina’s iron control over herself:

She folds linen neatly into piles
with the calmness of a nun

this is what she’s good at
this is what she’s perfected

Paulina, the agent of redemption in the play, has a role influenced by a mixture of Christianity and a more ancient magic. In the poem, she appears as an image of long-suffering but powerful womanhood. This is where Thornton’s project is most valuable. She is not just developing her own views of various much-loved Shakespeare characters. She is using them to explore aspects of human behaviour and emotions.

In I Meant to Say Margot Myers is also an observer of human behaviour and emotions. ‘Sex Lives of Aunts’ and ‘The Conquest of Everest, 1953’ are warm, comic poems which might seem to evoke the past of the Hovis advertisements or early episodes of Call the Midwife. However, Myers’ eye for detail hints at the reality behind the fuzzy glow. She remembers the next-door neighbour she had a crush on as a little girl:

Captain Beevers,
Timothy Beevers, Timmy, Tim – you are a god, descending

from the snowy sky in your pale-blue cable-knit jumper
and your lovely round head shining under the lamplight

like a golden doorknob.

However, the adult poet records the conditions her mother was working in as she ‘gropes through the sooty steam, and with no extra oxygen/ gets on with stuffing the bird.’
She makes skilful use of mock heroic to create irony as she includes phrases in italics from contemporary accounts of the ascent of Everest. The bathos is reinforced even in the phrase ‘golden doorknob’, a simile which describes her hero’s head, as he climbs, not Mount Everest, but the roof of her house where the chimney is on fire.

Perhaps the prevailing characteristic of this pamphlet is the poet’s celebration of exuberance, evident in the opening ‘Bukbukbukbukbukbukbuk’ of ‘Aubade’, the first poem, in My Life in Meringues where the final line gives the poem its title, and in ‘Buddleia’, where the ungovernable plant, ‘floozing/its purple on street corners//tagging the wall/by the bus stop…’ comes to represent the irrepressibility of life. However, the poet’s wit becomes more sardonic when she confronts the downside of the past, as in ‘Housewives’ Choice’:

My mother’s breath condensed down the walls,
her hair grew thin. She hid her sweets
deep in the sideboard drawer.

Myers is very good at being funny, even when the subject is grim (‘Your Farewell Performance in the Methodist Hall’), but her work has a depth and range which will be better served in a longer collection.

Decoding the Dark by Catherine Faulds is the most challenging of these three pamphlets, thought-provoking in the best sense. We are told that the poems developed out of a mixed media project on the theme of darkness undertaken jointly by the poet and the artist, Sarah Davidmann. They spent several weeks in Svalbard during the darkness of the Norwegian winter. Catherine Faulds is herself an artist and one can imagine these poems working well in a gallery complemented by photographs and visual work. Some of the poems are lucid descriptions of the arctic experience, others experiment with visual and aural patterning of words devoid of syntax. The collection makes me want to ask questions. Why, for example, does the writer use the third person in ‘arrival’: ‘through the window/in the arrivals hall/she sees nothing’? Assuming this is not the description of someone else’s experience, we can speculate that the writer is trying to separate the person who was there from the artist who creates. This attempt at detachment reflects the poet’s suppression of the lyrical or subjective ‘I’ in order to honour the landscape which she is presenting. Nevertheless, I think ‘I’ would have worked equally well. In contrast, the use of third person pronouns is effectively cinematic in ‘editing’: ‘she opens the car door/…. she’s part of the story’, ‘he’s shouting he runs with a rifle/he’s entering the picture space’.

A cool, quasi-scientific gaze is achieved successfully in ‘Hecla’, ‘Pyramiden’ and ‘species of ice’. In the last she combines the technical terms for different kinds of ice with brilliantly selected epithets: the nip ice ‘takes/hold with pincer floes’ whilst shuga ice is described as ‘sharking closer’. Here, poetic exactness and creativity combine.

The decoding the dark sequence becomes increasingly convincing with rereading. I can imagine the poems projected on walls over huge photographs of arctic scenes, and I understand that they are built from contributions of words and phrases for darkness, so in that sense are almost communally authored. The second poem is particularly visually striking as it reaches forward in a bow shape and then bends back; the fourth invites an oral performance with its sequences of ever fewer syllabled words finishing with several which, at least in English, are sounds without meaning:

a an ar ra da ao de us at bid ale mo di be ro ta or in ar re an
el me
The effect of this is to undermine the status of words that are words or to make the reader try to combine syllables into meaning. The instability of the language reflects the fragmentation of the ice and the fragility of the environment which the poet is exploring.
The third in the series is particularly moving as it orders and reorders words and phrases to create effects which are suggestive, beautiful and ominous:
that shadow
xxxxxx a coal nocturn
xxxxxxxxx undercover

Kathleen McPhelimy grew up in Northern Ireland but now lives in Oxford. Her poems have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies. She has published three collections, the most recent being The Lion in the Forest(Katabasis, 2005).

*****

Three collections reviewed by Ken Evans. £7.50. All available from  Verve Poetry Press

Somehow by Helen Calcutt

A first page of search results for ‘Signs of Male Suicide’ are all US or Australia-based. Hardly scientific, but does it say something about British reticence on a subject, when male suicide is at a 20 year high in the UK (before Covid.) Helen Calcutt, creator of the poetry anthology ‘Eighty-Four’, produced in aid of the male suicide prevention charity CALM, makes an even more personal claim to the territory in her new pamphlet.

Calcutt’s brother killed himself three years ago. The poems in ‘Somehow’ convey all that grief and darkness but with plain, natural images of light, moons, trees, leaves, clouds, childhood and milk. The poets’ use of Nature’s exemplars as a way through her distress, ironically in Spring-time (most suicides, counter-intuitively, occur in the Spring), is limpid, delicate and austere and rendered with movement (Calcutt is a choreographer, and kinesis is clearly central to her work.)

In ‘The blossom tree’, a tree (or is it a human?) ‘lifts the tender heavy-groan of its roots one weighted foot / in front of the other and with a leaf-sigh / lowers cross-legged to sit in front of me.’ It is like the poets’ dance partner, ‘and tells me / I will be okay duly in a voice like a river’ The hardest poem to read for me was the moving, ‘A conversation with my daughter about my brother’s suicide,’ in which the poet’s daughter asks, in the way only a child can, ‘how he died’:

I try to explain.
Sadness can make you very tired,
It can make you want to sleep,

It can make you want to close your eyes on everything.

The repeated, incantatory diction is both child-like in its ‘simplicity’ and a ‘chorus’, touching on the profound. The hit-in-the-solar-plexus moment is when the child asks, ‘if the sadness of missing him / will make me… (the poet)… die.’ The mother-poet says, ‘I hold her then, / I accept / the weight of her.’ Load and different types of ‘weight’ (branches and bodies) feature strongly throughout the poems. This distressing poem concludes on the life-affirming uplift of mother and daughter who ‘agree – we want to see everything.’

The highly personal, but tender and lightly written, is contrasted with the ‘Found’ poem, and the Latinate words of a coroner’s post-mortem report. The forensic detail is almost too harsh to bear, ‘The mark was deep, 1cm / but no scar.’ The agony in the moment for the deceased is conveyed but combined with an aftermath in which there is no visible skin rupture. The bureaucratising of death, examined on a slab with exactitude but no empathy, is powerfully evoked. This is a tough, touching and necessary read. My only reservation is too challenging in its’ own right, in a way, in that ‘God’ or ‘Christ’ featuring three times in six lines toward the end of the last poem, seems too great a shift from the lyric and personal, to the universal and epic, as if reaching for transcendence at the last. If it is harsh to deny this sense of hope to the bereaved, I still wanted to stay with the personal, turned so beautifully in phrases and images of Nature as solace, and even, redeemer.

The Taxidermist by Shazea Quriashi

Taxidermy is an irresistible symbol of poetry and art. An article of August 2019 in The New Yorker was headlined ‘Taxidermy Is a Metaphor for Our Time: How a kitschy art became a symbol of sex, loss, and self-invention.’ Quraishi suggests the idea of Invention/Creator in her poems, with the opening poems being numbered Days 1-6, possibly referencing the biblical Creation myth. Each is interspersed with taxidermological musings on a white mouse. On Day 1, the creator ‘Begins / taking apart / putting together.’ On Day 2, revisions begin: crickets is crossed out in favour of ‘grasshoppers.’ In one of the interspersed poems, a mouse, ‘his modest truth disarms me’ and ‘I admire / this raw meat of us / this ease’. By Day 3, the artist’s meditative gaze is locked onto the details of ‘Sky blue as the bucket by the tap / air cool an ant crosses her foot / bees in the lavender bush. A bird in a tree ‘watches her watching’…and at the end, even air, inside her intense concentration, is colourised – ‘air smells how to describe it orange’

By the next day, the taxidermist is scrutinising her own practise, the ‘careful labour to preserve restore what? ‘Limbo’ is crossed out. The creator-poet-artist-scientist decides instead, ‘past-in-present perhaps an imprint a 3-dimensional holding / of memory (crossed out) of once-being’ In the third white mouse poem following, the poet-surgeon says: ‘ I sew him shut / wish him home. The ‘shut’ instead of the more natural ‘up’, suggests, despite all the layers of detail caught by the alert eye, the dead animal is an enigma, closed to complete understanding ‘he was / he is’ is all we can say in the end.

By Day 6, the poem’s lines are more expansive across the page, much has been filled-in, but in the end a hummingbird, ‘Nestled in the palm of her hand wings tucked in as though / cold / she regrets her wish to see one so close’ This sequence of poems about looking and knowing and the limits of that looking, culminates in ‘Reading’ (itself a form of knowledge-acquisition), where the whale in the poem, who may have swam ‘untroubled through the waters of the northern seas’ in Shakespeare’s time, is essentially still a mystery:
‘They lead secret lives….Nobody has seen one give birth they live so far below ships and divers we do not know they may be everywhere the ocean goes deep and cold thye could be closer than we think’ These contingent, creeping forward and down into greater and more acute perceptions give the poems movement, they are the ‘gaze.’ But dissect and probe as we may, we cannot ‘own’ or know this life, only our re-invention of it.

The Uniform Factory by Louise Fazackerley

Four ‘landays’ punctuate or make ‘pauses’ in this pamphlet. I nearly wrote ‘caesuras’, but feel sure Fazackerley, a rollicking, die-hard raconteur of Northern working-class daily life, would not put up with such a phoney, Latinate word, I feel sure. As I didn’t know, I looked-up a landay and read it is a 300 year-old Afghan folk poem form, perhaps recited or sung around the village water pump or washing stone. They share deep, harsh truths about the world. To this end they can be sorrowful and critical, though they can also be funny and full of ‘bite’, of satire. This last characteristic makes clear their appeal to Fazackeley, along with their roots in ordinary people’s lives, and not the ‘Academy.’ For ‘ordinary people’, read the extraordinary women of Afghanistan, who maintained the form even through a Taliban ban from 1996-2001.

They are couplet-based poems, with their second line longer than the first (there is more to it in the original, but as in the haiku, ‘interpretative licence’ is permitted, in the number of syllables used, for example). The bitterness Fazackeley captures in the first example, an almost bald statement of a violent aggression:

The drones have come to a British sky
The mouths of our rockets will sound in reply

Returning soldiers bring back the night-time sweats and tremors, though even with PTSD: ‘Paroxetine can make an erection last for hours.’ But ideally you come back not disturbed in mind but:

‘Be iodine-yellow or blood-red
but don’t come home whole and disgrace my bed.’

Sex and violence are literal bedfellows.

Two longer poems stand out among the fruitfully sarcastic and dark landays, the four-page ‘Street Life’ and the slightly less long, ‘Remembrance Someday.’ The latter has echoes (perhaps it’s my age) of Robert Wyatt’s ‘Shipbuilding’ lyric (sung by Elvis Costello) and the same artists’ ‘Oliver’s Army’, with the final tercet, ‘Why do we remember, but never seem to learn? / And you’re washing your hands, you’re washing your hands, / you’re washing your hands.’

The italicised phrases reminded me that like in song, these lines are best heard live for their full impact, as drama plays as much a part in the poems’ forward movement as the words repetitions, counting out the beats, such as ‘Tut tut tut’ and ‘turn it, turn it. Turn it forwards’ and count-out Time literally, in a performative, almost metronomic way, with ‘tickticktick, twitching, defibrillating.’

‘Street Life’ has touches of John Cooper Clarke (an admirer and poetic kindred spirit of Fazackerley): ‘despite cheap water, cheap / Council Tax, / cheap strangers don’t buy / houses here. No matter how fecund / of thought they are.’ Leaving that supposedly higher functioning ‘fecund’ at the end of the line to emphasise the incongruity, in a world of ‘Back-to-backs in Accrington brick / and souped-up cars with neon lights,’ is classic J C-C. At other times, Fazackerley has an Ian Dury-esque (a word she will hate, probably) eye and ear for the street life she writes about. ‘dogs, muscular with half-light masters / who are thin, off their heads, / prescription meds., booze, / the walking dead’

The pamphlet only half-conceals its sarcasm, satire, despair and political outrage in its dark, deadpan street humour, much as in the discreetly virulent landays.

Ken Evans’ work has been longlisted for the Poetry Society’s National Competition (2015) and was highly commended in the 2015 Bridport Prize. His debut collection was shortlisted in both the Bare Fiction First Collection Competition and in the Poetry School/Nine Arches ‘Primers’ selection.

*****

Back to the top

1 thought on “Reviews of Recent Chapbooks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s