Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews for Winter 2018

*****

Josephine Balmer: Paths of Survival    Gaia Holmes: Where the Road Runs Out Frank Dullaghan: Lifting the Latch   A Blade of Grass: New Palestinian Poetry edited by Naomi Foyle   Robert Desnos: Surrealist, Lover, Resistant translated by Timothy Adès   Selected Poems of  Geoffrey Grigson edited by John Greening

Chapbooks

Dorothy Yamamoto: Honshȗ Bees Josie Moon: Poems From the Swamp

Reviewers

Belinda Cooke • Emma Lee • David Cooke • Colin Pink • Ruth Sharman • Angela Topping • Wendy Klein • Robert Etty

*****

Josephine Balmer’s Paths of Survival reviewed by Belinda Cooke

Paths of Survival byJosephine Balmer. £9.95. Shearsman. ISBN: 978-1848615298.

Jo Balmer’s ingenious use of the the surviving fragments of Aeschylus’ lost tragedy Myrmidons on Achilles’ doomed love for Patroclus,  open a vast window onto the history of translation with all its concomitant politics, thus countering the widely held prejudice against the Classics — notably within state education.  A must for specialists in Aeschylus or Translations Studies, it is also a gripping detective poem, tracking the retrieval of the lost fragments, with dramatic monologues from politicians, warriors, scholars and scoundrels, alike, many evidencing the truth of Henrich Heine’s prophetic words: ‘Wherever they burn books, in the end they will also burn people’ — nowhere more true than in the desecration of translation and our cultural archives.

Creating dramatic monologues, in this way is not completely new for her, examples of which can be seen in her earlier Word for Sorrow (Salt Modern Poets, 2013) this text is a slight shift from her previous creative translation with its symbiotic working back and forth between the original and her own life experiences.  Her techniques have been well-documented in numerous interviews and seminars over the years, but, the particular way she uses dramatic monologue is a landmark development.  Robert Browning’s voices manage to shock even the modern reader with: the sadistic murderers of ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ and ‘My Last Duchess’, or his cheeky sacreligious monk in ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’, while Carol Ann Duffy’s monologues became her personal trademark offering seemingly endless scope for witty, shocking and innovative poems. The downside to this was the dearth of less skilled contemporary imitators.  Balmer, however, is really giving us someting deeper and more subtle. Where Duffy takes wellknown facts or charactertistics as a creative trigger, Balmer takes a more academic slant.  This involves in-depth research into the character’s life combined with selective translation. Once done she then allows herself free rein to hear this speaker’s voice and thus set the monologue in motion. Thus, the collection is giving us these people from the past,  and thus a feeling of intimacy as individuals seem to speak to us as we make this journey into the roots of our written heritage.

Immediately taking us by the hand into Oxford’s Sackler library,  she shares her own fascination for the lost Myrmidons: ‘Library afternoons, milky with dust, / the air is weighted down by accruing loss’ (‘Proem: Final Sentence’), emotively setting the joy of libraries against the tragedy of the irretrievable —  a juxtaposition all the more poignant given the sacking of libraries we are about to see in this uncovering of the fragments.  Here is a taster, inclusive of the homo-erotic lines which were to intrigue or shock its discoverers:xxx

xxxxx… Let me honour
Our passion, such sacred communion
Between the thighs; let me mourn
[All the bliss we knew together …]

[… For soon I will follow you do]wn
Into darkn[ess ]…
Achilles now cradles Patroclus’ lifeless corpse.

[I see you all shrink back in horror]
Yet for me, there is no stain, no sin —
I am absolved because I loved him …

Balmer helpfully includes an epilogue containing the ten pieces that were later knitted together to form the still sketchy fragmentary text fully referenced with its various sources.  Along with this she prefaces each section with a pertinent quote as well as interweaving the fragments’ lines through the monologues,  working backwards as though peeling back the layers of its loss to its original creation.

Thus we meet those who wish to perserve:  ‘…bare blocks / of collective memory. Conscience’  (‘The Librarians’ Power’),  versus those set on destruction: ‘ all lost or saved in the squeeze of a knob, / history held between finger and thumb’ (‘Itch’). Yet, there are small moments of hope, such as the wondrous rediscovery: ‘…this second miracle returned to us, / late violets trembling above a grave’ (Papyrus Trace’), and in ‘The Student’s Find’ such rediscovery symbolises the survival of truth over propaganda: ‘A point of no return. The moment / all the lies might start to shatter’ an argument echoed by Achilles’ words in the particular rediscovered fragment itself : ‘No more slander, / no more slurs to crush the tongue. / Time now to protest, to dissent.’   All such discoveries become prophetic given the distortion or destruction of numerous texts for political or religious reaons in translation’s history.

Balmer  provides enjoyable snippets of the bias wielded by various editors in the light of the fragment’s shocking revelations. The nineteenth century editor John Cramer,  in the midst of Parisian political unrest, censors out what would reveal: ‘the unspeakable vice of the Greeks’ tactfully keeping Aeschylus’ name out of it (‘Redaction’), whilst  the eighteenth century Richard Porson, cursed with a photographic memory, would not sanitise the text in spite of a similar prejudice against such ‘sodomites’, believing in a more warts and all approach:  ‘And we all sip from the same poisoned pot. / / It was knowledge now could not be forgot.’ (‘Draughts’) Both reasonings show the text as a victim not only of the mores of the time but also even more precariously the random whims or personality traits of the individual.

But that is nothing compared to the gallery of rogues and saints encountered in the whole scale destruction or pillage of libraries: texts shipped job lot by black marketeers, or Orwellian styling airbrushing out of pagan culture — largely with the rise of Christianity but also in places of Arab dominance.  Balmer tells, for example, of Amr, the Arab[1] conquerer of Egypt (664) ordered by his Caliph to destroy all remaining pagan texts.   Note here the echoes of Heine’s book burning but with an emphasise on Amr’s unwilling participation in a crime which, given he was a schoar also,  would remain to haunt him:

The tragedies of the Greeks were first,
I can hear the crack of curled papyrus,
still smell the acrid, smouldering ash.

Youa ask what death tastes like. It is this.
(‘Amr’s Last Words.)

But in the backward movements of her text, Balmer offers us a beautiful dramatic monologue from the Gerard of Cremona, a medieval translator of  scientific works, and precursor to the Renaissance rebirth of  the Greek and Latin Classics.  His lament for words either lost or never written is a little chink of light in history’s chaos to restore our faith that humanity is still out there somewhere:

But alone at night I found myself dreaming
of other, unknown poets: the anguish
of their words drifting out into darkness,
as if sailors becalmed by unfamiliar waters
with no way back when the daylight falters.
and in cloud, stars are slowly extinguished,
dimming, one by one, before they vanish.
(‘Gerard’s Constellations’)

The text’s accounts of genuine scholarship versus monetary gain or cultural dominance is beautifully encapsulated in the ‘The Clerk’s Crusade’ where we have attempts to preserve Greek culture after the siege of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.  In the face of internecine Christians strife in the course of destroying the library and ransacking its wealth, Greek scholars preserved what they could while being mocked by their assailants. The speaker of the monologue notes: ‘ Let themmock. // Where they had cruelty, we had culture. / Where they had greed, we had Greek.’

And in the final dramatic monologue Balmer really takes us inside what it means to ‘have Greek’ with words straight from the ‘horse’s mouth’ as she voices Aeschylus’s own literary struggles. Here he explains how the death of his brother Cynaergirus informed his writing of Achille’s suffering over Patroclus.  Within Balmer’s monologue, the intensity of his account suggests, indeed, that Cynaergirus may, in fact, have been a lover rather than a brother as is generally assumed. We see an intimate connection between his  revising of texts and a desire to accurately remember him on the day of his death —  with emotionally rich language which shows him straining for exactly the right word:

I have been trying to find a word
for the colour of the sea; wind-stirred
for days now, storm-faded, foam-
flecked, shadowed by the span of egret
wings, nosing north, heading home.

Yet as the monologue proceeds we discover this search for colour is needed for a more heartbreaking reason, to paint his memory of Cynaergirus dying in battle against the Persians:

All I can see is another unvoiced colour —
Another blurerd chlorus: a pair of eyes
turning to mine that day in the agora

a young man’s eyes, the eyes of a warrior
as pale and soft as that last few cornflowers
at the very end of summer. Cynaergirus.
‘Find strength,’ he said. ‘Cities can fall
in the flash of a sword but faith, ideas,
take root like weeds in its shattered halls —
There is nothing now for us to fear.’

This last monologue really brings the whole text delightfully full circle and it is apt that it should be Aeschylus who meditates on ‘what time corrodes and what it spares’ clearly with reference to the text and in tribute and memory of all human loss.

Familiarity with Balmer’s academic research into Classics translation is dauntingly thorough, reflecting  a life’s dedication.  However,  working through this account of Aeschylus’ gleaned fragments of Myrmidons you feel she has given a kind of ‘greatest hits’ version of her years of research into Classics translation from its beginings to the present. It’s a great way in and if nothing else will have you dashing off to wallow in those Penguin Greek and Latin Classics you always meant to read and certainly Aeschylus’ seven surviving plays of the ninety or so he wrote.

*****

[1] It is important to emphasise here that for ‘Arab’ one shouldn’t read ‘Islam’  — a culture which did more than any other to preserve Greek texts, both literary fragments and scientific texts.

*****

Belinda Cooke completed a PhD on Robert Lowell’s interest in Osip Mandelstam in 1993. Her poetry, translation and reviews have been published widely in journals. Her books are: Resting Place (Flarestack Publishing, 2008); The Paths of the Beggarwoman: Selected Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva, Worple Press, 2008) and (with Richard McKane) Flags by Boris Poplavsky, Shearsman Press, 2009). She has also translated the Kazakh epic Kulager by Ilias Zhansugurov (Kazakh National Translation Agency, 2018). Forms of Exile: Selected Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva will be published by the High Window Press in 2019.

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*****

Gaia Holmes’s Where the Road Runs Out reviewed by Emma Lee

Gaia correct book

Where the Road Runs Out by Gaia Holmes £9.99. Comma Press. ISBN: 978-1910974452

Gaia Holmes uses words both literally and figuratively in Where the Road Runs Out. There are frequent references to holes, actual holes in the case of a sinkhole or trapped miners and imaginary holes in the sense of subjects avoided, denied or not talked about. The road from the title is both the road that leads to her father’s caravan and the closeness of death as she nurses her father through terminal cancer. It’s not the only subject in “where the road runs out” and the poems about her father lack sentimentality and self-pity. In ‘“I Belong Here’:

in our evening fires,
cooling your brow
with lavender on a mouldy flannel,
singing love, love, love.

I belong here
with the cracked windows,
the damp, your denial,
the wild and the raw,
the lying dog-eared books:
How to Live to be 100,
How to Outsmart your Cancer,
stacked between the jars of pills

The first quoted stanza evokes tenderness. The fires suggest warmth and the scent of lavender is used to calm and soothe that sense is echoed in the use of longer vowel sounds. The flannel is stained and worn but held for its sentimental value instead of being replaced with something new but unfamiliar. The second quoted stanza changes tone, the vowels are shorter and it’s a stacked list of undesirable things. The list also names the narrator’s father’s illness and attitude towards it. The poem successfully creates the ambivalence felt in carers, the reward in caring and the burden of demand when the person being cared for feels diminished by illness. The sense of being diminished is, often coupled with a guilt in needing to be cared for. The use of ‘lying’ to describe the books is judgemental here, implying the books are offering false hope. However, later, the use of lies becomes a means of easing the final days. In ‘Playing Alive’ (a play on the Bee Gees’ ‘Staying Alive’ which was the song used in a British Heart Foundation advert showing how to do hands-only CPR because of its appropriate rhythm),

They pretend he might be alright,
lay his freshly washed running socks
across his trainers on a chair
in case he feels like
taking a jog through the mizzle
down the hospital drive
in the middle of the night.
They hang his coat, ready to go,
on the back of the door.

The patient plays along, knowing he won’t get out of bed again, but the lies keep his spirits up, unlike the false hope in ‘I Belong Here.’

‘Kummerspeck’, a German word for the excess weight gained through emotional comfort eating in grief, explores the aftermath. Food starts as sweet treats and gives way to meats,

and though we cook without tears
our lonely kitchens smell of dying.
Our garish fridges
stink of butchers’ gutters,
drift-tide rot, things on the turn,
gashes on the brink of gangrene.
Every meal’s a little wound.
Our plates are holes
we cannot fill.
Like grief, our hunger
is edgeless.

In a lighter mood, ‘Angel of the Checkout’ (after Anne Sexton) considers the price of love,

Oh, Angel of the checkout,
do you know the price of love?
Is it machine-washable?
Do you stock the low-fat variety?
Do I keep it in a fruit bowl,
a bed or an ice box?
Do I need ID to buy it?
Do I need a licence for it?

A sequence, ‘Remembering Light’, explores the attitudes of the miners trapped in the San José mine in Chile in August 2010. ‘Things that Sparkle’, a prose poem, is a search for any light when trapped underground,  ‘And when we’ve used up all our saints, we look for things that sparkle, shine and glitter in the beams of our headlamps down in this dingy maw: miniscule freckles of ore in the rock, the white of our teeth, the whites of our eyes, our sweat, the gloss of thick saliva on our thirsty lips, buttons, buckles, watch faces, the lenses of our glasses, the oily lustre on our hair, the taut and shiny skin over our scars, the tarnished crucifixes around our necks, our wedding rings.’

The collection ends on notes of hope. In ‘The Morning we Dragged the Settee into the Garden’,

It was a morning
when the last cold rind of winter
was giving in to spring
and I wanted to be with you
and out in it.

I wanted to douse my wrists
in its pollens.
I wanted to roll in the grass
and soak up the new season
like a dog rolling in dung.”

Where the Road Runs Out is a compassionate and compelling journey through grief, lightened with moments of humour. The poems are drawn from acute observation and the use of telling details to create images that are recognisable to readers. Their conversational rhythms and vocabulary make them inviting to read but also demonstrate the craft and skill underpinning them. The collection is a rewarding read.

Emma Lee’s most recent collection is Ghosts in the Desert (IDP, UK 2015), she co-edited Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge, (Five Leaves, UK, 2015), reviews for The Blue Nib, The High Window, The Journal, London Grip and Sabotage Reviews. She blogs  at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com.

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*****

Frank Dullaghan’s Lifting the Latch reviewed by David Cooke

Lifting the Latch by Frank Dullaghan. £8.99. Cinnamon Press. 978-1788640114

Lifting the Latch is Frank Dullaghan’s fourth full length collection and his most substantial and wide-ranging to date. It is divided into five sections, each of which, stylistically and in terms of its subject matter, is quite distinctive. However, in the opening section, ‘Small Town Brewery Blues’, we find the poet on familiar ground as he revisits memories of growing up in Dundalk, a small border town in the Republic Ireland. It’s a world which often seems claustrophobic and dreary. In ‘The Mouth Organ’, events are seen through the double perspective of the child who lives through them and then the adult who remembers them. Growing close to a bedridden aunt who has been taken in by his family, the child, eventually, has to come to terms with her death: ‘when the word gone sank in [I] stood there / under that cloud-heavy sky emptied of song’, but when, years later, the poet looks back as an adult, what he is most struck by is the hypocrisy of family members who had ‘grown too / loose in their lives for the sudden tightening // of that responsibility.’ There is a similar antipathy in ‘The Best of Days’, where it is hinted that the poet’s father suffered from depression. Presuming that their officious charity gives them the right to dismiss him as a malingerer, his wife’s brothers tell her bluntly that all would be well if he ‘just got off his arse’ and found some work. Having had enough, she rebels and the poem ends on a note of quiet stoicism: ‘these were / the best of days and should be enjoyed.’ The father’s depression is again alluded to in ‘The Day of the Robin’, a poignant poem which has some kinship with Heaney’s ‘St Kevin and the Blackbird’:

I grew to understand it often rained
inside my father’s head, that sometimes
he went under, drowned.

But that day he put out his hand
and the robin came to him, a small flutter
of surprise from the close bush.

Other boys’ fathers were self-possessed, tougher, and more adapted to coping with life. They are evoked in ‘Fathers’, a poem in which Dullaghan ‘lifts the latch’ and lets light in on the grubby secrets of seemingly respectable lives:

My schoolmates’fathers were stern men
I saw in suits on Sundays. I knew
which ones used the belt, which drank

and that the small man often battered
his wife.

Highlighting the frequent narrowness of provincial life, the prevailing mood of these poems is one of dissatisfaction and melancholy, implying a need to get away from a place where ‘all those days grew thin’. Particularly memorable are those poems describing sexual rites of passage in all their excruciating awkwardness.  ‘Doing the Deed’ is spot on in its description of a stage-managed first kiss. In ‘Worship’, the would-be lothario is at a complete loss when he is summoned, almost as a pet, by two attractive older girls. In ‘The Ramparts’ we see the protagonist’s hapless attempts to pick up girls in a club with the aid of Old Spice and cigarettes.

The limited prospects for a bright young man are effectively captured in the relentless rhymes of ‘Small Town Brewery Blues’ in which Dullaghan has adapted the form of the traditional twelve bar blues:

Most lads left school for the production line,
walked out of school to a production line,
Money in the pocket, a life of grime.

Nevertheless, in ‘No Use Blaming the Choices We Make on the Dead’ there is a recognition that we each have to take responsibility for our own lives: ‘They had their chance to fuck up once. You should / have yours’.

The transition to Dullaghan’s next section, ‘The Children are Silent’, could not be more dramatic, as his focus shifts from the rained-on dreariness of small town Ireland to a panoptic view of the war-torn Middle East. The effectiveness of many of these poems derives from their clear-sighted objectivity, which is like that of a photo-journalist. With exemplary restraint he opens this section with a short sequence of imagistic poems called ‘Gaza Haiku’:

Who sees
the sunlight that falls
after the bombs?

This is followed immediately by the macabre irony of ‘A Liberation’ in which a shell exploding in the centre of a cemetery creates a vision of The Day of Judgment and The Resurrection of the Flesh; ‘their bones blown towards heaven / the first to be liberated from Gaza’. In another short sequence which again describes life in Gaza, the poet’s focus upon concrete details is both admirable and devastating. In ‘i. Rooms’ a mother attempts to defend her children: ‘She’ll do what she must, be a blanket / herself when the bombs come.’ In ‘iii. Doll’ a child discovers that her doll’s legs are easily yanked from their sockets but notes ‘the lack of blood’. In ‘iv. Stories’ there is a daily struggle for existence beneath ’open sky / risked for food’.

In other poems, such as ‘Let the Mountains Hold On’ the tone is more grandiloquent and, with its memorable refrain and its powerful sense of our shared humanity, it’s a poem that would not be unworthy of Auden:

People gather at borders, their families in ruins.
The dead go on living, the living lie down.
Nothing gets fixed (the soiled, the maimed).
But your voice is a balm so I step out of time.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxLet the mountains hold on to their silence..

In the 1930s, Auden, Spender and others wrote movingly about the plight of refugees, but I doubt that anyone has written more powerfully on this theme than Dullaghan in ‘There is  Nowhere Left’:

We move through your borders,
your villages, your countryside.
We walk with our lives
on our backs, our children,
drunk from walking, by the hand,
our pasts blown up behind us

We move through your language,
your donated food, your fields
of tents. We walk without hope,
as if this is our new reason for being –
this great walk, this achievement
of pushing the miles behind us.

The title of Dullaghan’s third section, ‘Aishling’, refers to a type of dream poem associated with the Gaelic bards of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.  The poems included are distinguished by a more surreal or fantastic quality. One of the best is ‘Last Confession’ where, after some unnamed ‘catastrophe’, it starts snowing indoors and we see the effect that this has upon the house. However, the most significant piece here is ‘That Young One’, a sequence in twelve parts where the poet is inspired by the mythology of the Celtic Twilight and returns to the ‘matter of Ireland’. It’s a narrative of alienation in which a young girl, who believes she is a changeling, is torn between two worlds. In its fantastical way its underlying theme is not dissimilar to that sense of dissatisfaction that informs Dullaghan’s glum portrayal of Dundalk in ‘Small Town Brewery Blues’.

‘Lazarus Leaving’, the title poem of the fourth section introduces the theme of mortality which is developed further in poems such as ‘The Voices of the Dead’, in which the poet communes with the ghost of his dead brother: ‘I sit with my coffee and my dead brother’. Throughout this section the visionary element is effectively balanced against specific memories of various family members. Finally, in ‘Beannacht’, the concluding section, the title of which is the Irish word for ‘a blessing’ the poet emphasises those positive forces that keep us going: In ‘Prayer for Ramadan’, addressed to a friend, he prays that:

When night falls
may the faces of your family,
those here, those elsewhere,
be your joy, and
may love come upon you
in all its names

 Lifting the Latch, like the three collections that preceded it, offers convincing testimony to Dullaghan’s dedication to the art and craft of poetry. However, beyond that, it is a hard won celebration of what sustains our lives in spite of so much that tries to undermine them.

David Cooke co-edits The High Window.

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*****

A Blade of Grass: New Palestinian Poetry reviewed by Colin Pink

A Blade of Grass: New Palestinian Poetry edited by Naomi Foyle. Smokestack Books. £9.99. 978-0995767539

This anthology (in both Arabic and English) gives the English language reader an insight into the rich diversity of voices in contemporary Palestinian poetry. Editor Naomi Foyle’s introduction provides an excellent outline of the background to the poets’ work.

The range of poets represented in the anthology reflects the Palestinian diaspora, with poets living in the Palestinian territories, Israel, other Arab countries and around the world such as the USA and Australia. Though writing from locations that are widely dispersed geographically the poets are writing out of a shared cultural identity.

Given the nightmare situation of the Palestinian people, dispossessed of their lands, it is not surprising that prominent themes are trauma and resistance but there is also present the healing power of poetry. The trauma of history unites these voices even though, stylistically, there are a fascinating variety of approaches. This gives the collection both coherence and an exciting combination of perspectives.

The anthology opens with a poem by Marwan Makhoul called ‘An Arab at Ben Gurion Airport’. These days we are all made to feel like criminals when trying to board a flight, one can only imagine how much more intensified this must be for a Palestinian in Israel. Makhoul succeeds in transforming the experience into a very witty and thought-provoking poem utilising a call and response form, consisting of security questions put to him together with his elaborately poetic and satirical replies.

Did anyone give you something on the way here? she asks.

An exile from Nayrab refugee camp
gave me memories
and the key to a house from the fabled past.
The rust on the key made me edgy, but I’m
like stainless steel, I compose self with self should I grow nostalgic,
for the groans of refugees
spread wings of longing across borders.
No guard can stop it, nor thousands
and not you for sure.

The rusty key alludes to the fact that many Palestinians still retain the keys to the homes that they were forced out of by Zionist militias. Naomi Shihab Nye sums up the situation:

We were sorry what happened to them but
we had nothing to do with it.
You don’t think what a little plot of land means
till someone takes it and you can’t go back.
Your feet still want to walk there.
….
Why was someone else’s need for a home
greater than our need for our own homes
we were already living in? No one has ever been able
to explain this sufficiently. But they find
a lot of other things to talk about.

People who write and read poetry in the UK are used to it being marginalised. Not so in the Palestinian community. Famous poets, such as Mahmoud Darwish (some of whose late work is included in the anthology) gave poetry readings to football stadiums filled with spectators. For Palestinians poetry is an art form that helps sustain national and personal identity in the face of the attempted erasure of that identity.

A great poem can speak us, bring us, as it were, before ourselves in more profound ways than we habitually experience, and it is this function that the poems represented in this anthology often achieve, giving the reader insights into the reality of life for Palestinian people around the world. Palestinian poetry is an act of resistance, not only to the occupation of their land by the Israelis but also a resistance to attempts to demonise them and erase them from history. Many of these poems function as a ‘stone in the shoe’ a reminder and a refusal to be consigned to oblivion.

The most a British poet has to fear is being ignored or a bad review. But two of the Palestinian poets featured in this anthology are currently imprisoned for their writing.

Ashraf Fayadh, resident in Saudi Arabia, was accused of apostasy on the basis of his collection Instructions Within, and has been sentenced to eight years imprisonment and eight hundred lashes. Dareen Tatour, resident in Israel, was prosecuted for incitement in one of her poems, which is included in the anthology. Speaking from within the borders of the Israeli state is clearly as strictly policed as their airport.

Many of the voices in this anthology speak from a situation of exile from their homeland as in Mustafa Abu Sneineh’s poem ‘Emperor’

I no longer have a swarm to fly with
Nor wildflowers who understand my tongue.

The hive has crumbled under the boots of the barbarians.
Traitors betrayed it
and I’d have recited prayers for its courageous soul, if I knew any.

The history of violence and the attempt to live a ‘normal’ life in near impossible circumstances is neatly captured in his poem ‘Nablus’:

I recall the sun gliding into the darkness of the settlement,
Soldiers with guns beating the sunset
until it passed out

….

I’m still a lovestruck boy –
Even though the sun has long since gone under,
Even though my first confession of love
Was made in the crosshairs of the occupation’s guns.

Naomi Shahib Nye’s poem ‘Amir & Anna’ addresses the legacy of violence, inherited by both Palestinian and Israeli children, which they must attempt to overcome:

Amir can’t sleep.
He dives under his bed.
Anna is afraid of everything.
Parked cars, moving buses.
Their names begin with ‘A’,
contain the same number of letters.
They live one mile apart.
No one has given them
what they deserve.

Hope for a future of greater understanding is beautifully expressed by Fady Joudah in ‘Mimesis’:

My daughter
xxxxxxxxwouldn’t hurt a spider
That had nested
Between her bicycle handles
For two weeks
She waited
Until it left of its own accord

If you tear down the web I said
It will simply know
This isn’t a place to call home
And you’d get to go biking

She said that’s how others
Become refugees isn’t it?

Poetry can travel over borders more freely than people or prose. It can be tucked away on a little piece of paper or in your memory. It can increase our understanding and empathy for each other; it can break down walls and contain the gift of insight and remembrance.

Colin Pink writes poetry and lectures on the history of art. His poems have appeared in a wide range of literary magazines such as Poetry News; The SHOp; Poetry Salzburg Review; South Bank Poetry; and on-line in Ink Sweat & Tears and The Shot Glass. Acrobats of Sound, a collection of his poetry, was published by Poetry Salzburg in 2016.

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*****

Robert Desnos reviewed by Ruth Sharman

Robert Desnos: Surrealist, Lover, Resistant translated by Timothy Adès. £12.99. Arc Publications. 978-1906570699

Poet and award-winning literary translator Timothy Adès, recipient of the John Dryden Prize and the Premio Valle-Inclán, enjoys a challenge. That much is clear from his lively reworkings of Shakespeare’s love sonnets in versions that omit the most common letter in the English language (Loving by Will: His 154 Sunbursts Now at Last in Plain Inglish!). And Robert Desnos provides ample opportunity for Adès to exercise his verbal muscle. The ‘most exciting French poet of the last century’, Desnos was a prominent member of the Surrealist movement – heralded as its prophet by André Breton – and actively involved in the French Resistance during World War II. While Surrealism freed Desnos from the habitual constraints of logic and reason, he was also – like Adès himself – a gifted wordsmith, capable of manipulating with ease the traditional skills of rhyme, metre, alliteration and wordplay.

 Robert Desnos: Surrealist, Lover, Resistant is a selection, in bilingual facing text, of some 300 poems reflecting Desnos’s poetic life from his youthful pieces written in 1915 to his final poem written at the transit camp in Compiègne after his arrest in April 1944. The three main sections of the book represent his full-blown Surrealist period, his love poems to the unattainable nightclub singer Yvonne George and later to the woman who would become his wife, Youki Foujita, source of what Desnos described as “the only joys I have known”, and his response to the war in Europe and the Nazi occupation of France. Short pages of notes provide helpful background material and some moving insights into Desnos’s life. We learn, for example, that in Auschwitz, in spring 1944, Desnos read the palms of other prisoners, confidently making detailed predictions, comforting and distracting them – if not actually able to save them – from what lay in store.

Desnos was an exponent of automatic writing and later in his career gathered a huge following by interpreting radio listeners’ dreams for them on air. His first book (Rrose Sélavy) is a collection of surrealistic aphorisms written while under hypnosis (some making more obvious sense than others) and offers rich pickings for a poet/translator who loves above all the sounds that words make: ‘Bemused apple-peels of abbeys, your boo-hoos bamboozle bees’; ‘The human brood is a phantom squad with a squirt of blood’; ‘Mysterious are the hysterias of foundered mortals under nettles’ …  Adès’s response to Desnos’s rhymes and wordplay is to reach deep into his own language reserves to find equivalents that inject a new energy of their own – that ‘squirt’ of blood for ‘de sang un peu’, the ‘foundered mortals’ for the mere dead (‘mortes’).

In L’Aumonyme (which Adès wittily renders as Arms and the Pun, himself punning on the title of George Bernard Shaw’s comedy), we read:

CATS up on castles,
high hopers,
sup pear suppers of agonies
night
nuisance
heart-hurt

We may well wonder what Desnos is driving at here, but how neatly Adès has avoided a literal (rather dreary) translation in the first two lines, transposing the words but not the sense to produce a more dynamic rendering than ‘high on the castles of hope’, while extracting an alliterative pun out of ‘Croquent des poires d’angoisse’ (literally ‘Chomp pears of anguish’) in the third.

Where logical meanings are thin on the ground, a great deal depends on sound. Adès gives us a useful insight into his working method in “Elegant Canticle of Salomé Salomon” by providing both a literal (barely more intelligible) version and a reworked version that captures the alliterative, rhyming, pun-laden madness of the original. Here are the two versions of the poem’s first four lines set alongside one another:

My pain dies but my hands mime               My members’ mess maimed, my mitts may mime
Knots nerves not rings. No north                Nerves knots not nicknacks. Nor, north, gnaw
Even/same love soft breasts? bites            My mellow marrow’s amorous mammaries?
Naked breast nun nor Ninus.                        No naked knocker nun nor Ninny no.

It may be unsurprising that few other translators have attempted to tackle Desnos’s Surrealist offerings. His love poems, in a completely different style and register, have been more widely translated into English. While Adès is perhaps happiest wrangling with knotty issues of rhyme and metre, he does justice to the touching simplicity of these poems, whose effects depend on colloquial directness, lyrical repetition and occasionally surprising imagery:

It’s Sunday marked by nightingale-song in fresh green
woods the boredom of little girls at a fretting canary’s
cage, while slowly in the lonely street the sun moves its
thin line across the hot pavement
We shall pass other lines
Never never another but you
And me alone alone alone like withered ivy in suburban
gardens alone as glass
And you never another but you
(‘Never Another But You’)

Adès tells us that he had been curious to see how the youthful author of Rrose Sélavy developed as the times changed and Desnos himself, writing to Paul Eluard in 1942, gives us some pointers. Automatic writing, he believes increasingly, is only an “elementary” stage of poetic initiation; every aspect of a poem should lock into place to make it ‘as implacable as the resolution of an equation’. Drawing on mythology and using traditional forms, Desnos’s three great Occupation sequences were able to pass the censor by embedding topical allusions into the wider context of human destiny. Many are sonnets. Here are the last six lines of ‘The Vintage’, masterfully translated to capture the sense of a world being swept away:

Wine, in your casks, unscathed! Your colours will
Transmute our lips until we lie at last
Beneath the earth, at one with palace bells

That chimed with the cicada’s canticles,
Stilled now, like flutes and cymbals long since past.
Today the thunder and the wind are still.

Robert Desnos is a writer who deserves to be better known in the English-speaking world. He produced an astonishing body of work in a variety of media, from poetry to prose, journalism and radio plays, from the highly personal to the socially committed, the whimsical to the deeply serious. In this rich and varied selection, Timothy Adès seeks to redress the balance and, in doing so, reminds us just how much we can do with language in terms of extending, experimenting, exploring, playing…

Ruth Sharman lives in Bath, where she works as a freelance editor and French translator. Her poems have appeared in various anthologies including Staple First Editions. Her Birth of the Owl Butterflies, her first full-length collection, was published by Picador. The title poem won second prize in the Arvon International Poetry Competition and also appears on one of the International Baccalaureate’s English exam papers. Her second collection, Scarlet Tiger, was the winner of Templar Poetry’s Straid Collection Award for 2016.

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*****

Geoffrey Grigson’s Selected Poems reviewed by Angela Topping 

Selected Poems: Geoffrey Grigson edited by John Greening. £14.99.  Greenwich Exchange. ISBN: 978-1910996133

It is a rare pleasure to be asked to review a new selection of this admired poet. Greening has given readers a chance to reacquaint themselves with chosen highlights from Grigson’s whole opus. Greenwich Exchange have produced a handsome physical object, in a large format, with cream-coloured pages and a cover of one of Grigson’s own paintings (‘The huge and butter-yellow moon’). The poems span books from 1939 through to 1986, and include the beautifully lyrical to the sharply political. Behind the poems, the reader is always aware of Grigson’s intellect and grasp of form; he is often self-deprecating or sharply focused on some apparently trivial object, until the poem shows it is far from trivial.

I shall have to be careful not to call Grigson ‘the poet’, since Greening quotes, in his fascinating and scholarly introduction, Grigson’s acidic comment “this use of ‘the poet’ always marks the imbecile in the reviewer, and very often in the poet as well”. Greening gets neatly around it by speaking of Grigson as ‘G.G.’. The quotation is an example of Grigson’s opinionated and uncompromising statements, which are very much part of him as a writer. Greening’s introduction should not be skipped: it is a sound introduction to the work and very helpful to readers who are not familiar with the scope of it. Grigson also says that ‘all good criticism of poems …. is written by good poets’. Greening has proven this, now it is up to me to test the theorem.

There is no doubt Grigson is a master of form. The sinuous twists of his formal verse attest to that. There is often a carefully wrought pattern of repetition which leads the reader through an enjoyable maze with twists and turns to make the most of the words chosen. A good example of this is one of his best-known poems, admired by Philip Hobsbaum, ‘The Children’. This four-stanza poem has a complicated arrangement of metres in his 11 line stanzas, which start with a quatrain rhymed ABBA, then two short lines of only two feet which form a couplet break, then five tetrameters which rhyme AABBB. Each stanza has the same BBB rhymes at the end of it, which gives a circular motion, as time often appears. It also gives a mesmeric quality, spell-like and melodious. In content, the poem is about the passing of time and its effect on the children, who move from innocence to experience. It reminds me strongly of Hardy’s poem ‘During Wind and Rain’, which does the same thing: compresses years into a short lyric, with similar patterning; though the two poems are very different in execution, the tone and techniques are similar. Here is the final stanza as illustration:

The rooms were pulled down, but they always abide
xxxIn the minds of the children born in them:
The cupboard, the horse and the faded hem
xxxxAnd the ceiling cracks from side to side.
xxxxThey’d know all in the night
And would need no light,
But all of them now are shut out from the past
And are scared by the future arriving too fast:
They see the clocks and notice the hour
And aware that restriction of love turns sour
They feel the cold wind and consider the flower.

The children have become old in the course of the poem, and the childlike experiences of the opening stanza have changed, for example ‘they looked for no clocks, noticed no hours’. Each line in the coda is subtly altered, to mark those changes which happen so gradually, pass unnoticed except by the wry observer. This poem is a tour-de-force and works its quiet magic on the reader, its wistfulness and sorrow are palpable.

Another quality of these poems is their fascination with twinning and pairs. For example, ‘Next Table: Clock Beyond’ describes a father and son sharing a meal. Fittingly, the lines are couplets, one line for each person, thus:

Two: one old, facing, over good Beaujolais,
his son. Old face: young adult face unformed.

The clock may be a literal one or a metaphorical one, but its ‘bob’ swings from one to the other, marking time between them ‘softly’. It is a loving poem, but one that suggests the older one will eventually die, leaving the son to mourn, but for now, they are together in the moment, happy, as the pendulum is ‘swinging, passing softly, shining, again shining, time.’ In ‘The Last Poem’, which Greening has placed closing the book, Grigson is at a concert, and he contrasts the elbow of the young violinist, Patricia Calnan (as we are informed in the footnote) with his own ‘cunning old wizened wrist’, as he moves in time to the music. He uses the same phrase ‘young, full, white, strong’ about her as he uses in the second stanza about his young nurse Anne, sitting beside him. Both women form a contrast with their ‘instrumental arm’ and his wrinkled wrist, but Anne is using her arm to keep him comfortable. The pleasure he takes in the music and the vitality of the two women plays counterpoint to his awareness of his own death, close now, and represented by ‘the far off hills’ and ‘intervening sea’, in a subtle manner. A hint of eco-poetry, too, strikes a sorrowful note:

And there is this world
We do not value, this world we soil,
This world we may destroy forever, leaving a recollection
Only of its ordered harmonies.

The poem is a mere two stanzas but encompasses abstract ideas and concepts in its small packed space.

Grigson has an affinity with nature, and those who labour under the mistaken assumption that nature poetry is twee and obvious, would do well to read his nature poems. ‘Devil of a Starling’ is a favourite. Again, the subtle rhyme scheme, the contrasts and the beautifully worked repetition, but here too there is humour, as he imagines this ‘sharp starling’ in a bare tree, with its glinting eyes, that it might be the devil, waiting for the watcher to die so it can collect his soul, or observing the lusts of the young. He relates it to a famous painting in which the artist Mantegna paints the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed the night before his arrest, and his disciples fell asleep, as well as to Milton’s Paradise Lost, which tells of the fall of Lucifer from Paradise. Again, a short lyric encompasses abstract concepts, but in this case the humour leavens the loaf. Further nature poems include: ‘Common Elder’, ‘Ammonite under Sun and Thyme’, ‘About Owls’ and many more.

In the best kenning poem I have ever read, Grigson writes of the sea. The first stanza is beautiful but they second shows how humans are spoiling the sea and ocean with pollution and lack of care:

Kennings

xxxxMoorland of blue
xxGlittering plain
Household of eels
xxHall of the whales
xxxxMeadow of herrings
xxShackle of islands
Necklace of earth
xxHandbag mirror of planets
xxxxMerlon of hermits

xxRummer of sewage
Quarrel of nations
Laundry of tampax
Highway of warheads
Cupboard of mines
Submarines’ carrycot
Swayer of oilrigs
xxCoffin of atoms

Fishfingers’ Carton

This dialectic poem is very accessible. The first set of kennings celebrates the sea as it should be, with some original kennings, whereas the second pulls no punches.

There is more evidence of his fascination with twins and halves to be found in a poem of simple pleasures, ‘Having of a Pear’. He calls it an ‘item of best being’, as though he has an imaginary catalogue of such moments of pure joy. In this poem, it’s visual:

Halving this pear and in its
Ivory seeing this black
Star of seeds.

The line breaks ensure the emphasis in the second line falls on the two colours, to bring out the contrast, and the alliteration of the third line emphasises the shape and the metaphor. However, the other part of the pleasure is in sharing:

Also pointing this black
Star in ivory out to you,
And you agreeing, is
An item of best being.

As well as two halves of the fruit, there are two people looking at it, two stanzas and the circular structure and form Grigson was so good at creating. The first line, ‘An item of best being is’ is marginally rearranged to end the poem. This gives a pleasure of pattern, makes the poem memorable. There are many more examples of simple pleasures, such as ‘The Cold Spring’. In ‘Praise’ he admits that is his response to the world, even in its darkness and despair.

Praise for other poets and writers is another thread through this book, even though he could be a harsh critic in prose. His elegy to W.H. Auden, ‘To Wystan Auden’, shows genuine sorrow through some serious word play, affectionate, referring to Auden’s ‘wrinkled phiz’ (short form of physiognomy). The most touching passage is:

You became living’s healer, loving’s
Magician, for all these years
The imposer of blessings.
You were our fixture our rhythm,
Speaker, bestower of love for us all…

In an increasingly competitive world of poetry it is good to look back on such love and appreciation of older poets. Grigson’s poem about John Clare, too, is eight lines of deep compassion for Clare’s depressions, while at the same time, championing his poetry:

Writer, who with the yellow ray
Wrote your black madness into day:

The rhyming couplets suit Clare very well as this was one of his chosen forms, and Grigson was very familiar with is life and work, referring to him as a ‘pugilist in the ring’, which works on several levels, because during Clare’s less lucid days, he believed himself to be a champion prize-fighter, but in his real life, he often had to fight for his poetry against critics, and he also fought, via the written word, against the land enclosures and the destruction of the natural habitat for wildlife. Grigson packs so much into this short lyric. He writes or refers to many other poets too, including Ivor Gurney and Boris Pasternak (who was also a novelist). It is good to see Grigson’s own fine translations of Anglo-Saxon riddles included as well.

In short, Grigson was a well-read and highly wrought craftsman, whose work should not be neglected. His own dedication to poetry is seen in ‘Dedication for a Children’s Anthology’. These are my favourite lines from it.

Poems are comfort and delight …
They are the bloody human heart…
The green ferns halfway down a well…
The primrose on the path to hell

I can’t help but agree with him. This is an important new selection and will hopefully introduce new readers to this fine poet, and find the favour it deserves amongst existing Grigson readers.

 Angela Topping is the author of eight full poetry collections and four chapbooks. The most recent is The Five Petals of Elderflower (Red Squirrel 2016) She also writes critical books for Greenwich Exchange. She has been writing poetry reviews for over 30 years. Her own poems have appeared in many prestigious journals including Poetry Review and The Dark Horse, have been set for A level, featured on Poetry Please and won several prizes. She is a former Writer in Residence at Gladstone’s Library.

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*****

Dorothy Yamamoto’s Honshȗ Bees reviewed by Wendy Klein

Honshȗ Bees by Dorothy Yamamoto. £6.00. Templar Poetry. ISBN: 978-1911132387

Dorothy Yamamoto is the author of one previous collection, Landscape with a Hundred Bridges, (Blinking Eye Publishing) and editor of the poetry anthology Hands and Wings. (White Rat Press), compiled in aid of the charity Freedom from Torture. This, though coupled with wide publication in poetry journals, and many other anthologies, seems a scant pedigree for a writer of such enormous talent and ingenuity.

From the opening poem in this 27-page pamphlet, ‘Cows in the Ashmolean’, you know you are in the hands of a poet with a unique combination of skill and imagination. The Ashmolean museum, the world’s first university museum was erected in 1678. Within its imposing Grecian columns, and its unique place in academic history, Yamamoto begins her poem with an irreverent imperative: ‘I want cows in the museum’. The first time I read this poem, a few years ag0, when it won First Prize in the Poetry in the Lake Competition, it made me want to laugh out loud and cheer. Look at them:

… hitching
the vast easels of their hips
along the gold-framed corridors

bellowing the mighty rhythms of their lives
across the curves of sepia rivers

and with a flourish, the poet wants ‘every room to reek / with their emerald breath’. Who would not want cows in the museum?

In the following two poems, Yamamoto demonstrates her fascination with the behaviour of creatures (birds, animals, fish and insects), in conjunction with the human world. Her subjects are scrutinised with intensity and portrayed with wry humour. At dusk, pigeons ‘who’ve been strutting the square all day / gather on a narrow ledge / opposite our hotel window.’ Nothing too out of the ordinary here, but wait for it:

Sometimes they swap places, or push
a new pigeon off as he tries to land…

lying in bed, between the bells
I hear their intimate, age-old grumbling:

is this really my life?
Are these the friends that I’m stuck with? (‘Pigeons in Orta San Giulio’)

Poor pigeons. Poor humans.

I believe ‘The Bears’ to be a poem of mourning for the poet and publisher David Attwool, (deceased 2016). The creatures ‘handle everything / as carefully as they can but // still drop this and that, padding among // the fierce white crumbs of china. How startling is the use of ‘fierce’ crumbs of china, which will surely injure their paws. They seem to search for a missing presence as ‘they give almighty sniffs // picking up odours / of burnt rice, old dog …’ Each image builds on the sense of loss until the final five lines:

Most of all the bears
hunch against the window

still teary with condensation.

Why didn’t they open the door?
the bears ask each other.

No Goldilocks here, but an explosion of sadness, brushed with gentle whimsey. (‘Bears’, for David Attwool).

Yamamoto’s inventiveness shows itself again in a sort of companion piece to ‘Cows in the Museum’ in the poem ‘Hares at Dublin Airport’. She has read somewhere that there are hares living in airports, that though ‘fragile beneath / the greedy roar of the jet engines’ they are ‘free from predators / sometimes even racing the planes.’ A whole new mythology emerges as she searches for hares:

for bodies pressed to scruffy grass
fur ruffled in the blast

for those thistledown selves
that cling to the edges

how ‘without passage, without right of way…

They stay invisible.

Yamamoto grew up in Barnet, North London where her Japanese father and English mother met during the war. In addition to her marvellous observations of animals and insects, her subjects include poems that explore her Oriental/Anglo-Saxon heritage. Her parents, particularly her father, are portrayed at various stages in their lives. In ‘Sweeping Leaves’ she writes: ‘Today, because you are not well enough / to clear the path, I pick up the broom / and go out and brush the leaves’, a simple enough beginning, but there is so much more:

But I think it is enough
to be in the same house as you
and remember the Chinese poet
who collected leaves for their beauty—
storing them in special boxes until
at the first snowfall of winter
she would release them one by one, to tumble,
skid, scratch across the snow before
soaring into emptiness.

Yamamoto’s skill is at its most dazzling in the way she takes family memories into a whole new realm, embellishing them with Japanese art, and culture from her mixed heritage. She offers us the ‘Paper Cranes’ her father made for her with ‘Those same stained fingers / that spread a drift of tobacco // across thin wafers of paper / crimp triangles into wings.’ In ‘My Father as a Soldier’, she is photographed in her father’s army uniform ‘In Gordon Square, under cherry trees,’

I carry him in my pores. his black oiled hair
blunt fingers bent round a pen
pits of his spectacles on my nose

and go on carrying him while the bombs fall
and windows shatter in a killing rain.

Every poem here is so much larger in scope than its words on the page, but none more so than the title poem itself. Honshu is the largest island of Japan, and I expected that the bees found there might be extraordinary in some way. I could find no reference to confirm this, but Dorothy Yamamoto creates them in the spirit of all the mythological properties attributed to bees over time:

When my father went to bed, and stayed there
the bees arrived
to do all the things he could not do.

These magical bees load his pipe, burnish his fountain pen, waft open his diary and play back the days of his life, ‘until another language rose into view / compacted of honey and memory.’ A lesser poet could have ended the poem here, but Yamamoto was not finished. She takes the bees right through to his dying:

And with that knowledge they flew upstairs
to where he slept his deep golden sleep
and walked into his head one by one
carrying his syllables back to him, after fifty years.

It would be impossible not to love and admire this book, this poet, and to hope that before the bees come to peruse her immortal lines, that she will release many more poems to grace, like paper cranes, the poetry world. Yes, grace is the word, throughout.

Wendy Klein was born in New York, but left the U.S. in 1964 to live in Sweden, and on from there to France, Germany and England where she has lived most of her adult life.  A retired psychotherapist, she is published in many magazines and anthologies and has two collections from Cinnamon Press:  Cuba in the Blood (2009) and Anything in Turquoise (2013). Her most recent collection is Mood Indigo published by Oversteps (2016).

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*****

Josie Moon’s Poems from the Swamp reviewed by Rob Etty

Poems From the Swamp by Josie Moon.  £7.50.  La Luna Books. ISBN: 978-0995728455.

In the intriguing Preface to her pamphlet (which is, appropriately, green, with semi-translucent endpapers) Josie Moon writes: The swamp is never wholly negative but is a useful metaphor for experience, some hidden, some mundane, some to be discovered … Certainly it is dangerous, certainly it can be unpleasant, but it is a place of great psychological imperative and creative impetus. … It is a place of origin.

The pamphlet is itself a place of origin. It is a poetic foretaste of a novel set in Grimsby, the author’s hometown, and the poems are voiced by four mystical and prophetic characters. These poets know there is a higher state of existence beyond the town’s dereliction, and are seeking justice and redemption for the swamp’s forgotten people, to whom the poems are dedicated.

The authors and titles are listed in the Contents. In the voice of artist, poet and editor George Lydda, whose Eliotesque ‘The Rising’ is the second poem, Josie Moon impressively creates the tension which underlies the sequence’s movement:

Hum, hum, shhh, shhh, listen, listen.
There is rain out there, still far away
but pattering off sea and estuary
bringing wet stings for morning.
There is ice in night’s kiss riming the street,
the sleeping street.

Deep, deep beneath the street, far away and fast asleep
dreaming begins as shadows gather on the corner
where the police station squats.

The next poem, ‘Carnival’, crosses from authentic Grimsby into fantasy. It reminds us that we are listening to successive voices, and is an early demonstration of the author’s versatility. Alisha Autrey’s aabb quatrains introduce the use of the first person, as the speaker reacts to a mysterious car driver who claims to be from 1949:

He points a long, green bony finger:
My dear, I really mustn’t linger.
The tune he hums is menacing, dark,
more the raven, less the lark.

I abandon thoughts of staying near,
turn to you and see no fear.
I say The Lord of Misrule is here.
You smile and simply disappear.

As the Preface reveals, the ideas for the sequence swam from the cracks in the pavements in the East and West Marsh areas of Grimsby, whose origins are in their names, and the sinewy phrasing, driving rhythms and intermittent rhymes of ‘The Gauleiter and His Pig’ maintain the reader’s unease about what lurks below:

The Gauleiter and his pig reside here
in the swamp, a septic, infected sty,
poisoned with wormwood for false prophecy.

The sty turns seamier, with deepening stench,
while mists from the quagmire writhe and hiss,
meander in serpentine gyres and twists,
layering the space where once light fell
with impenetrable shadows from boundless Hell.

And so we are guided through, enjoying shifts in form, tone, person, and a breadth of language that heightens descriptions and narratives. The closing poem, ‘Ursa Major’, in the serene unrhymed triplets of George Lydda, expresses a resolution. The lyrical final stanzas, especially, lodge in the memory.

No doubt in the forthcoming novel battle will play out across many more pages, but a cosmic spiritual conflict with mythological and Biblical references rumbles through these twelve poems: alongside broken lives lived among shopping trolleys, abandoned sofas and branded houses that sag exhausted against each other, we encounter an unseen hand that pushes a fool, a pirouetting jester and a blue-faced king, a lost lioness, Santa Maria and the Witch of the West Marsh. Josie Moon shows herself to be a wide-ranging, inventive, musical poet, and her live performances will lift the words vividly off the page.

Robert Etty lives in Lincolnshire. His latest collection is Passing the Story Down the Line, published by Shoestring Press in 2017. He is a member of Nunsthorpe Poetry Group, which meets in Cleethorpes.

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*****

 

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