Monthly Archives: May 2012

Julia Webb reviews Padrika Tarrant’s The Knife Drawer

The Knife Drawer
by Padrika Tarrant
Salt Publishing, 2011
ISBN 9781844717255

I had looked at The Knife Drawer several times in our local bookshop, as it is a very desirable looking thing, but I had been somewhat put off by the blurb which describes it as “a darkly comic tale” and by the fact that someone had described it to me as fantasy – I admit to being unfairly prejudiced against both genres despite having read very good examples of both! However last year I was lucky enough to hear Padrika Tarrant read at a local event, and it was her mesmerising reading that compelled me to buy the book. I needn’t have worried though, this is inspiring writing from the outset. I was so completely drawn into Tarrant’s sinister make-believe world that I forgot that what I was reading was fantasy.
It is hard to review a book like this without giving too much away about the plot. But I will say that it starts with a dead body, and so begins our stay with a hugely dysfunctional little family that has very little contact with the outside world. If you can suspend belief that no one from social services or at least a health visitor would have been sent round to check on the children, then you can fully immerse yourself in their odd and uncomfortably insular world. There is an overlap here between fantasy and reality. There probably are families that are this weird in real life, but there are other elements of the book that are definitely in the fantastical realm. Fantasy verging on reality is the most apt description that I can think of and this is what gives it its edge – that coupled with Tarrant’s surreal and completely original imagination. Fiction demands a higher level of believability than poetry – or maybe it is that the writer has to work harder to sustain the world and ideas that they are creating over three hundred pages or so, and this is where I find some fantasy writers lacking. Tarrant however has pulled this off seemingly effortlessly – to convince a sceptic like me that mice can save babies and that cutlery can come to life is no tall order (except in poetry), but convinced I was.

This is a story of obsession, favouritism, and a world in which the animals garner far greater sympathy from the reader than the humans. It is a story of many voices: not all of them human. A story of family, dysfunction and how we can endure in the direst of circumstances (that makes it sound like a misery memoir, which it most definitely is not). It involves mice and people and birds and cutlery. It exposes the weaknesses of the human condition in all its awful glory. And yet despite the story’s darkness and moments of horror there are enduring bonds of love and kinship and a spark of hope that shines through everything.

If I was a psychoanalyst I might be slightly worried about Tarrant’s psyche; as a critic I think she is a literary genius and I am very much hoping that there is more work to come. Tarrant is definitely a creative force to be reckoned with. The Knife Drawer is an example of magical realism at its finest (and darkest). There are few, if any, endearing characters in this book – so don’t pick it up if what you want is a light cheery read or a happy ever after ending. It is, however, a perfect example of how fantasy can be literary. This is bright, fresh, intelligent, imaginative, painterly poetic writing that left me reeling. If you have any aspirations as a writer yourself you will probably find yourself wondering as I did where on earth these ideas come from and wishing you could come up with something so original yourself. One thing is for sure – I will never look at cutlery in the same light again.
The book is imbued with mysticism. It intertwines a fairy tale surrealism with modern life concerns in a slightly unhinged yet enthralling way. You can’t help but be sucked into the disturbing world that Tarrant has created. There were moments where I wanted to throttle some of her characters, or at least give them a good shake. But such is the power of her writing that if something did befall one them I was immediately both horrified and saddened. The technical quality of the writing is superb – the content may appear mad at times but Tarrant retains a masterful control of her subject matter and her words. This is a very well written novel, and I could not fault her writing (although it was let down slightly by a couple of typos and a mistitled chapter that had escaped the copy editor’s eye). Her language is vivid and poetic:

The sunrise flickers against the sky in shades of gore as the night is eaten away, scavenged clean by the circling rooks.  The light is painful against window and roof-tile, for if there was any scrap of mercy in this old cold earth, the sun would not have risen again. (p337)
There were hints of other writers too, whether intentionally or not: Kafka, Hesse, Lessing, Murakami, and other influences were at play too – Tarrant is a fan of the animator Jan Svankmajer and his dark humour’s influence is very evident here. It also put me in mind of some of the more surreal modern poets – Simic, Popa, Ivory and perhaps Petit.

Even after close reading I am a little unsure whether this is just an excellent, slightly warped, highly imaginative work of art or if there is some bigger philosophical message that Tarrant is trying to convey, perhaps a metaphor for family life and modern times. It is also a fantastic analogy of organised religion. What I am convinced of is that it is a work of a wholly original mind. I have certainly never read anything remotely like it and fully expect never to read anything like it again. I would urge you (yes urge you!) to read it for yourself. 
Order The Knife Drawer (Salt Publishing, 2011).
Padrika Tarrant was born in 1974. Emerging blinking from an honours degree in sculpture, she found herself unhealthily fixated with scissors and the animator Jan Svankmajer. She won an Arts Council Escalator award in 2005 and has been working more seriously since then. The Knife Drawer is her second full length book; Broken Things, a collection of shorts, was published by Salt (2007). Padrika quite likes sushi, although she tends to pick the fish out. She hates the smell of money.
Visit Padrika’s website.

Julia Webb is a graduate of the University of East Anglia’s Creative Writing MA. She has been published in journals such as Other Poetry and Poetry News, she has been shortlisted in several major competitions and her prose poem ‘Lent’ was the winner of the 2011 National Poetry Society Stanza Competition. Julia teaches creative writing and writes reviews for Ink, Sweat and Tears. 
Visit Julia’s website.

Barbara Smith’s The Angels’ Share

Barbara Smith holds an MA in Creative Writing (Poetry) from Queen’s University, Belfast, 2008. Kairos, her debut poetry collection was published in 2007 by Doghouse Books. Her second collection, The Angels’ Share, is also published by Doghouse Books. In 2009, she received the Annie Deeny Prize, a residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre for Writers and Artists; was a prize winner at Scotland’s Wigtown Poetry Competition and was shortlisted for the Poetry Business pamphlet competition and the Basil Bunting Poetry Competition. In 2005 she was selected for Poetry Ireland’s Introductions reading series. She has read at venues such as Edinburgh’s Poetry at the … series, and the London Oxfam Series of readings. She is also an enthusiastic reader of her work with the Poetry Divas and the Prufrocks, including diverse venues such as Electric Picnic, Dromineer Literary Festival, the Flatlake Literary and Arts Festival and Phizzfest.  

Pair Bond
dedicated to Dolly Parton
The talk in the bar lulls a half-time fill:
as I knife-scrape the head from another pint,
he hovers, pocket-foothering his change.
Steadying for the ask, he addresses
my full frontals, my baby buggy bumpers,
my Brad Pitts, my boulders, my billabongs,
my squashy cushions, my soft-focus bristols,
my motherly bosoms, my matronly bulk,
my Mickey and Minnie, my Monica
Lewinskis, my Isaac Newtons,
my snow tyres, my speed bumps, my Tweedle twins,
my milk makers, my Mobutus, my num-nums,
my Pia Zadoras, my Pointer Sisters,
my honkers, my hooters, my hubcaps, my hummers,
my Eartha Kitts, my Eisenhowers,
my God’s milk bottles, my Picasso cubes,
my chesticles, my cha-chas, my coconuts,
my dairy pillows, my devil’s dumplings,
my objectified orbs, my über-boobs,
my one-parts Lara, my two-parts globe,
my skyward pips, my lift and separate,
my airbags, my feeders, my mammy glands,
my Bob and Ray, my big bouncing Buddhas,
my sweater stretchers, my sweet potatoes,
my rosaceous rotors, my trusty rivets,
my melliferous melons, my mau-maus,
my tarty, my taut, my pert palookas,
my jahoobies, my kicking kawangas,
my agravic gobstoppers, my immodest maids,
my Scooby snacks, my squished-in shlobes,
my cupcakes, my soda bread, my bloomin’ baps,
my brilliant bangers, my brash bazookas,
my windscreen wipers, my Winnebagos,
my wopbopaloubop bopbapaloos,
my yahoos, my yazoos and yipping yin-yangs,
my paps, my pips, my pommes-de-terres,
my pushed-up, plunged-down, paraded balcony,
my slow reveal, my instant appeal,
my décolletage, my fool’s mirage,
and I watch him pay up, steady up and leave.
The Keeper
Fresh girls – as we know them in the trade –
are constantly in request.
A keeper who knows his business
has his eyes open in all directions.
His stock is constantly getting used up.
He must be alert to keep up the reputation
of his house. I have courted country girls
assuming the dress of a parson,
taking her to town to see the sights.
I bring her up, giving plenty to eat
and drink – especially drink –
and take her to the theatre, contrive
it so that she loses her last train.
She is tired, a little dazed with gin
and frightened at being left
in town with no friends.
I offer her nice lodgings for the night.
She goes to bed in my house
and then the affair is managed:
my client gets his maid,
I get my commission
and in the morning the girl, who dare
not go home, will do as the others
and become one of my marks.
Another very simple method
of supplying maids is by breeding them.
Many women on the streets
have female children. They are worth
keeping. When they get to twelve
or thirteen they become merchantable.
For a very likely mark of this kind
you get a great commission.
I once sold a girl, twelve years old,
to a clergyman who used
to come to my house
to distribute tracts.
The Angels’ Share
is time and molecules of water:
alcohol of gold vanilla extracts disappearing,
patient payment made in ullage.
It is two per cent for every year
that these charred, white oak casks
sit within these granite walls,
through the slow rise and falling
of shadows, sun and starlight,
rain, frost and wind.
It is seven years, or more,
waiting for the glowing fire
to come from the pure cut,
the heart of the run.
A long way out from grist and yeast.
* The Angels’ Share is a distiller’s term for the evaporation
from casks as whiskey ages.

The Scold Bridles
She waits with her head in the optician’s cage:
a scold’s bridle for those with frown lines
from not seeing far enough through the future.
The non-contact tonometer whirrs into position.
An expected pneumatic wheeze still surprises air
into each wide-open eyeball, pushing lashes
lightly apart. This is the glaucoma check made,
breath held tight, a stay against future diagnoses.
She imagines each iris flexing in shock, not just
narrowing her pupils, but browns, greys flocking
across a clear blue eye and thinks of iridology.
Is that a science, or the art of the inferred
from tiny flecks? Is there correspondence
with a broken arm, or mind; a scar checklist?
Once  man broke an owl’s leg, to set it again;
ten thousand hours of practice on the dumb.
How could he, later, think those dark specks
put there by his acts, his arts of Hippocrates?
Was it like the day a strange photographer
came to image blue-grey irises, intense focus
blurring into tears, murking the past, marks
that reeled a story whole from a broken lifeline?
The chin-rest frames a jaw set against these scenes.
There is a slight adjustment; the test now complete.
Achieving the Lotus Gait
In winter, the uphill path to Madame Xing’s
is treacherous. I watch for loose
stones among the grey-brown gravel
and the birds are almost silent
as each step quarries me,
wincing on wooden pattens.
Madame unravels yards of stinking cotton
from my feet and her thorough thumbs
knead them from numbness.
She honours my feet with warmed water,
loosening shedding skin,
trims each bruised nail to the quick.
She rebinds each foot in cotton lengths
soaked in herbs and animal blood.
A neat figure-of-eight turns
over instep, gathers toes, under foot
and round the heel, each pass tighter
than the last. And then my thoughts
cringe homewards, as I totter out under
a brittle moon; my own weight
crushing each foot into the correct shape.
from The Angels’ Share (Doghouse Books, 2012).
Order The Angels’ Share.
Visit Barbara’s blog.

Allan Kolski Horwitz’s There Are Two Birds At My Window

Allan Kolski Horwitz grew up in Cape Town. Between 1974 and 1985 he lived in the Middle East, Europe and North America, returning to South Africa in 1986. Since then he has been based in Johannesburg and worked in the trade unions and allied organizations. He is a member of the Botsotso Jesters poetry performance group and Botsotso Publishing. There Are Two Birds At My Window is published by Dye Hard Press.

Under the Summer Blue Sky of Troyeville
Under the summer blue sky of Troyeville
Next to a marimba disguised as a bench
You spun out your threads
Hands arching in the air
Voice jumping from detail to detail
You described old women and old clothes
The grandmother you adore
Who had struggled for the people
Now enjoyed soap opera
Political flame doused as the wheelchair makes pliant
Then you spoke of your breakdown
In the corporate desert
The need to find a reason to work
Under the summer blue sky of Troyeville
You smoked cigarette after cigarette and drank beer
And your face moved and your voice moved
Sending messages of which I am not sure
Your arms and neck turning from side to side
And I imagined kissing your back
Wondering if once again I would
Fall in love
With a delicate woman
Crumbs at Kei Mouth
At the start of each day
the men and women of the township over the hill
rise from the pink and lavender matchbox houses
they have been allowed to inhabit
          and trudge to and from the sites
          that bring them bread:
     the caravan park   the holiday flats
          the hotels   the restaurants
brown with lumpy bodies
mouths missing teeth   feet missing shoes
   broad noses shining with sweat
these men and women of the township
trudge to and from the seaside resort
getting blacker and blacker against the white skins
     of the hotel owners     the restaurant owners
     the petrol station owner     the estate agent
     the librarian     the fishing tackle shop assistant
     the tourists     the travelers swallowing
                      the whole road with their mega-tires
each day they arrive at and depart
and each day they say to themselves
     “if only destiny can be rewritten”
each day looking for the crumbs
     sprinkled round the town at the mouth
     of the historical river
They came to the shelter for battered women
enumerators in orange t-shirts
          they came to fill forms
                    to ask and record
and the battered women peered out
from behind their bruises     their blemishes
peered out with sour looks and grimaces
and touching their welts and their scars
     stumbled from their beds
          shuffled out of the tv room
crawled out from the cracks
the battered women in the shelter
came out to give answers
          confirm the bare facts
so proud to be reckoned alive
among those whose needs
need to be written down
          researched     made allowance for
standing in front of the enumerators
it was almost like being famous
this being counted as if you counted
Red Ants
The red ants come in the morning
they find the people asleep in their beds
the red ants hammer on the doors
the people refuse to open their doors
the red ants bore through
and enter the living rooms
the people protest
demand to know on whose authority
they come with their pincers
the red ants hold up an order
a court order
their order
the people examine the letterhead
pore over its contents
whisper in corners
the red ants grow restless
the order now stained with children’s tears
grandmothers’ snot
the red ants shout:
clear out
we must do our work
the people run to their bedrooms
lock the doors
peer through the keyholes
the red ants fume
acid builds up their heads
they grow redder
the people huddle in bathrooms
barricade toilets
block fire escapes
the red ants dissolve the doors
pile beds and fridges
onto the landings
the red ants swarm over their toys their pots
till their linen their books their tvs their socks
jam up the landings
the people are befuddled
try to comfort their kids
try to comfort themselves 
then the people cry out:
don’t you dare throw us into the street!
don’t you dare dump us in the cold!
but the red ants clear the building
snort the dust in the corners
scour webs from the cupboards
and while they work the red ants sing:
pay your rent! pay your lights!
pay everything and we will disappear into the walls
pay everything and we will leave you
poor ones drunk ones lazy ones
leave you to yourselves
and the people
the ones who want to pay but cannot
the ones who can pay but do not
the poor people of the slums
watch the red ants swagger
bits and pieces between their mandibles
too late to talk
too late to organize:
everything’s smashed
For G.
On the road   from the road
drug haze of the summit
used by those addicted to use
escape from yourself
break yr neck to break the face that stares
back and drags you back
once by a river you played me
your long pipe
               your hollow root
a plaintive enigmatic music
and when I walked away to return home
you stayed cross legged
by the river
          etching the vibration of the universe
you forgave us all
you always forgave
               but yourself
peaceless spirit
hung from a branch in a place of the dead
now gone
yet remembered
peaceless sweet spirit
from There Are Two Birds At My Window (Dye Hard Press, 2012).
There Are Two Birds At My Window will soon be available in bookstores countrywide at an estimated retail price of R130. If ordered directly from the publisher, price is R100. E-mail
Visit Dye Hard Press.

Jon Stone’s School of Forgery

Jon Stone was born in Derby and currently lives in Whitechapel. He’s the co-creator of pocket poetry journal Fuselit and micro-anthology publishers Sidekick Books. He was highly commended in the National Poetry Competition 2009, the same month his debut pamphlet, Scarecrows (Happenstance), was released. His first full-length collection, School of Forgery (Salt Publishing, 2012), is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation.

“The school of forgery is a singular institution, whose principal teachings concern the volatile relationship between fakery and invention. Both you and I are its alumni, and so is the bandit boiled alive in a cauldron of oil. So are the perpetrators of hoaxes, the writers of pornographic dōjinshi, counterfeiters in love with their teachers and teens who dress up as birds to fight tyranny. Its professors proliferate. Its graduates excel in every field. Its campus is the world.
This book, part prospectus and part fanzine, is made from stolen or borrowed parts – centos and collages, half-rhymes and homophonics, translations and travesties. Equally inspired by manga luminaries like Naoki Urasawa, animation and adventure stories as it is by earlier poets, the natural world and human history, School of Forgery postulates the poem as knock-off, as reclaimed scrap, and most of all as through-and-through fabrication.”
“Jon Stone writes angry, beautiful poems which access parts of your mind you didn’t know you had.”

– Luke Kennard
The Mark
He knows the only way to fake emotion’s
to fake (but not too well) lack of emotion
but not to get too tied up in its absence
(or, if you like, the pretence of its absence).
The last thing that he wants to do is hoodwink
himself into the thought he’s hiding something
and leave his mark believing what he’s hiding
is too conspicuous to be emotion
and too much of an absence to be something
he’d ever want mistaken for emotion.
Send in the Mink
A brave thought has entered his head
at the unlogged meatus where skull snags on spine,
where the shower’s blast is wickedest.
Send in the mink,
the one with the woozy plump tick above her eye,
whose honey coal rope of back
could muscle the canal’s dark surface
here or anywhere.
Send in the savage mink
with her lower jaw like a toy anvil,
ex-convict, escaped skinning,
who snacks on smuts of bird
at this bloody bank.
Send in the unsubtle mink
who last week murdered an old feral cat
with no ears, called Fro, leaving no stink,
a few white whiskers to frame the badger.
Let this brave thought be minked out,
minked up, minked to a stain.
Let him sleep the sleep of a drunk carpenter,
asleep in his unfinished coffin.
The Not-Who-They-Say-They-Are Sonnets
I.     Alistair MacLean’s Death Train
“It is hoped that the publication of Death Train, and of further novels based on MacLean outlines, will please the many readers for whom Alistair MacLean’s death has left a gap. Certainly MacLean fans will find that Death Train … has all the action and suspense for which Alistair MacLean was renowned.”
Flung hundreds of feet in the air, landing in the snow-laced
predicament, she smiled to herself when trying to think.
“Balashika,” Kolchinsky whispered, ashen-faced.
First the rotors, then the fuselage of a Lynx
entered the compartment and slid the door shut.
Kolchinsky gripped the proffered hand
and unbuttoned his cashmere overcoat.
A light snow had fallen over Central Switzerland
where the train came to a halt,
which was subsequently proved to have been an accident.
He fumbled to unclip the keys from his belt,
the conductor’s look of bewilderment
from years of neglect. It was the only way in.
You have thirty seconds to throw down your gun.
II.     (Million Copy Sellers made famous by) Tom Jones

“We have captured on this record the greatest hits made famous by Tom Jones, sung by a different, brilliant singer and orchestrally played in a style which may give you great difficulty in realising that these are not the original recordings by Tom Jones himself and his backing orchestras.”
It’s not unusual to go out at any time
I saw the flickering shadows of love on her blind
Last night, quietly, she walked through my mind
I wanna go home, I wanna go home.
I can’t let you out of my sight, darling.
Woah, woah, pussycat, pussycat.
I’m coming home to your loving heart
before these funny, familiar, forgotten feelings
go and powder your cute little pussycat nose.
I’m never gonna fall in love again.
Oh, what a blessing. I can leave her on her own
tonight. Hold me now my heart is
you, daughter of darkness. Oh daughter of darkness,
go and make up your cute little pussycat face.
III.     A Gay Girl in Damascus
A Gay Girl in Damascus gained a worldwide readership and was closely followed by news organisations. But the true author has now come forward – Tom MacMaster, an American man studying in Scotland. Many Syrian activists have reacted angrily, accusing him of trivialising or even harming their cause.”
                    BBC News
Oranges grow in the courtyard. Rania and I: roommates
finding pots as tall as we are. The city is seething
with younger women, guns, spices and grilled meats,
secret police. We are too stupid for these things.
We smell the rich funk of rotting fish and garbage
(gorgeous, knockout) at district centers and roll dice,
pour arak (lion’s milk) and play and brood. At our age,
it makes sense to build dams and lakes and add a cube of ice.
A red Dacia Logan with a window sticker of Basel Assad.
A battered tan Saab, from the middle 1980s.
A silver Mercedes. Men are comfortable in their sex.
But we saw that the end of the word was a sad, sad
joke which died in a gutter of some awful disease.
And after all these years, what happens next?
from School of Forgery (Salt Publishing, 2012).
Order School of Forgery.
School of Forgery reviewed at Eyewear.
Visit Sidekick Books.

Elizabeth Barrett’s A Dart of Green and Blue

Born in Sheffield in 1961, Elizabeth Barrett has a first degree and PhD in History and Politics from the University of London and was a scholarship student at the University of Massachusetts in the 1980s. She later trained as an English teacher, subsequently working in education research and as a university lecturer.
Elizabeth has received several awards for her poetry including an Arts Council of England Writer’s Award in 2000. She has worked as a writer-in-residence in schools, a prison and radio, and as a creative writing tutor and poetry editor. A Dart of Green and Blue (Arc Publications, 2010) is her fourth book.
She has two children and lives in Sheffield where she is Principal Lecturer in Education at Hallam University.

A Dart of Green and Blue explores the impact of loss on the human spirit; we witness the death of a mother and of a child, the loss of a lover and the erosion of self. A variety of birds inhabit the poems, carrying moments of joy and healing as well as grief. In one sequence, a girl is eclipsed by the shadow of a gull’s wing; in another she turns pelican, bleeding from self-inflicted wounds. But there are visionary moments and transformations too. In one sequence, Barrett imagines her dying mother transformed into a kingfisher:
     … I waited. Watched. It only took one
     hour before a dart of brilliant green and blue
     flashed past me (heading somewhere) and was gone.
There is resilience and some redemption in this collection. At the end of a sequence of poems charting the loss of a lover, a blackbird is still singing softly. And, in the collection’s closing poem, a finch flies into the human ‘labyrinth of tissue and bone’ where it sings of a ‘horizon sparkling with phosphorescence’.”
“Once you have started reading Elizabeth Barrett’s A Dart of Green and Blue, it is almost impossible to put down until you have weighed every word, savoured every piece of imagery and reflected on every emotional twist.
This is highly-charged poetry – intelligent, honest, unsentimental, exciting – full of surprises and with an unflagging pace and energy from the very beginning. The book falls into four sections: ‘Kingfisher’, a prize-winning sequence of poems about the death of the poet’s mother, to whose memory the book is dedicated; ‘Gull View North’, a long view (gull’s view) of the quarrying of Portland stone; ‘Penelope’s Magpie’; and finallly, ‘The Urge to Look Up’, both of which explore old and new relationships, dying and developing love.”
“This kind of poetry demands nothing other than that we observe our world more closely, think on it, feel something for it. It celebrates the lives and loved ones of the real people critics call ‘readers’.”

– Mark Burnhope, Stride Magazine
This Spring I’ll tip the scales to day
tilt them with weighted hours, then fold
time here at the edge of light. I will stay
with her at the high window, gold
flaring long as a solstice sun. We’ll play
at naming streets and she’ll admire the bold
yellow flower on the Arts Tower. From her bay
window on Ward Q3 (Acute) I’ll hold
back the night, so she’ll never look the way
she did next day when she’d been told.
There will be no fall through shortened days,
no sudden winding down of years, no scald
of tears nor darkness. Blessed in gold,
the day unbalancing forever, she’ll grow old.
In those last days she objected (gently)
to the trays of drugs the nurses brought:
I’m not a kingfisher she told me.
Swallowing was hard. She hadn’t caught
those pills in river light – didn’t have the king
bird’s knack of flicking them in the air
until they perfect-angled down the o-ring
of her open throat. Her daily catch was square-
or zeppelin-shaped. She had to get
the pitch just right so they would slip
like silver fish into her failing gullet –
otherwise she’d gag on them, be sick.
On her last day they pumped morphine through
her veins. I waited. Watched. It only took one
hour before a dart of brilliant green and blue
flashed past me (heading somewhere) and was gone.
Lights, Bangs, Flashes
All the next week, bangs and flashes of light bulbs
extinguishing themselves. There was no pining,
no high-pitched whine to warn me they were near the end;
just a series of sudden deaths. One morning, the force
of four at once threw the screen in the cooker hood
from its seating. Everything kept fusing in my newly-
wired house. How many trips did I make to the cellar,
fumbling through the floor hatch in torchlight to trip
the circuits back? One night, bulbs jumped clean from
their bayonets, flung out of their screwed-down lives.
Was this her doing; a code for me to crack?
What was she trying to signal through this black-out
and flash? I wasn’t sure until the day, stopped at lights,
a car slammed me from behind. The impact threw
me from my seat, knocked both his headlamps out.
I hugged him, kissed his cheek. I’m so sorry, I said.
Losing Things
Midsummer. The longest day draws out the crowds –
families, couples, girls downtown. I watch their eyes
for tell-tale signs but pick up only smiles; it will last
forever they think. Don’t they know how fragile
this is? And once you’ve lost the toughest things –
daughter, mother – why bother holding on to others?
So I quit the job I’d just got; didn’t care for the boss.
Told a woman I’d never trusted where to get off.
My mum had her number. She was smart enough
not to judge my lover. Still, I chucked him too.
The house went on the market next. One week I peeled off
three people (cross me you’re dead). Others I quietly dropped.
Soon there was nothing else to lose. I was travelling light
through voodoo June turning day to night, sun to moon.
I want to lose my balance; go somewhere uncertain,
beyond reason. The clairvoyant names the date and hour
of death. Do you know she loves lilies? Always think of her
with flowers. She tells me you were never good at picking
men. She let you make your mistakes. For some reason
she puts fish around you. Please remember I told you.
She pins a brooch on you, shows me one white rose.
Your mum loves Christmas. She was a good cook.
She doesn’t want you to be sad this year, my love.
But she would like you to be more consistent.
She makes me aware of letters being burned.
She’s not happy about it. No, she’s not happy at all.
Do you understand? The spirit world has many ways
of making things happen. She wants you to leave it alone.
And you’ll be connected to an Irish man, I’ll say that.
I buy lilies – book a week in County Kerry for luck.
Say then
Say that the colour of your shirt
reflected the lake in your eyes,
that the pitch of your alto voice
made me tremble inside.
Say that you noticed the watery beads
of glass around my neck, gestured
to a seat as if you had expected this –
offered paper, steaming tea, a pen.
Say that at the sound of your name
I unwound, as if I’d known always
that in a carriage of strangers I would
reach to brush dust from your cheek.
Say that it was fear of this
made me long for the train to slide
from the tracks of that wooden bridge –
to hang suspended over the glittering lake.
Say then that I would fly
like a trapeze girl letting go of the rope,
feel water the colour of your eyes
going over me, filling my throat.
from A Dart of Green and Blue (Arc Publications, 2010).
Order A Dart of Green and Blue.
Sarah Hymas reviews A Dart of Green and Blue.
William Oxley reviews A Dart of Green and Blue.
Mark Burnhope reviews A Dart of Green and Blue.

Time out at Mount Grace

“Well-being is not a state of mind, or even of body. It is a state of grace.”
– Sally Brampton
“The idea of feeding the soul is an old one, which can be found in mystical literature from around the world”

– Thomas Moore

“You can have all the drive in the world, but if you never stop driving, you will never know all the wonders that have flashed by your window.”
– Rabbi Naomi Levy

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
– Annie Dillard

“Sit. Feast on your life.”
– Derek, Walcott, ‘Love After Love’

“Your granny makes gravy, I make sauces.”
– Executive Chef Franc Lubbe, Mount Grace

“Taste is a form of knowing, a school for the senses. Food is an implement of magic, and only the cold-hearted rationalist could squeeze the juices of life out of it and make it bland.”
– Thomas Moore

“To be a true adventurer in the realm of taste you do not have to be a gourmet. You must, however, be appreciative and receptive, with a salt and peppering of curiosity and experimentation.”
– Oliver A. Wallace

“An exquisite pleasure has invaded my senses … When could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy?”
– Marcel Proust

“Grace fills the empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void.”
– Simone Weil

“Sleep is an essential part of life – but more important, sleep is a gift … There are few things more exquisitely pleasurable than giving [yourself] over to sleep at the end of the day or lying in bed half asleep waking to the new day …”
– William C. Derwent

“I think the reason we all get up in the morning whether we know it or not, is that brief moment during the day when we recognise the beauty in something.”
– Penelope Michler

“this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.
This is the temple
of my adult aloneness
and I belong
to that aloneness
as I belong to my life.
There is no house
like the house of belonging.”
– David Whyte, ‘The House of Belonging’

“One may return to a place, and quite unexpectedly, meet oneself still lingering there from the last time.”
– Helen Bevington
Visit Mount Grace Country House & Spa’s website.
Mount Grace Country House & Spa telephone number:
+27 (0) 14 577 5600
Mount Grace Country House & Spa facsimile:
+27 (0) 14 577 1202

John Clegg’s Antler

© Image by Alice Mullen

John Clegg grew up in Cambridge and studies at Durham University, where he is working towards a PhD on the Eastern European context of contemporary English poetry. Some of his poems feature in The Salt Book of Younger Poets and Best British Poetry 2012. His first collection, Antler, is published by Salt.
“The poems in Antler stalk their quarry over difficult ground. Prehistoric landscapes blend with genuine and imaginary anthropology; the real world becomes distorted through the dark mirrors of folktale and myth; fraudsters, liars, and con-men lurk perpetually in the shadows. This panorama is emotional, too, most vividly in the collection’s centrepiece: the sequence ‘Vaisala and Sinuhe’, charting an astronomy professor’s infatuation with one of his postgraduate students, who may or may not be a werewolf. Pared-down, playful and often very funny, Clegg’s poetry keeps faith with what is tactile and tangible (moss, leather, bone), distilling plainspoken diction, luminous imagery and a unique worldview into lines which remain in the head for a long while after the book has been closed.”
“John Clegg’s ludic mythology concerns things of mystery and the mystery of things, in language that is lucid yet uncanny. Fact jostles with fantasy and fable with fib, to conjure worlds recognizable but just out of reach, teasing, beckoning. Here is the emergence of a voice already assured but bewitchingly original.”
– Gareth Reeves
“Along with an affinity for antlers, ivory, and leather, Clegg shows a clear dictation of syntax that bridles none of his poetry’s emotional or surreal qualities.”
– Jerry Brunoe
“I must have been waiting for a poet to fuse deep sincerity and irony, craft and process, the surreal and the historical, because I read this twice in one sitting, fizzing with jealousy. Clegg’s poetry is a must. And while he may be well-versed in the cutting edge of literary theory, he’s even better versed in the classics. Beautifully crafted utterly contemporary. His work makes me feel the way I felt when I first read the New York School, or tasted pistachio flavour icecream, or the house-lights dimmed.”
– Luke Kennard
This was the empire of antler,
walrus ivory, soapstone and marten furs;
this was a choked democracy
around a marketplace where local kings
of seven lakes or less demanded
garrisons; this was a trading post
where silverscrap and Arab coins
by weight changed hands for whalebone.
This is a town below the mud
where ninety graves so far have been
disturbed: soldiers on stools,
two children end to end, a seamstress
wrapped in leather, seal-
hunters, shamen, priests, and one
clutching a shinbone notched
in what is now an undeciphered language.
We feared the moss. We hollowed out
our ancestors and packed them with it,
left them smouldering in bark canoes.
On terminal moraines we blessed the moss
as herald of the thaw. Our children
got down on their knees to kiss it.
Kind moss insulated our pagodas,
bedlinened the herder on high pasture,
kindled grubby smoke for sacred visions.
We combed the moss. Our mosseries
were envied by the Emperor himself.
Spore cases, every size and colour, hung
like fireworks. We bred moss patiently,
too subtle work for human lifespans.
In the war we mulched the telegrams
demanding anaesthetic or poison moss.
Our holy valley stayed unoccupied.
Today, the only sound above a whisper
is the meal-gong. I meditate at night
on whether we are really growing moss.
Our mystics say the moss is growing us.
Your poems have to lie. I had a choice.
The skull I’d forked out half a fortune for
was worthless sarawak orangutan,
not caveman from the Downs: I’d been half-cut
on whiskey, paid in cash and woken up
to find it straw-wrapped in a packing crate,
receipt attached. A showman’s pet
two hundred years old, maybe? Chips of gloss
were peeling off the cranium: a con,
a flimflam. I’d been made a mark
and though the man who sold it was long gone
I saw another way to get revenge.
The jawbone rattled loosely on its hinge
when I unhooked it, pried away the teeth
and dug through my display case for a vial
of fossil fangs: that was the turning point.
I laid them out like watchgears on black velvet,
pared the canines with a needle-file
and blunted the incisors. Grey dust shone.
Its human half came from the family vault.
Some folk believe that when God made the hills
he planted fossils as a test of faith.
That’s not far wrong. The forger builds a world:
a present and a long past of his own.
The conman who fobbed off a monkey skull
on me had mentioned Piltdown. That was where
I had picked to bring his artless lie to life,
to sculpt a kind of truth that would endure
from what he’d told me, what I could flesh out.
I guess the lying art was in my bones.
Spell for an Orchard
Before the universe, there was the orchard.
The orchard is the universe’s midpoint.
Each lost city was modelled on the orchard.
All myth and history started in the orchard.
Our apples banged the ground and that was thunder.
Our trees put down long roots and they were rivers.
Moss grew around the bark, and that was forest.
In the forest, two-legged insects chittered.
They sucked on sap and it was blossom honey.
They pared spears from torn splinters.
They saw a sparrow which they thought was God.
The real god is hidden in the orchard.
The rat behind the warehouse is the god of rats.
The wasp drowned in the barrel is the god of wasps.
The universe will not outlive the orchard.
The universe is larger than the orchard.
Larger is irrelevant. The orchard is better.
Our fruit dislodged the baby teeth of kings.
Our cider vinegar dissolved their crowns.
Our apples hang among the leaves like lanterns.
Now choose and twist. Each one is worth a world.
You dreamed that you were standing in the orchard.
Your lover said one word, and that was orchard.
You never found the right key for the orchard.
Your house lay just a little past the orchard.
You lay on moss, your legs spread, in the orchard.
You breathed the ripened air around the apple.
That brooch you lost, you lost it in the orchard.
Ramon Sije
after Miguel Hernendez
Leave me alone with just this grief
and grave and blank expanse of sky.
Your death’s more real than my life.
I’m pinned up like a butterfly,
wings beating. Leave me. Let me work.
Of course no-one can tell me why
you didn’t fight: a quiet jerk
on death’s leash and along you went.
My own dog would have gone berserk.
I won’t forgive that witty gent
upstairs, or Life and Death his goons,
or Earth his lapsed experiment.
I blow up storm-clouds like balloons
and axe-blades clatter at my feet.
Some orbit round my head as moons.
I’ll eat his planet bite by bite
I’ll flense the mantle from the core
I’ll thresh the trees like they were wheat
if you don’t speak. Our words before
are weightless now. You were a leaf.
Come back as wind. Break down the door.
Trade spilt across the night. We swapped
our ermine pelts for the fermented horse-
milk we called kumis, they called kuomoss.
Too cold for dancing. Mela siphoned ash
from someone’s firepit to sketch a map
of where was safe to ford the frozen river.
Our languages were halves of a split flint:
they interlocked, but barely trespassed.
Like every other year, we shared tent-space
and fed the stove and spoke alternate toasts,
and now we can’t explain the strange offence
they took, how while we slept they left
and saddled shivering horses in the dark.
Next morning, hoofprints led us to a half-
healed breach between the riverbanks;
a tumble into emptiness, a stillbirth.
We felt their words unravelling from ours
and headed bank to camp to find the kumis
turned, stinking of vinegar and sperm.
Poured out, it left a star-chart in the skins.
from Antler (Salt Publishing, 2012).
Order Antler.

Tim Dooley’s Imagined Rooms

Tim Dooley was born in 1951 and grew up in the West Country. He read English at Oxford and has a research MA in Victorian Poetry from the Open University. He has taught English and Film Studies, in schools and in Further Education, in London and Hertfordshire since 1974. He is reviews and features editor of Poetry London and has worked as a creative writing tutor for Arvon, Writers’ Inc and The Poetry School. He has reviewed poetry for the TLS and co-edited the little magazine Green Lines. His first collection, The Interrupted Dream, was published by Anvil in 1985. This was followed by The Secret Ministry (2001) and Tenderness (2004), both winners in the Poetry Business pamphlet competition. Tenderness was also a Poetry Book Society pamphlet choice. Along with Keeping Time, which was a Poetry Book Society recommendation for Winter 2008, Imagined Rooms brings together the poems Tim Dooley wishes to keep from four decades of writing.

“The poems in Imagined Rooms invite the reader in Philip Gross’s words ‘to take it all in’. Written between the 1970s and the start of the Clinton and Blair era, they display a voracious imagination, a freedom with language and a hard-bitten compassion. A worthy companion to Keeping Time, also published by Salt, Imagined Rooms is global in its outlook, making what was once strange or distant immediate and present. It offers a view on a world where there is no place to hide and where, in Dooley’s paraphrase of Jaccottet, the poet’s role is to name and look out for ‘every item left at risk’.”
“Dooley deals with whatever comes – news, memories, encounters, dreams: nothing is out of bounds.”

– Philip Gross, Poetry Review
“Dooley seems to me among the handful of writers today trying to work towards a serious, intelligent poetry of the people – something that is neither frivolous verse nor poetry built for the seminar room”
– Peter Sansom, Orbis
“The measured, meditative manner sometimes quickens into a loping inclusiveness of definition, or breaks out in arresting tight-lipped urgencies (including urgent uncertainties) of perception.”
– Claude Rawson, TLS
“Amalgamating poise and intellect with a thoughtful pacing of each poem’s release, Dooley injects his words into their precision mouldings with a characteristically delicate and perceptive pressure.”
– Mario Petrucci, PBS Bulletin
“Dooley is that rarest of things, both a public and private poet. Whilst other poets might retreat to domestic subject matter to reflect personal or private insight, Dooley does not shrink from big historical moments and demonstrates seamlessly how such moments inform our inner lives. Perhaps what endures most is his fierce poetic defence for, and belief in, the strength of the human spirit, often in the face of oppressive political forces that threaten to engulf the self. The characters in these poems, and one suspects the poet himself, are searching for something that feels more real; as such, much of the poetry in this collection offers an alternative, an escape route from the standardised and artificial. He is not only a poet of our time but a poet that is needed for our times.”
– Christopher Horton, Eyewear
A Part of the Main
A figure in a one-man boat
is pulling from his seine
fish that are strange to us.
On handkerchiefs of land
grow plantains, peppers fruit.
He steers between these fields
watching water shake itself
like a tall haze of sky.
The shining evening spins ahead:
his empty market tray,
or ice in a long glass of rum.
The tapir-driven taxis pass.
Men talk of bat and ball.
I am reading essays
for the overseas exam.
Through the poorly-puttied window
close wooden fences lean
like the walls of a shanty town.
The script lies open
on a small metal desk.
Mr. Persaud writing.
He wants to take a post
in some other, foreign country.
Poor prospects, rigidity,
botched new developments.
He hopes for wealth, smart buildings
and: ‘if I walk by a lake
with a girlfriend, no-one would talk’.
In my lakeless suburb
this back view of a house:
A figure in a lighted room
is reading on lined paper
words that are strange to him.
An Edward Hopper figure
in the static placeless night.
A clothed figure held up by light,
in the night where the world turns
and home is abolished.
Wondering what it would be like
in another, foreign country.
The zig-zag fire escapes,
fresh coffee, pretzels,
the rattling Legendary El.
Someone else’s map invades
the starless blank through which we move.
We wear imported clothes,
eat fresh exotic fruit.
This news I hear—the Cortes
at gunpoint on all fours—
is local and is real.
Griefs pin-prick the night to form
reflecting the reclaimed land
we steer through with our days,
joined by some work or hope,
a message from some other country
something glimpsed rocking
in the prow of a fisherman’s boat,
wrapped in a coloured magazine.
We had to bring it along
so nothing would be strange to us.
If you find the new place, and when you’ve climbed
the stairs, unpacked each case and closed with care
each unfamiliar door, perhaps you’ll stare
through these clean windows or, later, leaning
on the desk, you’ll turn your head and say, ‘I’m
glad we chose this place and glad I’m leaving
where I was before. The walls look older
here. Back then I hated walls. I thought they
kept all life outside and it was colder
when they curled around me. I kept away
from rooms before, but now so much has changed.
I like that chair; those flowers you’ve arranged’.
The new place is like that. It stuns us by
its size. We didn’t think that warmth would flow
through pipes like that and make no sound. The high
ceilings are light, unstained and even. No
breeze disturbs a curtain, even less
your tired face, your rest. I’m sure you’ll find
the place quite soon and hope that you won’t mind
when you arrive, my asking the address.
March 19th 1977
Trying to get things right with terribly yellow
daffodils and the Times at Saturday breakfast,
so as to make it a leisurely morning where
hopes might sort our hours to harmonious
order. Decanting the frozen orange juice,
thinking of friends or having paid the
credit card bill; this is sufficiency. There
is sunlight on the fruit bowl as well.
A day for such carelessness. When someone
was crying on the end of the phone, you’d
think something was wrong with the line.
When friends come to dinner, you want more
wine and compliments on the moussaka
and would float through hearing anything
about it—how someone’s life has turned so
grey with worry, nothing in him makes sense.
You would. But somehow the loves we have
make their terrible connections clear.
You do hear the weeping remember
what blankness is. You’re there where
hopes fall on their face from mid-leap. It’s like
bad news on the radio of the admired great
and worse and still you cannot help. If you
believed in God, he would have to explain all this.
The Old Worship

On Station Road the rockabilly fans cradling loud
cassette players slouch with brutal authority like
connoisseurs of art. You arrive with a standard-
lamp and flowers in your hat. My druid priestess.
It’s Saturday in the tiresome world—too late to
start a religion. We make our way along a pavement
crowded with difficulty: unsure who is still
friendly to us, whom we should pretend to love.
There is the library to be comfortable in when
your thoughts chatter. Hear the microprint index
whirr. It flies through an orchard of shelves,
their branches heavy with cling-film coloured fruit.
Maybe today there will be something new. My
shining notes glitter in their ache for synthesis.
Beyond the modern glass, the car park with its
new thin trees waits respectfully for spring.
Or perhaps there is sorting our furniture again,
moving the carpet we are not tired of, getting
a fresh hold on the room. Then we will be ready
for the cosy months, the long days we take refuge
in. There will be time for sacred music and time for
distractions. Hope for that. Let us ignore the
brown packet of letters, the unfamiliar hand,
the old thin words of those we have failed to love.

from Imagined Rooms (Salt Publishing, 2010).
Order Imagined Rooms.
Read Tony Williams’s interview with Tim Dooley.

Peter Daniels’s Counting Eggs

© Image by Julian Corkle

Peter Daniels published his first full collection Counting Eggs in April 2012 with Mulfran Press. His pamphlets include Mr Luczinski Makes a Move with HappenStance (2011) and three with Smith Doorstop, twice as a Poetry Business competition winner; he also won the Ledbury (2002), Arvon (2008) and TLS (2010) poetry competitions. His translations of Vladislav Khodasevich from Russian are due from Angel Books in 2013. 

“His eye for the absurdity of every-day life is sharp but gentle, his tone light but authoritative. Daniels never preaches or pontificates, but, in their indirect and humorous way, his poems seek answers to the bigger questions about how we should live.”
– Carol Rumens
“The poems have a subtle flavour all of their own, a sense of ‘brave new world’, as well as of ‘fin de siècle’. They’re myth-making, risqué, unforcedly stylish and with a delicate spiritual sense.”

– Moniza Alvi
“Peter Daniels writes poems that shift perspectives, sometimes so deftly that you scarcely spot it being done – that is, until you notice that city landscapes have come alive with unsettling details round the edges; the everyday is subject to small seismic jolts of time and scale.”
– Philip Gross

The Rainbow
On board, the beasts were snorting in their stalls
with their hormones singing through the dung:
but by the hundred and fiftieth day
on the smooth waters in windless drizzle,
no one was ready any more. Noah lay relaxing
in a silk robe, unbuttoned, the Lord disapproving;
the brothers on deck betting on a sight of water nymphs,
monsters, any new thing at all.
And in the seventh month, the misty air was warm,
blanketing Ararat, and all of creation indoors
still steadily rolling, standing carefully
inside each other’s smells; but then, wrong
footed, thrown when the bottom
bumped and scraped, sideways; a moment
of losing their places, a bout of questioning grunts.
The rutting began with a jumpy shivering,
the vocal flesh in a clamour for it all to subside,
to grant the abatement of waters, the planting of feet:
and the sun twisted through the cloud, turning
the sky; while the sky was shining back, to make
an example, a reason to feel now there would be more.
The whole tight ship had something to wait for.
Noah opened his window for the dove, which stood
a moment exercising claws and beak, before its wings clapped
and circled off, somewhere towards the faint mountains.
Mall of Mammoths
Minneapolis, 1992
They’ve built the Mall of America
          on a prairie near the airport:
a hangar, to protect the world
          from the Minnesota climate.
The big everything – Bloomingdales
          to a blimp made of Lego:
leave the kids on flume rides and roller coasters.
          Get shopping.
Some of the shops are still discreetly unlet,
          given the recession.
One corner unit houses a sideshow
          of travelling Russians
bringing the Great Siberian Mammoths
          from that North to this,
with a support of stuffed wolverine, beaver,
          and three types of lemming.
The big attraction is
          the whole baby mammoth, who lost his mother.
Though his feet are still hairy,
          his body is now a dark brown leather
like my second-hand flying jacket
          with several additional sleeves,
laid out bulky but deflated,
          the breathing occupant missing.
Glass tanks of fluid contain
          his heart and his penis, on display:
that dead infant’s plaything
          could incite grown men to envy.
Beside him, a full skeleton with twirling tusks,
          but not his mother;
and a skull – “Yes, you may touch!”
          – its features worn down to melting.
Back at the entrance,
          three Russian women in smocks
are selling lacquerwork nesting dolls
          and fairytale boxes;
enamel mammoth brooches –
          “I Am From Siberia” – and trays
full of remaindered Lenins.
          I am in America, and buying.
Shoreditch Orchid
They’re grubbing up the old modern
rusty concrete lampposts,
with a special orange grab
on a fixture removal unit.
The planters come up behind
with new old lampposts in lamppost green,
and bury each root in a freshly-dug hole.
The bus can’t get past, brooding in vibrations.
We’re stuck at the half-refurbished
late-Georgian crescent of handbag wholesalers.
The window won’t open. The man behind me
whistles “What a Wonderful World”,
and I think to myself:
Any day soon
the rubble will be sifted; the streets all swept,
and we’ll be aboard a millennium tram ride,
the smooth one we’ve been promised, with a while yet to go
until the rising sea and the exterminating meteor,
but close before the war
starting with the robocar disaster.
And when the millennium crumbles,
I’ll be squinting through the corrugated fence
at the wreck of the mayor’s armoured vehicle, upside down
where they dumped the files of the Inner City Partnership;
and as I kick an old kerbstone
I’ll find you, Shoreditch orchid, true and shy,
rooting in the meadow streets
through old cable, broken porcelain, rivets and springs;
living off the bones of the railway.
You’ll make your entry unannounced,
in the distraction of buddleia throwing its slender legs
out in the air from nothing,
from off the highest parapets, cheap
attention-seeking shrub from somewhere
like nowhere. But here
you’ll identify your own private genes,
a quiet specimen-bloom seeded in junk,
and no use to any of us; only an intricate bee-trap
composed in simple waxy petals, waiting
for the bees to reinvent their appetite.
We’ll be waiting for the maps to kindle
as we get settled, where we find ourselves
undiscovering the city,
its lost works, disestablished
under the bridges. There’s no more bargaining
for melons and good brass buttons.
We share your niche
and crouch as the falling sun
shines through the smoke, and the lampposts
fail to light the night to the place all buses go.
‘Shoreditch Orchid’ won first prize in the Arvon Competition 2008.
The Monkey
Vladislav Khodasevich
(translated by Peter Daniels)
It was hot. Forests were burning. Time
tediously dragging. At the neighbouring dacha
the cockerel crowed. I went out past the gate.
There, propped against the fence, on the bench,
a vagrant was dozing, a Serb, thin and dark.
A cross of heavy silver hung on his
half-naked chest. Drops of sweat
were rolling down him. Up on the fence
a monkey in a red skirt was sitting
greedily chewing the leaves
of the dusty lilacs. Her leather collar
was pulled back by a heavy chain,
catching her throat. The Serb, hearing me,
woke up, wiped off his sweat and asked me
to give him some water. But he barely sipped –
how cold was it? – put a dish on the bench
and at once the monkey, dipping
a finger in the water, seized
the dish in both her hands.
She drank, crouched on all fours,
her elbows leaning on the bench.
Her chin nearly touched the planks,
her backbone arched high above her dark
and balding head. It was the position
Darius must once have taken, bending
at a puddle in the road the day he fled
in front of Alexander’s mighty phalanx.
When she had drunk it all, the monkey
swept the dish from the bench, stood up
and – when could I ever forget this moment? –
offered me her black and calloused hand,
still cool from the water, extending it …
I have shaken hands with beauties, poets
and leaders of nations – not one hand displayed
a line of such nobility! Not one hand
has ever touched my hand so like a brother’s!
God is my witness, no one has looked at me
so wisely and so deeply in the eye,
indeed into the bottom of my soul.
This animal, destitute, called up in my heart
the sweetness of a deep and ancient legend.
Life in that instant seemed to me complete;
a choir of sea-waves, winds and spheres
was shining and was bursting in my ear
with organ music, thundering, as once
it did in other, immemorial days.
Then the Serb got up, patted a tambourine.
Taking up her seat on his left shoulder
with measured rocking, the monkey rode
like a maharajah on an elephant.
The enormous crimson sun
stripped of its rays
hung in the opalescent smoke. A sultry
thunderlessness covered the feeble wheat.
That was the day of the declaration of war.
7 June 1918, 20 February 1919
from Counting Eggs (Mulfran Press, 2012).
Order Counting Eggs.
Visit Peter’s website.

Clare Best reviews Abegail Morley’s Snow Child

Child by Abegail Morley
Pindrop Press 2011
ISBN 9780956782243
Abegail Morley’s first collection How to Pour Madness into a Teacup, a winner of the Cinnamon Press Poetry Collection Competition and shortlisted for the Forward Best First Collection prize, was always going to be a hard act to follow.

With the very smart Pindrop Press edition of Snow Child, Morley has gone for a swift second collection (published just two years after How to Pour Madness into a Teacup) which bears the same hallmark of emotional power. Snow Child again demonstrates that this poet is a force to be reckoned with.

Running to sixty-three pages of poems, the collection could seem in need of some pruning, but part of the message of Morley’s work appears to me to be its protracted nature. She has a way of approaching her subjects from several different angles, and the resulting layers of emotion, the build-up of impressions, the accretions of weight, are central to the effect of the collection as a whole.
The poems describe and inhabit a state of super-sensitivity (this term is more aware of a need for covering than the word ‘rawness’, though that word is tempting). It is manifested in ‘Angler’ as the skinned fish with eyes that “solidify and chink on the plate”. It appears in ‘Family Album’ as a yearning: “At the end of the darkness is the thread of my child./ I carry the weight of the dead”. It re-emerges in ‘Northern Line’ as “a disembodiment,/ a straining to replace nothing with something”. This super-sensitivity, questing comfort and seldom finding it, gives the poems their urgency and provides their uniformity of tone and drive.
Many of the poems focus on loss of one kind and another. Often the loss seems predatory, ineluctable, as in ‘Wasps’:
          By now you’re 50 miles away at the Dartford Tunnel,
          thrumming your way through. Here my skull’s stuffed
          with wasps bashing their wings, wedged between
          bone and skin. Soon their humming stops.
The loss is generally associated with menace, violence, the potential for more loss, making the compound effect of the collection hefty. In ‘Knoll Beach’, the speaker not only envisions the subject of the poem “slumped like sculpted rock … shoulders slack inside your coat” but shows layer after layer of loss – words shifting their balance, rocks breaking and opening “like scars, thin/ white lines bruising blue then mauve”. Until, finally “your body’s gone/ and all that’s left is the yell of gulls”.
The more loss there is at work in the poems themselves, that is to say the more the poet strips them down, the more effective and affecting they become, and in one of my favourites, ‘Sea’, everything depends on the last word, the possibilities it offers. Here is the whole poem:
          I hang seaweed on a doornail.
          It is psychic, predicts all manner of things.
          My weather glass, my barometer of change,
          it keeps away spirits and fire.
          I know its air-bladders are mouths
          and they talk of nothing but rain
          when I pass. I hear their whispers.
          I wait for the sun to die.
          Pursing my lips and whistling across the sea,
          I bring home the wind, the tide turns.
These are determined poems – their bleak beauty will hollow out a place in you, and will rest there.
Order Snow Child (Pindrop Press) here.
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Clare Best‘s poems are widely published in magazines including The Rialto, The London Magazine, Magma, Resurgence, Agenda and The Warwick Review. A chapbook, Treasure Ground (HappenStance 2009), resulted from her residency at Woodlands Organic Farm on the Lincolnshire fens. Breastless – poems from the sequence Self-portrait without Breasts with photographs by Laura Stevens – came out with Pighog in 2011, and Clare’s first full collection, Excisions, was published by Waterloo Press, also in 2011. She teaches Creative Writing for Brighton University and the Open University, and lives in Lewes, Sussex. Visit Clare’s website here.