Four poets, four collections this week, starting with Beyond.


Reading this collection was a dead cert right from the poem I saw the title: Beyond. The collection by Sarah Wardle was published this month by Bloodaxe. But, even if the title hadn’t been so close to my own Be[yond], even if it hadn’t written by a poet also called Sarah, even if it hadn’t been written by a poet who has also experienced metal ill health/depression, even if there were none of these serendipitous coincidences, I would still have had to read it.

Wardle’s first collection Fields Away is one I greatly enjoyed. The same too with her third, A Knowable World, though the content felt slightly more strait-jacketed in the latter for it to become a favourite with me. This, her fourth collection is again more varied in content. It sits mainstream in style, compared both to my own Be[yond] and the other collections I will move on to discussing in a bit.

The allusions, philosophical insights, observations and thoughts are conveyed here with a writerly control and crafted style that I greatly admire. There is a stillness and peace to these poems that, at first, I think I am perhaps not quite ready for, for all my admiration. That said, even at this point, I feel the better for knowing such peace/stillness is possible.

As I read on, however, the poems’ quiet insistence slowly grew on me, much as the dawn slowly spreads light, hope and life in Wardle’s exquisite ‘Citybreak’. This and the quiet morning sounds of ‘Breakfast Soliloquy’ were perhaps two of my favourite poems in the collection.

But then, there is also the gentle/sad-but-strong irony of ‘Freshers’ and ‘Management Logic’. The resonant and striking images in ‘City Walk’ and ‘Midwinter’, the affirmation of ‘Keep Going’ (a non-religious prayer in poetry?) and the beautiful connectedness even within loneliness found in ‘Drift’.

one columbus leap

I am not normally a history fan. Though my mother studied history at university, I hated the subject at school (perhaps because of uninspiring teaching). It is important to say this because, if history had come then in the form of Anamaria Crowe Serrano’s one columbus leap (Corrupt Press), I’m sure I would have loved it.

This is not to say that this pamphlet in anyway resembles a history textbook or teaching or lessons, rather that this poetry of Columbus’s 1492 step from the harbour town of Palos de la Frontera to the new world reveals the full mystery and powerfully alive narratives that can be found in history when recreated or re-imagined rather than left flat on a page.

As a reader, I found this poetry beautiful and exciting: in the sound of the words and its shape on the page; in the startling images and the stillness of philosophy. These poems are full of an exuberance of language that fills me as reader with exuberance – or, if it’s not too obvious a metaphorical connection to make, that makes my mind and heart leap – a columbus leap! *

(*It is only after typing this and thinking that I must mention the beautiful cover image, that I notice this artwork by Jordi Forniés is also entitled ‘Pieces of the Heart’.)

Beautiful Girls

Melissa Lee-Houghton’s collection Beautiful Girls, published by Penned in the Margins is full of poetry that is riven with sadness and achingly beautiful. There is an exquisite pain for me in reading some of these poems. The collection is one of bodies and images that are startling, strange and also hauntingly beautiful. There is flesh in parts or intact, flesh that is anorexic, used, ashamed, mistreated, cursed…and celebrated/loved.

The skeleton thinness of much of the life that is depicted is in direct contrast to Lee-Houghton’s long flowing lines, which make their presence felt on the page and in the reader’s mind. There were a few poems, where I thought/expected a poem had stopped, only to then find them carried on overleaf. In each case, there was also something more in the going further, in the pushing onwards.

This is a collection filled with hunger, that also fills me as reader with a hunger, both hunger to read on and also a hunger inside, even though that hunger is one I cannot always place, or name.

So Many Moving Parts

From one set of beautiful (body) parts to another – Tiffany Atkinson’s So Many Moving Parts(Bloodaxe). Before even opening to read, this book has to have one of the most gorgeous covers I’ve seen in a while. And the poems are equally stunning.

It says something for the originality and unique voice of these poems that I find it so hard to sum exactly what it is that is so stunning and amazing. One really does need to read the actual poetry to experience it.

These poems have the kind of writing that simultaneously makes one see something in an entirely new way whilst also wondering how on earth one has got through life never having seen it this way before?! There is emotional resonance and not just one but several pieces of stunning/amazing imagery in each concise, crafted and striking poem.

Contents-wise, there is the traditional in religion/literature alongside the new/21st century existence. There are unusual viewpoints/approaches, as in ‘Farm Sale, Tregaron’, which asks not what we want from the sale items, but what they might want from us? Many of the juxtapositions and linkings are startling, and at the same time so right, from the beautiful opening ‘Nightrunning’ through to the final poem, ‘Mantra’, whose lingering refrain echoes inside, like the ripples not of a stone but an arrow meeting water.

My Poetry

That reading mostly sums up the past week or so for me, though I have also been busy editing and submitting some of my own work.

Two of my poems are currently up in the Burns Window Project (you can search for the project group on Facebook, if you’d like to find out more about it). One of the poems handwritten for display in the windows is my ‘Bare Bones’, which you can see in a different, poetry-art hybrid, format below.

I also had a guest post on ‘why I write?’ featured novelist Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn’s blog, which you can find here. (While you’re there, there are interesting posts on the same theme by other writers working in various different genres.)

And this week also saw my first poetry acceptance of 2014, a piece for the next issue of the fabulous Verse Kraken.

To wrap up this blog post, I’ll finish now with a few reminders from previous posts.

Workshops and Events

Firstly, a new creative writing group organised by Garage Arts Group, which I will be leading with poet Ruth Stacey (in alternating blocks of six weeks). The group is aimed at helping people with depression, mental health problems or learning difficulties to express themselves, develop any artistic inclinations and interact with people sharing this creative interest in a small, friendly and fun environment.

Sessions are currently held at the Garage Arts Group centre in Evesham on Thursday mornings (term-time only) from 10am to 12 noon and cost £6 a meeting. The group is supported by Wychavon District Council and funded by South Worcestershire Clinical Commissioning Group.

While the main emphasis of the group is on having fun with writing, inspiration and trying new things, the aim is to cater for varying degrees of writing experience from the beginner to those who may have been writing for a while. For more information, please see the Garage Arts Group website or contact Pam White on 01386 423245, 07933 512210 or garageartgroupATliveDOTcoDOTuk.

I will also be reading at Worcester SpeakEasy on February 13th, 7.00 pm for a 7.30 pm start; done and dusted by 9.45 pm. This is at the Old Rectifying House in Worcester and the headliner is Byron Vincent.

And tickets and the full line-up for The Quiet Compere Tour, where I will be reading at the MAC in Birmingham on Friday, March 21 are now available here.

Special Offers

Finally, a quick reminder of the special New Year offers on my poetry collections Be[yond] (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press) and Into the Yell (Circaidy Gregory Press), which will run until the end of the month.

I normally sell these at £7 and £7.99, plus postage and packing. In my offers below, not only are the books reduced but postage and packing is free.

Into the Yell and Be[yond] for £12

Into the Yell for £7

Be[yond] for £6.50

I’m happy also to sign these, if requested. Alternatively, of course, you might want to buy them direct from the presses (check the press websites for cost) and take advantage of any offers or other collections that you might like.