February and I know it’s been a while.

An online dictionary tells me the name of this month means/comes from the Middle English for the month of purification. I’m not sure the rain and flooding has made me feel purified, almost the opposite in fact.

That said, there is something refreshing about the frost in sunshine of some early February mornings and the origins of the word are certainly a new learning for me. This newness ties in, somewhat loosely, with me wishing everyone a belated Happy Chinese New Year. I feel less bad saying that this far into that year (Jan 31), as its theme remains current for the next 11 months. This year’s animal being the horse, I was delighted to have my poem, ‘The Man Who Raced Fire’, included in the And Other Poems celebration.

Beyond Reviewed

Most of today’s blog will be reviews, starting with news of a generous review of my second collection Be[yond] by Emma Lee in the latest issue of The Journal.

She writes:

Be[yond] is split into three sections. The first section is ‘Against Air and Water’ and is mainly prose poetry, eg from ‘Hydrophobic’ where balsamic vinegar and bread has been laid on a table for two in a restaurant, “His neat nails are manicured inertness on a wine glass. Undipped, our daily bread: crusted slabs of soft marble veined with air, textured to soak up dark acidity and tang sparks on our tongues – if fingers break the whiteness to share. //We leave its basket untouched.”

Readers know instantly this date is going nowhere: the prose is precisely atmospheric.

The second section is ‘Through the Ether’ with poems that play on words within words or words formed by joining parts of two separate words using a bold or a larger typeface, eg ‘Poem in Which Mouse is Seen Not He(a)rd’

“Only the cat that’s got her tongue –
          pressed to flat pe(t)al

                              between the thin leaves
                    of their black-leathered Bible,

where Thomas begat father begat brothers
          as Adam begat Seth begat Enos –

                    teaches her the art of claws;
          that scratches will bleed.”

The third section ‘From Earth and Fire’ features more conventionally typefaced poems. In ‘Visiting the Zoo’, “dark hair feathers her fingers, / his breath skims her breasts.// She uncoils from the hotel bed/ as serpent, ostrich and butterfly, /leaves the sheets as twisted chrysalis shreds.”

Sarah James’s work is innovative and still accessible. She clearly has a keen ear for sounds and rhythms combined with an appreciation of language and the construction of words. Be[yond] is a rewarding read.”

My Micro-Reviews of Soil and The Waiting Hillside

Soil is a thing of decay and a place of new growth. It might also be viewed as the meeting point between the sky/air and the earth, and a substance of sifting and mixing. These observations, and more, make it an extremely apt title for Tim Cresswell’s highly readable Penned in the Margins collection. Soil opens with city and nature in ‘The Fox and the Skyscraper’, an interaction that can be found throughout this interesting and varied book of poems.

Just as there are different types of soil, there are a range of forms here, and layers of humour and deeper insight. Place is important, but not just in a geographical or geological sense (Cresswell is a geographer). There are also inner places and the people of places. The vivid detail of a ‘Glass of Water’ is characteristic of the whole collection, as is the flow and continuity. Tracing a glass of tap water in an arc back through its recycled uses before reaching the poet’s own body, Cresswell outlines London through the sharp contrasts and mixture of its inhabitants’ ages, ethnicity and jobs.

For me, this is poetry that is in turns, thought-provoking, evocative, moving, light-hearted in places, and so real that I could feel the soil under my fingernails – and not the dirty soil of wastelands but the earth soil from which beautiful things grow.

Back in September, when Be[yond] was launched, I was lucky enough to be a guest poet at Leicester Shindig, alongside poet Martin Malone. His Templar Poetry collection The Waiting Hillside was Straid Poetry Award winner 2013, and reading it, it isn’t hard to see why.

Not a line is wasted in these crafted poems of place and relationships. Place here is often geographical hillsides or towns. But these poems also feature issues of place, often shifting or uncertain, in history, cultural background and belief. And places too within the family, in love, in friendship. The vivid/colourful characters depicted also stand out, from the bingo-caller in ‘Seaton Carew, 1979’ to ‘Cathal’ and ‘Seven Views of Christopher’.

It’s hard to pick out favourite poems from this collection. The narratives and situations are all easy to identify with, and the poems all have striking lines that linger in the mind. It’s a grey day outside, as I’m reading and pondering how to sum it up. Then, suddenly, the rain stops. Clouds pass, spilling sun and shadows in strange and beautiful shapes across the page. And there is what reading this collection is like – enjoying the beautiful ever-changing interplay of light against dark, dark against light, in language, love, life.

Events

Although, I still have the finishing touches to complete on my final MA portfolio/collection, I am slowly emerging from hibernation (or fear-frost, as I shall attempt to light-heartedly dismiss it).

I’ve just started a free short course in Corpus Linguistics, offered by Lancaster University over on FutureLearn, and a TS Eliot’s The Waste Land reading group with The Poetry School.

Meanwhile, I’ve also been preparing a Valentine’s anti-love set for Worcester SpeakEasy at Drummonds, Worcester, on Thursday evening (7.30pm start).

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.

I’m also looking forward to my slot as a guest poet, alongside talented poet Helen Calcutt, at Poetry Bites, run by Jacqui Rowe at the Kitchen Garden Café, 17 York Road, Kings Heath. This night also includes floorspots, but arrive early to book them. Doors open at 6.30pm for a 7.30pm and tickets cost £5 (£4 concessions).