I’m trying to resist the urge to write gigtastic. But finally starting to emerge from the MA, that is how it feels. And it’s good.

But first, a few microreviews. In between the final crossing the eyes and dotting the teas (extra sugar/sweetner!!!) on my MA, I have been enjoying three rather different poetry books. And, if my word play there had you groaning (sorry!), these collections shouldn’t.

Maps & Legends

Maps & Legends: Poems to Find Your Way By – this Nine Arches Press anthology (edited by Jo Bell and Jane Commane) of Nine Arches poets is super value for money, so much so that I think I’m going to have to microreview in two parts to cover the wide range of poets and poems included.

One thing I like about it straight off is that there isn’t just one poem per poet. There are enough poems per poet to get a taste of their style and feel satisfied, but not so many that it becomes an overly hefty tome. And there is plenty of variety – of style and content, as even within the selection from Myra Connell.

Roz Goddard’s poems here give us politics and childhood, but also the precise, crafted characters of some of her The Sopranos Sonnets.

Tony Williams’s amazing smashed tile (pieced back together) sonnets are visually striking and beautiful, with some stunning lines contained within them.

David Hart’s extract from his pamphlet ‘The Titanic Café closes its doors and hits the rocks’ is thought-provoking with touches of humour, learning, speech, all flowing together. It is Birmingham city and modern life unbagged, poetry that glows like water in sunlight, with dark undercurrents and iceberg edges that rise from below the surface.

Stories, emotion and the act of writing are captured in a very pleasing and interesting variety of forms by Phil Brown (whom I’ve blogged about before), while Peter Carpenter’s poems brim with detailed observation and atmosphere.

Tom Chivers’ poems mix humour/irony with good advice, striking images, history and sound play. In form and style, they are different, intriguing, appealing, and really have to be read, as they can’t be summed up with justice.

Claire Crowther’s poems are full of the aches and beauty of being a woman, in reality, literature and history/heritage. Reading them makes me ache too. They’re the kind of poems I would love to write myself.

The pieces from Angela France feature some of the fabulous poems in her collection, Hide, which I think I’ve blogged about before. They are rich with the wisdom and ways of women, nature, customs, knowing oneself, with lines that change something inside and leave their trace.

Andrew Frolish’s poems are strong and moving. The characters depicted, and their settings, are detailled, evocative, engaging.

I blogged about Luke Kennard’s Planet-Shaped Horse recently, so I may have written similar before. His work is striking, strange yet full of sense, vivid and intriguing, with a beguiling mix of narrative, humour and illusion/delusion.

At this point, I’ve probably covered only about half of the anthology, so I’m going to stop here for now and carry on with the other poets and poems in another blog soon.

Kansoz

This not-so-micro microreview comes with the caveat that highly visual/avant-garde/word art work is not an area that I’m hugely knowledgeable about. Like my reviews in general, this is a reaction rather than a critical appreciation – and my reaction was good!

What I love first off about Joel Chace’s Kansoz (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press) is that it helps me to let go of trying to find meaning and just enjoy the words’ look and sound as they’re caught in snapshots of a dance across the white space that is a page. It is a collection that is easy to dip in and out of, that appeals visually and invites looking again.

The opening and closing section of this book feature cut-out typed words photographed in various configurations. How much these patterns and shapes on the page are down to chance or choice, I don’t know. In a nice way, I mostly don’t care.

It opens with a picture of just three words/word tokens, including the word period – a term used for the full-stop in America. I suspect it’s not chance or surprising that what stands out most/most immediately in all the following photos are the large, bold full-stops (8 of them, at least in those photos where I counted).

My initial response to the visual layout of the words is as rain or snow (vertically), or words caught in an invisible eddy like autumn leaves mid-swirl (horizontally, looking down).

Given that the full-stop or period is probably the most defining feature denoting a sentence, I interpret its prominence, and therefore the photos as a whole, as sentences breaking free from conventional layout. Or demonstrating what can be done within a sentence if one forgets conventional rules.

On a more philosophical level, the fact that I’m most immediately drawn to the thing that denotes the end point made me think about how much death defines life. It is the only certainty we have and arguably dictates or at least colours the relationships of anything and everything around it. Much as the words here dance around the full-stops.

I may be overthinking this! (As usual!) But the fact that these pieces make me think, the strangeness of them, the trying to make some sense in a non semantic way is part of what makes them deeply satisfying.

And, just briefly, a few words on the middle section. Here, words in various sizes, fonts, colours and some handwritten are imposed over a blank musical score, as if the words themselves are musical notes. They tumble from the score, impinge on one another, clump and scatter.

In comparison to the other two sections, these pieces feature no punctuation. Instead, different words appear prioritised over others, which read in order feel like fragments of a story (the story?) that it’s not quite possible to grasp fully. Or maybe proverbs/saying about life (and death) that simultaneously feel right yet don’t totally make sense.

The honest truth is that I don’t know Chace’s artistic intentions behind this work, I only know that I very much enjoyed it.

Locust and Marlin

Last, but very definitely not least, is J L Williams’s Locust and Marlin (Shearsman Books).

These beautiful, spare poems strike straight at my heart, and cut. This should not be misunderstood as meaning sentimental in anyway, more about how deep they go, for all the stark, pared, deceptively simple surface.

This is poetry of the senses, sounds, song. And also striking images. The poems are full of life and being – of stones and water, movement and stillness, space to breathe. The whole collection breathes stillness, light, the pauses evoked so wonderfully in the sonnet ‘Instead of Rushing’ – those moments in life, and poetry, that give beauty and wonder the space to come alive.

It’s very hard to sum up the hows and whats of this collection, it seems both too wordy and impossible. This is a collection that actually has to be read to do it full justice, a review just can’t come close. This poetry not only resonates inside me but creates echoes from emptiness.

March Gigs

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).

May Gigs

On Tuesday, May 6, I will be a guest poet, alongside Jean Atkin and Tony Stringfellow at Poetry Alight at the King’s Head, Bird Street, Lichfield.

On Friday, May 9, I will be a guest poet with Ruth Stacey, who has a new pamphlet coming out with The Dancing Girl Press, at The Hive in Worcester for a Ledbury Poetry Festival, Worcestershire Literary Festival and Worcester University spoken word event. (More details to come soon).

Then on May 12, I will be reading as part of the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends series in the Studio Theatre at the Royal Exchange in Manchester. I am very excited about this!

So many things to look forward, as well as moving ahead with some other poetry projects that have been on hold while I’ve been finishing my MA porfolio. More soon!