MICRO-REVIEWS

I’m a long standing fan of Fuselit, so was delighted to pick up the latest Amazonian issue at Free Verse poetry book fair. (N.B. At the point of writing this post, the latest issue is not yet up on the website.) What I like about this is not just the poetry but the beauty and quirk with which it is presented – very much something to keep as well as read. In this case, it’s a beautiful little box with 6 postcards, an owl on leather necklet and magazinelet of poetry and art. Quirk, humour, striking imagery and startling lines can all be found inside.

While at the sidekick books stand, I also found myself drawn to follow the trail of moths. The beauty of the front cover by Sophie Gainsley is matched by the beauty of the idea behind this anthology – Wayne Holloway-Smith turning his living room into a literary salon. It’s almost enough to make me wish that I had lived in the city at the time. The book however contains some beautiful illustrations with poems that are refreshing, thought-provoking and striking.

Quirky has always been something I like. So it was almost a foregone conclusion I would also come home from FreeVerse with zimZalla’s ‘Play [Day] for [Of] the Dead: A [Decryptive] Dance For Mirror and Word’ by Jesse Glass. To reveal exactly what’s in the coffin would not be opening Pandora’s box or letting a cat out of the bag. It might spoil the fun though, so I’m not even going to give a skeleton hint of what’s in there, except to say that it delighted both my inner child and my love of the macabre. The text from Jesse Glass is full of word, light and sound play – to be read by reflecting it in the mirror provided.

A new Mint version of Pascal O’Loughlin’s Chocoholochismo, which I microreviewed a few months ago has also now been produced for zimZalla.

I have a love-hate thing with Jane Austen. So too does poet Ruth Stacey in her near-opening poem in the Like This Press pamphlet Advice on Proposals, an anthology of poems inspired by Austen/her characters, and edited by Angela Topping.

I’ll digress slightly here to explain my fascination and frustration with Austen. Firstly, I love, love, love her style of third person free indirect speech and also the irony. Set alongside this, the frustrating fact that, for me, her novels tend to boil down to the same (kind of) story. On the plus-minus sides of this line, I enjoyed her work so much that I wrote about it for my Oxford entrance exam. But, sadly, while it helped get me an interview, I then totally messed that up, and ended studying just French (and linguistics) at Oxford, instead of French and English. I have, with time, grown to see that as a very, very good thing in fact. But then, it was a big disappointment and I’ve not read any Austen since.

So, is this relevant? Yes, no…maybe. It certainly makes it no surprise that that such a poem was bound to hook me. And the rest of the pamphlet too, with its variety in precise subject and also style. Summing this collection up: a mixture of poems inspired by knowledge and empathy/antipathy for both Austen’s characters and Austen herself, thought-provoking pieces, word-play, evocative humour and tone, a mixture of conversational tones, metaphorical images, striking lines, and a sometimes light lacing, sometimes graver trace, of feminism too. I very much enjoyed this.

I doubt I can get away with describing Shakespeare or his works as literary marmite. But I certainly think it’s possible to be influenced in very many different ways by the bard’s work, to love some characters from his plays more than others and to to be caught by very specific lines or in more general admiration. Sweet Breast and Acid Tongue (Like This Press), again beautifully edited by Angela Topping, reflects all these approaches, from the wide range of Jan Dean’s ‘Shakespeare on the radio’ to Andy Jackson’s ‘Three Elegies for Minor Shakespearean Characters’ to the specific focus and language play of Rupert M. Loydell’s ‘Vaulting Ambition’ over the page and then Steven Waling’s ‘Witch Country’ bringing of the Shakespearean world into the poet-narrator’s own geographical world around him, just over the page again. And that’s only the start of the wide range covered by this pamphlet, so much so, that it’s not really fair to pick out specific poems because they all have their own individual energy, appeal, and often humour too.

While the Shakespeare-influenced pamphlet is probably the most wide-ranging, the third Like This Press pamphlet edited by Angela Topping, Scratching of Pens, is my favourite. This perhaps, partly at least, because these are poems inspired by the Brontës and their work. The poetry here not just captures the mysterious, intriguing and appealing dark landscapes of Anne, Charlotte and Emily’s novels but develops upon this in new and different ways. All of the poems breathe Brontë or Brontë country; their effect on me as reader is the one where something inside sparks, arcs, then sparks again – or, to find a more apt metaphor, an impact somewhat similar to how I imagine lightning striking across a dark moor.

This weekend, I also got to sit down with some of the Flarestack pamphlets that I brought home with me from Free Verse.

I’ve not read any of Nichola Deane’s poetry before but the title My Moriarty hooked me in and the poetry inside kept me very firmly hooked until the end.

These are beautifully paced and crafted poems that examine language, emotion, existence in a simultaneously sensual and cerebral way. The lines are striking, thought-provoking, with that touch of mystery/otherness that moves through and into me as a reader while I read.

It’s no surprise that this was one of the winners of the Flarestack Poets pamphlet competition 2012, I just wish I’d had time and chance to read it earlier.

THANKS & MAGNETIC DELIGHT

The past week for me has been one of mostly good news, surprises and kindnesses, only some of which I can mention here but all of which have been appreciated.

Firstly, not having spoken to my tutor at Trinity since finals dinner 18 years ago, (partly through busyness, partly because I wasn’t doing anything with my French, partly personal hang-ups as an undergraduate because of my sudden mediocrity in the Oxford environment), I was cheeky enough to email ask him to look through the academic justifications for my treatment of Madame Bovary in The Magnetic Diaries. (I could see that, from the outside, migrating a 19th century French novel into a modern English-set poetry narrative might not immediately seem like a logical/valid thing to do.) I don’t think I would normally have the found the courage to ask this, except I’ve so loved writing this manuscript and the project means so much to me, not just from the literary angle, but from the way I’ve used it to look at depression.

Anyway, my tutor not only replied, but read and has been incredibly helpful. I’m delighted with his feedback and it’s one of a number of kindnesses in advice and time over the past few weeks, so I’m generally feeling very humbled, very lucky and very grateful for all these and just how many generous-spirited people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet.

Other things making me happy this week include having poems accepted for the next issues of Shadowtrain and The Wolf due out later this year.