“Always a Blue House” Lisa Rizzo (Saddle Road Press) – poetry review

Lisa Rizzo Always a Blue House poetry bookLisa Rizzo’s poems take in on travel, art and family relationships focusing on secrets, things not spoken about, unspoken rules and the impact these have on the people involved. In the poem “Blue Angel” (after the painting by Marc Chagall), which gives the collection its title:

“In a dream-swim under three crescent moons
a house is floating or sinking or settling
into sediment on the sea floor.
It is a blue house; it is always a blue house.

She is my angel and no one else’s.
I can keep her my secret or let her free
into the world. I don’t care whether
she has flown in the window or out.”

The angel isn’t important, but the knowledge the angel exists is. It’s the knowledge or secret that gives the narrator a sense of power, which enables her to let go of the smaller details – whether the house is floating or sinking, whether the angel is entering or leaving – because she can control whether or not she chooses to tell others about the angel. Control in the domestic sphere is picked up as a theme in “Washing Dishes” and the aftermath of an argument,

“A bird trapped in her cage,
approval was the worm
she craved. Not his halfhidden
glance as he turned away,
derision written in the curve of his lips.

But as she wiped that plate dry,
warm from its bath, porcelain
smooth, this time her hand
made the reply
she had never dared speak.”

Readers aren’t given any information as to what the argument was about, because it is irrelevant. What matters is the failure of communication. The husband’s contempt and the wife’s inability to speak her mind have set up a pattern that constricts the couple to dancing around the same argument again and again until one decides to break free. Constriction and boundaries is a theme picked up in “Interlopers” on a visit to the Serengeti (which the poem reminds readers is a Maasai word that translates into English as ‘endless plain’) where the narrator is watching wildebeest and zebra migrate,

“I think in borders,
human sealed
within such boundaries.

Thankful that, as yet,
no human fence guards
this animal migration.

I turn back.
They thunder on.”

Uncovering secrets can be problematic too. In “The Collector” the poet recalls finding a small newspaper article about a train hitting a car on railroad tracks and the miraculous survival of the car driver, who was the poet’s mother’s friend to whom she’d sold the wrecked car.

“An ambulance had already
taken her away,
but I always imagined her
inside the car
bleeding, unconscious.

And my mother,
she kept this warning
among valentines,
tissue-stuffed baby shoes,
an envelope cradling
my first cut curl.”

No one knows why the driver stopped on the railroad tracks, whether it was a deliberate act or some failure, such as running out of fuel, with the car. Whatever the current relationship between the poet’s mother and the car driver, it was significant enough for the mother to keep the newspaper clipping with other keepsakes, but hidden away and kept secret. It’s significant too that the poet images the driver parcelled inside the car and unable to speak. It’s a secret that exercises her imagination but she feels restrained from talking about it to her mother. More family secrets are revealed in “My Father’s Hands”,

“left behind by his mother when he was three
pressed against orphanage walls
curled around emptiness

never played with his own children
never stroked or cradled them
only knew how to work”

In “Star Coral” Lisa Rizzo explores the job of the poet,

“until this human
interloper came
wishing she were innocent
but greedy really
to take this treasure
far from where it belongs
turned it into flotsam
lying lightly in her palm.”

There’s a price to pay whether you keep things hidden and unspoken or uncover and reveal them. Lisa Rizzo’s poems are thought-provoking and compassionate. Readers are invited to draw their own conclusions from carefully drawn scenarios that probe at spaces we don’t always want to explore: secrets and things left unsaid.

“Always a Blue House” is available from https://www.amazon.com/Always-Blue-House-Lisa-Rizzo/dp/0996907440/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1481167402&sr=8-1&keywords=always+a+blue+house from 10 December 2016.

Voice Projection at Poetry Readings and A Poetry of Elephants

Anyone who regularly attends poetry readings and open mic nights will have met Poet A who shuffles on stage, fails to look at the audience and mumbles into the mic or reads as if the audience is less than an arm’s length away. Equally irritating is Poet B who yells like a stereotyped sergeant major who leaves listeners feel as if they’ve been flattened by a steam roller.

There is a happy medium and finding that medium where poets can read their poems sufficiently loudly for the audience to hear without yelling at them. Yelling damages vocal chords. The aim is to project your voice without damaging it.

If you have a microphone, you don’t need to project your voice beyond normal conversation. You do, however, need to check that the microphone is at the right height for you so you can speak into it without crouching or without stretching or tilting your mouth upwards. Pay attention to the people who’ve read before you or to the compere: do they get very close to the microphone or maintain a book’s length’s distance? Copy them. When the microphone’s at a comfortable height, read slightly slower than normal (remember the audience may not be familiar with your poems and gabbling through them isn’t going to sell them). It’s worth taking those extra few seconds to adjust the microphone otherwise you won’t be projecting into the microphone but the stand or the air above it and it won’t transmit your words to the audience.

If you don’t have a microphone, you need to project your voice. It’s true that an engaged audience will overcome the struggle to hear you, but you need to engage them first which won’t happen if you can’t be heard. Yelling at your audience is the equivalent of using only capital letters on social media. If your voice sounds flat with a higher-than-normal pitch, you’re yelling. Projection gives your voice a depth which carries it over the distance of the room.

To project your voice, you need to be able to breathe. If you can stand, do so, but even sitting, avoid slouching and ensure you can fill your lungs when you breathe in. Focus on someone in the back row and visualise your voice reaching them. Your voice will sound loud and you will retain enough control to relax into reading your poem because you won’t be expanding the effort you need if you yell.

When I did my very first poetry reading, I had the advance of knowing how big the room was. Part of my preparation involved placing a recording device at a distance slightly longer than the room. I then read and played back my reading so I knew, whatever else went wrong on that night, the audience not being able to hear me wasn’t going to be one of them.

If you think that sounds too much like hard work, don’t invite me to one of your readings. If you don’t respect your audience enough to rehearse and plan ahead, you won’t earn their respect on the night.


A Poetry of Elephants book coverA Poetry of Elephants is now available from: https://poetryofelephants.wordpress.com/. This is a crowdfunded anthology so 100% of the sales will go to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world and one of the pioneering conservation organisations for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa.

A Poetry of Elephants is full of poems that celebrate elephants, some grieving at the prospect of extinction but others showing how their image occupies our everyday life and speech. We hope that it may in some small way help to raise awareness and funds for those who work tirelessly to save these beautiful animals for future generations.

It includes my poem “Mary’s Elephant.” Mary Queen of Scots embroidered an elephant whilst detained, pending execution for treason so her cousin Elizabeth I could further secure her claim to England’s throne. The embroidery is held in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.



Do Something cover image

The launch of Do Something, an anthology to raise funds for Hope Not Hate, at Firebug, Millstone Lane, Leicester LE1 5JN from 3pm on Saturday 3 December. There will be readings from the anthology and a panel discussion. Cake was also mentioned! More details: https://www.facebook.com/events/1678502645705533/permalink/1684711035084694/

“The Fetch” Gregory Leadbetter (Nine Arches Press) – poetry review

Gregory Leadbetter The Fetch cover imageSome poems seem to strike an immediate chord and it’s love at first read. Others are a slow burn: they seem a little distant at first but it takes another read (or two) to gain a fuller appreciation of what the poem achieves. Gregory Leadbetter’s “The Fetch” falls into the latter category. Their quiet intent draws a reader in but it takes another read before really warming to them. The title refers to the second meaning of fetch as an apparition, double, wraith of a living person. During a dream in the title poem,

“I listened, and began to speak
as I am speaking now. My breath

condensed. I saw it slowly take
the outline of a child, afraid
of the dark from which it was made.”

Throughout the collection, there’s a sense of haunting. Sometimes this sense comes from external apparitions, but mostly it comes from a sense of legacy and responsibility to those both leaving us and to those left after us. The narrator’s parental instinct doesn’t stop at noticing “the outline of a child” but picks up that it’s fearful. That emotion could be an observation or a projection although the ambiguity isn’t relevant.

During his final illness Gregory Leadbetter’s father began building a model of the solar system, referred to in “My Father’s Orrey”

“A look of recognition crossed his eyes –
yes that’s them – but out of orbit,
no force to order and bind them
to the weave of their ellipses,
and turn the eye of space between
and spring them in the cradle of their star,
without which they rattle and fall.
With the planets in his hands, he felt
the weight of his loss, knew he had forgotten
how to put the universe together.”

Later, in the sequence “Dendrites and Axons”, part II, the poet’s father’s decline is further explored,

“At the hospital, you had to draw a pentagon.
Geometry itself broke open: where
there should have been one, you drew
three, which overlapped like a Venn diagram.

An epicentre in the white space: chaos
in its blossoming fractal.”

It’s a sensitive exploration, handled deftly so, despite his decline, the father never loses his dignity. The sequence is a poignant layering of images that guide the reader to see the strength in the father/son relationship and enduring respect.

The poems are not all focused on the central relationship and are not all lingering in an absence of things not said. “Feather” is a villanelle that ends

“My father is not so old as I am now.
This feather’s perfection cannot replace
the wing it lifted from the ground.

But there’s enough of its vane of barbs to astound
his absence, just enough fragmented grace
to find in the feather that knocked me down
the wing that lifts me from the ground.”

What burns through is the desire to communicate the senses of duty and communication, the drive to continue and renew legacies, even if adapted and revived to suit contemporary times. Plus a recurring theme of humanity and compassion. Gregory Leadbetter doesn’t shy away from his ghosts or the things that haunt him, but shines a light on them to work towards a better understanding of the human condition.

“The Fetch” is available from Nine Arches Press.

“The Declamations of Cool Eye” Carol Leeming – poetry review

Knowing a poet doesn’t necessarily bias a review. In fact my knowing a poet can be a disadvantage. If my only knowledge of a poet is seeing poems in magazines or reading a previous collection, that’s the standard I will judge them against. However, if I know a poet I’m more likely to judge them against what I know them to be capable of, which is a higher standard, so may be less tolerant of work that is merely competent.

It is my job as reviewer to give readers a good flavour of the pamphlet under review so you can make your own minds up as to whether or not you want to read the pamphlet. Even the most biased review can achieve that, if review readers can put aside the reviewer’s opinion and focus on what is actually being said.

Carol Leeming The Declamations of Cool Eye book cover

Carol Leeming’s “Valley Dreamers” was featured in the Bloodaxe “Out of Bounds” anthology and is one of the poems Ambrose Musiyiwa and I selected for “Welcome to Leicester” (Dahlia Publishing, 2016). It captures that state of dreaming of bigger things, if only others/outsiders would take notice,

“below a city
glowers on with neon
prickly pollen beams
a whirl in gasps of traffic
no one will swallow
Lestar’s rising glossolalia
hamper its wild gesticulations
neither temper its rude music
a world’s there
ready to launch”

It builds on ambiguity – neon can light things up but is also seen as tacky, pollen is a key ingredient in honey but it’s also an allergen, glossolalia is a speaking in tongues which excludes those unable to understand – and suggests rehearsal and preparation towards a launch and dreams of stardom. Those dreams are echoed in “Performance”

“This day is like an audience
pleading its awful demands
showing its fright in me
still I am poised
my arms outstretched
sorrowed but not bowed
my body a conjuring trick
damp nostrils flare with
old greasepaint stench
redolent with insistent hope.”

The habit of presenting one’s best face, complying with others’ demands, continues after the show is over. However, the staged self is also a false self, concealing its own wants, desires and needs. A situation familiar to anyone facing another stressful day, being bullied, intimidated or discriminated against. Situations where showing your real self will make things worse. This leads to guardedness even around friends, in “Cat Leap”

“both our eyes filled into sunbursts
bellies flexing with laughter
both our universes had happily collided
I had not told her about the debt demons”

The consonance in the short double ‘l’ sounds and the long vowels echo the poem’s sense by relaxing the rhythm just as the narrator relaxes into a belly-laugh. But the masculine ‘t’ sounds in the final quoted line draw readers into the dilemma: does she spoilt the mood by mentioning her debts? The poem ends,

“for now I remember my pride
wipe an insouciant smile onto my face relax into the
demeanor of an arch shape shifter
with a cat’s poise I will leap from the debt underworld
purring very loudly.”

Even though the problem isn’t discussed, it becomes resolved by the simple act of a friend reminding the narrator who she really is, that her problems don’t define her. The shape of the poem is carried by the assonant ‘o’ and ‘u’ sounds. Carol Leeming is also a singer and that naturally influences some of the poems, for example “Praise Song for Black Divas”

“Rhythm is
wrapt in their bodies
with sly ecstacy like
a raucous band or choir
African voices rise from their blood
winding snaky hips in satin
Bright eyes cat lined they
sear our souls with
lava luminescent
laments ruminations
siren trills, screams
or tremulous coos
while they stand in
black fire star shimmer
just beyond us all…”

The poem sings off the page, but it doesn’t just luxuriate in sound, it also has something to say. The singer’s reception depends on rhythm, voice, perception and performance. The rhythm rises from the heart, the voice from the diaphragm, the words are dressed in a way that communicates with readers and guides them to notice what’s being said and performance brings coherence. That could apply to all the poems in “The Declamations of Cool Eye.”

“The Declamations of Cool Eye” by Carol Leeming is available Amazon or Browns Books for Students or direct from the author via Dare to Diva.

When is a Poem Published?

NB: the article below is intended as a guide only. Always check the submission guidelines of any publication or publisher you wish to submit poems.

As a general rule, competitions and magazines look for previously unpublished poems. No one wants to see the same poem win several competitions. Poetry magazine readers don’t want to see the same poems popping up in different magazines.

Anthologies may consider previously published poems and, if you’ve retained copyright on previously published poems, you can include these in a pamphlet or collection. It is a courtesy to mention where the poem was previously published if you do republish a poem.

However, when exactly does a poem become published? It might seem obvious that a poem included in a magazine is published, but what about workshops, online forums or social media?

Generally, a poem is considered published if it has

  • appeared in a magazine/journal/anthology/publication either online or in print
  • appeared on a blog that is open to view (e.g. one like this)
  • appeared in an open forum, such as an online workshop or Facebook group, where anyone can browse the forum contents and posts not just members of the group
  • appeared in a Facebook/Instagram/Social Media site status which is open to anyone to browse and view

Generally a poem is considered unpublished if it has not appeared in a magazine either online or in print and not:

  • appeared on a private blog open only to subscribers (e.g. blog articles don’t show up in Google searches and browsers have to apply to follow the blog before they can read the articles)
  • copies of a poem have been distributed amongst participants in a workshop for use during that workshop only
  • appeared in a closed forum where only forum participants can see posts and participants have to apply to join
  • where copies have been distributed or the poem read to a writers’ group where only members of that group (and guests) can attend and any copies are for the group’s use only
  • appeared on a social media status which is set to private and only viewable by a select number of people (the real life equivalent might be a writers’ group or poetry workshop)

Therefore, before posting works-in-progress or final drafts of poems on social media, stop and consider whether you might be preventing yourself from seeking later publication of the poem you want to post.

“Welcome to Leicester” forthcoming events

“Welcome to Leicester” is available from Dahlia Publishing.

3 November 2016 Publisher Farhana Shaikh at Leicester Writers’ Club

Phoenix Arts, 4 Midland Street, Leicester LE1 1TG
Farhana Shaikh from Dahlia Publishing in conversation with Leicester Writers’ Club’s Siobhan Logan further details from Leicester Writers’ Club.

21 November 2016 Shindig

The Western, Western Road Leicester LE3 0GA from 7.30pm

Shindig will featuShindig poetry readings in Leicesterre readings from 8 poets included in “Welcome to Leicester”. Open mic slots available – book on the night. There are also readings from Gregory Leadbetter and Roy McFarlane.








27 November 2016 The Synagogue

Welcome to Leicester at the Synagogue Leicester
24 Avenue Road, Leicester LE2 3EA 2.30-4.30pm
Come and enjoy peoms about life in Leicester in the beautiful setting of a former school built in the late 1800s and now home to the Leicester Progressive Jewish Community. Entry free, contribution towards refreshments welcomed.




After a successful launch at the African Caribbean Centre in Leicester on 7 October, which was featured on BBC Radio Leicester’s morning programme, co-editors Ambrose Musiyiwa have also been on Leicester Community Radio (twice) talking about and reading poems from the anthology.

Ambrose was invited to give a lecture at the Leicester Secular Society which incorporated four relevant poems from “Welcome to Leicester” on 16 October.

We were at The City Retreat on 30 October at the invitation of Leicester’s Race Equality Centre talking about the anthology and reading some of the poems.

On 31 October we were at one of Oadby and Wigston Borough Council’s People Standing Together events, which was designed to celebrate Hate Awareness Week, World Mental Health Day and Black History Month, also reading poems and talking about the anthology.

We have even managed to sell some copies of the anthology!

How to be a Successful Poet on Social Media

  • When was the last time you shared someone else’s status update/tweet/blog link on social media?
  • When was the last time you shared a link to your blog?
  • When did you last review or mention another writer’s book?
  • When was yours reviewed and who by? Have you ever reviewed a book by your reviewer?
  • When you had a poem published, did you help promote the magazine that published it or did you state you had a poem published without mentioning the magazine or linking to it?
  • When an editor sends you proofs of an accepted poem, do you only correct typos, spelling/grammar errors or do you see it as an opportunity to re-write your poem?
  • At open mic slots, do you keep within your allotted time or regularly overrun?
  • If invited to an event, do you turn up on time or do you have a reputation for always being late or frequently not turning up at all?
  • At a workshop, do you stay silent when other attendees are discussing and giving feedback on poems brought to/written at the workshop or do you join in?
  • When your poem is being discussed, do you expect unconditional praise or listen to the feedback with the aim of taking it away and assessing it later?
  • When you blog about the workshop, do you do a diary-style ‘I went to this workshop’ entry or do you share lessons or techniques learnt at the workshop?
  • When submitting poems to magazines, do you assume a standard submission format will do or do you check the guidelines given by the magazine?
  • Was your last post/status update about you or someone else?

We all slip up sometimes: the odd, unintended simultaneous submission, too tired to double-check guidelines after a long day, public transport failures meant we were running late and we irritably said something out of turn or reacted without thinking through the consequences. But only sometimes.

When you start out as a poet, it may feel as if you don’t have much to give. You want advice from other poets, feel you need all the feedback you can get, want the practice from open mic slots, feel you need to know how to get established.

But you are not a gawping drain of need. Behaving like one may get you immediate attention, but that will soon fade and isn’t a viable long term strategy.

You can give by listening and watching other poets, read work by others, share news and blog posts, help promote the magazines you want to be published in, promote the readings you want to be invited to take part in, even write reviews (two sentences on a bookseller’s site is better than silence).

Poet A getting an acceptance was not the reason for your rejection.
Poet B got the last open mic slot by patiently waiting their turn instead of trying to queue jump.
Poet C gets plenty of shares for her blog post because it wasn’t about her, but shared useful, practical information.
Poet D always gets an audience because she puts everyone at ease and makes them feel welcome.
Poet E got a mountain of incisive workshop comments because she took the time to feedback on everyone else’s poems.
Poet F got her book reviewed because she asked the reviewer before sending the book, instead of sending an unsolicited free copy and demanding a review in return.

Social media is for sharing, what did you share today?