“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.


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

  1. The importance of beginnings | Emma Lee's Blog Says:

    […] 15 March Carol Leeming will be reading from “The Declamations of Cool Eye”. I reviewed “The Declamations of Cool Eye” here. […]

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