“In the Blood” Anna Fodorova (Arachne Press) – book review

Anna Fodorova In the Blood book cover

On the surface, Agata has a perfect family living in London: husband, Richard, daughter, Lily, and her own mother, on a lengthy visit from Prague where Agata grew up. However, that doesn’t explain the nightly tears and the web of secrets between mother and daughter. Agata hides her regular hospital trips for tests in case the cancer her mother survived show up in her own body. She’s not yet begun to think about whether Lily might also inherit the cancer-related genes. Her mother has other family-related secrets. Agata has grown up believing that her mother was the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust. Here the horrors are hinted at but not explicit: the past, Agata’s mother believes, belongs in the past and it is not spoken of.

Agata’s therapist tries to get her to loosen the guilt she feels. Agata can’t explain why she feels it until she discovers a leaflet for a meeting on “The Impact of the Holocaust on the Second Generation”. Her mother asked who the second generation are. Agata suggests people like her: born to survivors. Her mother responds, “But nothing happened to your generation, Gatushka, you were born after it was all over.”

The lecture suggests otherwise. Agata recalls as a ten-year-old a boy at school calling her “a shitty Jew” and how when she told her parents, “I felt their fear. It sat with us in the room. My parents, they never told me about the Menorah or Passover, nothing like that, but in that moment, I understood I now belonged in that heap of scary matchstick people I saw once in a book.” This becomes another secret from her mother as Agata starts meeting Klaus, who she assumes to be another of this second generation. Klaus explains how he felt he could never complain, never let on he was in a bad mood or upset over something because he knew his parents had had it worse. There was an unspoken pressure for him to always appear happy.

Agata’s mother lets slip that there were cousins, a brother and sister, who had been sent to England as war broke out, a branch of family who’d escaped the concentration camps. Agata wants to track them down. Agata’s mother refuses to cooperate and tells Agata she’s being silly, she has her family, there’s no need to trace relatives. But Agata feels something’s missing. Richard half-heartedly agrees with his mother-in-law. His contact with his own family is the exchange of Christmas cards and perhaps an occasional visit. Agata finds one of the cousins, the sister. Her visit to them is polite and conversation strained. Not the happy reunion Agata was hoping for. In her eagerness for connection, she overlooks that she might be bringing up memories deliberately buried. She begins a journal detailing her efforts and starts to draw a family tree. The cousin dodges the question on where her brother is, except to say he changed his name. Agata turns sleuth, trying to fill in more names. A trip to Prague to visit her mother, who has returned home, enables Agata to find some photographs, including one of Annette, her mother’s younger sister whom Agata was told had died in a concentration camp. However, when they visit a Holocaust Memorial, Annette’s name is not there. Agata’s mother whisks her away before Agata can ask why.

Agata’s daughter, Lily, reacts badly to Agata’s attempts to trace relatives. Lily, like Richard and her grandmother, thinks they are family enough and she doesn’t want to be roped into visits from people she’s never seen before and accuses her mother of upending her life. Part of it is pre-teen lashing out, but she also has a point. What is family? The people who we’ve chosen to be with or names on a tree? Through Richard, Agata discovers her mother has been thwarting her attempts to trace family. It was at her mother’s suggestion that the cousin failed to pass on her brother’s name and now refuses to see Agata, citing illness.

Agata is now forced to think about what she is doing. Is it worth tearing her family apart to find relatives she’s never met and has had nothing to do with? Are her dreams of a happy wider family realistic or is it better to let go and focus on the family she does know? How does she feel about being lied to that her relatives were dead when some of them survived? How does that affect the familial relationships she has? Uncovering secrets can be harmful or helpful, was Agata right to strike out on her own or should she have left well alone? It is possible to be sympathetic to her efforts while also wanting to give her head a wobble as she risks the family she already has.

Richard is very much the easy-going Englishman content with his lot and baffled at Agata’s obsessive search for relatives. He doesn’t obstruct her to start with but when Agata starts inviting her mother’s cousin to their house, he chafes. This is the point where he contacts his mother-in-law behind his wife’s back to put the brakes on Agata’s sleuthing. Lily’s a typical pre-teen, finds parents embarrassing, adores her grandmother and tolerates Agata’s efforts until Lily realises her grandmother doesn’t back what her mother is doing and becomes scared of losing touch with her grandmother. Grandmother is simply doing what she feels best. That some things shouldn’t be talked about and she fears Agata will bring things to the surface that are best left buried.

There’s a final twist that could irrevokably change Agata’s life forever or she could decide to carry on living with the protective lies woven around her. “In the Blood” is a compelling tale of inherited trauma, the damage of not knowing the truth about your own family and whether lies told with the intention to protect do more harm than good. The questions raised by Anna Fodorova’s skilfully drawn characters linger beyond the end of the book.

“In the Blood” is available from Arachne Press.

Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

Featured in the Top 10 Poetry Review Blogs on Feedspot.

“How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart” Florentyna Leow (The Emma Press) – book review

Florentyna Leow How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart book cover

The foreword posits that “capturing a city in words is impossible, but everyone tries… Your Kyoto will not be the same as mine,” and ask questions about what home means to a migrant and how many places can mean home when you’ve lived in more than one. Home means falling in love with a place. And falling in love exposes you to heartbreak when it’s time to leave.

After graduating in London, Florentyna Leow moved to Tokyo and then was offered the opportunity to move to Kyoto with a university friend. It also meant swapping a hated job in retail with one in customer services, albeit a mundane one of emailed correspondence with clients wanting to book guided tours in Japan. Home became a rickety house with a persimmon tree in the yard, a view of Mount Hiei, delicious tap water and the second highest number of bakeries per 100,000 people in Japan. The tree offered lessons in how plants respond to the seasons and the tradition of leaving a few pieces of fruit on the tree for the birds in hope of a good harvest the following year. A bitter, unripe persimmon becomes a metaphor for the friend moving out and ghosting the writer.

She notes that people tend to assume she’s Japanese but her heritage is Malaysian-Chinese, “When I first moved to Japan to work in retail, I took pleasure in concealing my foreignness. I’d worked hard to acquire these language skills, so being able to (mostly) escape detection felt like winning. After a while, however, it stopped being of benefit to me. Not only did this society encourage blending in, but serving customers was another way I had to learn how to disappear, which only reinforced my propensity for passivity and avoiding confrontation.”

Leow confesses she rarely wrote about her Kyoto housemate “Afterwards, I couldn’t write about her for a long time, because that would have meant admitting what I’d lost. It would have meant admitting that I’d lost.” It never becomes clear why the housemates fell out, but Leow feels it might be that two young women trying to find their way in a house share where both shared a desk in the kitchen to work from home on, making it difficult to give each other space was a strong contributory factor.

To supplement her salary, Leow took on being a tour guide, noticing the dichotomy between wanting the share the city she’d made home but also wanting there to be fewer tourists so the tourist hot-spots would be less crowded where people could speak without being drowned out by instructions from guides and there wasn’t the insistent clicking of cameras or phone buttons. Finding no joy in guiding tourists around Kyoto, triggered the decision to move back to Tokyo. It also meant becoming freelance which meant being busy because it was too difficult to say no to work in case the question wasn’t asked again. As a tour guide, Leow could put on a performance and pretend to be someone else for the duration. She compares Kyoto to Tokyo, “there are things Kyoto simply does better, like my favourite soy milk ramen. Its velvety broth coats my tongue like single cream; it’s close to perfect with the acid-bright, salty pickled plum paste.” She thinks everyone needs a place of their own, “to be a regular somewhere.”

Naturally, she returns to Kyoto and remembers her housemate, “the sound of our keyboards clacking away, the kimono hanging in her room, the glow of her bedside light as she read in her futon. Ordinary moments knitting the days together.”

“How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart” is really a love letter to a former housemate who took a chance on inviting Leow to a city where she found what was important to her. Lessons she could take to Tokyo or elsewhere. Chatty and informal in style these essays focus on one aspect and invite the reader to share the atmosphere and soak up what makes this coffee house or tea house special. Even the unsuccessful attempts at persimmon-based recipes contain a lesson, not spelt out as a moral to take away but tasted and lingered over. Kyoto taught her how to make a home, how to notice and pay attention to the small details that make a difference between just another street and the street that leads home. A warm and compassionate tribute to both the city and the lost friend.

“How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart” is available from The Emma Press.

Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

“Imperfect Beginnings” Viv Fogel (Fly on the Wall Press) – Book Review

Viv Fogel explores her journey from childhood to motherhood through these poems. She was born in the UK and adopted by two refugee Holocaust survivors who had met and married in the UK. “Exiled” looks first at the baby’s viewpoint in part i,

Viv Fogel Imperfect Beginnings cover image and advert

“you were my whole world
safe holding and mine—
then gone.

I was alone
no roots”

This is imagined – the baby’s whole world is her mother – but this safety changes when the baby is given up for adoption. It’s not known why the baby was given up. Post Second World War there were many reasons: poverty, lack of support from a wider family, a father who didn’t return, the stigma of being an unmarried mother, widowhood, a very young woman taken advantage of. Ultimately it may not matter. Part ii looks at the adoptive parents, uprooted from a homeland as a baby is uprooted from her mother, and arriving,

“now is the waiting game:
questions papers returned
visas granted…. or delayed.

In yellow rooms you wait.
You sit watching the clock
not daring to hope.

I welcome you
rootless as I
to this bittersweet land.”

The adoptive parents face the agony of waiting to see if they will be accepted by this new country, by the agency for a baby. The “yellow rooms” suggestive of faded, dingy rooms unmaintained and uncared for. This could be a projection of the refugees’ feelings or could be the refugees take on the message of decay, the lack of priority.

Viv Fogel’s concerns do not just lie with refugees from the Second World War but also look to the present, in “Ahmad’s Pool”, where Ahmad is a pseudonym

“In halting English….. Ahmad describes his life
as a stagnant pool where nothing lives or moves.

Each night he stands in moonlight watching it shimmer,
the way light shimmers the way light becomes a dart of

a movement a silver fish! the next night there are more—
and his pool starts to breathe”

The fish become darts of hope as Ahmad is processed, able to stay and slowly create a new life. Most likely not the life he’d hoped or imagined, but a life of sorts.

“The Switch” asks if the bird whose nest has been appropriated will ever “smell out her changeling egg”? Then there’s a switch from birds to the personal,

“Cuckoo’s first call is heard on April 14th,
my birth date. Taken to another’s nest,
with name and feathers I could not keep,
I became the strange one who did not fit.

O cuck-mother—do you not miss your own?”

The adopted child knows her adoptive parents are not hers, that her roots don’t lie with them. She asks the nesting bird if she ever knows that the cuckoo is not hers, if the bird mother ever misses the offspring that was replaced with the cuckoo’s egg. In the personal viewpoint, it’s a hypothetical question. It’s not known whether the host/adoptive parents could have children. Siblings are not mentioned but it’s not clarified whether that’s because there were no siblings or they have been left out of a personal story. This adopted baby, aware that her parents are not her birth parents, is asking whether those parents would have preferred their own baby.

Later roles are reversed in “My Father Sold Cigarettes To The Nazis” dedicated to Itzaak Weinreich (1903 – 1988). The poem ends,

“I sat by his bed and fed him,

as once he fed me. I stroked his baby head,
made him smile at my jokes,
as his watery eyes were fading.

I traced his burnt-scarred arm, tapped
my fingers along numbers the same blue-grey
as his veins, longing to unlock his story.

He held my baby in his arms, just once,
a little awkward, a little shy,
a big man…..grown small.”

Here the adopted child, now an adult carer of her adoptive parent, has brought her own baby to see their grandparent. There’s still a sense of rootlessness. Although the adoptee knows what the tattooed numbers on the father’s arm represent, he has not spoken about them. The adoptee is unrooted twice: once by her birthmother and again by her adoptive parents not talking about their past. She imagines their history. In “On Not Writing the Holocaust”, “something in me remembers”

“funnels of dark smoke unfurling

a lost child’s shoe by the canal
the absence of birdsong
a field of stones and silence

many will roll their eyes Move on
so I do not write about the Holocaust
I was not there……… I was not there”

Her adoptive parents’ silence leaves her feeling she has no authority to write about their history because it’s not become part of hers. Even so, she’s aware of their past, of the stories not told. Where her relationship with her adoptive father seems tender, her relationship with her adoptive mother is not straightforward. “Practical UnEnglish” starts (Mutti is German for mum, Vati for dad), “Mutti claimed the Nazis butchered her so she couldn’t have babies:/ I believed her. But she should never have taken me instead./ Guilt-sick, she could not keep me safe.” This mother, “No child of mine, she hissed—with venom in her eyes./ No child of yours, I’d think, consoling myself .” Already the adopted daughter is aware that this mother is not flesh and blood and how that offers some comfort. But there are moments,

“she loved: Goethe’s Erlkönig, Shubert’s Lieder, Tauber,
the piano she made me sing to, in pink taffeta, for guests.
She sewed clothes for me, a coat even, practical, un-English.

The garden she created shone with colour. We visited Kew,
she showed me beauty and poetry in nature, and the tower
where Rapunzel remained trapped. How I longed to free her.

Her strong accent shamed me, her haunted awkwardness.
The stories she told became unbearable, seeped
with tears for those who perished, those she left behind.

She swallowed handfuls of pills in front of me,
so they sent me away, gave her ECT. And yet
she baked, her Powidltascherl and Apfelstrüdel were divine.”

The husband’s silence seems preferable. Traumatised, the adoptive mother is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the poem acknowledges both sides, the cruel, undermining of confidence in the daughter and the joy of new clothes, a garden. The focus is the mother, so investigating how the daughter reacted to being “sent away” during her adoptive mother’s periods of illness are not explored here. But the repeated acts of separation loosen the bonds.
The daughter does get to meet her birthmother, in “First Meeting” which ends,

“On this no-one-else-but-us shore,
this then becomes our beginning.
The space between…. hovers…. liminal—
there are no memories to replace what was lost,
yet, emptiness longs to be filled with what it once knew—
isn’t that enough?”

There are no shared memories, but a sharing of memories created in the other’s absence. This is in contrast to the now adult adoptive daughter’s relationship with her own daughter, in “Notebook”,

“My daughter enjoys the safety of lines,
but I prefer the blank page, to dive

and spiral bird free in a cloudless sky.
She cuts paper into delicate shapes,

pastes petals, turns butterflies into collages,
begins again if there is one mistake.

I splatter words like Pollock onto clear canvas
and smudge, rub holes in paper, stain and tear.

My daughter bathes in milk, soaks in Caribb sun,
paints her nails as bright as her imagined future.”

The daughter here has the security of taking time to do things, to start again if a mistake is made. Her mother is hasty, scrawling words on paper before they disappear, focused on the moment and creating a home wherever she happens to be. Just before the UK went into lockdown as the pandemic took hold, a move, that would have fallen through if it had taken place a week later, is an opportunity to create a new home,

“The grandkids WhatsApp, show their drawings,
sing a song just learnt, report the day—
his scratch, her fall; we choose the bedtime story,
they kiss the screen, hug the phone,
butterfly kisses are blown.

In last night’s dream I wrapped a cloak
around our blue and gasping planet,
a net of light to help it breathe,
blew away dust-clouds of viral fear,
hosed clean the darkened rivers.

Next morning outside our bedroom window,
the magnolia is in second bloom,
pale pink pure perfect.”

The move seems to have given the poet space to breathe and dream. The poet has a mother’s instinct to want to care for a future for her grandchildren. The poem, and book, ends on a note of hope.

“Imperfect Beginnings” is an exploration of rootlessness both of refugees and adopted children. The poems ask difficult questions about security a sense of belonging when those roots are absent and whether it is actually possible to settle into or create somewhere that feels like home. Viv Fogel also touches on intergenerational trauma. She didn’t inherit her adoptive parents’ trauma but was very much aware of their experiences and how those experiences informed their behaviour towards her. The later poems look at founding a mother/daughter relationship without a role model to create one from and whether it is possible to break away from the negative patterns learnt from those who failed to provide safe environments for children to grow in.

“Imperfect Beginnings” is available from Fly On The Wall.

Blog tour poster. Remaining dates 2 March @LINDAHILL50HILL, 3 March @LOU_BOOKMARKS, 4 March @KENT_NJ, 5 March @SYLVIAFWRITES, 6 March @FLY_PRESS

Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

“Grotesque Weather and Good People” Lim Solah (Black Ocean Press) – book review

Lim Solah Grotesque Weather and Good People book cover

Translated by Olan Munson and Oh Eunkyung (names have been quoted as they appear in the book) and part of Black Ocean Press’s Moon Country Korean Poetry series. The publisher follows the naming convention based on the nationality of the poet or translator. For consistency, I follow their house-style.

“Grotesque Weather and Good People” explores contemporary urban life in Seoul with a sense of dissonance and disquiet, from the viewpoint of a generation who feel shut-out from home ownership and privilege (not unique to Korea). The poems often start from a small observation and widen out to a universal experience. In “Basics”, the speaker is looking for a white t-shirt in a shop then remembers she has plenty at home and discovers,

“Every white t-shirt has its own stain.

I squat down and apply toothpaste to the stains
then scrub. I gaze at the disappearing stains
as if they’re fading Polaroids, the faces turning white.

Removable stains
are removed, unremovable stains
are unremoved. The clothes that look best on me are
the most stained because I wear them the most often.

I take out the spin-dried t-shirts from the washing machine and
give them a hard shake. I hang them by the window. The t-shirts
are flapping. As they dry, they grow much brighter.
The bright smell of the faceless laundry
fills my room.
Tomorrow I have plans.”

Although each t-shirt is essentially the same: plain, white, nothing distinguishing it from the next, the stains on each differentiate one from another. The stains give clues as to where the t-shirt was last worn, what the wearer might have been doing or who they would have met or been with. Removing the stains also erases the lesser memories, the ones not significant enough to be remembered. The stubborn stains, indicate more significant events, the ones worth remembering. Washing the t-shirts is also a process of moving on, not wallowing in the past but accepting previous events and shifting towards the future. Like a reptile shedding skin, washing the t-shirts is a chance for growth. The poem’s speaker is no longer burdened by the past.

A meeting of past and present takes place in “TV” where a man sobs watching a documentary of the 70th Independence Day and the Namdaemun Gate, a key landmark which was partially destroyed by fire and subsequently restored, yet when a natural disaster strikes another country with many fatalities, he doesn’t cry “because it’s not his country.” The poem ends,

“The TV dozes off, and I wake it up.

I enter the TV. There he stands, behind the bus barricade.

We face each other. This means confrontation.

Across the barricade, I wish he would turn around.

I let myself turn. Only when you turn you back can you watch the same TV.”

When the speaker stands next to the man to watch the TV screen, she appears to be on his side, but watching him from within the TV, she has to face him which could be interpreted as aggression as if she has swapped sides. She needs him to turn around to stand alongside her.

In “Rent” the speaker is serving a customer (the hourly rate and price of bread are numbered for convenience, 5,000 won per hour is less than the current minimum wage, the bread roll price is the artisan, hand-baked end of the scale),

“I grab a roll with a pair of tongs because
my hands that made this bread are no longer allowed to touch it.

5,000 won an hour.
5,500 won per bread roll.
I wish I could eat the bread I make.

The man leans his black umbrella against the counter
and accepts the bread.
The back of his head dims.
He disappears with the rolls.

A black umbrella left behind.
We stand in this empty store.
The umbrella and me.”

The server knows that working more hours or not making ‘frivolous’ purchases won’t help her buy a place to live. She needs either a substantial deposit or a job with an income attractive to mortgage lenders. The college/university qualifications that would enable her to get that more attractive job also come at a cost. She can’t afford to buy the bread she makes so her labour serves others. The man she serves is secure enough not only to buy the bread she makes but also to leave behind his umbrella. Unsurprisingly, the server feels she stands in solidarity with the discarded umbrella. Its black a direct contrast to the whiteness of the t-shirts which inspired plans. Here the speaker is stuck, facing a system that disadvantages her.

“What Songs Do” creates an image, “Straw spews out when we speak/ and becomes a straw doll” however, the relationship doesn’t last and the couple split,

“When I come home
I find my room crammed full
of the things I was going to leave on the curb
and the straw we spit up.

I pick off molted cicada skin
just barely hanging onto the ends of the straw.
The song shed us and ran off.
I had to survive.

I crush the emptied body
with my fingers.
Gazing down at the scene,
the song does what songs do.”

The speaker comes home to the things she was going to get rid of. Instead the reminders of the relationship encroach on her space. The image of shed skin recurs. Here the speaker knows what she has to do, but isn’t yet ready to do it. Like the song, her life is stuck on repeat until she finds the impetus to take action.

Through “Grotesque Weather and Good People”, Lim explores those small moments in everyday life that sparkle with recognition and become a launch pad into bigger ideas and symbolism. Although they include the economic injustice and structural difficulties faced by the generation that refers to their country as 헬조선 (Hell Chosun), they are not polemic or political rants, rather humane pointers to injustices and the search for cracks that permit survival. Lim also uses a wry humour in these compassionate, subversive poems.

“Grotesque Weather and Good People” is available from Black Ocean Press

Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

“Plato is Better at Metaphor than I Am” E M Sherwood Foster (Yavanika Press) – book review

E M Sherwood Foster Plato is Better At Metaphor than I Am book cover

Yavanika Press is affliated with Sonic Boom magazine and favours short-forms in poetry and prose. E M Sherwood Foster’s “Plato is Better at Metaphor than I Am” is a short e-chapbook of short prose which open out from the title and play with imagery and ideas branching out from it. It makes it tricky to extract quotes. For example, “Once the opulent, FEVERISH forests of our minds were mappable roads—” (complete poem),

“Two and a HALF steps from our imaginations. Our journey, an UNHOLY conception. We step through that exacting granite door, smelling the BITTER herb of smoke with roses, where once mayflower children frolicked through our psyches. We feel the crunches of civilizations BURNING, burning as we step toward heaven, through CALCULATING ruby woods smoldering. Shells open, eyes SHUT, seeing red behind their twilight lids. Subsiding, KISSING the embers. Where did we go when we entered the promised land? Every sign is BLANK.”

The images capture what might lie behind the known. Known things can be categorised and mapped. Imagination that might sneak off on detours or revive memories triggered by senses isn’t categorisable or mappable. Here, smoke, which could be incense, is tempered with flowers then the imagination switches to the colour red, particularly fire which is fuelled by wood. By the end of the poem the travellers have forgotten their purpose and find no signs to get them back on track.

Later that track emerges on volcanic St Helena, in “The abstract flavor of life is ALWAYS pungent—” (complete poem)

“It envelopes itself, inside our frayed ORANGE bodies, thrashing itself alive. Circling, CIRCLING, dragons never satisfied when earthly love grows stale. Like a cloying, ELECTRIFIED taste down our throats, what we once thought sweet we VOMIT. Lodged within us, just above our diaphragms. FABLED glory, the forked road we follow synonymous with the STAKE, hanging in the discharged ash. St. Helena has come down to BLIND us. Our feet are autonomous, the ground we TRED never sacred. But in our glassware eyes and marble hands, something starts growing there.”

The images are of human bodies trapped in lava. People who thought life blessed and free, trapped in one of the worst ways possible. A note of hope creeps in at the end, that nature beings to reclaim this ashen landscape. It’s a quiet note, though, being the second sentence that doesn’t have a word that’s all in capitals. The capitalised words relate to elements out of control of the apparent narrators, principally the lava. Whereas the two without captialised words are internalised.

Later, the element changes from fire to water, “Insatiability is the highest form of f/l/a/t/t/e/r/y when it comes to water—”,

“The cycles going through our b\o\d\i\e\s and out of our bodies, and so on. This water is clownish. It goes against its nature. It’s as permanent as the s/c/a/r/s on our lips and the lies in our bones. Dragonflies come to deliver a nasty bite. But why do we stick our feet into the s\t\r\e\a\m\s like a glowing Europa, before being dragged under by a vengeful God? Dragonflies continue s/i/n/g/i/n/g. They are then tattooed onto our scalps. There are too many people, talking, talking, talking. This must be the last s\t\e\p we take, before jumping back into where we’ve been.”

The direction of the obliques change like a wave rippling onto shore and then drawing back, creating a sense of an ongoing cycle: like an inhalation and then exhalation of breath.

“Plato is Better at Metaphor than I Am” is a collection of poetic prose designed to be read, savoured and read again. Ideas branch out from their starting point and hop from image to image, reflecting a thinking process where a mind works on an idea, reaches a junction, diverts and returns both rippling out from and circling back to the original point. A gently-written collection with startling ideas.

“Plato is Better at Metaphor than I Am” is available from Yavanika Press.

Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

“My Aunt’s Abortion” Jane Rosenberg LaForge (BlazeVOX) – book review

Jane Rosenberg LaForge My Aunt’s Abortion book cover

There are no gory details, no polemic, “My Aunt’s Abortion” focuses on the aftermath and its effects on the wider family as well as the aunt at the centre of the book. The opening piece, “Narrative Reproduction”, gives some background. “My aunt was going to college to become a special education teacher. She wanted to work with learning disabled and developmentally delayed children, and was majoring in psychology. She never became a teacher, as was the case with all of her plans.” She seems to have been a woman with ideas but lacked the follow-through to make them actually happen. Her family wrote her off as the useless one. The abortion happened in the late 1960s in America when a committee of medical professionals had to approve the procedure and circumstances for approval were limited. The aunt was in her twenties, divorced and mourning her late father. At this point, family stories diverge. The writer’s mother claimed the “abortion was somehow botched, however, and she carried the fetus to term. It was stillborn.” However, after the writer’s mother’s death, her father claimed, “my aunt asked for money for an abortion. He gave it to her, during a secret meeting on a cliff road outside our neighborhood.”

Whatever the actual circumstances, there were complications, chiefly peritonitis and possibly painful ovarian cysts which led to the prescription of birth control pills to alleviate the pain. The writer states, “that my father’s version of events was so different than my mother’s, could mean that my aunt had not one, but two illegal abortions. I realize all this in retrospect, as I try to put all these disparate accounts together.” Pulling together disparate accounts is the theme in “Disclosure”,

“Of course this could all be fanciful,
what I’ve pieced together from vestiges
or trace amounts, without the substance
to build a body out of, but outtakes,
unguarded moments when parents believe
their offspring are incapable or non-comprehending.”

The fact it was not done legally meant the act had to be kept secret, its consequences brushed aside, or respectable explanations found for the aunt’s illnesses and conditions and children kept ignorant. But children grow up and learn how their own bodies work and start to figure out that some of the things they’ve been told don’t add up. Parents often do underestimate how much their children know or how much cumulative information has been overheard or unintentionally passed on.

The act is ripe for metaphor. The author, still a child, is learning about ferns both in school and from her father’s plants, “How My Aunt’s Abortion Was Like a Fern,”

“of my aunt who taught us
which shapes are most desirous:
heart for the face, almond for eyes,
thick width of the mouth,”

An aunt how knows how to make herself attractive and passes those lessons on to her niece who also,

“learned how the human
fetal position has been mimicked
by ferns, as if they were
also made in the appropriate
image; how the seemingly
impossible, a soft

The niece keeps a fern leaf nestled in damp paper towels for a show and tell at school and thinks it was similar to

“the likely sum total
of what my aunt
was given to deal with
the caveats that didn’t
come on the package
but should have been
understood, given
the unhygienic

After school, the mother tells her daughter to throw the fern away. It has served its purpose and need not be kept. Time to move on to the next school project. There are implications here that the aunt was also subject to the same “get rid of it, move on” attitude. The niece cannot ask, it’s a family secret, not talked about. The sense of shame keeps the questions unasked and is successful in keeping the aunt from talking about her experience or how she felt about it.

The collection is not just about the aunt. Observations of an ageing father are centred in “Reception” where TV satellite dishes pop up everywhere in her New York neighbourhood,
“the outer borough equivalent of kudzu”. The poem notices her father’s

“hearing aids followed the shape of wasps’ bellies,
heavy with wood, or the venom pumped into
arbitrary victims, the receiver species with
three fine bones and a gathering of hair,
lambent with sound, and shivering.”

The hearing aids have a purpose to help recreate the sounds the ears have lost, just as wasps use wood pulp to create nests. But wasps also sting and hearing aids don’t fully reproduce sound: they can distort sound or emit static and similar electronic noise which hampers rather than helps.

Back to the central theme and a group of poems explore the aftermath. In “After the Abortion: Construction”, where a new apartment block is being built, its bricks a

“buffed off-color, like the underside
of human tissue rubbed raw
as if someone was searching
for a virgin organ. My aunt,
recovering, tried a similar tint
on her lips and nails; like the bumpy
matting beneath the carpet.
It showed itself sometimes when
we vacuumed, suction against
the fibers and plywood,
just another secret, like me
in the adults-only building,
to be kept from the landlord.”

A layering of secrets to be kept within the family. Secrets not just being hidden from external parties but also between family members. The aunt can’t narrate her experience. The children can’t ask questions. Life goes on as if nothing has happened, but there are consequences, nonetheless.

Although there is no suggestion the aunt’s situation had any bearing on it, the niece’s parents divorce. In “After the Abortion III”, the niece watches her mother,

“She took up hobbies, old obsessions,
what my father couldn’t tolerate
because it was disorganized, frivolous:
clutter like her parents had collected.
She filled what had been my bedroom
with model trains, board games, doll houses,
books and cash registers, adding machines,
erector sets, cast metal cars, miniature airplanes.
In the hall closet she compiled
a collection of vacuum cleaners.
She had her best friend photograph her
vacuuming the desert, that first weekend
they went away without their husbands,
because some dust
never settles.”

The objects seem to be a journey from childhood toys to financial concerns that then reverts back to childhood with models of transport. There’s a sense of instability, a clutter instead of items that are cherished and cared for. The unsettling feeling continues with the vacuum cleaners and the over-the-top photo of cleaning the desert. Although the mother’s earlier attitude towards the aunt, the school project, was discard and move on, it seems the mother herself is stuck in a pattern of moving on without understanding her past, dooming herself to repeat her mistakes.

The final poem, “Hamsa” sees,

“My aunt spent hours arguing
with my father over the first woman
school board candidate, yet within
she kept something small, even inarticulate,
like a squirrel or sparrow our mother told us
never to touch for fear its offspring
would be forever marked. Perhaps
if my aunt had opened her fists as
she asked for help, shown her skin
to be the flawed, natural mechanism
it was, she wouldn’t have been labeled
as the freak she is known as, but instead
another child in the grip of the gods.”

It’s a reminder of the limited roles women were permitted in the public sphere. How politics, laws and education developed by men excluded and restricted women. It’s a world that encourages women to not reveal their full selves, to keep something back because that’s something they can control and have governance over. Here the poem acknowledges, that had the aunt been able to be honest about her termination(s), she could have had support and assistance that were denied her.

This is a timely collection as women’s rights are being rolled back and not just in America. Jane Rosenberg LaForge has created an empathetic collection that explores and questions attitudes towards women’s roles and the lack of control and autonomy women are granted even over their own bodies. Readers are left to speculate whether the aunt never became a teacher because she could no longer stand to be around children or because her chronic conditions, the consequence of not being able to access proper healthcare, prevented her. Either way, a life that had purpose became one without. And the consequences reached far beyond one woman.

“My Aunt’s Abortion” is available from BlazeVOX.

Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

Featured in the Top 10 Poetry Review Blogs on Feedspot.

“Contrapasso” Alexandra Fössinger (Cephalo Press) – Book Review

Alexandra Fössinger Contrapasso book cover

The poems in “Contrapasso” find succour in nature as they address themes of loss and survival, painful memories and striving to reach peace. Alexandra Fössinger is from South Tyrol, currently lives in Germany and mostly writes in English. In the opening poem, “Birds for someone who cannot hear”, “243 letters,/fragile as cut-out birds,” are sent to seek out the poem’s addressee,

……– my birds, my words,
………….cross the pitiless sea,
……seek out this obscure place,
………….creep into the dark hole
…….they’ve buried him in,

………………………..louder than anything I’ve written
……………..strong enough to be heard,

…………………though after this long journey
…………you’re injured and tired,
don’t give up
………………………………only you can save us now.”

The message is urgent and desperate, the sender needing to reach someone closed off and distant. A lot of hope and desire is packed into the message. It’s not immediately clear whether the “you” is the birds or the message’s recipient, but the speaker’s need for both not to give up is clear.

In “The painter’s wife” she has become, “Marginal, second best,/ hers is the clutter of children”. Meanwhile, he continues to paint,

“Do they remember
she used to be texture,
her brushes as tangible
as his?
Think it louder.

Like a ghost she is floating
through the canvas
that now belongs to the young girls.
Just bodies,

One breath to keep wishing,
one breath to keep fear.
Together they’re traitors to the
vow that had wed them,
to never stop seeing.”

He continues to chase his dreams and ambitions while she has been reduced to the domestic sphere of children. She enables him and he never queries why she no longer paints. The reference to “young girls” in the second quoted stanza suggests his subject matter didn’t age as the couple did. He still paints youth rather than his peers and contemporaries. In the unequal division of childcare, both have lost sight of their original aims and ambitions before the children came along.

“Mouse” explains how the collection got its title,

“When he came back
from his journey in contrapasso,
he found a dead mouse in his kitchen.”

There’s nothing to suggest the death was anything other than natural – no poisons or traps used since he wasn’t aware of the presence of the mouse until his return. It’s not known how long he was away. But now he has to deal with it

“He picked it up and threw it gently
out onto the compost heap,
not knowing how to better thank it
than by giving it back
to transmigration.

She thought of all this, of him,
still dazed from returning,
with a lifeless rodent in his smooth hand,
expurgation done by someone else,
jealous of a dead mouse
welcoming him home.”

It’s not clear who “she” is other than someone who knows him but does not live with him. It feels unresolved as if these are two people who do not communicate. She thinks of and feels for him, but he doesn’t seem to acknowledge her as if she’s the mouse living alongside but not with him.

In “Pane” a window is a transparent barrier,

“I sometimes wonder
why no friends visit me here
in this flat suspended deep
between sea and sky,

then suddenly remember
I have none

This place I made for you,
who never came,

and who but you could tell
if circumstances were conviction
or acquittal.”

It seems odd to suddenly remember you have no friends, especially when the speaker seems to have been the one who moved on, seeking to make a home for the poem’s addressee. Uncertainty permeates the poem as the speaker made a home in the absence of the one she wanted to share it with, the one “who never came”. She also doesn’t know if the one who is absent sees their absence as a positive or negative. Her uncertainty leaves her stuck, unable to connect with her neighbours and also unable to leave. She seems to be imprisoned by her own actions.

“Contrapasso” is a thoughtful collection, one to dip in and linger over at leisure. They read as a gathering of ideas and exploration of perspectives beyond the speaker’s observations. Fössinger has the confidence to give the reader space to inhabit the poems and draw their own conclusions.

“Contrapasso” is available from Cephalo Press.

Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

“Lilies on the Deathbed of Étain and Other Poems” Oisín Breen (Beir Bua Press) – book review

Oisin Breen Lilies on the Deathbed of Etain and Other Poems book cover

This pamphlet features two longer sequences, starting with the title piece, and four shorter poems. In a nutshell, “Lilies on the Deathbed of Étain” explores the life of a woman in youth, age and death through a lens of motherhood. The poem doesn’t flow in in chronological order, it’s a series of recollections from differing perspectives. It starts,

“All this ends with the hocking of soft skin in loose folds,
A solemn current of spooled ink,
A stuffed portent:
That elegiac parchment of cause and effect,
And rhapsody, where each stroke of the hand
Is delicate enchantment.

Yet, like stripling vines in stupor,
We wrest ourselves from a standing start,
Only so as to glut ourselves, keening in the play of rustling air.

And, like children caught in first blush,
At rush to gorge our nascent wanting,
We relentlessly feast on the contingencies
That differentiate stone from stave.

But the salted oceans we pillage render up scant grain,
And illumination is in death, annihilation
And the hard sense of knowing:

………….Curtain-fall and the committal.”

Étain on her deathbed and the poem’s speaker is aware that she should be their focus but the speaker is also carrying that limbo of expected bereavement, the knowledge that the end is near but not yet in place. For each of those caught in the same limbo there are tears and memories which begin to surface as they think about what Étain meant and represented to them. The lyrical tones suggest a softness of memories, a woman much-loved. The sequence draws to a close,

“It is October, and the sharp sting of the frozen wind electrifies,
and traces, in tandem with your tongue, the small creases of
age between my shoulder and my neck.

It is October, and we are drinking from each other, and it is
impossible to stop.

Almost the end:

And to a drumbeat of breathless water, she fell still.
And nine trees hung over the river,
Each dropping their fruit unto its course,
And every afternoon she clambers along its banks,
Filling her pockets with hazelnuts,
And poaching salmon where none swim,
But that was not on the Dromahair, that was on the Analee,
Where she and I guzzled hazelnut and hawthornberry stew.

It was beautiful the day she died.”

There is love and tenderness here. The dropped fruit suggestive of a bountiful life reaching its end. The collection of hazelnuts suggestive of a nurturing nature, someone storing in a time of plenty in preparation for leaner times. The memory is unfocused, the speaker remembers her catching salmon but then remembers there are no salmon in the river he’s thinking off so it must have been another river. However, he remembers the food, prepared by someone who cared for him. It doesn’t matter what day she died, but his memories make it beautiful.

In the second sequence, “The Love Song of Anna Rua”, the tone remains lyric but the form becomes sonically experimental, part I begins,

“Ha-ra-hao-………… Ha-ra-hao-…………Rah-Hao-………… Ha-Rah-Hao-
Ha-ra-rao-………… Ha-ra-hao-…………..Rah-Hao-

………….All poetry is songliness,


………………..Like the ringing out of arias,


………………….Hung out from the balcony.

…………………………They are like the ringing out of arias,

………………Like red sheets:
……………………………From the window flung.


They are built to crescendo”

The poem ripples over the page as a slow-moving river might. The gentle pace gives the reader space to take in the sound patterns and echoes.

The shorter poems start with “Six Months Bought with Dirt: the Bothy Crop of Arranmore,” about migrant Irish labour in Scotland where migrants,

“They knelt in the dirt, stopping only to chew on soda bread,
Its crusts wet with last night’s treat of dillisk soup,
A welcome weed, and water wine, dried in bags,
Kept beside their sleeping mats, having gathered it by moonlight,
Having gathered it as children, too,
On the storm-swept rocks of home.”

It concludes, “Six months toil for a kiss,/ For a child’s hand held,/ Six months bought with dirt.” The migrants, making as much money as possible for their families back in Ireland, sustain themselves on soda bread and familiar tastes knowing that their stay is temporary and home beckons. It’s noticeable home comforts are found via food, rather than improvised music or craic. There’s a puritan sense of all work and no play with earnings spent miserly if at all so the only comfort is in the sustenance of a piece of soda bread.

“Even Small Birds Can Render Planets unto Ash,” watches puffins (from the distance of a boat),

“In great improbabilities of scurrying new movement,
That left me gasping at their impetuousness
And vivifying life, as they paused, then ducked
Beneath the waves, only to rise unto an apex of white foam.

And their black wings beat against the lolling current,
Along the white lines that bifurcated the luminescent tunnels
Collapsing in their wake.”

The puffins are in playful mode, rising and falling on and into the waves, seemingly without care.

“Lilies on the Deathbed of Étain” is an ambitious pamphlet. The two longer sequences explore multiple voices on a common theme while the shorter poems are more focused. All demonstrate a love of language, both of meaning and sound, not just as single words but how sounds build patterns and add texture to the poems.

“Lilies on the Deathbed of Étain” is available from Beir Bua Press.

Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

Featured in the Top 10 Poetry Review Blogs on Feedspot.

“We Saw It All Happen” Julian Bishop (Fly on the Wall) – book review

Julian Bishop We Saw It All Happen book cover

“We Saw It All Happen” is a collection of poems which highlight environmental and climate concerns. Some of them are necessarily downbeat but many suggest ways and actions that can be taken to counter these wider concerns. They are collected into three sections, ‘Taster’, ‘Mains’ and ‘After’. The first focuses on signs that signal environmental issues, e.g. in “Remember When Hippos Used to Swim?”, where hippopotamuses return to Lake Ngami,

“to lie down and wallow
in a long cool mud bath.

They plunge in fully clothed
but the thick mire grips them,
holds them close. The hippos
panic, flounder deeper
into the gluey folds
of ravenous black sludge.

Hungry vultures circle,
sizing up the mud-braised
Packed tight, they sizzle like
sausages in a huge
African frying pan.”

Drought has emptied the lake of water but the hippopotamuses return through habit and can’t move on in search of water elsewhere. Their mud baths can’t save them from the sun and dehydration, even if they could escape the glue-like effect of the mud. Vultures circle waiting for the inevitable.

“Snow Leopard” is about the one that managed to escape from Dudley Zoo but zoo keepers failed to recapture it, the poem ends,

“to protect the world from a threatened cat
………the marksman only took one shot

to protect the threatened cat from the world
………we only had one shot

………………our empty cages tweet their own tale

………………#hashtag: epicfail

It doesn’t leave much space for comment. The repeat of “threatened cat” and “one shot” tells readers where their sympathy should lie and underlines how protecting the planet and its wildlife really should not be left to humans.

The second section, ‘Mains’, starts with an injection of satire, “Welcome to Hotel Extinction”, ends with an apology for,

“poor air conditioning. We guarantee a good sleep. Beware
of a sudden proliferation in insects—rest assured we are
committed to total elimination. Everything in the Ice Breaker
Tavern is on the rocks, 24/7. We don’t do a Happy Hour.
Think Hotel California: check out any time you like but you
can never leave. Daily wake-up calls are free. Sunset at the
infinity pool is unforgettable. Every room always has flowers.”

There’s a serious message too: continuing the way humans have always done is no longer an option. The happy hour has gone, the bar is named after the loss of sea ice and glaciers, and humans are sleepwalking into a permanent sunset.

The pandemic offered a different perspective. There’s a short sequence of ‘Lockdown Sonnets’ the second “Saffron Green” describes a world merely “inches away” from the A-road,

“the richer world hidden beyond
the front door. Pasture turned
into woodland until it was layer
upon layer of primrose, anemone
paths tickled with white comfrey,
finches in trees, just inches away
from the A1. I watched the conceit
of exhausted lives in the fast lane”

The “exhaust” is ambiguous, the lives described are both exhausting and heading for oblivion.

Initially in the ‘Afters’ section, the humour is ramped up, especially when having a dig at politicians, in “Eton Mess” (the meringue and cream dessert),

“Can be cobbled together in seconds.

  • First take the meringue (white) break it in with cream
    (also white).
  • Crush the strawberries until the pips squeak and the
    juices run like blood.
  • Mash. Scrummy!
  • Aterthought: sprinkle with spun sugar (for decoration).

No deep thought or application required.

NB nota bene: some of the ingredients demand prodigious

It continues, taking swipes at former Prime Ministers, mainly Boris Johnson and David Cameron. At least the Latin is correct. Similarly, “Big O” subtitled “(i.m.)”, characterises oil,

“Black day when Ol’ King Coal got shot,
but then the kill-line for Big O kicked in

when the whole darn world locked down.
Plugs ruptured, his blowout preventer
got plain plumb-tuckered. Sour gas

spudded through his limbs, black holes
at his heart laid bare. Dude so fracking
frail, goddam wind blown him clean away.”

He still swaggers when witnessing the death of coal but it’s all bluster and his fragility is revealed when the world moves on to other sources of energy.

So far the issues of the climate emergency are laid out, firstly with details, rubbish in the oceans choking sea life, moving on to land and the effects of drought and heat and how rubbish humans are at being guardians of the planet. “We Saw It All Happen” then moves into satirical swipes at politicians and those not ready to see a new future of renewables and lacking the urgency to change. “Guerilla” suggests small ways humans might improve. It ends,

“I don’t want roads I want clover
I want thyme…. I want thrift
trench warfare against the endless drives
and your big wheels won’t stop us

until irises run up a white flag
until I see heartsease….. honesty

and love lies bleeding
by every wasted roadside”

It makes the point that humans may be heading for extinction but nature can fight back if humans support it and let it. It might start with small plants taking back spaces currently given over to tarmac, but there’s a note of hope.

“We Saw It All Happen” is a collection that has the climate emergency firmly in its sights, but it’s not a didactic, handwringing swansong that writes humanity off completely. Politicians are fair game, their reluctance to make real, lasting change explored through satire. Oil swaggers in and drifts out like Trump. Julian Bishop seeds hope. It’s not too late (yet). We can each make small changes to bring out larger wins. It entertains.

“We Saw It All Happen” is available from Fly on the Wall.

We All It All Happen Blog Tour

Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

Featured in the Top 10 Poetry Review Blogs on Feedspot.

“Songs in E–” Dan Brady (Trnsfr Books) – book review

Dan Brady Songs In E– book cover

Dan Brady’s “Songs in E–” was winner of the Barclay Prize for Poetry. It has an intriguing premise, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” translated into Portguese and then back into English via an unreliable internet translator and the resulting material reshaped into “Songs in E–“. A similar process was used for the latter half of the book, “E–‘s Song” which used Robert Browning’s “One Word More” also dubiously translated into Portguese and back into English and then reshaped.

“Songs in E–” starts with “Meet Cute”,

“We bought antiques
but gradually saw
the rips, the sad years,
the melancholy.
Assumptions took hold.
Death, you say.
No, E——,
not Death,
the proximity of Heaven.”

The title was definitely not in Barrett Browning’s vocabulary and suggests a first meeting between a couple destined for romantic that had some sweet story behind it. There’s not much cute here: generally antiques are bought for their value – material or artistic – or for restoration, however there’s an air of neglect. What seemed like a good idea is now showing its age. E– suggests death but the speaker sees closeness to heaven, a meeting of opposites: the pessimist and the optimist. It’s the latter whose voice comes to dominate, in “Art Works”,

“If the face of the world has changed,
my best move is to be still.

Between each other and our terrible exteriors
is the brink of an obvious death.

Art is like drinking from the cup of God.”

Art offers a sense of salvation in a dying world. It also suggests that a rich inner life is a welcome retreat from a harsh world. The generic ‘Art’ loses sight of the literary origins of the sonnets. These poems seem to have taken a diversion from their original purpose: a celebration of love between two people who got married in secret since Barrett Browning was wary of lumbering her husband with an invalid and her father didn’t approve. This underlines the limitations of bad translation, the intention and subtlties become lost. It’s later, in “Fan Mail”, that writing is finally mentioned,

“These letters, all the paper mute and white, seem living creatures
that quiver when they meet my hands as today fills with low light.

One said she desired to see me as a friend.
A simple thing, but it made me cry.

This one, E——, with the light paper,
talked about how expensive love is,

a point thundering in my past. Yours said,
‘I am yours’ and its pale ink met with my pale skin.

This one repeated
what the last one said.”

The poeticisms of the first couplet become more prosaic with each line. There aren’t enough clues from this to know if the tears of the letter reader are with joy or sorrow at being seen as a friend – is it hope of friendship turning to love or sadness at being friend-zoned? But later letters are about love and repeated statements of love.

It’s no surprise that the poems in the first part are recognisably sonnets. None contain the most famous lines either. This underlines the value of translation is not just about fluency or vocabulary but an understanding of what’s being translated and a sympathy to the aims of the writer. Barrett Browning only pretended her poems were translations to distance herself from them because she thought them too personal to publish. The poems returned via the translation process have become so generic as to be almost impersonal. Most of them seem to have lost sight of the originals being love poems.

Did Browing’s poem fare any better? It’s presented as an unnumbered sequence and the start seems promising,

“His true glory
was beyond
what the world saw,
painted on his soul
was the soul of a poet.”

Although we don’t know who “he” is so the poem is reduced to lofty sentiment. At least love is mentioned,

“This: there is no artist
alive and in love
who does not wish once,
and once only,
and for only one—
fit and fair and simple
and sufficient.
Yet all artists living,
loving, renounce this love
to write songs
of new women,
to take on
the sorrow
of the artist
and lose
the joy of man.”

The implication seems to be that love may inspire but art is born of sorrow so love has to be lost in order for the lover to become an artist. This dichotomy is visited again later,

“Only this is certain—
our views of him were other,
like opposite sides
of the same moon. Man
has two sides to his soul,
one to face the world with,
one to show a woman
when he loves her.”

It implies love is a secret thing that can only be shared between lovers who then show a different side to the larger world. Love is a secret, intimate and to be kept from the wider world.

“Songs in E–” indirectly asks questions about translation, its value and how irresponsible translations affect readers’ responses to the work as well as the intentions and reputation of the original work. Some prior knowledge of “Songs from the Portuguese” and “One Word More” is useful. Brady’s reshaping though is more than just an interesting method, through dismantling and reassembling, the poems explore what it means to love someone, how two people negotiate sharing lives in face of other’s resistence. There’s a strand of playfulness though both sections that asks serious questions without taking itself too seriously.

“Songs in E–” is available from Trnsfer Books.

Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

Featured in the Top 10 Poetry Review Blogs on Feedspot.