“A Witness of Waxwings” Alison Lock (Cultured Llama) – short stories review

“A Witness of Waxwings” is a collection of 20 short stories, some under 1000 words, on a range of topics from the natural world, selkies, clocks, a girl with Olympic ambitions and King Knut who knows it is folly to attempt to govern the sea but is distracted by worry about his queen, returning from a sea journey. In one of the longer stories, “Blue”, an elderly Edith has failed in her search to find the baby she was forced to give up for adoption. Through the fog of dementia, she remembers through fragments and pieces together how her baby was conceived in rape.

In the title story, a woman watching a documentary on waxwings on an small isolated island, she recognises the birdwatcher captured on camera and remembers the abuse he doled out to her. Not having bruises for proof, she found it impossible to tell her side of the story.

“Creels” sees a mother and daughter fleeing domestic violence. The daughter had kept her father’s phone number in her battered soft toy. Her father made her promise she would phone and tell him where they were. A helpful receptionist repairs the toy and the daughter discovers the piece of paper with her father’s phone number is no longer in the toy. It’s not until she frees a lobster from a creel she understands when she and her mother left.

In “Dissonance”, a badly-maintained clock that has a line of mannequins appear on the hour, appears to hold the town’s fate in its hands. Tradition states if the clock stops, the town will burn as it did once before. During the annual carnival celebrating the town’s burning after the great fire, the clock’s hourly parade judders, causing panic for one witness whilst others have forgotten its significance.

“A Shift of Light” follows Glenn as he returns to clear out his late parents’ house. A act that triggers memories of his sister, the girl who wanted to be an Olympic swimmer, who sneaked out of the house at night to practice in the local lake, determined to be the first to swim from one side to the other. He returns to the lake for the first time since childhood. Memories surface, he calls out.

Each story offers a transformation, sometimes literally, where a main character has to accept and understand their past and its effect on their future. Alison Lock brings a poet’s eye for details, offering sparingly, which enable a reader to imagine the scene whilst leaving the reader enough space to engage with the story. Each bears re-reading too. “A Witness of Waxwings” is a skillfully crafted collection of engaging short stories.

“A Witness of Waxwings” is available from Cultured Llama

Verbs that Move Mountains book coverVerbs that move mountains is a glimpse at the way poets, promoters and storytellers engage with spoken word around the world. The anthology includes histories of specific scenes, hard looks at how to make spoken word a more accessible and open space in terms of sexuality, mental health, indigenous languages and more…. Academic analysis co-exists with personal reflections. Current topics, such as the ethics of honesty in slam poetry, or the very real dangers faced by many poets around the world, are also discussed. These essays give you snapshots of scenes from Singapore to New Zealand, via Leicester and Palestine.

Verbs that Move Mountains is Available here

“Beyond Wings” Alison Lock (Indigo Dreams Publishing) – poetry review

Beyond Wings Alison Lock book coverAlison Lock paints with words, using nature to explore an inner world. In “Kingfisher – upriver from Pulteney Bridge” a tour guide can’t hold attention from “the tip of a peacock’s feather that now/ adorns a tiny bird in a dull tree.” She experiments with form: there are haibun, verbal mirror poems and also prose poems often ending in a short, centred final stanza, e.g. “Playground” (complete poem):

“As we drive past the park, I see children on swings, their legs kicking out, sending them higher and higher, a boy turning a roundabout, whizzing, faster and faster as a girl watches. I see a single tree, leafless branches like unsheathed bones, bending towards them in a half embrace. It is as if the sap has stopped and the tree is shunned, abandoned by the fertile rush of leaf and seed and pod and bud and all the other bursting things like meadow grass and hedge. The cries and shouts and delights from the playground echo, becoming smaller and smaller, until the park, this moment in time, has gone, out of sight, beyond the quarter light.

not knowing
the sky is endless”

The familiar image of children in a playground very much in the spring of their lives compared with the wintered tree is transformed by the image of the shunned tree and the children’s lack of knowledge of their potential. The abandoned tree also suggests that knowledge brings responsibility which, passed on too early, will diminish their childhood.

“fugue” is about starlings but also could be a metaphor:

on harp wires
rows of late leavers
starlings on a stave
awaiting the fulcrum
of a fickle tide
for the fugue”

The references to “harp wires” and “stave” clearly point to the musical definition of fugue as a short melody introduced and then taken up by other instruments as the starlings wait for a leader to lead the flock into the air. They behave like any group of people who know what they have to do but are hesitantly hanging back not wanting to be first and waiting for someone to signal when to start.

Grief is handled with sensitivity, in “Joining up the dots”

“I see the tension in her arm,
folding in flour, milk, tears,
while my cutter is making
the shape of a star.

At night we look up to the loved ones,
as they join up the dots,
sketching their ploughs
and bears and dragons until –

Up there!
she points to the new arrival,
the one that pulls on the thread – still attached to our hearts.”

The human condition is firmly linked to nature, which, closely observed, can offer us lessons in dealing with obstacles and problems. Alison Lock shows a knowledge of words worn lightly, choosing familiar vocabulary to introduce and communicate ideas whilst also being mindful of the potential interpretations of each word chosen.

“Beyond Wings” is available from Indigo Dreams Publishing.