“Noisesome Ghosts” Clay Thistleton (Blart Books) – poetry review

Clay Thistleton uses fragmentary text incorporating music extracts, transcripts of messages, historical and contemporary reports and references to create a hybrid mosaic loosely based on T S Eliot’s “The Wasteland”. The introduction asserts that it’s a book of “scholarship and of poetry” and swiftly followed by a tongue-in-cheek guide to using the book. These ghosts have a very dry sense of humour.

“The Ghost of Mr Wineholt (1937)” subtitled “in memory of Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)” starts

2019 01 16 extract 01

[text reads: “I felt something heavy/On my chest/ while in bed/ in the new house” all letters “e” and “o” plus the “g” in “something, “ea” in “heavy”, “bed” and the “ou” in house” are in a larger size]

Mr Wineholt, a neighbour suggests, is the former house owner who “gassed himself”. The poem’s narrator tells the ghost she “has rented” the house and tells Mr Wineholt (due to the typesetting, I’ve used an image to reproduce the text),

2019 01 16 extract 1

[text reads “but I am not/ dead girl// & I had to/ – hesitantly -/ point out/ that as he had/ committed suicide/ in the kitchen/ it was fairly likely/ that he was”]

It’s rather eloquent for a five-year-old Sylvia Plath, if the poem’s narrator is intended to be her, and the references to “gassed himself” and “kitchen” feels like a clever attempt to load a piece with more significance that it deserves. It also reduces the poet to her death. Her work deserves better.

Some ghosts are more contemporary, here travellers in Florida (again, due to the typesetting, I’ve used an image to reproduce the text),

2019 01 16 extract 2

The poem starts with the transcript of the cockpit voice recorder which includes the noise of impact and then takes the shape of a small plane as it explores what a flight attendant’s ghost sees,

2019 01 16 extract 2a

The attendant seems to remember the warning given by the flight engineer whose remains he has just recognised. Readers aren’t given the emotional journeys of these ghosts, the poems act as recordings of what the ghosts do or say, effectively inviting readers to fill the blank spaces to create those journeys for themselves.

In “The Apparition of C S Lewis (1963)”

2019 01 16 extract 3

The writer’s ghost appears, appearing to be in good health, but the words spoken are redacted. However, there’s not enough context to guess what the ghost might have said. The words direct the focus on the irony of a ghost appearing healthier than in life.

The poems are not presented chronologically so a poem from the 18th century might appear alongside one that’s more contemporary. “Sendai Possessions: One of Twenty-Five Tsunami Spirits Exorcised from Rumiko Takahashi (Alias) by Reverend Kaneda of Kurihara, Japan” is set after the 2011 Tsunami and earthquake and ends

2019 01 16 extract 4

The observation, “it is very cold// & there are bodies// all around me” is hardly original but its matter of fact tone is a reflection of shock and someone trying to make sense of something completely beyond their comprehension.

In “The Bristol Poltergeist (1761-1762)” one ghost has met their end via bite marks,

2019 01 16 extract 5

2019 01 16 extract 5a

The shape of the text, a sentence presented as an oval, is relevant but also a visual way of distracting from the ordinariness of the observations (“we examined these bites & found on them”, “the impression of eighteen or twenty teeth”, “with saliva or spittle all over them” “in the shape of a mouth very wet”), although it could be argued that the visual provide a pointer to the extraordinary phenomena being presented in passive, scientific record.

“Noisesome Ghosts” is cerebral, rather than compassionate, and its compilation feels like an interesting experiment in danger of taking over its creator. At over 400 pages it does feel too long and is a book to dip in and out of rather than read coherently from start to finish even over several sittings. The time jumps and lack of chronological order give the book the feel that its “Noisesome Ghosts” have interrupted its compilation and disturbed its order. The shaping of text is sometimes logical, for example taking the shape of a plane or using the layout of social media posts, and sometimes appearing to have no logic, for example in “The Ghost of Mr Wineholt” where random larger letters appear, again consistent with the disruption of ghostly figures. It’s a marmite book: it will either appeal to readers or not. If a cerebral exercise in found poems laced with dry wit appeals, “Noisesome Ghosts” is for you.

“Noisesome Ghosts” by Clay Thistleton is available from Bart Books

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“A Z-hearted Guide to Heartache” Charley Barnes (V. Press) – poetry review

BARNES_CHARLEY_A Z-HEARTED GUIDE TO HEARTACHE_V Press“A pocket-sized guide to hurting yourself” sets the tone,

“Step One: Fall in love with someone
who doesn’t know how to love you back.
Tell yourself that they don’t actually lack
the ability to love you, so much as the desire to.
Learn that you are unlovable.

Step Two: Stay with that person.”

It continues to Step Six with suggestions to return to Step Two. It feels like a good friend offering advice over a warming coffee with tissues to hand. That may seem cosy but, like all good friends, it doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the part “you” played in things going wrong. “On trying to not conjure an ex-lover” is a ‘don’t go back to your ex poem,

“and two glasses of wine, by then I’m not saying his name,
I’m chanting it in front of my television,
in the hope that he might manifest post-watershed.
Not that I’d care even if he did,
Every three times, I look over my shoulder”

“A Z-hearted Guide to Heartache” isn’t just a gentle wallow in post-heartbreak territory, “#AmIPrettyYet” looks at trying to get back on your feet and move out of the house again and starts

“When I upload a selfie, captioned: ‘feeling a little vain’,
what I’m really trying to do is ascertain how many strangers
find me fuckable enough for me to leave the house today.’

One poem, although making an important point, feels out of synch with the theme and subject of most of the poems. “An apology for not looking disabled,”

“Elders forgive my disability for wrapping itself around
my central nervous system; forgive it for being broken
down into an acronym that isn’t well-known enough
to be considered a mainstream health condition.
I’m of the hipster generation; I need my malfunction
to be something that most doctors don’t recognise.”

It makes a vital point and is a good poem but doesn’t sit as well as, “Food is an important part of any relationship – Part Three”

“You take my medical history in your stride,
but when my knee buckles again for the fourth dip that day,
I wobble, and the garlic bread I’m carrying
wavers on the paper plate,
heroically, you reach out – to catch the garlic bread.

You’re brave enough to battle a broken nervous system,
but the thought of food wastage has you rushing scared.
Thank you for being there to save my side order.”

The situations appear specific to a certain relationship (even if not real or an amalgam of more than one relationship) yet illustrate scenarios that are universally recognisable. The poems lack self-pity and display a wry humour. They show compassion and capture a contemporary twenty-something navigating her start in life.

“A Z-hearted Guide to Heartache” is available from V. Press.

“All the Twists of the Tongue” Cathleen Allyn Conway (Grey Book Press) – poetry review

All the Twists of the Tongue Cathleen Allyn ConwayThese poems have been formed from articles by Sylvia Plath published in “Mademoiselle” magazine, quotes deleted from her journals and annotations in her copy of the collected Henrik Ibsen plus Aurelia Plath’s responses to letters from Olwyn Hughes and a letter from Madelyn Matthews, a fellow guest editor, to “Mademoiselle” magazine. The voice in all but one of the poems (the one not based on Plath’s work) is recognisable as Plath’s, e.g. “Folk Dance” ends

“little dolly children. Each full breath the children take is
the germs of evil. A very dangerous disease, sins of the fathers.
It is in the blood. You can inherit these things.

Is it imprudent to live your husband’s life? Mine is pompous, smug.
Still like a child in many things. I must cut myself free of this penalty.
Our beautiful, happy home would no longer be punishment.”

It picks up on Plath’s life-long struggles between being ambitious to gain recognition as a writer and societal restrictions as a mother and housewife. She midwived her husband’s writing career and was left as primary carer to their children when he left. She watched him dine with T S Eliot while her own work received mixed reviews and she was seen as a poet’s wife. At Court Green, their home in Devon, she worked to convert part of the garden to grow their own vegetables, figured out they could grow and harvest daffodils and started bee-keeping as secondary income streams to their patchy writers’ incomes; worked to build a secure home yet was left to do it all on her own.

“Falcon Yard” shares its title with the novel Plath wrote about in her Journals, set during her time at Cambridge,

“I have served a purpose.
Not so silly as you think:

bleeding money to buy him clothes,
spent eight months of writing,

typed his hundred poems –
a clear humiliation.

It is a narrow-minded way of looking at things:
ugly raised wrist-scars, no false notes.”

It captures the way Plath chastised herself for being blinded by love and forgiving, calling herself stupid; “what a fool one is to sincerely love” is the last line. Plath did know about Hughes’ affairs (not just the one that triggered their separation). “I Have Known for a Very Long Time” gives the collection its title,

“He hasn’t learnt to be deceitful yet in the first look,
but he’ll learn fast. All the twists of the tongue.

I saw this in several sharp flashes, like blows.”

The alliteration and consonance in “several sharp flashes” and its staccato rhythm is apt and utterly appropriate.

The one poem not based on Plath’s work is formed from a letter written by Madelyn Matthews’ to “Mademoiselle” magazine. Matthews was one of the guest editors, a summer internship where girls were brought to New York put up in a hotel and expected to work at the magazine producing articles, writing features and organising fashion photoshoots. In “A Distinguished Point of View”,

“Drank 11am champagne, an exciting glimpse ahead:
how to write an application letter,
get a job, get a man, anything you want.
We wish we could tell you all we learned.”

The ordering of phrases after “write an application letter” suggests such a letter is key to doing the things listed afterwards, a reminder that these young women in the 1950s had a lot of asking permission to do what they wanted. The last line is almost begging for the reader to ask ‘what did you learn?’ so giving the writer permission to tell.

“All the Twists in the Tongue” uses Plath’s words, including those erased by others, to explore her attitude, knowledge and how she faced being a writer, a single mother, a dutiful daughter in a time where women’s lives were restricted. She was the engine in her marriage, enabling her husband’s work and became book keeper and financial planner so they could move to Devon and establish a family home that he left. The poems feel organic, growing naturally from their sources, rather than a clever idea that doesn’t rise from being the sum of its parts. The results in “All the Twists in the Tongue” are far more interesting than the method. I’m usually wary of reading/ watching anything inspired by Sylvia Plath in case the person portrayed isn’t recognisable, but was quickly reassured when reading these poems, which have been written by someone immersed in Plath’s work and determined to let Plath’s own words shine through. Cathleen Allyn Conway’s approach is inventive and considered. “All the Twists in the Tongue” is a striking and rewarding read.

“All the Twists in the Tongue” by Cathleen Allyn Conway is available from Grey Book Press.

“Poems in the Case” Michael Bartholomew-Biggs (Shoestring Press) – book review

Poems in the Case Michael Bartholomew-Biggs“Poems in the Case” contains poems in the framework of a detective story, threaded throughout a prose narrative. The narrative starts with a prologue then breaks into 15 episodes which look at the death of poet Eric Jessop whose body is found by partner George Hamblin. Hamblin provides evidence of Eric’s depression, which, with injuries consistent with a fall from the cliffs where his body was found, leads to the verdict of suicide. “Sharp Objects” is part of that evidence with its final stanza,

“Once a skewer of alarm goes in
the flesh beneath your shirt gets seasoned
with salt and pepper specks of sweat.
Imagined rows of razor gazes
shave away the blushing layers
of your nerve-rich epidermis
into ragged flakes like Parmesan.”

Publisher and poet Stephen Prince announces a posthumous collection of Eric Jessop’s unseen poems, which George Hamblin, a poetic rival, knows nothing about. “Arrangement for Strings” by Stephen Prince opens,

“Jazz and puppetry, she says
are twins. She’s right: harmonic lines
allow as little freedom
as a finger up the spine
or wires through wrists that push or pull you
into false positions.”

The two rivals are booked to run a workshop with sessions taking place over a week at a literary festival. The attendees include a minor actor, a mathematician, a beginner poet with a crush on one of the tutors and a rejected poet in search of answers amongst others. Hamblin rounds off the meet-and-greet session with a poem, “Extra Passenger” where the poet finds himself sitting on a bus next to a passenger carrying a box with air holes, which ends

“I’d shudder if I saw a scorpion’s black scuttle
or striped coils of a snake, an Orwell sewer rat – or worse

a mouse-sized tufted thing suspended
under far too many jointed legs. He smiled
It isn’t in the box he said, holding out his hand towards me…”

Prince, noted as being six inches shorter than his rival and a less convincing performer, counters with his poems, the first of which, “Nothing Outward,” starts with the line, “There was unease sulking in the bass line.” Neither tutor aiming to put the attendees at ease, who are left with the impression they’ve just witnessed “some sort of verbal arm-wrestling”. The workshop sessions proceed with attendees making the most of them although there are some grumblings about the tutors’ feedback. Hamblin, in particular, seems to be dropping into a darker mood; underlined when he makes disparaging comments about the guest reader on Wednesday night. The mood is interrupted when Prince offers a preview of the collection of Eric Jessop’s unseen poems. It turns out they are a collection Jessop had submitted but the submission had slipped, unopened, behind a filing cabinet. He reads one only for Hamblin to declare it’s not Jessop’s work. There’s a covering letter in Jessop’s hand that clarifies he’d been working on the manuscript in secret. Awkward silence follows.

The following morning, neither tutor makes it down to the first workshop and the attendees discover they have to stay a further day whilst police take statements after gathering evidence. Neither tutor survived the night and both deaths could be self-inflicted.

One attendee turns to Jessop’s “Collected Poems” to search for clues.  Was it a double suicide, a murder and suicide or a double murder?

There’s a final twist in the surfacing of Jessop’s unseen manuscript, naturally. From the manuscript, “An Image on the Retina” ends,

“Accumulated hindsight stacks up accusations—
not about our latest wrongs so much
as what we could have been and weren’t. Reflected truth
might show us we were always beautiful
and lovable. And that we’ve wasted both.”

This is no cosy murder-mystery with the workshop attendees invited into the library so the solution can be revealed. It’s very much left to the reader to deduce their own conclusion or turn to consider whether the loss of life was more important and could such a tragedy have been avoided? Was it a love triangle? A poetic rivalry? Jealousy from a lesser poet? Depression plus an excess of alcohol leading to a suicide? A misinterpretation of clues in a discovered manuscript?

The poems are integral to the story, not some bolted-on gimmick to jazz up an idea or to focus the reader’s attention on how the story is told to draw attention away from the plot. The poems are in different voices – fairly easily done for the workshop attendees, but still successfully done for the three main poets – Jessop, Prince and Hamblin – which is harder to pull off because they need to have consistent voices over several poems and the results have to merit the character’s reputations. “Poems in the Case” is successful on two levels: one as an entertaining story and two as a story told through poems that reward re-reading.

“Poems in the Case” by Michael Bartholomew-Biggs is available from Shoestring Press.

“Birnam Wood” Hélène Cardona (Salmon Poetry) – poetry review

Birnam Wood Helene Cardona“Birnam Wood” is a collection of José Manuel Cardona’s poems from the Spanish by Hélène Cardona presented in both the original Spanish and English translations. José Manuel Cardona (1928 – 2018) was a Spanish poet forced into exile in France and worked for the United Nations. His collections include, “El Vendimiador”, “Poemas a Circe” and “El Bosque de Birnam: Antología poética”. The poems in “Birnam Wood” are gathered in three sections, “Poems to Circe”, “The Vintner” and “Other Poems”. “Poems to Circe” are a series of love poems, in “Poem to Circe III”,

“You are not mine either even though I love you.
You are like earth, like the island.
I share you with no one, love, no one.
I cannot say: that is mine.
This island where we love belongs to no one.
I prefer it this way, because love
Is that language or fire or scattered
Universe in vine everywhere.

Flesh is subsequent, the very embers,
What one looks for and loves and composts.
Fleeting truth of an opaque moon
Cruelly scratching the burning bramble,
Awakening to the mystery of hands,
The touch of the mouth and kiss.”

The original Spanish:

“Tampoco tú eres mía aunque te amo.
Eres como la tierra, como la isla.
Con nadie te comparto, amor, con nadie.
Yo no puedo decir: aquello es mío.
Esta isla donde amamos no es de nadie.
Lo que se debe a alguien no es do uno.
Y lo prefiero así, porque el amor
Es cual lengua de fuego o universo
Desparramado en vid por todas partes.

La carne es lo ulterior, la brasa misma,
Lo que se busca y ama y estercola.
Fugitiva verdad de luna opaca
En arañzo cruel de zarza ardiendo
Despertando al misterio de las manos,
Al tacto de la boca y a los besos.”

Themes of longing and belonging echo throughout the sequence echoing the sense that someone you love does not belong to you but longs to be with you. My Spanish isn’t good enough to comment directly on the translation, it’s clear that the rhyme scheme has not been used but the English translation does use assonance on the softer, longer vowels as a substitute. The poems in the middle section have a more contemporary feel such as, “Tom Smithson Dead in his Garret”,

“They fear seeing you wake at some unearthly hour
to go toward Wall Street and tell
.                the sausage makers
that it is beautiful to dictate commercial letters
.                to the blond typists,
but even more beautiful to wander the banks
.                of the Hudson.”

“Temen verte despertar a deshora
para ir hacia Wall Street y decir a los
.             fabricantes de embutidos
que es hermoso dictar cartas comerciales a
.             las rubias mecanógrafas,
pero más hermoso vagar por las riberas del
.             Hudson.”

As beautiful as work is, the restorative nature of landscape is far better. These poems are evocative with a balance between specifics, “Wall Street” “Hudson”, and general images, “commercial letters” “blond typists”, so the reader is given a sense of place but still has space to become engaged. Nature comes to the fore in the sequence, “From the Euxine Sea”,

“It was at times the jasmine, then the rose
and the fields of rockrose and lavender
at times the hyacinths, the broom
and at other the iris.
Inhospitable city. Seafaring
love with no other horizon or banner
than the debris of shipwrecks fluttering
like a torchlight.”

“Fue a veces el jazmím y otras la rose
y los campos de jara y cantueso
y a veces el lirio.
Inhóspita ciudad. Enomorado
mar sin otro horizonte y estandarte
que el resto de naufragios palpitando
como una luz de antorchas.”

The scents from flowers counteract the coldness of the city but not sufficiently to stop dreams of escape and perhaps return from exile. The theme of love returns in “Four Orphic Sonnets”, in “Forgotten Amidst White Lilies”,

“Search for my heart with a shield
and find it in bloom, fully opened
for sorrow grown and ripened
like a bitter fruit of mild weight.

The wait smells of Moorish courtyard
and the night of guitars and my heart
wakes like a wounded bull.”

“Buscadme el corazón con una adargo
y lo ballaréis abierto, en flor granado
para el dolor crecido y madurado
como una fruta agraz de suave carga.

Tiene le espera olor de patio moro
y guitarras la noche y se despierta
mi corazón herido como un toro.”

Hélène Cardona has successfully balanced providing a literal translation with retaining the spirit and language of the original. English is limited in rhyming words but the translator has substituted part-rhymes and sound-patternings in their place. The translations in “Birnam Wood” don’t feel like translations but poems in their own right, which demonstrates the attention to detail and ability of the translator.

Full marks to Salmon Poetry for including both the original and translation on facing pages so both can be read alongside each other; costs often make this prohibitive.

“Birnam Wood” is available from Salmon Poetry

“A Season in Another World” Matt Duggan (Thirty West) – poetry review

Matt Duggan A Season in Another WorldA collection of poems rooted in the contemporary world that ask readers to look again at the familiar and question their senses to really observe what’s going on. The title poem suggests “I found the answers to life in another world,/ yet duly forgot them when I returned” and ends,

“Occasionally I’d swim to Hades,
.                spending a season in another world;
where I saw giants on miniature stages
whistling the tune to Hawaii Five-O.”

There’s a restless energy and a searching beyond the ordinary. The energy is also about bringing lessons learnt back and using new knowledge to inform and reassess. Not all the poems fly off into surrealistic images, “Watching Cobwebs on Skirting Boards One Friday Night” is a study in noticing minor details,

“Notice what needs to be cleansed,
using blusher to hide the wedding ring bruise,
never remembering the kitchen battle marks
where hurt is hidden from pride, reassembling a trembling beat in the heart.

Bites that tattooed the arm; hair like lipstick traces
bubbling under hard skin—
when morning reveals the aftermath,
denial is the response from the rage she caused and brings to him every Friday night.”

It captures both the shame of domestic violence where “hurt is hidden” and the shift of blame by the perpetrator onto the victim. It’s easier to blame her than figure out what’s making him angry and deal with it. Despite the recorded violence, it’s a silent poem suggesting the isolation and lack of communication both parties feel albeit for different reasons. She is fearful, ashamed and hiding bruises. He is blaming her and failing to address the cause.

Suggestive details build the picture in “The Spaces Left Bare” where in an empty, luxury hotel,

“Air is stale and needs recycling;
windows gleam with no visible fingerprints;
immaculate laminated tiles,

underfloor heating;
the spaces are left bare…

.
.
Where beneath the plush gothic balcony,
a homeless man sleeps in the open air;
at night, the room lights up for no one,
then fades as dusk wakes the clock;
where guests will never reserve or stay.”

The emptiness of the room is also a comment on the values of a wealthy society that appears to tolerate homelessness. The homeless man is passive whereas in the empty room lights come on when day turns to night as if its immaculate fittings can’t tolerate darkness; a reflection of the way wealth can protect against some negative aspects of society.

Among the taut, focused poems is one duff note in “No One Loves Us Like the Graveyards” where

“No one loves us like the graveyards.
They do not watch the stars even though they stare
deep into amber sky,
bumping into each other while walking the shopping aisles.
Not for any religious purpose, but for the drones and the missiles

webbed in skylines of this Syrian circus;
no one loves us like the graveyards.”

The title is used as a refrain which feels as if it’s straining for effect and the poem itself isn’t offering much that isn’t already known; it’s preaching to the converted. “Elegy for Magdalena” brings readers back to Matt Duggan’s usual focused form,

“We were dancing against the tide,
where no God, Man, or Papal Master
could bury love in the reckoning;

where bare light preaches in monstrous dark
until the shallow sound of light does break.
Our lips locked—electricity soared from tongue and stranded soul.

I’d tasted the stolen fruit,
a taste that has never left my side;
on this day came her presence—like the fragments from a dream.

My sanctuary: a bed of spitting wolves—
a sovereign placed in dust—where a shredded wedding dress hangs
like a crucified shadow on these uncertain shores.”

“A Season in Another World” is a collection of crafted, contemporary poems written with an acute sense of observation and deft use of imagery and landscape to focus the reader’s attention and draw them in.

“Wardrobe Blues for a Japanese Lady” Alan Price (The High Window Press) – poetry review

Wardrobe Blues for a Japanese Lady Alan Price coverAlan Price’s poems have a filmic quality to them. They often started with a camera’s eye view of a scene presented in a way to guide the reader to discern the poem’s mood. This allows for textured layers to explore a theme or idea. The poems are not just visual or intellectual concepts. They show compassion. In the title poem,

“White shirt torn off,
no longer assisted
by her adept hands.
Jacket, trousers and underwear
hurled at the chair
she once sat on.

‘Saturation’ she’d said,
‘Are we not seeing
one another too much?’
He kneels on the bed, not guilty.”

He and his Japanese lover take a break. Kneeling suggests supplication, a plea that this doesn’t end. Later he wonders,

“Was he more innocent
falling down naked
or dressed up to the nines,
indulging in camouflage,
smiling for Erochikku?”

Appropriately Erochikku translates as “erotic”. He is left lonely with memories and readers see a mix of desire and regret. There’s an ambiguity here too: the reader is left unsure as to whether the “she” is a woman or a picture. Is she speaking or is it his conscience?

In “Futility of My Own Great War” Alan Price acknowledges domestic subject matters seem unimportant compared with apparently greater subjects,

“To write about the retreat, knowing I’d have run too if they’d put me there.
To write to scared young officers, knowing I’m absent and unafraid.
To write about orders I uncover as wrong, ignorant of how to obey.
To write that I’ll be coming home soon, when I’m always home.
To write with those dying for me, when I live on with my buried life.
To write to discover what I’ve buried. Scenes of the dead.
Writing me, now.”

It also touches on issues around writing other people’s stories, even when the others are no longer with us. How far can a writer go when using someone else’s story? How can a writer understand another’s motives and experiences through second hand sources? Can a writer, who has never been to war, understand what it’s like? On the other hand, writing about a relatively uneventful life, albeit from a position of knowledge and understanding, can seem unimportant and not worthwhile, even when a personal truth can be expanded to a universal one. It’s only a compassionate writer who would consider such issues. It’s left for the reader to decide which way the writer should decide.

In “Mischievous Shoot”, another writer is urged not to lose sight of what made her a writer in the first place. A writer has posed for her author photo wearing glasses, “the kind actors wear to show how arty they are”. The last stanza is,

“I watch her posing through this album
before her stories found a publisher.
Before she had her hair cut short, grew ill,
grew better, grew back into her mischief.”

Other poems touch on more contemporary issues. “Fortress Europe” takes Katie Hopkins’ comparison of migrants to cockroaches in The Sun newspaper to its natural conclusion, the attack refers to a suggested gas attack,

“In the dark of their old chambers
they hiss and chirrup on festering laws.
All will survive the attack,
draw plans to creep and stick around.”

The last quoted sentence could be applied to Katie Hopkins: she is paid to provide controversy and click bait and, so long as she is careful not to say anything that can’t be shrugged off, she will survive even when readers attack. It’s when she’s not talked about, she will be quietly dropped. A cockroach potentially could survive a nuclear blast: they will outlive humans. That wasn’t the metaphor Katie Hopkins was aiming for.

“Accommodations” doesn’t specifically say so, but could refer to the Grenfell Tower fire where 72 people lost their lives when fire broke out and cladding used on the tower facilitated its spread.

“You expect to live in a safe tower
shielded from wind, flood and fire.
Yet the clothes that clad your body
protect and attract more than
every panel of these huge walls.
I’m trembling, not burning.”

It concludes with a fantasy that tower blocks are appreciated, invested in and owners take proper fire retardant measures. This in turn allows the inhabitants to thrive and become part of the wider community, instead of being left as victims of cost-cutting measures by investors more interested in balance sheets than a duty of care, a system that tries to shift responsibility onto inhabitants whilst robbing them of power. A theme picked up in a recent novella after Grenfell that imagines inhabitants dreaming of owning a house and a garden closed to whoever lives next door, rather than an apartment in a community of neighbours.

“Wardrobe Blues for a Japanese Lady” contains assured, quiet poems, crafted so the reader knows the poet has confidence to allow them space for interpretation: the conclusion is not as important as the journey. Alan Price employs visual images to guide readers, creating poems that stay in the memory after the book has been read.

“Wardrobe Blues for  Japanese Lady” is available from The High Window Press.