“Bookmarks” D A Prince (HappenStance) – poetry review

D A Prince Bookmarks“Bookmarks” is a simple idea: a series of poems about scraps of paper utilised as bookmarks, but subjected to a poet’s forensic gaze, they mark a thread through a life and open chapters of memories. One of the first poems explores this, “The Ticket to the Museum of Time”

“The ticket’s (too long in my pocket) damp,
ruckled, and thought the date’s too blurred to read
it’s pressed inside this book, holding the place
the future will come back to, given time.”

The theme of returning is a motif that runs through the pamphlet. Largely the bookmarks are not in new books that are unfinished, but mark favoured or specific places as reference points, e.g. in “Restaurant Bill” the bookmark is tucked in a guide book,

“First time in Florence, armed with a warning
of polizia fiscale and their powers;
how they wait, street-wise to stop you
after pasta and chianti, checking the receipt –
not on your side, of course, but hunting down
small trattoria dodging IVA.
Keep your receipt, the guide book warned
or risk a fine. The habit stuck

as did the restaurant bills, tucked
into every book that travelled.”

Some of these bills-as-bookmarks carry stains of wines or foods tasted. Whilst the guide books offer visual clues to memories, the bookmarks complement the memory by adding the sense of taste and smell, and possibly touch. This shifts the memory from two dimensions to three, making it more vivid and compelling. Whilst keeping a receipt to avoid a fine is useful advice, some guides are less useful and impersonal. “Tourist Information” is a photocopied map of Heptonstall that fails to give the location of Sylvia Plath’s grave,

“light sieved through trees leaning too close. The day
was chancy memory. She’s buried…? The scour
for likely stone and troubled plot. Dead flowers.

It turns up every January, the time
of bitter Sevilles, in a book half-glued
to half a lifetime’s marmalade – mistakes
at setting point, the splatterings
from all our kitchens and their seething pans –
undated, marks the page and shares the stains.”

The attention in the poem shifts from bookmark to book and widens to previous addresses, “all our kitchens”, giving a lens through which to view a shared domestic life.

“Bookmarks” are not just about looking backwards, however. In one poem an unsent postcard prompts thoughts about a photo of a postcard scene taken on a phone, then sent and how that wouldn’t end up in a book. This, in turn, then questions how memories are kept, will our digital equivalent of bookmarks be accessible to future generations? “Note”, signed “Love” but nameless as the writer knew their handwriting would be recognised, also touches on this,

“as the known hand looped and rose in haste,
slanting into the future and the torn half-sheet
blotched, somehow. Damp has found these books.

A bookmark, maybe, caught up when time ran out
but with this promise: something to return to.
And what’s there to keep except (perhaps) Love?

Why not a text? asks the child,
all thumbs, not looking up from his screen.
There is so much to explain.”

“Bookmarks” asks questions about memories, which ones get discarded and which rise to the surface when prompted, without nostalgia. It also looks at why we keep and mark books – place visited, a favoured recipe, a passage or a poem intended for re-reading. The eclectic selection of what gets used as bookmarks offers a window into journeys made, events attended and relationships. The poems are written with a forensic eye and detailed attention to craft and rhythm, neatly wrapped in HappenStance’s high production values. And it comes with a bookmark.

“Bookmarks” is available from HappenStance.


States of Independence is back in Leicester at De Montfort University on Saturday 23 March 2019 from 10.30am.

SoI 2019

 

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“The First Telling” Gill McEvoy (HappenStance) – Poetry Review

The First Telling Gill McEvoy book cover

“The First Telling” focuses on something rarely heard: the aftermath of rape, particularly as a victim recovers to become a survivor. Gill McEvoy doesn’t dwell on the details (and there’s no reason why she should: how much or how little she tells is entirely her decision), but draws on images to show the psychological journey from victim to survivor. In the title poem:

“When I get up to leave
she says
It was never your fault.

All the way home
I mouth it to the window of the bus.
I mouth it to the silence of my room.”

It rings true that the message, “It was never your fault”, although repeated by the narrator isn’t repeated in the poem, instead the repetition falls on “mouth”. The message isn’t spoken out loud, but silently mouthed, showing how she feels silenced and unable to talk, not yet ready to voice her experience. The message is expressed in places where there will be no response: in the reflection on a bus window where she is both part of a crowd but also distanced from it, and in her room. There are triggers that send her back to her rape, in “a goldfinch bathing”:

“gold flashing from its wings

sudden rip through a slit of air

sparrow-hawk plunges
pummels
spreads
a wreath
of red/black/gold
feathers

feathers everywhere

so fast

can’t breathe

can’t.”

Similarly in “I go home through the park”:

“Burst of song. A thrush.

I stop.
I’m back in the woods.
That shadow/thatshadow
falling.

Me falling/mefalling.

Earth.
All over again. All over
again. Again. Stuff.

The bird singing.

Are you alright, love?
a woman pushing a buggy stops for me.

I wipe my face on my sleeve.
I’m OK.

It’s only a thrush.”

The narrator does move on to recovery. The strength here is the lack of self-pity and the lack of desire to shock a reaction from the reader. The poems communicate, allowing their narrator to tell her story without interruption. They are an invitation to listen. The blame is pushed on to the perpetrator, where it belongs, but readers are not drawn to judgment and the narrator does not plead for justification or validation. The last poem, “The Last Time” ends

“I step into my new white room.
Clean. Fresh.

I pin her card to the mirror
where I can see it. Just

in case.”

Readers see that the victim is ready to be a survivor, but the aftermath is still there. The telling poems have initial capitals in every word in the title, the others only start with an initial capital, reflective of a hesitancy. It’s not possible to simply close the book and move on from some experiences. Memories will linger just as a story’s characters (good or bad) may do. Gill McEvoy has provided thought-provoking poems whilst affirming that victims can become survivors.

“The First Telling” is available from HappenStance

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“The Only Reason for Time” Fiona Moore (HappenStance) – poetry review

The Only Reason for Time Fiona Moore book cover

These poems show both care and control. “The Shirt” contains a warning, the first shirt is hurriedly cut as medical staff urgently save a life and months later is found bundled into the airing cupboard,

“I’d washed it afterwards, not knowing what to do
with it, or that in three weeks the same thing
would happen to another shirt, a favourite,
dull cotton whose thick weave made it look
as if all the pink shell-grains of sand
had come together on one beach,
a shirt for a gentle hug; and from then on,
nothing happened that we would forget.”

The impersonal “it” has a distancing effect, yet the shirt was worn on intimate occasions as the detail of the weave is noticed and remembered. Clearly the shirt’s owner is distance, no longer with the poem’s narrator. The intense scrutiny that the weave was subject to gives way to “a gentle hug”, a gesture of reassurance as a lover becomes a carer, wrenched into noticing the unforgettable events that led to loss. Although the poems do focus on mourning, they are not melancholic, in “Overwinter,” there’s a suggestion of hope,

“Nothing will happen for a while, nothing –
and I need such certainty: to become
embedded deep within this season
when dark overplaits the day’s pale strand.
Change may come while nothing seems to change.
I know it will take a long time.”

The last two lines quoted show endurance, an acknowledgement that life will continue after a fashion. The “Third Day of Fog”,

“Narcissus wouldn’t be ashamed
to view himself in puddles,
frame as he’d be by the flaming
orange, purple and fuchsia red
of an Irish hedge. He’d get a shock
when it all dulled in the mud.
What would you think of me
now? We must have kissed
within five miles of here.”

The vividness of colour recalls the vivid joy of those kisses. Although the loss is personal, Fiona Moore is writing from experience, the poems open out and allow a reader to identify with their own ghosts and bring their own experiences to bear. They are not solely about loss either, the collection’s title is from a remark by Einstein, she explores the binary effect of remember/forget and there’s a cheerful memory of glimpsing nuns ironically bringing to mind a pint of stout. “The Only Reason for Time” has a consistency of voice and a confidence unusual in a first collection.

Available from HappenStance

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“Flying into the Bear” Chrissy Williams (HappenStance) – poetry review

Flying into the Bear Chrissy Williams book cover
Chrissy Williams is star-gazing: her canvas is wider than the mere page and she wants to bring a variety of influences and references to her poetry beyond mere books. “Robot Unicorn Attack” is a love poem for a video game,

“Possibility bursts like a horse
full of light, accelerating
into a star. Explosion. Hit
to make your dreams
crash into stone. Death.
Diatonic chimes of joy.
I want to be with you.
Let dolphins fly in time.
Swim through air, leap
past sense, past sin and then
hit to chase your dreams…”

Both enjambment and short, breathless sentences built a sense of urgency. The repetition of “dreams” and the urge to make or chase them is in contrast to the precise “diatonic chimes of joy” which feels as if the gamer is being commanded to behave in a certain, expected way. It’s not surprise that a later poem uses a hastag. Not that these poems will behave in a certain, expected way. Chrissy Williams delights in being mischievous and experimenting with non linear forms. In “Instructions to the Lemon Grass Artist”

“6.
Lemon Grass undergoes a transformation. Its stalk splinters from the tip to form new stars.
NO TEXT

7. Lemon Grass is a thousand stars seen by day, a lit sky, a light formed of many lights.
TEXT: STARDUST.

8. Lemon Grass returns to its initial state and prepares to whisper a word.
TEXT: LEMONGRASS.”

A universe is extrapolated from a blade of lemongrass. Both stars and bears are motifs running through these poems. “On Getting Boney M’s cover of ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ by Harry Belafonte stuck in my head” a friend’s son:

“Finlay has a poem:
I found a treasure.
I measured the treasure.
It was only a centimetre long.

The poem ends

“And how unaccountable the difference
between volume and worth, How fast
the heart can fill with treasure.”

Even if that treasure is only a centimetre long. Metaphorically that treasure could be a poem, a small thing folded into a small space that could still contain a universe. Chrissy Williams’s poems are full of playful possibilities and manage to feel spontaneous, even though a great deal of care went into their construction, creating a buoyancy that carries readers along.

Available from HappenStance

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“Shadow” Alison Brackenbury (Happenstance) Poetry Review


“Shadow” brings together poems about animals from a poet who really does connect with the natural world and allows animals to be as they are without human sentiment layered on top.  Any cat lover would recognise the wild kitten in “The Second Jab”

“With carpet rolls and sun, she spun, then hissed
as paper bags go down, at slightest touch.
The she grew milder, clawed along my skirt,
fell spilled across my arm, asleep, like water;

floated, as we swim, unborn or dead.”

The poem ends with the line that gives the collection its title, “A useless name. ‘Shadow,’ I say. ‘Oh Shadow.’”

Her real love though is for horses.  In “Stubbs and the horse”

“Stubbs painted the huge bay, after its race.
The canvas was filled by its plunging dark back.
The horse had been whipped. The trainer was sacked.
The patron’s power is the horse’s alone.
The muscles are hills. There is pain in the bone.”

Notice how the horse gets more description than the humans and how powerful that description is, echoing Stubbs’ style.  Alison Brackenbury notes approval for John Wesley’s concept of an animal heaven where horses are turned out into open fields.  In “Wilfred Owen at the Advanced Horse Transport Depot 1917” “….The dance / of hooves beat in my head. With aching back / I pound white roads of France.” contrasting a childhood memory of riding along a beach with the drudgery of a working war horse.  A “chestnut and truculent” horse in “Rosie”

“Once you pawed the wire fence, hooked your front shoe,
yet hurtled over, unhurt, my true cob.
I should have bobbed through April’s woods on you,
have bolted in the blurring stubble field,
sweated, cursed, forgot. Horses are love

but love is for the young and I am old.”

Refreshingly unsentimental and written by a poet who clearly loves both language and horse.

“Slug Language” by Anne Caldwell (Happenstance) – a poetry review

slug_language

The opening of “Longing is Opened by the Wind”, “Black chimneys become dark throats./ Loose tiles moan like sorrow-tongues.// Uprooted trees fling their bodies over cars/ which crumple at their touch…” puts that longing at its very centre and takes a slanting look at the familiar without being showy or obscure. Each poem creates its own scenery, taking an often domestic scene and letting the details build up to rise above the ordinary. In the title poem, “They have criss-crossed my lino/ all night, wound together like a nest of snakes/ to smear the soles of my feet/ with their silver calligraphy…” shows empathy with creatures that would have most reaching for the salt or slug pellets.

“Painting over Cracks” looks at a relationship breaking down:

“Mugs of half-drunk tea
curdle on window ledges.
I make lists long into the gloom.
Soon we must sit down,
divide up pots, pans,
portions of blame…”

where those long vowels and the alliterative “pots, pans, portions…” add to the sense of resignation, that limbo period between knowing a relationship’s finished but not yet being able to move on because the practicalities have to be sorted out, often in mind-numbing detail. A gently accomplished read that’s worth tracking down.