“I, Ursula” Ruth Stacey (V.Press) – poetry review

I Ursula Ruth Stacey book coverThe title poem blurs the boundaries between reality and fantasy, life and death, putting this collection firmly in the realm of inspiration, symbolism, muses and storytelling, “I, Ursula” starts, “You tell me that still pools of water/ used to echo the dead; I stare –/ it reflects an ancient forest”. “Rose Red” may be a fairy tale character, but there’s not much of a happy ending here,

“He brings me white roses that smell
of other girls; it is torture.
The snow is melting and I throw him out
of the doorway, my foot in his ample arse.
I just can’t stand him anymore.
I sweep every part of him away,

the tufts sparkle in the daylight.
But at night, as I brush my long dark hair,
plait it into ropes, I dwell on how
he would bite my cheek red,
and I hope he comes back.
I miss the warmth of the bear in my bed.”

Muses may inspire but they also have limited agency and often find themselves reduced to the role they have been given rather than being allowed to be fully human. Rose Red is left at home while the bear prowls elsewhere, the white roses symbolise friendship rather than the desired love and yet she’s left pining for him. Unsurprisingly madness features too, in “Dark Thoughts, Lately”,

“Did anyone gather the ashes
of the Jacobean witch women?

Perhaps their children would
wait for the embers to cool
and fill a sack to take home,
embrace it during the bat-dark

night, when only the wolf
smiles and the rest of us shiver.
It is always the river, deep
and cold like the cruel slap

of the midwife after the heart-loud
clamour of the womb.”

The echoes and consonance give the rhythm and sound patterns a chilling note fitting for when superstition deprives children of mothers. Again there’s a sense of lack of agency and that only certain emotions and feelings are permitted. Children aren’t allowed to openly grieve but have to steal small comforts from a unwelcoming world.

“Exit Songs” ponders on the last song someone might hear,

“porcelain thin, an aria smoked. Some opera singer
lifting her voice to see you on your way,

and not that when the door clunked open and you
were absent in the eyes

of the paramedic, sighs echoed from Radio 4.
But perhaps it was just silence, your bloody silence.”

Radio 4 is primarily talk radio, music relegated to a supporting role of sound effects and theme tunes. “Silence” introduced in the last night isn’t just the silence of death, but also suggestive of someone unresponsive giving others the silent treatment as a means of control. The voice in “The Curiosity of Redness” is unidentified and alien, a deliberate choice,

“We have no feelings, only curiosity;
that is the word humans use – I have
read their dictionaries and oil paint
charts, pondered on their destruction
and pointless cycles of war: it all
comes back to redness.

A blood womb delivers each one –
ruby-splayed bodies, the surprising cut.
Veins pour dark red onto tarmac
or sand. I observe their relentless desire
to disassemble one another…”

This observer sees separation: the cutting of an umbilical cord dividing child from mother, the battlefields and death by machine. It’s also a strong voice, not swayed by human argument but making its own observations and drawing conclusions. The alien doesn’t interrogate or try to communication with the subject under observation. Like muses, humans are given no chance to explain themselves, to argue that not all of us behave like that.

Not all the poems are esoteric or concerned with strangeness. “Infiltration” looks at police who were encouraged to infiltrate groups of peaceful protestors – often for environmental causes – invariably male police targeting women and starting relationships under false names and pretending share their interests and policies as he

“Gets up and reads long lists of things with
the right amount of resentment for authority.
He listens to her whisper rhyming couplets
in her scented sleep. He feels some remorse.
The boss is pleased with him, says he is the
best undercover guy on the force. We’ll bust
these poetry rings right apart by Christmas.”

Poetry slinks undercover, but refuses to die. Overall “I, Ursula” is a chilling, memorable exploration of the darker side of the muse. She is stalked, hunted, desired and formed in other’s image, a body on which to project desires. Rarely does she get her own voice but here she contemplates the power dynamics in relationships and how she is used to create art, often to her own detriment. Despite the projection of delicacy and fragility, she has to remain strong with a will to survive. Ruth Stacey has created a powerful collection.

“I, Ursula” is available from V. Press


Emma Lee the Significance of a Dress launch 7pm 11 March 2020 Leicester Central Library LE1 6AA

The Significance of a Dress book launch Leicester Central Library, Bishop St, Leicester LE1 6AA from 7pm. Free Entry.

Book Trailer at Arachne Press: https://arachnepress.com/books/poetry/the-significance-of-a-dress/.


 

“Winter with Eva” Elaine Baker (V. Press) book review

Winter with Eva Elaine Baker front cover“Winter with Eva” is a love affair against a backdrop of Brexit between Sean, who is British, and Eva, who is Romanian. It starts gently with request from Sean for her to meet him in the park in “Sun”, who observes,

“the way you hunch down
make yourself small as a child
to say hello to dogs

the way you touch your palms together
press your lips
when you can’t find the words

the way you turn your face towards the sun
and close your eyes.”

It creates an image of Eva as gentle, courteous enough to greet dogs properly, someone whose English is not yet fluent and someone who enjoys simple pleasures. Sean is aware of her back story, in “Creation” he watches her work at a charcoal lump until she can draw with it,

You draw your city of spikes, Bucegi Mountains bristling with pines, fields
you flatten to sky, sky you stripe and stripe and stripe
until you ache.

You draw someone and I can tell
it’s you.
You scratch around for dirt and spit into your palm,
work to make the paste to paint a man,
the man you knew before.
You use the paste to paint his hand that wore the glove that ripped the heart
out.”

The “spikes”, “bristling”, the sky darkened with stripes of charcoal, the act of spitting, the “glove that ripped the heart out” all build a picture of menace. This place that was formerly home is no longer welcoming. The poem ends on a different tone,

“and now we run,
leave behind the pines the fields the city spikes the man
the man. We roll together
under the moon,
under the pinhole eyes of stars.”

The stars suggest celebration. However, the notion of being watched is reference to again in “Mirror” in a trip back to Bucharest, “that feeling you had sometimes when growing up/ of being watched” that draws the contrast of the joy of being understood in English when chatting to a stranger on the street. Sadly the poem ends with a “go home scum” message in block capitals scrawled on a bathroom mirror. Eva said she thought she was home. But it’s not just external racists that hint the relationship is changing. In “Glass” Sean dreams “All the stars are broken./ Even their insides are dark.// Eva, you’ve done this.” Sean notices Eva keeps nipping out to the corner shop, run by a Polish man. Sean didn’t even know that Eva could speak Polish. In “Cupboard”, he hears Eva’s phone ringing in the hours just past midnight,

“You take it in the kitchen
and I’m under the covers leaning –
aching –
trying so hard to catch the shushed things
that even the brick dust in the walls
is deafening.”

Sean is faced with a dilemma, let her go or try to keep her.

The affair is captured succinctly and small details allowed to accumulate into a bigger picture. Sean feels love and tenderness towards Eva and remains keenly aware that however much England feels like home, it’s still a place she is adjusting to against a trauma of being uprooted and facing anti-European sentiments and attacks. He understands her affinity for the Polish man yet holds out hope his own love is strong enough for her. If this were prose, it would be a short story rather than a novel, so it being pamphlet length feels right. As part of a full collection would probably end up a lengthy coherence sequence that wouldn’t fit amongst single poems. There is a strong sense of narrative arc: two people meeting, falling in love, sharing their lives until cracks show ending with Sean’s dilemma. The poems balance celebration and disintegration. A satisfying read.

“Winter with Eva” is available from V. Press.


The Significance of a Dress book launch Leicester Central Library, Bishop St, Leicester LE1 6AA from 7pm. Free Entry.

Book Trailer at Arachne Press: https://arachnepress.com/books/poetry/the-significance-of-a-dress/.

Emma Lee the Significance of a Dress launch 7pm 11 March 2020 Leicester Central Library LE1 6AA

“Patience” Nina Lews (V. Press) – poetry review

Nina Lewis Patience book cover“Patience” concerns memory and preservation of memories and former ways of life before they are lost or destroyed in the name of progress. An old warehouse with “houses set like baby shoes around its feet”, originally built for the workers to live in, meets its “Demolition”,

“The implosion brings the right-hand side down.
Bonded warehouse engulfed in exothermic sugar clouds.

The building disappears:
baby shoes obliterated from view,
until the dust settles.”

It’s left unclear as to whether the houses are earmarked for reuse or have also been abandoned. The domestic language of “sugar clouds” suggest they still could be lived in once the dust has settled and been cleared. The repetition of “baby shoes” is a reminder of family and legacy but also could be a reference to Hemingway’s six word story where the baby shoes are not worn, creating a sense of loss. In another poem, “Shrink-wrapped”, beloved objects are protected against loss,

“Time
does not touch
these objects,
fingerprints, easily wiped.

She would wrap you
in clear plastic
if she could. Protect you
from deterioration.

Force away
the hands of time.”

Here the problem isn’t legacy: the objects are protected and will be passed on, but the implication is that, wrapped in concern about preservation, these objects are not enjoyed and used either. The subject of the poem is so concerned with the future, she doesn’t live in the present. It also raises questions about what we preserve for future generations and whether future generations will continue the preservation or demolish the objects. Those of us in the present can’t control what future generations will choose to keep or discard. A similar concern of keeping valued objects preserved and enjoyed is raised in “Keep the Light” about an oil painting of purple flowers,

“The picture can’t be silenced,

still asks for my hand. I get up,
reach into the frame and pull a flower;
stamens leave an oily trace
on my skin, iridescent trails highlight my fingerprints,

identify my existence in this room,
this place my whole life fits into:
the twelve squared metres
haven of bed and wall.”

The current dweller is leaving their imprints on their property. These may or may not be preserved into the future. But for now the room is home, lived in and enjoyed.

There are poems about elderly relatives and caring for those with dementia. In “Tesseomancy” a granddaughter inherits her grandmother’s teacups from which the grandmother used to read fortunes from tea leaves,

Always stir the blend to consistent tone,
embrace the warmth, allow it to resonate;
nurture the rising spirit.

She empties her mind of frequent thoughts:
imagines those dark leaves, the iron of experience.
The house grows cold.

She swirls the dregs three times,
allows her grandmother to conjure the situation.
Leaves in her hands.”

“Patience” is a reminder of the value of connection between generations, legacies of objects and character passed from the contemporary to the future. The poems show sensitivity and an acute focus, exploring different aspects of an overall theme. Their gentleness acts as an invitation to the reader to engage with and interpret the poems. Their pace is measured which combines with a calm tone to explore grief, loss, legacy and intimacy. The title, “Patience” is apt. These are slow poems to enjoy at leisure.

“Patience” is available from V. Press.


“The Significance of a Dress” will be published by Arachne Press on 27 February 2020.

Emma Lee The Significance of a Dress cover image


 

“About Leaving” Ian Glass (V. Press) – poetry review

Ian Glass About Leaving book coverA collection of poems on aspects of leaving: a wife and mother leaving a family home, where a husband adjusts to becoming a single parent, and children growing up and leaving for university. “Absent” begins, “I understand why/ our children are worried./ They have not been to school,/ and you won’t get out of bed.” It ends,

“My heart runs slow as

our children sleep.
They have not been to school
and my heart runs slow as
I understand why.”

The pantoum structure enables the poet to circle around his subject, not reaching a full understanding but each repeated line takes on a slightly different meaning. Initially that the children haven’t been to school is an irritation, until the narrator understands they are concerned for their mother, when relief that the girls are asleep becomes a sorrow that the girls are coping with something beyond their understanding. Once the mother has left, the man considers, “How a Man Might Become a Mother”,

“Forget familiar work, and weave
instead a spell from supper
and bed-time stories

strong enough

to soften fear
and calm the winds that
howl around this house at night.”

It’s an acknowledgement that parents can’t fully protect their children – the “winds that howl around this house” – but can offer sanctuary and become, “Signs That a House is a Home”,

“The sound of rain is exciting.
You don’t worry about tomorrow.
You don’t feel alone.”

The theme of finding strength in a family and creating a safe place for children, even those who grow up and leave, to return to is as strong as the notion of leaving. The poems benefit from a programmer’s precision with language, but also offer texture and an openness of interpretation. The start in personal experience but open out into a universal concern: the effect on children of a parent’s absence and a desire to ensure home feels welcome. For all its apparent lightness, “About Leaving”, probes the intense experience of loss and recovery with honesty and concern.

“About Leaving” is published by V. Press.


 

“Cuckoo” Nichola Deane (V. Press) – poetry review

Nichola Deane Cuckoo book co“Cuckoo” implies an outsider, someone who observes and mimics the behaviour of others to appear to fit in despite being aware of their difference. It’s an apt title for a collection of poems which explores and records behaviour through the lens of someone who feels like misfit. In the title poem,

“plight of the new
(Cuckoo,
Cuccu)

to haunt us
back,
to the sleeping

greenwood
(like that? how so?)
with a – wake for a voice,

my loopy echo,
a bit of locus pocus.”

In “First Leave” set 1916, a soldier returns on home leave,

“they saw his clothes, his hair

moving, regiments
still on the march”

An outdoor shower is rigged up while the women of the household are left to boilwash his uniform,

“double-rinsed, mangled
from his sorry kit
with Lifebuoy Soap
all they could
from tunic and britches

of the shit-sweat,
the lice-blood,
eczema-sebum.
piss and jism,
spit and polish,
the petrified sweat,

not singing as they worked,
those girls,
not singing.”

Singing whilst working has two purposes, it gives a sense of rhythm to the work and relieves monotony, plus it gives a sense of community to the workers. The girls “not singing” is significant: each wrapped in their own thoughts dealing with the shock of what the soldier has gone through, the conditions he found himself in and the normalisation of it. If they were washing off lice, sweat and detritus from his uniform, which he hadn’t done before his return, then these conditions were shared by others and had become routine. The assonance of “i” throughout carries a sense of urgency and anxiety.

In “My Body as Accidental Cassandra” a myth gets a modern twist,

“There is always inflammation somewhere in my body.
So how do I know it today? Well, my right arm prickles
at the elbow like a witchy message being tapped
from the ectoplasm, and an epidermal
splutter occurs, a lava, not out of anything I’d call me,
but from some cellular below
that objects even to glancing contact
with spook substances not visible to my eye,
so much so that histamine in white lumps,
cupolas of agitation, pores of Achilles,
are raised against – what?
What foe? Me vs me?

My friend says Nic, you’re allergic to the 21st century.”

The hurried list of reactions is in contrast to the friend’s interjection, but the list is far too interesting to be written off as plain.

The poems in “Cuckoo” take a familiar scenario and give it a refresh, taking one small detail, such as washer women not singing whilst working, and expands and explores it. Nichola Deane’s work is sensory, vividly bringing alive her subjects. The idiosyncrasy is complementary and not whimsical. The poems wear their craft lightly and give the reader space to engage with and interpret them.

“Cuckoo” is available from V. Press.


 

“The Boy Who Couldn’t Say His Name” John Lawrence (V. Press) – book review

The Boy Who Couldnt Say His Name John LawrenceJohn Lawrence knows how to tell a story, sometimes using analogy, and often setting up a scene then creating a volta, like a twist in the tale, so the ending is not predictable. “The Family Chess Set” opens with “The unfolded board shows a split down the centre/ from a lifetime of opening and closing”, notes the damage done to some of the pieces and the two mislaid pawns, one from each side, and ends,

“I cannot help but think of the pain

while mourning the queen who suffered
a brutal death when mauled by pawns
in the blur of a long-ago battle.

I want to end this, to lay my fingertips
on the head of each king, treat them like crystal,
for the game without them is worthless.”

A family history within a chess set and a player still tied to both the rules of the game and family conventions.

“Retreat” starts with a widower’s domestic rituals until,

“He wears a suit to go to the shops,
the only way to do it: marching tall to town,

but on his return, he flinches at his cowardice
for not stepping into traffic on the ring road.
Too often he thinks of the war in forty-four
when he lost his hearing, his mates, his innocence
to that tanned whore with her inventive style.
During the night he clearly hears gunshots
or the growl of tanks or the shouted warning
of an incoming threat; he senses the wetness
of blood-soaked cloth pressed to his skin,”

The shock of wartime experiences turns it from a poem about domestic routines offering a buffer against a significant bereavement to the knowledge the poem’s unnamed subject is still struggling with post-traumatic stress. John Lawrence uses a list of details to guide the reader’s emotional reaction and avoids being didactic.

Domestic ritual is a theme in “The Piano Tuner” where the narrator’s mother moves the Toby jug from the top of the upright piano before the turner, who uses a white stick signalling visual impairment, works “with the attention of a fighter pilot on a mission,”

“Mother busied herself with pointless
dusting of ornaments, smiled uncertainly

when he turned his head in her direction.
And after he tapped his way out of the house,
she’d place the Toby Jug back on top,

close the lid over the keys for another year.”

It’s a visual scene with the mother pretending to dust when she’s actually keeping an eye on a stranger in her home. It leaves readers wondering why this annual ritual is maintained and why the unplayed piano is still kept.

The title poem appears near the end, when the school bullies ask the narrator, who suffers from a stutter, to say his name,

“He’s in the game of seek-and-chide,
caught up in their way of killing time;
their joke, their bond, their fix,
stop him dead in his tracks,
the hunters, the hunted, taunt him till he cries
oh, ’e can cry all right
slap him on his back as if he were an infant choking
come on, spit it out, woss yer name?

The boy is left to reassure himself he can whisper it when the bullies have gone. Readers can be reassured the boy grew into the man who can tell stories.

A couple of poems felt as if they could have been laid out prose without losing anything. Overall “The Boy Who Couldn’t Say His Name” contains wry, keenly-observed, mostly witty stories and vignettes taking a slant look at familiar scenarios and crafted with care to engage readers.

“The Boy Who Couldn’t Say His Name” is available from V. Press

“The Escapologist” Jinny Fisher (V.Press) – poetry review

The Escapologist Jinny Fisher“The Escapologist” is a mix of poems and prose poems, often looking at family relationships and ties but not confined to this. The title poem is about a boy learning to tie knots despite his parents’ skepticism and discovers one not in his handbook and has to decide whether to make his first mark of independence by not telling his parents. The theme of children growing independent occurs in the opening poems too, including “Old Flowers for a New Room”, for the poet’s daughter, Miranda, and has the poet bringing artificial flowers for her daughter’s “grey room”,

“coloured lights glowed above your four-poster.
I will drape them over and round your neck –
dripping garlands of daisies and roses.
I’ll haul my baggage up the steps.

As I loop these rainbows around your neck,
rain fills your gutters and overflows.
You laugh, swing my baggage up the steps –
I have delivered your plastic flowers.”

Daisies are a symbol for innocence and cheerfulness and act as a counterpoint to the more mature roses (the poem doesn’t specify colour so a lost opportunity). The overflow of rain reflects the relationship between mother and daughter. Initially the mother carries her bags – the word “haul” suggests a heaviness – then the daughter takes over – “swings” suggests ease and a light touch. The pantoum form gives the poem structure. Another family poem, “A Brother in Six Scenes”, has a very different tone and lets readers picture the scenes from an accumulation of details,

“Brother with rainbow umbrella–
here to give me his news, which is not news.
He will leave everything to me, he says.

Brother standing in his hall–
up to his ankles in unopened mail.
Turning from me with a shrug.

Brother on the floor of his flat–
phone hanging from the wall.
His shirt has been slashed to expose his chest.”

That’s not where the poem ends. Its three line stanza structure, passive voice and flat tone convey the emotion behind the poem.

“Coda for a Violin” starts “She knows the case’s weight, unzips the canvas cover,” as an old, familiar violin has been sold and is being packaged for its new owner,

“She must loosen the bow hair for the journey,
but first she holds her thumb against the strings, plucks
G-D-A-E, four spare notes.”

Those long vowels echo a sense of longing. It’s noticeable that she doesn’t play a tune but “four spare notes”, a farewell and an acknowledgement the violin is no longer hers.

“The Escapologist” contains poems that are warm, conversational in tone and welcoming to read. They wear their craft and musicality lightly, which makes them an engaging read and gives them a depth exploring and exposing family psychologies.

“The Escapologist” is available from V. Press

“These nights at home” Alex Reed with images by Keren Banning (V. Press) – book review

these nights at home alex reed“These nights at home” is a series of seventeen poems interspersed with images by Keren Banning. The photographic images are abstract, lit, white textures on black with blurred, uncertain outlines. Since many of the poems are anchored in bereavement, the images are complementary. It starts with a prose poem, “Bindwood”,

“But as quickly as he stripped it away, the climber would return. Soon it had spread until it covered her lower body, so she could no longer walk. The man now spent all his days picking ivy from her, and soon the nights too. But, despite his efforts, it soon clothed the woman entirely. Only her face remained uncovered. He saw that the woman’s eyes were wet, but he couldn’t tell whether this was from sadness or through some strange joy. When he asked, she’d reply as if to a different question.

“The man continued to remove any fresh shoots from her face but he knew that his efforts were hopeless and that he could only fail her. He told her he was sorry, but she gazed at him as if from some far- away place and smiled. After a long silence, she spoke, telling him that in all their many years together, he had not, for the most part, let her down.”

The weed becomes a metaphor for a terminal illness choking the woman’s vitality. It also captures the sense of futility and hopeless her carer and partner feels for her and its impact on their relationship as the illness takes over. Both have deep, long-reaching roots and a reputation for choking or restricting growth of neighbouring plants but they are of different plant families.

“deep river “ looks at the after effects, the left-behind partner left to adapt a shared living space into a solo space and friends saying variants on it takes time,

it takes two years
folded clothes still on the shelves

it takes four years
faint trace of you from the wool

there is a river that runs within –
vast, uncharted, rising”

It takes as long as it needs to take and there’s no right or wrong timing. It’s never completed either. Even when the clothes are removed, the memory of their being there lingers. The river metaphor is apt: it’s not just tears but the sense of those memories being overwhelming and uncontrollable. Another poem, “imprint”, reflects on removing a wedding ring,

“later waking
stretching towards
the bedside lamp
it dawns again

red imprint
absent halo

A long-worn ring leaves a mark, even months after its removal. Like memories, mostly it’s unnoticeable but there are odd moments where it becomes noticeable. “Red” is more than the mark’s colour, it’s suggestive of love. The last word “halo” could be associated with ‘angel’, suggesting a lingering spirit.

A later poem, “Travelodge,” has the widower book into a hotel,

“I try out the shower, sprawl on the bed,
damp towel wrapped round me,

surf channels on the tiny screen
bolted to the wall and wonder

who I might call to tell I’m here:
a wanderer, sick of distraction,

can’t find my way home again.”

A damp towel isn’t for a shared bed and the sense of having no one to phone, or the person you want to phone not being available, is grief. Throughout “These nights at home” recurring images of a doors, shelves and empty rooms are reminders of bereavement. The collection is sensitively written and Keren Banning’s images reflect Alex Reed’s themes.

“These nights at home” poems by Alex Reed, images by Keren Banning is available from V. Press

“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.

“Like Love” Brenda Read-Brown (V Press) – poetry review

Like love Brenda Read BrownBrenda Read-Brown’s poems are empathetic and welcoming. The first poem, “Decay”, is an honest audit and ends,

“The legs aren’t in bad shape,
though one is angled
from repair to some old damage.
The feet, bony as frogs’,
are planted firmly,
though the pedestal has disappeared;
and all of it is lichened
with brown spots.
So, I turn away from the mirror,
and remind myself,
it’s not all about you, Brenda. “

The poem’s persona feels like that cheerleading best friend who is both honest and capable of making you feel a bit more upbeat. True to her word, the remaining poems aren’t all about her. “Love poems” looks back at a lost love acknowledging that “it wasn’t right then,/ and would be wrong still now” but there’s still that what if?

“But still, I want to see him,
relive the kingfisher and the swans
and the fish and chips by the harbour
and the cinema with armchairs,

in one brief meeting; lunch, perhaps.
We would smile, and talk about our children,
while thinking of other things;
and forget all those hotel rooms.“

The casual, conversational language belies its poignancy. The narrator knows full well there won’t be a romantic ending but still wants to know that the boy she remembers turned out OK. “Diminished” is also poignant without being sentimental, its final stanza, “Once, she loved to travel;/ explored food, journeyed relationships;/ now, she has her crossword, her TV./ Once she was bigger than I am.” The final line conveys the role reversal from the parent as carer to the child and the now adult child caring for an ageing parent. Later a silken-voiced “Street singer” “smiles as if he’s got the joke/ but feels too shy to laugh”.

Brenda Read-Brown draws from a wider experience too. In “Poetry has no learning objective”, her time teaching in prison leads her to observe,

“The man with a cobra
tattooed across his forehead
might be a gentle vegan.
Some people spend their spare time
painting angels.
The kid ‘you’ll need to watch for’
will give me images
fresh as mermaids.
Rhyme can hurt,
and metaphor disturb.”

It reminds us all of the power that words have to connect and communicate. Their conversational tone makes these poems easy to read aloud and their layers of empathy reward re-reading.

“Like Love” is available from V Press