“Hope is a Silhouette” Lana McDonagh (Wordville) – book review

Lana McDonagh Hope is a Silhouette book cover

Lana McDonagh’s “Hope is a Silhouette” is a series of observations on love, desires, inner-lives and everyday life. Each is accompanied by an illustration by the author. “Night-Time Confessional” sets the tone, “Some things I only say in the dark/ To the ear of the sickle moon” while the poem’s addressee could be a lover, could be the narrator,

“As you breathe in
As you breathe out

My night-time confessional
Uttered under the somnolent glow
Of a heavy velvet sky”

The final image could be ambigious. It could be the sky is dark and oppressive, spreading gloom. Or the focus could be on the “heavy velvet”, luxurious and opulent, hinting at dreams of desire and not necessarily for love. The confessions could be as much about hopes and aspirations. Although in Paris, in “The Lock-In” the theme is definitely love,

“If we could just make it out
……from underneath the sheets
Sheets that were not our own
……but had become
Entangled, linen witnesses”

It concludes, “There was Paris/ But all I cared about/ Was you”. Two lovers still in the honeymoon phase cannot be tempted by all Paris can offer. There’s no suggestion this is a lockdown poem, the lovers’ isolation from the city is voluntary.

The emotions of desire and want surface in “Before Me” where a lover’s skin has become dusted with snow, “A pure white expanse/ Muddied by another’s boot” but the mud is not a deterant just a signal,

“and a primal need for virginal landscapes
I want to traverse your cities
And climb your mountains
Leaving my flag triumphantly at the highest peak

I want an avalanche to lay a fresh sheet of future
So I can hear my weight
As I tread upon the past”

Not just a desire to explore but to find space that obliterates memories and markers of others. Someone who wants to erase the past and move on, forging her own way rather than following the footsteps of others.

In the title poem, “Hope is a silhouette” is a refrain starting each stanza.

“Hope is a silhouette:
A telephone ringing
Bricks and mortar shaped for living
A gambler in the throes of winning
The dawn chorus singing
Floral buds springing up
in between slabs
of solid, grey concrete”

“Up” interrupts the passive rhythms of “living”, “winning”, “singing”, drawing attention to the delicate buds before the slap of concrete. Hope is something that thrives in cracks. It’s also undefined, a blank outline for people to project onto. Those slabs are also a reminder hope can be ephemeral. That telephone call could be bad news – the formality of “telephone” suggests this isn’t a friendly chat. The house is “shaped for living” but not yet a home. The gambler hopes but is more likely to lose rather than win. Those who hope might appear to be deceiving themselves. There’s another liar in “The Theatre of Contorted Reality” where “You have so effortlessly distorted/ and remoulded yesterday/ Until it has become your truth” which is like,

“Train wi-fi
British weather and
Your truth
just another lie
Waiting to be uncovered”

Three things known for their unreliability, yet the poem’s addressee clings to their version of what happened, persuading others that their version is the truth. But who’s to say the observer’s version is anymore reliable?

“Hope is a Silhouette” is a contemporary, empathetic look at life, particularly love and desires. Lana McDonagh explores how hope can become two-edged if ill-defined: it can keep a gambler hooked on his downfall, it can make a building look like a home, it can consume lovers and trick them into isolating themselves from a wider world. It can be as in/fallible as memory. Slender but thought-provoking, like a song you somehow keep noticing in the bar, on a passing car radio, an advert’s anthem that becomes a soundtrack to life.

“Hope is a Silhouette” is available from Wordville.

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.

“Celine’s Salon: The Anthology” ed Lucy Tertia George (Wordville) – book review

Celine’s Salon The Anthology book cover

Celine’s Salon is a spoken word, song lyric and poetry night in Soho, London. It aims to nuture new and established artists and create a community that is open and encouraging. The introduction also notes that performing to a live audience enables instant feedback in a supportive atmosphere. The key message is that newcomers are welcome and Celine’s Salon is an inclusive, supportive space. Each night has a theme and the book is arranged in acts with an interval, allowing the reader breaks to absorb what they’ve read before moving on.

Celine Hispiche’s “A Lady of Soho” renames the Bloomsbury Set “the Doomsbury Set” and observes,

“When walking the streets of Soho
In the steps of bohemian ghosts
There’s something we all should know
We now play their hosts
And lent up against a street light
She’ll tell you never to go
A very familiar sight
A lady of Soho!”

The lack of pretention is clear, the simple rhymes give the poem a frame to hang on, like a welcome banner. I suspect “go” in the sixth quoted line is intended to mean ‘she’ll never tell you to go away’ rather than an invitation to leave.

The idea of ghosts, heritage and exploring the seen and unseen is continued in Amina Jindani’s “Wau Bulan” (a Malaysian moon kite), a shaped poem,

“A wau
Into the new folding of
Night and creates the sacred spaces in time.
But, just like the crescent moon-shaped tail, the wau promises
Another new dawn to begin again. But does the new generation, who
Share their forefathers’ passion for the soul-souring heights for their
Own hopes and dreams, see the poetic lull of flying the ancient wau
And laying down to catch its song?
Do they know how the moon
Waxes and wanes to the winnowing
Windborne wau?

The suggestion here is to respect the past while forging a new future. Current writers must read and understand the baton they’ve picked up, even if it seems as elusive as the kite. I don’t think the intial capital on each line was necessary; it interrupts the rhythm and doesn’t add to the shape. I like the message of listening to the night’s song and paying attention to dreams and desires.

Jo Danzig’s “My Grandma Sandra” knows the value of a gift even if others see it as a cheap bit of plastic,

“My Grandma Sandra always had this faded plastic bangle on her wrist. As a child I loved that bracelet and watched the bits of red glitter move in the gel.

“Over the years, the bangle yellowed—the plastic hardened and the gel became opaque until the glitter no longer swam around the circumference, much like Sandra’s veins that could barely shuffle her down the road.

“One day my dad said, ‘get that filthy bracelet off your wrist before you die in it.’

“‘Get your hand off it—Bill gave me that and it isn’t going anywhere. I’m not and what have you ever got me?’

“‘I’ll get you a McDonalds if you want?’

“‘I can get my own.’ And with that she heaved her little pudding body up from the bedframe and got her purse, the old-fashioned kind with just one clip.”

In grandma’s house the past lives with the contemporary, she clings to her old things and their sentimental values but still welcomes convenient fast food. The piece finishes,

“Sarah Gwiazda Starr liked to be known as Sandra Sutton—the woman who ate burgers and drank Emva Cream until she slumped outside the chemist and someone had to walk her home. They thought she had a son.

“Under her bed we found some hundred empty cartons.

“Some alive with maggots and her room twinkled with cheap sherry bottles.

“I don’t know what happened to the bangle.”

The granddaughter now sees a second side to her grandmother, the less glamorous one who was failing to look after herself. Even the glitzy bangle has disappeared. A sad end for a woman who clung to the pretence that she was someone who didn’t need help until it was too late to ask.

The use of glamour as a disguise is picked up in Rachel Dreyer’s “Tokyo Story” which starts,

“With only a month in Tokyo, and serious student financial woes, my goal was to clear as many debts as I could without ending up underneath some sweaty businessman.

“Swim in a giant fish tank dressed as a mermaid? Be a police woman in Arrest Bar? I chose hostessing in the tiny club Glamour. This situation vacant, I anticipated, would be a vacant situation indeed. The lights were low—to hide the dust and because people look good in the dark. Tables for two with vinyl cloths and fake candles, surrounded a tiny dance floor below a red tinsel stage.

The trick as hostess was to pretend to drink as much champagne as the men seeking company or entertainment. But reality bites:

“The new girl, Shimrit, was unwilling to drink, and sat sulking an arm’s-length from her customers, earning herself the moniker of Prim Shim.

“She grabbed my arm in the Rappongi night-club district one evening, ‘help me—it’s my customer!’

“I imagined him in a gaudily decorated love hotel, his heart imploded from bad cocaine.

“‘I got him too drunk,’ she wailed. ‘He’s in the bathroom and the staff can’t open the door!’

“Shimrit had clearly over-egged the pudding, and the pudding lay heavy on the toilet floor.

“‘Help me carry him to the club to get my fee!’ she begged. For a moment I considered this—two Western girls and an unconscious accountant—even if we carried him, would a taxi actually pick us up? In the harsh light of the bathroom, with the salivating salaryman at our feet, I’d suddenly had enough. ‘Shimrit! There’s a line, and we’ve crossed it!’”

The worst that happens to the accountant is a hangover. But, confronted with the seedier side of their jobs, the women are forced to consider getting out of being hostesses.

“Celine’s Salon: The Anthology” gives a good taste of what readers can expect if they turned up. A friendly atmosphere and words that probe under the surface of faded glamour. The overriding themes were human motivations and the desire to appear suave and sophisticated in the hope that no one notices the scuffed shoes or uneven hems. The sense of camaraderie and welcome strongly comes across.

“Celine’s Salon: The Anthology” is available from Wordville.

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.