Showing posts with label review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts


NaPoWriMo - 2021 - X - Dierdre Frank, writing as Bernard Mane...

Dierdre Frank, writing as Bernard Mane

reviewed by

Edmund Drake, writing as Elizabeth Loften

A book-like book of wordy lines I read
it on the train in Leicester signalling
my great cerebral worthiness to all
newspaper readers in my view.  I will review
this for the TLS because I know
it's a pseudonym of the Prof who supervised
my Ph.D. and he will broadly blow
his gasket the moment that he reads
the words I'll write.
I have already listed certain phrases
not damning in themselves but from which
certain words -- "commonplace", "quotidian" -- will jam
right in his unswallowable craw, or more like
caltrops beneath his -- there's another

...but really this is wasted effort here
spending my time to damn a new-wrought book
which before I pick it up already spends
longer on

"About the typeface"

than on
the author's


Review: Paul Brookes "Please Take Change"

Paul Brookes is a poet I know through the internet.  We used to hang out on Poetry Circle, an online forum...

Before I begin this review I must reveal that I live a charmed life.  I have always found it easy to get jobs, and places I have worked have been more akin magical kingdoms, than grey Kafkaesque distopias.

I try to remain aware that this isn't true for everyone (should be... isn't) but awareness is one thing and knowing what living it is like would be something else again.  The main power of this book is it gives you a window into exactly that, and furthermore it paints subtly, neither glorifying, nor playing up to the grimness.

From the biography on the back we discover Paul has been a security guard, postman, admin assistant, call centre advisor, lecturer, poetry performer and now works as a shop assistant.  He has recently been interviewing almost every poet in the UK in  The Wombwell Rainbow Interviews and very interesting they are (you may find yourself, or even myself, in there if you look hard enough...)

This collection draws heavily on Paul's employment history.  Not all of those are the most glamorous of jobs (except "poetry performer" — literally the most glamorous job there is...) and you might expect there's a degree of arduous toil, unsympathetic bosses, wearying drudgery to be expressed.  In this you'd be right, and these poems do reveal a world of quotidian working days.

However, also running through this are threads of razor-sharp observation, human warmth and humour which keep the collection alive and make reading through the 75-odd short poems a light and rewarding experience.

Let's start with:


some systems don’t work
so you have to do
a work around
when this becomes the system
I don’t know
my bus
takes a detour for roadworks
or accident
something tells me
this is not temporary

I love the sheer universality of the experience related here, I have encountered the same thing in fields as separated as software design and cafeteria queuing; my home town had a "temporary car park" for four decades; and I've even worked for major international corporation entirely devoted to working around the things it failed to address previously.

Also the skillful way everyday language is put to work to illustrate the general principle, but simultaneously narrate the concrete example, is typical of the poems here.  Another that demonstrates this point is:

The List

Their companion gone
old men stoop lower
with less in their basket,

try to recall her shopping list,
was it Robinson's marmalade,
or Hartley's lemonade?

Spam. No she never liked spam.
Never enough fat on bacon.
Yes, I need a receipt, young man

Which is touching, humorous, and heartbreaking in roughly equal measure.  People who do or don't need receipts are a recurring theme, almost a running joke throughout this collection.

These two poems are perhaps a little unusual in using a symbol as a metaphor for something larger.  More pieces are essentially biographical, in the sense of relating wonderfully observed moments and characters from the author's working life, take:

Two Lads

at my till. I put first lad's
goods through while second

says to his mate,
I'm gonna get a kitchen knife
and rip your twatting head off.


I'm gonna put it in shoebox
Set fire to it. Piss on the remains.


Do you want a receipt? I ask
the first lad.

There's the slyly comic receipt again :-) and also here is the acute observation of real everyday behaviour, skilfully juxtaposed against the mundanity of the till queue.

This is a fascinating collection.  The early copy I had was a little unevenly edited, but I hope that will be sorted out in the final edition.  The scenes from everyday life are compelling, and the understated humour and good will with which they are presented lifts them well above the mundane to a plane of their own.

The conflicts, insults and travails presented here are something to be accepted, but not surrendered to, and the ultimate message we take from this is one of optimism and — I said it before — good humour.

Lets just end with this:


One of two young girls with flushed cheeks
who buy cans of coke and energiser asks

Please can I buy a lotto scratch card, #7?
I ring for the manager as per rule.

He asks the girls for i.d.
No. I haven't. I'm eighteen.

We need to see your I.D. he says.
You're an embarrassment, one replies

How dare you embarrass me?
Both girls flounce out the shop.

Did you hear what she called me?
Says the manager, smiling ear to ear.

Please Take Change is published by  Cyberwit.

Paul's other books are available here.


Review: Pete Green's "Sheffield Almanac"

Review: Pete Green's "Sheffield Almanac"

is another poet that I know through Gorilla Poetry, like Amy they also use ungendered pronouns, although as I hope this review will demonstrate, they are distinctly different poets.

This book is a love poem/critique/poem-of-place set in, and concerning, Sheffield, which also happens to be where I live.

This pamphlet is not difficult to read, it flows easily across the eyes and mind, and those privileged to have heard Pete's voice will hear it again in these pages (which always adds a lot to printed poetry.)  If you have not heard Pete, hear them reading "The Pull", an older poem but with some shared themes.

However this pamphlet is quite difficult to review, for the purely practical reason that it is all one poem.

Usually for a review I will read the whole book, once or twice, and then focus in on those poems that strike me most.  This is something I cannot do here.  Although the poem is split into four sections (representing the four seasons, as Pete explains in this blog post), each is substantial and (borrowing Pete's word) "discursive".  Each section takes a broad topic and explores all round it.

I shall cover all sections with a quick survey and then zoom in for a more detailed look at one later.

[i] is the Autumn section exploring the city as a University town, the changing local economy, steel mills replaced by student accommodation, the influx of bright and shining new minds every autumn, the pubs and clubs and political activism, the contrast of student life now with when Pete was a student in Birmingham.  It begins:

The steel has gone.  Now brass is made in learning.
    The city's an amalgam
Of wide-eyed youth, old grit, industrial yearning
    For the pounding of the forges through the night
Echoed in techno beats as dancefloors tip anthemic
    Hangovers loom and lengthen, recovery stalls
And time and Sheffield's calendar grow largely academic.

[i] - page 7

[ii] is Winter and as you might imagine the bleakest section.  This focuses on the trades we all make when we choose to live in cities, air quality for economic prosperity, personal freedom for a regular wage; and the difficulties of Sheffield itself: snow bringing its roads to halt, the lack of anywhere for a decent-sized airport, and the major theme of how progress is a double-edged sword:

                                ...Both sides are missing
    The other side's point.  Two old couples
Round a table in the Fat Cat balance reminiscing
    About the pubs and the Sheffield lost to us now
With a sense that change has two sides to its cutting
    Edge, that each lament for Castle Market's fall (and
Annexation by the artists) needs rebutting
    With memories of the birdshit dropping from its ceiling.

[ii] - page 17

[iii] is the Spring section and extends the themes of changing employment and building redevelopment to consider the changing face of the city itself, buildings repurposed and rebuilt and filled with "kids ... in creative trades their granddads ... wouldn't've bloody dreamed of".  The impact of national politics, a touch upon xenophobia and immigration, before accelerating into the most upbeat conclusion so far.  But I'll leave that for you to discover for yourselves, and instead quote:

                                        A crowd of hundreds
Surrounds the town hall: amid a fine kerfuffle
    Of hashtags, placards, and impassioned speakers
And twenty thousand names on a petition
    To save the indie shops on Devonshire Green,
Councillors wave through their demolition
    And succession by another row of flats
To join the M1 cooling towers
    And the Jessop hospital's Edwardian wing
On the roll call of a Sheffield lost, and only ours
    By living on in a Sheffield of the mind,
Retained by citizens still somehow proud and quirky
    Still these humble hedonists,
Recession-hardened, implausibly perky,
    Adroit jugglers of tradition and modernity.

[iii] - page 25

—because that is a sentiment that sits very well with me.  I also work in a profession that my Grandfather could not imagine.

[iv] - the Summer section starts with the floods of 2007, and how they barely made the national news, before moving into accounts of various heroic, festive and humorous responses to the catastrophe.  Pete then takes a turn towards the personal returning to the time just after their arrival in Sheffield (in 2004) and the time Nottingham just before they left:

                    ...We wearied of the confrontation
    Below the midlands' car-park accents,
Service-station banter, how every conversation
    Led to traps and tripwires; how every public space
Was up for sale, how the corporate steamroller
    Blazoned across Birmingham's town hall
A stupefying, vast advert for Coca-Cola
    Whereas, on a trip to Sheffield
We took free refuge in the Winter Garden,
    Watched a cloudburst runnel down the glass;

[iv] - page 33

And I shall leave the overview here, as it already has more detail than I intended (but I couldn't skip quoting a bit from each section) and I haven't even mentioned the epigraphs...

I shall just focus briefly on my (current) favourite section, which is the first.  I think the themes here resonate more strongly for my personal prejudices.  Lets take an excerpt from one of the more personal sections (which I haven't really covered above).  This follows on from an earlier image of each year's new undergraduates arriving in Citroens:

                                        ...Love, you uprooted
    Twice, turned north to intertwine with me, and now
Out plotline may be knotted, convoluted,
    Worn down to an epilogue's lingering thread
But wean yourself away just for a minute,
    Witness this scene, these hopefuls with
Ironic lava lamps and possibilities, and tell me if within it
    You don't see us in 1992.
Today an anxious flicker on the grainy
    Screen of an sonographer, last week a mooch
Round Oslo, buying handmade baubles on a rainy
    Afternoon, a take-off into snow.  Flick back
Further through those chapters, through the scenes scattered
    Haphazard down the valley side like relinquished
Clothing on your bedroom floor, the weave more tattered
    Further back we go.

[i] - page 8

And I don't want to stop quoting, even there, but there is only so much I can practically copy out.  I really appreciate the sharing of little personal moments here; but also there's the craft, the strongly rhythmic phrasing such as "possibilities, and tell me if within it // You don't see us in 1992."  As I already mentioned, if you can hear that in Pete's own voice, it is even better.

Similarly the overt rhyme, pulling us forwards, but wound around with other sonic embellishments: "knotted" leading to "convoluted", and then "epilogue's", "hopefuls", "possibilities" and finally landing on "don't".

There is a great deal wonderful about this pamphlet.  At the outermost layer I love the nonpartisan approach.  Pete neither eulogises, nor condemns the city; but neither do they withhold judgement where required.  This is an important characteristic for approaching both poetry and life: nothing is 100% good, nothing is 100% bad, and only in recognising that can we get close to reality.

There is also the careful and skilled approach to form.  As Pete explains in the post linked above, variable length couplets allow a flexibility of flow, while the fixed rhyme scheme pulls us through strophes (only one per section) that could be daunting if less skillfully handled.

This is an excellent and rich work.  I barely touch on some of its themes here, and in reading and rereading for this review I found more every time I returned.  If you live in Sheffield then this may show you things you are missing.  If you do not live in Sheffield, read this and wonder why not.

Sheffield Almanac is available for £5 + pp from Longbarrow Press.


Review: Amy Kinsman's "&"

Review: Amy Kinsman's "&"

Amy Kinsman
(from the back of the book)
Amy is one of the most interesting poets I know.  I have known them getting on for two years now and we meet almost precisely once a month as Amy hosts the popular Gorilla Poetry open mic, where I am also a regular.

Amy is genderfluid and uses gender-neutral pronouns.  They edit Riggwelter online journal of creative arts.  Amy also regards themself as both a performance and a written poet — a bifurcation I attempt to bridge myself...
Amy's book & (pronounced "Ampersand") won the Indigo Dreams Pamphlet prize in 2017.  Last week I attended its Sheffield launch and was reminded what a remarkable book it is.  There are seventeen poems in this pamphlet occupying 29 pages and ten of the pages are taken up by the two longest pieces: Iterations of self and it's like this.  There is plenty of good stuff elsewhere, but I am going to focus on these two, both because they're really good, and also because they are the ones that (for me) tell the strongest stories about the author.

In the first of these, iterations of self, Amy dissects their identity using "jonathan", an identical twin occupying the same body ("Jonathan" being the name Amy would have had if they had been assigned male at birth.)  Through the thirteen sections of this poem the characters "you", "jonathan" and "amy" iterate different approaches to their various identities.  Each section characterises a different theme to tell us something about the overall self: masculinity, femininity and hallucination are three examples, and the whole picture builds incrementally from these pieces as we proceed.  Let me quote two sections from quite early in the poem:

iii. self as electron

contemplate the light, its red and its violet. consider the theories postulated by quantum mechanics: perhaps there is only one particle in all places at once. conclude that you were made in the dark.

iv. self as repetition

at the kitchen table, your grandfather cuts a barbed spiral of identical paper girls. they push themselves up from the surface and arm in arm they go, singing amy, amy as they march eyelessly towards its edge. what to do with all these little girls? there are so many of you, heaps and heaps of you. your grandfather is calling you by your mother's name and you don't have the strength to correct him as you sweep the scraps into your hand and begin to devour them.

iterations of self

Amy kinsman

Here we see some of the scope of the dissection.  An electron of course is neither particle nor wave, and also (before its wave function collapses) neither here nor there.  Wave function collapse happens because of "observation" (scare quotes because after a century there is still no rigorous definition of this) and metaphorically observation cannot take place in the dark.  Therefore this persona, created in the dark, has an uncollapsed wave function; is simultaneously red and blue.

In the self as repetition we see the "cookie cutter" nature of traditional genders.  You look "girl" therefore you are girl, you should act in girllike ways, and the "eyeless" paper girls haven't even thought about it, and just took what they were given.  How awkward it must be to express a newly minted gender to a grandparent who hasn't the background to understand, and by extrapolation how strongly established (e.g. old) structures must reinforce these stereotypes.  In fact, in this section, the character has no strength for explaining yet again.

The final section of this poem, xiii. self as ampersand, I believe provides the collection's name.  Here, rather than simply assuming multiple selves can be pasted together, we instead see a need to disassemble some parts and reassemble into something different and new: if still flawed.  In software engineering we call this refactoring: transforming a functional system into a something different but still functional.  The closing phrase:

this time i want it enough. even the gods have built imperfectly, stumbling towards completion; look at us.

—is loaded with the hope and difficulty of this.

Amy jokingly sold this pamphlet to me with the brilliant advertisement: "it contains the long one about my sex life", and it's like this is that poem.  This also is structured as many numbered paragraphs, but in this case all entitled: "it's like this".  Many even commence with the identical words: "two of your lovers stand before you."  This is because each presents a number of actual or potential lovers.  Pairs, groups and types of lovers are contrasted, or presented in scenarios which highlight various relationships or attitudes.  Again the overall picture builds throughout the poem, let me quote two sections:

vi. it's like this:

two of your lovers stand before you. the one on the left is the first person you ever loved though you only know this in retrospect. the one on the right you only recently realised you are in love with. the winner is whoever's name is the first out of your mouth.  both of them are women with scrutinising gazes whose eyes glisten with mania through their curtains of dark hair. both of them lower their deep brassy voices.  somebody turns off the light. all of you are counting the seconds.

vii. it's like this:

you are having a threesome with two of your lovers, both of them men, both of them avoiding looking the other in the eye. one above, one below, the two of them are locked in a tug of war over the spine of your being. the pressure builds.  you cry out i don't bend like that, but they continue as if they have not heard.  your bones splinter at sacrum and coccyx. you snap in two. the winner is the one holding the larger part.

it's like this

Amy Kinsman

Amy is bisexual, so lovers with a range of genders appear.  More than this, every section returns to a question of who is the "winner", reflecting the poet's polyamory:  a monotony from continual questions such as "which of us do you really love?"  Thus only the poem's simplest level is about the poet's sex life (full of humanity as that is) and at deeper levels expresses the frustrations we all have (but the genderfluid, bisexual and/or polyamorous must feel more acutely) in the effort of explaining what we are to those around us.  This comes over most clearly in that the protagonist has difficulties with lovers (i.e. section vii above) but almost as many difficulties with other people reacting to lovers, for example:

the mother of the one on the left will say are you a lesbian with an honest indifference. the mother of the one on the right will say an english girl with an indifference which must be practiced. your mother will say are you sure you want to be with someone like that in a tone that reveals she likes neither of them. the winner is everyone's mother.

it's like this

Amy Kinsman

For me these two are the most important poems, and also my favourites...  There is much else here to attract the attention but I have already written twice as much on this excellent collection as I intended.  I will just briefly mention anton yelchin, which muses on his tragic accidental death, descent in which an anonymous character falls to Earth after a grand endeavor, and disappearance of the poet: the enjoyment of which I leave as an exercise for the reader.

it's like this ends as the poet takes off their laurel wreath.  I prefer to interpret this as tactical withdrawal and not a complete resignation from the fight.  It is important not to resign, we have to keep on fighting.

Amy Kinsman's & is available from Indigo Dreams at £6.00 + pp.