Today I have to depart from my general plan to post weekly. For various reasons, I feel compelled to include an extra short one but make no apology for that. At the end of a week which included International Women’s Day, I think Mother’s Day is as good a day as any to do this.
In the last few days the murder of a young woman at the hands of a predatory male has shocked me, but not surprised me. We are living in a world in which incels, players and other entitled males are exercising unequal power damaging society in a way similar to the behaviour associated with white superiority. Both must be corrected but today the treatment of females must be the focus.
It is a matter of shame that women are having to hold vigils in memory of Sarah Everard (and others previously affected), and a scandal that they are being told they have to take additional steps to keep themselves safe, precautions which men do not have to take. Men are to blame for this.
Men have an obligation to address their own behaviour so that women do not walk in fear. Women I know, including my young sister, are afraid to walk alone through countryside or woodland, even in the daytime, and city parkland at night.
I, and all other men, have to accept that apart from possessing greater physical strength, they have been nurtured by a society which convinces men they are entitled to more – whether that be higher salaries or freedom of movement. There is also the trite ‘boys will be boys’ label which starts in childhood and tends to carry on into adulthood. In addition to those features, there is constant male peer pressure fuelling the continuance of toxic masculinity.
In the early hours of this morning – all of these things on my mind – I scribbled this first draft of a short poem:-
That is all
I am a man
Not that man
Of whom I am
I truly am
- That is all
Not about love
Nor about lust
Not about any
- That is all
I am a man
Not that man
Of whom I am
I truly am
- That is all
That Feverfew, the sixth and latest poetry collection from Anna Saunders, is laced with quality – at times luxury – is easily evidenced. What is more difficult to explain, though ironically it may be inherent in its stylish packaging, is the exquisite economy and value to be found in this publication.
In large part this may be attributable to the presence of forty one poems within a physical book-space of proportions which seem incapable of holding such an amount of treasure. Yet there is nothing cramped or cheap about its presentation. I guess the publisher Indigo Dreams must be due credit for the practical side of this, the design and typesetting, as indeed must the poet for composing poems which fit so well to the page.
Of greater importance, however, is the discovery that this collection has a literary and sensory quality which (like the divine accused characterised in one of the collected poems, The Prosecution Builds up a Case Against Jupiter) takes various forms. Some clues may be found in the cold and hot of the striking cover design; the proof is found in the assured crafting of words found within the covers.
Mythical references inhabit a number of the poems. Some of the named characters and creatures from Greek and Roman mythology will be familiar to non-scholarly readers, some not. Where I was unsure about the myths associated with a featured character I found it intriguing to read the poem first of all without research and enjoy it for its sounds and feel and discernible purpose; enjoy it purely as a poem. The nature of the myth would sometimes be revealed in a general way by this exercise, subsequent googling being largely confirmatory. In other cases, discovering the mythological root was an essential key.
In all those referring to myth the poet’s skill and imagination re-works the ancient to make it relevant to the modern reader, and to the contemporary message the poem is meant to convey.
As well as those which reference mythology there are works here which use the characteristics of wild creatures to tell the stories of humans, those which feature the nakedness of humans themselves, and those which feature spirits who have thrown off the flesh which formerly clothed them.
It is important to point out that, while this is a collection with serious intent making full use of grown-up literary techniques and devices, it possesses humanity, occasionally shows vulnerability and employs humour too (often in the guise of satire and/or the entertaining titles of certain poems).
Whether your mood calls out for reflections of love, lust, loss or consideration of abuse of power and animalistic instincts, there is something here for you. I have found the collection pleasing, rewarding, surprising and affecting to read and re-read.
Given the space I permit myself for Blog reviews there is not room to give examples of the many poems in Feverfew that touch or tickle my intellect, anima or shadow. So, as a discipline I have decided to look briefly at just four, hopefully providing a soupçon of the flavours of the collection.
What I Learnt from the Owl, the first poem in Feverfew, has something of Emily Dickinson in it. Its unflinching true depiction of an owl as bird of prey sets the reader up for some of the cold reality-checking which will emerge in subsequent poems and is also the perfect appetiser for the collection’s second poem – the first one I wish to discuss here – Time after Time the Same Bird is Born from the Flame.
In this piece, the phoenix of Greek mythology is transformed for the modern world. No longer is it the positive motif, eagerly adopted over time to represent renewal and in due course Christian resurrection. Anna Saunders’ phoenix is viewed as an unwelcome regeneration. The opening lines tell us that:-
Here it comes, … /a feathered doppelgänger of the last,/ an identical gold-eyed genesis/scattering a surplus of silver plate from his claws.
He is introduced as a privileged creature, a royal bird which feasts on incense, whereas we pick at seeds and stringy meat.
The ‘we’, presumably the ordinary folk, wonder How did he earn the spokes of sun that ascend from his head…?
We ache for change, yet each creature that rules the court/is a rooster’s brother with jaundiced eyes.
Not even death will bring an end to this.
It quickly becomes clear that this poem, which on its surface references the exotic re-generating bird of myth, in its gut speaks of inequality and the apparent impossibility of bringing about necessary change in the cycle, the system.
How wrong we are to think that fire/can cauterise corruption, it continues. That could hardly be more plainly expressed, especially when followed by the line which gives the poem its title, Time after time the same bird is born from the flame.
A number of Ms Saunders’ poems deal with love and relationships, some tinged with eroticism, others with various difficult aspects and issues; each one is worth the reading and imbibing. For my second arbitrary choice I have selected one of the less obvious depictions of a controlling relationship, I come back as a Horse.
Ostensibly, it features a horse (probably a gentle mare) considering how it is treated by its human master and begins with what appears to be a sad acceptance that true freedom is no longer an option: –
My owner leads me in from the cold. /His heating makes my flanks steam, my breath plume and cloud. He shouts/as my skittering hooves crescent mark his shiny floor.
Next, we discover the extent of the horse’s value to the owner: –
He has pictures of the races all over his wall/strained mares taking jumps/ or being brushed down savagely/until their rumps blaze like precious stones. The mares, it seems, are there to win trophies, or be trophies, and the next stanza tells us of further restrictions of liberty –
We have to wear our harnesses all night./It is compulsory and our necks burn.
The narrator horse speaks disparagingly of humans choosing inappropriate names. I am not mine, she says unhappy with her naming, before going on to describe in a similarly sanguine voice the more shocking truth of what happens to horses who do not match expectations: –
A young one never came back. If your legs buckle,/if your back is too weak, there’s a bullet for you.
The implication of controlling threat (and a point where a familiar association may be drawn with hair-pulling abuse and assault) continues in the next two lines –
I love my mane, even when he winds it round his hand/to make a boxing glove.
Finally, following a statement of preference for the freedom of the fresh air, the poem concludes with the subtle but poignant –
Once, a child passed me, said I had kind eyes,/felt pity for me.
The third poem I wish to feature, Floundering, is one of exceptional tenderness, and admirable skill.
In it a poet speaks to her mother, who has recognised the reality that poets do not make money from their art and is offering her poet-daughter money from her purse. But there are other things going on and it is the skill of linking all of these threads and carrying all themes through to the end in a very naturalistic way which shows Ms Saunders’ deftness here.
To explain here the detail of how this is manifest, all its conceits and devices, would in my opinion spoil the pleasure of those I hope will go on to read it hereafter. However, as I must give you something, I’ll give you these two connecting elements as a tease and assure that there is much more taking place in the poet’s mind and in the physical environment surrounding mother and daughter:-
It reminds me of the tulips dad planted/so we’d have colour after he had gone.
This casual observation prompted by the shape of a heron’s head from behind appears early in the poem and is one of the themes echoed in the velvet glove punch of the final stanza, which runs as follows:-
Mum, you have your purse out again,/and that worried frown that dad used to have/when he was looking at the tulip bulbs,/wondering if they would come out in time.
The fourth and final poem I draw to your attention is one which is simultaneous easy and very difficult – So much Blood around my Name. I say easy because it is written in terms which are easy to understand even on first reading, not requiring much interpretation. The subject matter, however – as in many of the collection’s poems – is raw, visceral, uncomfortable, confessional.
There is much blood and guts within Feverfew but what we have here is quite different. This is not the remote blood and guts of mythology or that associated with the regular behaviour of the animal kingdom.
In this poem the first mentions of blood arise in a specific recollection, written in past tense, of a blood commitment symbolised by a fresh tattoo of the narrator’s name on her former lover’s arm (How deeply I’d been etched into your skin,/you bloomed blood.), a commitment which ended (…we needled each other,/until I left). The second reference to blood is in the present tense and comes with consideration of implied guilt which some would wish to place beside her name. It also echoes skilfully the blood which formed around her name at the time of the fresh tattoo :-
‘Years later I hear about your death.
He couldn’t go on without you. I am told.
I imagine your pale limbs under the earth. Those four letters extinguished by the dark.
Can love ever be perfect? Can poetry about love be perfect? Can two people living together for a long time be perfect?
In my humble view, those are time-wasting questions because answers to them are virtually impossible.
It would be more useful I suggest to dip into the approach adopted by Darren J Beaney in his debut pamphlet for Hedgehog Poetry Press, HONEY DEW; in a series of twenty one poems he sets out, in a sometimes self-deprecating way, to find ways (some of them very original) to encapsulate in words the various stages of a continuing love relationship without which he feels his life had been, and would be, pointless. That realisation is hinted at elsewhere but disclosed in plain sight in the eighth poem in the book, 32 to the power of 22.
This debut is infused with sincerity as much as it is with originality and vivid Punk-style colour. It is also very relatable.
The opening poem, though it carries the title LET YOUR HEART DANCE, moves with a deliberate lack of steady rhythm, chucks in an occasional internal rhyme – but don’t expect that to happen in a predictable fashion – and employing these devices captures the awkwardness of unexpected love-at-first-sight during a first dance. The designed chaos only reaches an end in the poem’s sublime conclusion:-
As we gasped/ without resting and kissed without breathing and fell without landing.
This is followed by the title poem HONEY DEW, a short but vivid expression of the sweetness of new love :-
A smile/ … that tempted with low hanging kisses/ ripe and ecstatic
The reason for the poem’s brevity appears to be summed up in the final two words – ‘tongue tied’.
The theme of combined shyness and disbelief at the suddenness of what is happening reappears in the reference to his belly hosting ‘a soulful band of butterflies‘ in the third poem, PLAYING BANJO ON BRIGHTON BEACH.
By poem five, LETS START SOMETHING WE WON’T WANT TO FINISH, there’s an admirable statement of ambition reflected in text which combines unconventional with conventional, even old-fashioned, and a little tongue-in-cheek without destroying the sincerity of its intention. For example, Beaney writes: –
Let’s learn to dance – foxtrot, tango/… I’ll …collect/ your falling blushes. When I have them all we will paint/our town, leaving our mark, creating a legend/ bigger than Terry & June.
Let’s take tea at the Ritz. I’ll get dressed up/to the nines with odd socks and no shoes…../You can slurp from your saucer/while I protect you from those uptight stares.
Where Shakespeare would write ‘If music be the food of love…’, Beaney writes and concludes the poem ‘We’ll wake each morning to … an eternal love powered by the energy of three chord guitar riffs’.
In a sometimes uptight world it is good to remember that romance can be fun and rebellious, and Darren Beaney’s writing conveys that in abundance in some of his work.
He is also capable of expressing unabashed praise of continuing love in more lyrical terms while maintaining his personal style, as in YOU AND ME, US TWO:-
Our love is driven by neat engines of persistence/shuddering to the twitch of our touch, firing the luscious/laughter and locomotion of a lifespan together.
I’d happily quote every stanza of this poem in full but will confine myself to the following further few lines as a taster:-
…Our relationship simple/as a new Puritan. Sustained without effort, lazy,/ as wonderfulas bunches of late May daffodils.
Our passion is as exciting as Caxton’s/very first page, printed with a love song for Cupid. Each day/is Valentine’s Day stuffed into our Christmas stocking.
As I now feel I’m in danger of giving too much of the book away for free, I shall curtail my notes and end this review with a brief reference to the last poem in the pamphlet THE MISSING BIT which, amongst other things, touches on the point I made at the start of the review. (A similar point is made by Beaney in the short poem THIS IS A LOVE SONG which appears a little earlier in the pamphlet.) In THE MISSING BIT, he is again concerned that he cannot sufficiently express all elements of the love he feels in order to be convincing. He writes,
And that is the bit/that is missing
And I want our love to mean/as much as Dr King’s dream/with as much passion/as a catalogue of first kisses
because we are so much more/ than love bites and candlelight
If you are looking for an original but relatable, generally schmaltz-free, story of a love relationship in 21 poems, HONEY DEW is available in various formats from Hedgehog Poetry Press http://hedgehog press.co.uk or from Darren’s own site http://djbeaney.wordpress.com . Prices direct from Darren are: UK £7.00 (inc. postage), Overseas £11.00 (inc. postage) and e-book £3.00.
I am now nearing the end of this ludicrous task of 24 days of Blogs in the form of an out-of-time Advent Calendar. With this calendar, when you open the box you don’t get a chocolate, but in its place a random thought or two, this time on the subject of luck, good and bad.
Typical of my random approach, the opening of boxes has moved from the outwards in so that, including today’s there remain just four Blog Day Numbers: 16, 15, 14 and, if you’re superstitious, the unmentionable one.
Now I don’t regard myself as superstitious, but you may conclude that I have proved cowardly in the numbering of this Blog. Though genuinely not triskaidekaphobic, I ask myself what is the point of tempting fate? Not only is the dreaded number due to be applied to today’s blog but I am writing it on the eleventh day of the second month (11 + 2 = ??).
So, no chances will be taken
Like a hotel which avoids having room Thirteen
We won’t say which Advent Blog it is today
And instead of using that cursed number
We’re going to call it Blog Day 12A
On a more serious note, the issue of luck is on my mind.
Currently I am working on a longer poem than the ones I usually write. The initial inspiration arose from a tourist attraction visited during the last few days of holiday I enjoyed, in October 2019 on the island of Ireland.
At the quayside in New Ross, County Wexford there are contrasting but related exhibits side by side, the one relating to the ships which carried those forced to escape famine in mid-19th century Ireland, the other celebrating the visit of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, President of the United States of America, in 1963. JFK’s great grandfather had made the journey from Wexford to Boston and Kennedy was marking that with his visit.
But this starting point has set me on a journey of research which will take me to many destinations before it is over and it will finally come ashore in modern Britain and America. Although it’ll be a human story, it cannot avoid the impact of British and ultimately American Imperialism and Capitalism, and how certain aspects of good fortune are not down to luck at all but depend on wealth, power, property, access to education and belonging to the acceptable family, race or colour.
On a more positive note, the poem will attempt to balance the cruelty of the negative impacts with a contrasting narrative demonstrating the kind of good fortune we all like to witness. Love, happiness, overcoming obstacles and the other kinds of ‘luck’ which come from hard work, community and kindness.
It is truly amazing how, from viewing a tourist attraction, one’s mind can travel thousands of miles and begin to consider the respective situations of the many very different human characters involved.
Perhaps more to the point, I have set myself a difficult task which will require getting the tone and pace of the poem just right. It must not veer towards the overly didactic, must hold attention, yet have historical accuracy as well as drama. It will have to convey emotion at points but not become sentimental.
Though getting it right may be difficult and I may fail, I shall learn much in the process. They say you learn more from analyses of your failures than your successes.
I consider myself lucky to have had the inspiration and to be alive to do some work on it.
That kind of luck is sometimes where you choose to find it.
Similarly, when I refer now to Unblocked Plus, I do not wish you to have in mind the crude and off-putting suggestion of diarrhoea, a nasty and generally unwelcome affliction. On the contrary I refer to an unexpected bonus which I am sure would not have occurred but for the final unblocking.
You may have gathered quite accurately from the previous posts that, with some recent measure of success but still some frustration, I have continued my attempts to deal with apparently inexplicable breakdowns in communication. In particular, I have struggled with the sense of discouragement that such blockages raise in me.
I recognise that this is occasionally quite irrational and often obstructive to creativity. Although, thankfully, I have never (yet) experienced writer’s block, I do become particularly distracted when awaiting outstanding replies, details of outcomes, and responses generally. So distracted in fact that I sometimes cannot get on with new work, wasting time instead checking and re-checking email etc. in an obsessive manner.
I have spoken of the ways I have attempted to retrain my mind to overcome this sort of time-waste, and in my previous post on this topic reported some limited but encouraging success.
Though I cannot go into the details of the significant unblocking which took place on Sunday I want to say something of the ‘plus’ or bonus unexpected happening.
On the creative side, I received an email which explained, in a way that made me ashamed, the very serious reason that one matter had not moved forward as expected. In a separate email hope was offered about how this might be resolved. That got me off to a start that was a mix of reflective and positive.
Following attention to another matter of personal importance to me, I then took the bull by the horns in relation to a non-creative matter which I knew was going to be time-consuming. It became more time-consuming when telephonic communications were lost for technical reasons, and face-to-face became the only option. I went ahead with some trepidation, double-masked in the current circumstances of pandemic, and did achieve the outcome I desired though it took a large part of the day and early evening to resolve and get home.
Once home, I was hungry and tired, so went ahead to prepare dinner with the intention of settling down in front of the telly for the rest of the night. Though I had wine with dinner, which can make me drowsy when I dine alone, at 10.00pm I made a decision to attempt something I thought would be impossible.
There were a number of deadlines for poetry and other submissions on Sunday 31st and I had submitted nothing whatsoever during January. Contrary to common sense, I chose to put together a submission that involved finding and compiling multiple poems rather than going for a single poem, or a couple of single poem entries which would have been much more do-able.
Having decided it was likely impossible to complete, I approached the task with a mix of urgency and relaxation. If, as seemed likely, I did not compile and send the themed submission by 23.59, that would simply mean I had not done the impossible (as expected).
However, with a minute or two to spare, the submission was delivered electronically. And that is my plus, the unexpected. Even if the submission is not ultimately found acceptable, I can take that rejection knowing that I completed a kind of Mission Impossible, something I did not have the wherewithal to do the previous day.
Having consumed three measures of Malbec
The work may not be up to scratch
On the other hand one’s best often comes
When one is completely relaxed
Whatever transpires, and I won’t know for a while, today was a good day!
It’s when you’re waiting for news, not just about one thing but about a number of things.
You’ve done your job. You sent whatever you had to send. You’ve made an enquiry about something else. You’ve sent a reminder in relation to something where a reply is overdue.
And if you’re a writer, you’ve probably got outstanding submissions and the day for notifying successful parties, or short-listed writers has arrived. No matter how often you check your inbox there’s nothing there. You become hypnotised by the mantra from email checks every few minutes:
Checking for Mail….
Updated just now
Nothing. Nothing new there, or if there is something new it’s spam or a scam or notification of a regular bill; anything other than what you want to read.
There is nothing you can do about it, other than sending useless reminders or follow-ups which are more likely to have a negative than positive impact upon the health of communication. You might actually draw yourself further away from a successful outcome by aggravating the situation.
What you must do, and I speak from experience here, is do something else. Move forward with something you have the power to move forward. Accept that some days are non-communication or misunderstanding days not just in your little world but in the universe.
On such days, I am convinced, nothing moves forward. Anything exchanged on these days is likely to be misunderstood. I suspect wars or minor skirmishes break out on days like these, perhaps unintentionally on occasion!
From the point of view of people like me, in my little micro world bubble, there is true irony to be found. By nature I am a procrastinator, always putting decisions off, setting work back, generally sending out ripples of delay all around me. Yet, I am capable of getting very impatient with people I deal with who do not act or respond quickly. Perhaps there is a hint of karma in these days when things I want to happen, simply do not.
I did not complete a poem about this but, as has become my wont, I wrote down a few lines, while still in bed, which may form the basis for a poem at some time in the future. I’d normally keep such early workings secret but, just to give a hint of the way my mind works, I’ll reproduce my scribblings, with the working title Blockage.
Actually, this will also illustrate a point I meant to make at the outset. Although I regularly experience these days of communication blockage with which I do not deal well, I tend not to suffer writer’s block. Even this type of minor frustration may set in train a thought process with the possibility of a creative product at some later point.
Remember, there is hardly anything which cannot be given a creative outlet.
Can become an obsession,the need for welcome news and progress.
This morning I stayed two hours extra in bed
much more than my required rest,
simply because I was so obsessed.
To rise from pillow I decided to refuse
until my phone brought me good news.
However in spite of regular checks,
nothing extraordinary by email or text
No call to brighten my childish mind.
Then I rose and drew the curtains to find
sunshine streaming through every pane,
good news twinkling on every beam
(Please don’t judge. It’s a bit clunky but just an idea in first draft.)
Post Script: This blog was originally written representing frustration in the period 24/25 January but overnight 25/26 January the communication blockage took an unusual turn, which I cannot go into in detail.
But I’ll reveal this. In a dream I was visited by a person who has passed, who chose to communicate, a message freely given but not initially understood by me. It led me to get in touch with someone I had not contacted for some time, and have reason to believe that some good will come of this.
That’s all I can say for now. Look after yourselves and each other, and try to communicate.
I got all the traditional stuff in and have enjoyed a stay-at-home on my own, pandemic-infused Burns Supper, accompanied by Scottish Whisky.
Recollections from my childhood flow.
I haven’t written poetry every day of my life, though it’s an almost daily event these days. At ten years old I only ever wrote poetry in my head, though I loved writing essays at school. I knew very little of Robert Burns at that age but can’t help feeling that the only very short poem I remember writing (in my head) was influenced in some way by him. It’s not Ayrshire Doric but it’s in a Scots vernacular which I certainly didn’t use in my everyday speech.
A wilnae gae oot in the powrin rain
No e’en fur a king’s ransom should ony wee wean
A ken it’s guid fur the floo’ers an’ a shouldnae complain
But a wilnae gae oot in the powrin’ rain
When I was fourteen, I was one of a group of child actors from Glasgow who performed on TV as part of an improvised acting competition, which we won and got the chance to perform another play (live on tv) a couple of months later. One of the other actors, Joe Macdonald, visited me some time later and gave me a tiny book of Burns Poems as a present.
After all these years, it is still intact but very much the worse for wear. It used to have a metal medallion representation of Burns on the cover but that has become detached.
There was always an ambivalent attitude towards Burns as I grew up. People were generally proud to have a National Bard but concerned about promoting to their young people a man with such a lascivious reputation.
In my childhood days I was certainly transported by the representation of the bard by the fabulous actor, John Cairney.
Many years ago, I wrote a very rough-and-ready tongue-in-cheek poem which at that time attempted to sum up my relationship with the man.
To a Mouse
Twa watter-cairtin bairnies we were,
Baith poet an’ me dark and curly.
When ah wis wee ah loved his verses,
ma faither shocked and pale wi’ worry.
Wid his son be an Excise mannie,
Wi’ gypsy soul and long dark lashes?
Wid his wee laddie chase the lasses
An’ bed them in the swirlin’ rashes?
Or poetry be his son’s undoin’?
He didnae ken the wiles o’women,
The more accepted ways o’wooin’;
Wid poets’ sangs send women rinnin’?
Sic lengthy lives await the canny
Ye first pay dues and then stay restful
Faither thought o’ what he shid be
But wis never that successful.
Each year he prayed on Rabbie’s birthday,
‘A poet’s life can be fulfilling,
Sae fu’ o’ incident and intrigue,
My son be saved frae that, God willing!’
Before signing off, I’ll make a recommendation that you go to Soundcloud and listen to a fresh rendition of Robert Burns’ love song Red Red Rose by Linda Jaxson. That would be a lovely way to round off tonight’s celebration of Burns!
Okay, I didn’t manage it. Did not publish 25 Advent blogs between 20th and 25th December, as I suggested I would, but I have three things to say in mitigation.
Warning: this post is devoid of arithmetic and logic. Its results cannot be relied upon.
Firstly the target was wrong. As discussed around the Christmas Dinner table when I was lucky enough to be with my ‘family bubble’ this Christmas Day, Advent calendars generally have only have 24 days. So, there is should not be and will not be an Advent blog day 25.
Secondly, life got in the way and that’s a good thing.
Thirdly, I am not defeated yet. I have given this blog the Advent Day Number 18 of the (exceptionally-belated) series. Though I have now run miles past the day we all call Christmas, every day is an advent to something new.
I realise none of this makes sense but just imagine I’m a politician attempting to fool you with lies, not to believe the evidence of your own eyes, and allow me to get away with it, as they invariably do due to our complacency.
Thank you in advance for agreeing to do that. This political chicanery is easier than I first thought!
Oh, and given the records of our most recent Prime Ministers to mislead and destroy the country, I leave you with my poetic reminder of one of the most efficient our country has ever known. This poem appears in the December (Thatcher) Issue of The Angry Manifesto, edited by Matt Duggan and Des Mannay.
Once upon a time in Britain
the very idea of a woman doing the job
would have drawn derision
Now I am neither misogynist nor Nostradamus sir
but all those years ago when the doorstep canvasser
presumed - We can surely depend upon your support We are the party for the upwardly mobile you sir -
I do not know what made me say -
Not with That Woman in charge, she’ll lead us to war -
but I did
The canvasser shook his head, smiled and said -
The old enemies have gone, with whom should we pick a fight? -
but she did
You can call it a Conflict if you like - a killing by any other name
still stinks of blood
She really made us travel for that battle
Bent and broke the rules to make it happen
Argie-bargie, mano a mano?
Ask the ghosts of the Belgrano?
The greatest PM of the century?
I think not.
Performing minor miracles?
The miners would disagree -
though she did black-magic all sorts of unexpected
from her blue handbag
Not just war in time of peace
Investors caught on bullish horns
Disappearing roofs in property booms
The loss of everything in pursuit of gain
Division of brothers on an industrial scale
Dominatrix seeks reward for sadomasochistic pain
No to milk and education
should have signalled things to fear
Weeks after a friend’s assassination
mention of that friend felt insincere
amid a wild-eyed selective rendition
of part of Saint Francis’ prayer
All these before are symptoms of an incurable condition -
Maggielomania or the delusion that you are a female God -
which made her go further than any male politician
to prove she was at least as flawed
As this is a very new website and I remain in the category of emerging writer, I have not previously had the opportunity to review what has happened in my year of writing. I hesitate to do so in case I fail to credit anyone who has helped or encouraged me in the last twelve months but I’ll just have to take that risk and now hereby apologise in advance to anyone I unintentionally omit to mention.
The first news I received in January was that I had a winning entry in Hedgehog Poetry Press’ Nicely Folded Paper – Trois Competition. I look forward to the publication of the resultant Art of Insomnia chapbook in the early part of 2021. Thank you Mark Davidson and Hedgehog. Thanks are also due to two women I won’t mention by name at this stage. The first is my late wife, my muse who was my inspiration for many things, including this work. The second is a poet whose work I very much admire and who very recently provided notes on the latest draft; both will be formally acknowledged for posterity in the published work.
Following this early success, things went rather quiet (three rejections) until March when Cheeky Besoms Productions accepted one of my favourite poems for an anthology which was due to be published in 2020 but has been delayed because of the pandemic. It will be published when there can be an in-person launch in 2021. Thank you Ruby McCann, Maria Marchidanu and all others involved with the anthology.
The only other acceptance in March was for radio airplay of an audio recording of a new version of an older poem the apocalyptic dj. It was played on the 2nd April 2020 episode of Express Yourself on the Radio. Thanks to Sunny G Radio and Carla Woodburn.
In April I submitted two poems both of which were accepted for an Anthology of Radical Scottish Poetry published by Culture Matters. The anthology was titled A Kist of Thistles. Thank you Culture Matters and Editor, Jim Aitken.
Also in April I was emboldened to submit the audio recording of the apocalyptic dj to an American podcast and they used it in their podcast of 23 April 2020. So, thank you Poetry in the Bar hosted by Eaton Rapids Poetry Club, Michigan.
In April, May and June I had lots of rejections but a total of four of my poems relating to the pandemic were accepted and placed in an online journal about Covid-19. Thank you Pendemic.
In May, a short story I had submitted in March, was accepted for publication by New Voices Press for Surfing, the 2020 anthology of the Federation of Writers (Scotland) which was subsequently published in November. The short story Taste was the first piece of prose fiction I had ever had accepted for publication. Thank you to Federation of Writers (Scotland).
In May I submitted two poems which were both accepted for the Poets Against Trump anthology. It was initially published online in October; thereafter in paper form in November. Thanks are due to Stephanie Lunn.
At the end of June I submitted an entry to a Hedgehog Press pamphlet competition. Though unsuccessful my entry was shortlisted. For that, thank you Hedgehog Press.
In July I submitted a poem for a Black Lives Matter anthology. I was delighted that it was published in Black Lives Matter – Poems for a New World in November. Thank you Civic Leicester and Ambrose Musiyiwa, Editor.
Also in July four poems were accepted for Words from Battlefield (launched 24 October) and a creative non-fiction piece was accepted for a World War II audio project. Thanks for these successes are due to Dr Linda Jackson, Finn’s Place Publishing and Langside Community Heritage.
Further, I was asked to provide a reading of one of my poems Carnival, which originally appeared in Poems for Grenfell Tower (The Onslaught Press, 2018), to be included in the Grenfell Soundwalk, a permanent geolocated audio installation. Thanks to Giovanna Iorio, the sound artist commissioned to complete the installation.
August brought success for an audio-visual reading of the apocalyptic dj for which thanks are due to Lesley Traynor and others at Scottish Writers’ Centre.
In the same month I submitted a poem about Margaret Thatcher which was subsequently accepted for and published in The Angry Manifesto magazine (Thatcher Edition) published December 2020. Thank you, The Angry Manifesto, Matt Duggan and Des Mannay, Editors.
Finally, in the same month, I contributed some words which former Federation Makar Andy Jackson weaved into his patchwork poem for National Poetry Day Theme, ‘Vision’ (video reading released on 1 October 2020). Thanks, Andy Jackson, for your your consistent creative skill in collating disparate poetic voices into these annual works.
Following a complete lack of success in September, in October I submitted, appeared in a shortlist of six, but ultimately was unsuccessful in yet another Hedgehog Poetry Pamphlet competition. Once again, thanks to Hedgehog for shortlisting me with such a talented bunch of poets.
Undeterred, in November I made a full collection submission to Hedgehog which was also unsuccessful, not even shortlisted.
However, in December I had the great joy of receiving acceptances for a total of eight poems spread over four themed chapbooks with Dreich. Thanks to Jack Caradoc and hybriddreich.com.
I should also say that during this unconventional poetry performance year, in addition to those audio/audio-visual performances previously mentioned I have contributed to a number of Zoom events including Cheltenham Poetry Festival, Dove Tales Scotland and Virtual Dragonflies. Thanks to Anna Saunders, Annie Ellis, Jean Rafferty, Darren J Beaney and Barbara Kirbyshaw, who host and administer these events.
It’s also been a great encouragement to take part in creative writing classes and workshops. Mentions for Dr Linda Jackson, former FWS Makars Finola Scott and Marjorie Lotfi Gill. And former FWS Scriever Charlie Gracie.
The people I have enjoyed meeting during all events are too many to mention but you all know who you are.
The year is nearly finished but I still have a submission or two to email. I also have one more live event to look forward to at 5.00pm on Boxing Day. It’s a You Call That Radio event Overheard in the Westend. Thanks to Mark McGhee for inviting me.
I have also been invited to submit audio recordings of some of my poetry to an Eat The Storms podcast to be relayed early in 2021. I’ll be recording those shortly. Thanks Damien B Donnelly for the kind invitation.
Given that this is developing into a longer post than intended, I’ll wind it up now by adding my thanks to anyone who has taken time to read any of my work or the random ramblings which appear in this blog.
[UPDATE POSTSCRIPT: as this is late publication of a proposed 19th December post I am able to provide this brief update.
As well as having my reading of a poem included as previously indicated in the Poetry in the Bar April podcast, a further two poems read by me were included in the open mic of the 30 December podcast. Thanks again to Poetry in the Bar hosted by Helen and Gav, Eaton Rapids Poetry Club, Michigan.
As well as appearing on the Boxing Day You Call That Radio event when I read five poems, I was invited back to the You Call That Radio Hogmanay Event to read my short story Taste. Thanks again to Mark McGhee – a great way to finish off the year!]
I am glad I delayed writing this review. When I first received a copy of this poetry collection a few weeks ago I dipped in and out of it, savouring individual poems for themselves, not attempting to take in the effect of the whole collection. On a more recent day I sat down and read the work cover to cover, while taking the occasional break to read a Novella in Flash (of which I shall post a review shortly). That’s just the way my brain sometimes works! The delay however has made me appreciate Venus more.
I had already viewed a couple of videos and attended a number of online events in which Gaynor Kane read poems from this collection before I decided to purchase a copy, and having now seen the entire context on paper I realise that there is even more to her work than these recitations promised. Venus in Pink Marble is a substantial collection containing 61 poems covering a breadth of subject matter which work well and sit well alongside each other.
Although it comes relatively early in her poetry career, this publication feels like an attempt to set down an opus for future reference, a work which will reward study by others. For the author, it must give a sense of satisfaction that she has succeeded in including so much she wanted to document and opine.
As well as the warmth and humanity infusing many of the poems, there is research and authenticity in those which portray technical matter or historical episodes. There are word lists and word pictures which take the reader with ease of authority to a period or a place. Many of these are poems to inhabit or at least to visit frequently. There are stories of people, notable, mythical and everyday but all are given equal care in Gaynor’s skilful hands.
In order to encompass the broad subject matter the collection is divided into three sections – The Lock, Letter to Me and A Life Drawn
It is invidious, and would anyway take too long, to select particular poems for praise, especially as I keep spotting ‘new favourites’ when re-reading. Some of your favourites will differ from mine in such a varied selection. However, in an attempt to give a flavour, I shall pick a couple of examples from each section.
From Section 1, Dead Short on the System, Belfast, 1923, just four stanzas long, recounts the story of a rat chewing through power station cables bringing trams to a halt throughout the city. Some of the text suggests a nervous humour about the incident but the killer words are found in verse two –
Those tram-trapped, fear the curfew more than the rain
Whereas most of us would think about the inconvenience of getting home on a New Year’s night that was ‘dark, damp and sticky like a new born’, in the midst of a civil war other considerations apply.
Also from Section 1, From Benin to Belfast sets out a quite unique perspective and is a remarkable and original piece of work which took my breath away on first reading. I still get a chill when the ‘ivory masks’ to which we are introduced in Benin (modern Nigeria), having travelled the bloody way of Imperialism, in another form are represented in a Belfast church in troubled times. The significance of the word mask and the colours ivory and red in this piece, which I see was long listed in the 2018 Pendle War Poetry Competition, create themes holding together a work which otherwise may have had to be explored in three separate poems.
From Section 2, the poet’s more personal pieces, I have picked The first time I saw him cry and Polyester.
The first time I saw him cry – a title which is a narrative in itself. In less skilful hands this might have been a a cheap effort, building the image of a strong male just to describe his vulnerability. Instead, it is a matter-of-fact telling of receiving news of loss within the context of everyday events. It is made all the more authentic from its accurate placing in an earlier time when telephone landlines were not universal, mobile phones non-existent, and there was great dependence on public transport and walking. Told from the point of view of a child hearing one side of a conversation, nothing is said within the text of the poem about her father crying but only implied in his curt imparting of sad news to her.
Polyester is a Christmas-related story of near-tragedy prevented by the quick-thinking and actions of a mother. Like The first time I saw him cry this poem is written in first person from a child’s point of view and I assume it is autobiographical. The first stanza lulls the reader into a cosy state ‘Slippered…/feeling the glow’ but the second stanza travels from ‘drowning in heat, like a Christmas /pudding drenched in brandy’ to ‘fire /licking my hair, hugging my back’. By the end of the third verse the child is rolled in a saving mat and, referring to earlier metaphors, ‘brandy-snapped and smoke-smothered’.
The poem concludes with a calm Christmas morning, almost as if nothing untoward had happened, but presents include a replacement dressing gown of cotton rather than the flammable material.
From Section 3, relating to art, I have selected A Life Drawn and The Vampire of Lazaretto Vecchio.
A Life Drawn is inspired by the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition – A Life in Drawing and is told from the perspective of a naked artist’s model, standing still in a room in a man’s world kept cold deliberately, being exposed to an artist kept warm by ‘tunic, robes, headscarves’. Her position is due to poverty, lack of opportunity and necessity rather than choice. He does not appear to acknowledge her living humanity –
Our eyes do not meet. He inhales me.
The Vampire of Lazaretto Vecchio is an exercise in beautiful expression, tenderly cadenced, expressive poetry with a Gothic quality which suits the subject matter. It is a joy to read and re-read and I am delighted that the poet was able to achieve this atmospheric work, inspired as her Notes reveal by hearing the story of the discovery of a skeleton with a brick lodged in its mouth on an Italian plague island. Just a couple of extracts here (from verses one and three) to provide a sense of the quality of description –
……sailing to the sanatorium
in the white boat. White for the uncontaminated
the blessed and clean.
Rancid heat retreats at dusk, the sick wards weep
like religious statues, infecting the air with howls for help.
At the end of this review, it will come as no surprise to you that I recommend this work without reservation. If I was the sort to indulge in puns I might call it a Venus in PinkMarble-ous first full collection.
Instead I’ll just say there’s still time before Christmas to secure your copy as a gift for you or someone you know who appreciates honest and skilful writing. For your copy go to Gaynor Kane at http://gaynorkane.com/bookstore