Advent Blog Day 18: Failure, Or Is It?

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.

Irony Lady
 

 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
 

Advent Blog Day 19: First Annual Thanks (2020)

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.

Photo by u0158aj Vaishnaw on Pexels.com

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!]

Review: Venus in Pink Marble by Gaynor Kane (published by Hedgehog Poetry Press)

 

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 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 Pink Marble-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

Review: Keep on Spinning, a debut Chapbook by Jen Hughes

What happens if the planet stops spinning? 

Frankly, you don’t want to know. Jen Hughes seems to have applied that understanding to surviving challenges of life and love. Her debut poetry chapbook ‘Keep on Spinning’ sustains a planet-related theme without it becoming tiresome or forced. 

In the opening poem ‘Waiting at A London Train Station’ the planetary message is less obvious in respect that it represents a view through macro lens rather than telescope, illustrated by the striking opening lines  –

There are galaxies on these flower petals/ But to us they’re just dots

The final lines confirm Jen’s intention to employ a fresh way of looking at things – 

Some take trips to nature to get perspective/ But I’ve found that it’s much closer than you think.

When I open a new work of fiction or poetry I like to be challenged by the occasional unfamiliar word which requires me to find its meaning. As a non-scientist, I came across a couple in this collection. ‘I’m Like the Sun, Hun’ introduced me to the word ‘metastable’. I found the definition ‘pertaining to a body or system existing at an energy level above that of a more stable state and requiring the addition of a small amount of energy to induce a transition to a more stable state’ useful. Thus –

I’m not manic/ I’m metastable!/ I’m just a whole bunch of atoms in an excited state

In fact the whole poem is a burst of solar energy whose rhythm and imagery suits the jubilation reflected in one of its lines possibly re-calling a childhood hymn –

I’ll sing Hosanna past the break of day

‘Mercury’ is a suitably small and quiet self-reflection which starts with 

I am and always have been on the periphery

but ends powerfully –

I’m so much more than that

My second new word was found in the title of the fourth poem ‘My Caloris’. I thought it might be about heat. However, I discovered that Caloris refers to impact, specifically that of asteroids causing craters on a planet surrounded by a fragile atmosphere. Impacts and various sorts of trauma and holed damage are a recurrent theme in this and many of the poems which follow.

The chapbook contains many clever or humorous titles including ‘Venus Smirks At Me’, a poem which seems to speak of the author’s on-off love affair with love, and ‘Midsummer Night’s Reality’, which manages to squeeze a lot into four stanzas, playing with some of the devices used in Shakespeare’s rom com and even word-playing ‘ass’ into a love declaration.

‘Ultimatum’ paints a picture of a planet becoming increasingly hostile and unsafe, providing context for a relationship made toxic by the needs and demands of an overbearing partner. It describes the impact such a relationship has upon a generous and giving partner whose mental and physical state is being endangered by the relationship. Finally, it is a warning to the delinquent partner that this partner is prepared to lose the relationship rather than lose herself.

By contrast, ‘Planet Dance’ is a joyous affirmation of healing and fulfilling love –

We waltz and swing/ Ellipsing each other/ …I’m a fragment of my former self/ But you help me make the best of it/ I have stability now

Concluding with –

I want to keep dancing with you among the stars/ Even after death swallows us whole/ Even as dust and particles in deep nothingness/ I want to keep dancing with you then

‘Red Is The Coldest Colour’ sounds like a contradiction in terms, but makes sense when applied to the planet Mars. This poem seems to be here for balance. The speaker recognises that she can sometimes be the difficult partner and create a difficult environment.

I’m not easy to live with/…My past/ Floats in the vapour we’ll breathe/ …My vibrant red personality/ Won’t be enough to sustain you

In ‘Orbital’ we are told

…nobody wants to attend a pity party

In its second stanza we learn how painful it can be when depression has you alone –

…my misery turns around and says/ I’m nothing, and I have no-one./That I’m fat retarded scum/That I am really no fun/Anyway, so why bother/ with anything at all?

The next poem ‘Jupiter’ continues the theme of depression but approaches it in a novel way, referring to the effect of additional non-earthly gravity and density. However, once the problems are set out, so are the solutions exemplified in the final four lines, which also give the pamphlet its title –

This isn’t your final form and things can only get better/ The burden you carry will make you stronger/ So just keep on spinning/ You will get through this

Appropriately, this is followed by the Saturn-referencing ‘With These Rings’, a call to love yourself and reject the idea of having to conform to expectations –

We are complex people, multifaceted/ And like Saturn’s rings/ There are too many parts of us to name

Each stanza of ‘Pluto’ begins with the call Validate me, an effective repetition as the poet describes a fear of invisibility and a need to be fulfilled. The speaker appears frustrated that those around her do not understand her need for relationship as part of fulfilment.

‘Inside the Black Star’ informs the reader of the poet’s perpetual fear of inescapable low mood returning –

No light can get in or out./ It feels like/ you have never known it/… It’ll always pull you back in. All-consuming nothing

The title ‘I Write Because’ sounds like a creative writing class prompt. If it was, something special happens within its confines –

It’s the energy between the atoms/ Without which I’m just/ Dust

Short and effective is the concluding poem ‘Collective’. Its own conclusion –

…together we surround the system/ and we can change things

With these thoughts on just a few of the poems contained therein, I recommend Jen Hughes’ chapbook ‘Keep on Spinning’ scheduled to be published late October 2020 by Dreich Publishing. It gained third-prize in their 2020 Chapbook Competition.

Jen confirms that her debut ‘explores mental health issues and the human condition through the motif of space and the solar system. The collection was formed after my diagnosis of bipolar disorder as a young adult.’

‘Writing this chapbook was my way to help make sense of what I was going through at the time.’

‘I was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, and bipolar disorder at the age of 21. Some people would consider this a blight, and sometimes it can be difficult.  However, it also makes life vibrant and is such an integral part of who I am and my creativity. I wouldn’t change my mind for the world.’

I read her poems and wrote this review before becoming aware of Jen’s history and motivation but fully appreciate why she treasures the individual perspective she possesses.

‘Keep on Spinning’ can be ordered now from http://www.jenhugheswriter.com or the publisher http://www.hybriddreich.co.uk