Saturday, 25 April 2015

Nell Farrell's Mermaids

Oh, I loved this slim pamphlet. Loved the cover design which seems to hold both the stillness of amber and the movement of water, and loved the typeface which seemed quite ordinary until it went into curly, almost mythological, italics. In fact, these physical characteristics of the book might be seen to symbolise the world Nell Farrell depicts within these pages. 

Nell Farrell's Mermaids come to stay like a gaggle of teenage foster-daughters from somewhere very other. They try out human life with a zest that has them talking like buses and emptying the contents of the freezer, visiting Cornwall, going for speech therapy; and experiencing Christmas, when films featuring pirates
                        ...lure them
to sit enraptured in the greenish light,
arms around each others' waists,
soothed to a slightly puzzled bliss
Ordinary things are transformed through the mermaids' gaze, while the speaker's ordinary life is transformed by their presence. These poems are funny and poignant and sparkling with language. I loved them.

The second part of the pamphlet widens its scope to other characters: nuns and goblins, circus acts. I particularly liked the two short sequences. In 'Ascension' an artist's model finds that his experience leaves him strangely changed, and in 'Assessing the Librarian', real facts become surreal facts, and artefacts become talismans:
That's an angels' vertebra. I found it on a beach in Greece.
I've always loved it there; they gave so many words
to my profession: heuristic, hermeneutics.
This is a fabulous collection, in every sense of the word: an exuberant place where there is no distinction between story and everyday life.

Mermaids and Other Devices is published by Moormaid Press, and can be ordered very easily from the publisher here. 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Kim Moore's 'The Art of Falling' - 50 Word Review

Kim Moore's The Art of Falling

An incredible variety of poems and subject matter, all held together by their relationship to the title of the collection. A compelling central sequence, 'How I Abandoned My Body To His Keeping', is flanked by poems rooted in the quotidien North but threaded through with humour and the strangeness of the dark. 

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Poetry Magazines - Lighthouse 6

There's nothing like flicking through the pages of a brand-new poetry magazine, fresh from its manilla-enveloped journey through the postal system. Looking for the names of poets you know and like, wondering what exciting new voices might be waiting within. Sniffing the paper, feeling the texture of the cover.

One I've just come across is Lighthouse, published by Gatehouse Press. It's a pleasing, understated, quite retro-looking publication: a monochrome cover with a small lino-cut lighthouse illustration, and off-white matt pages which smell a bit like blank newsprint paper. Inside there are poems, short stories, illustrations and a couple of feature articles. 

The stories are great. I'm quite often disappointed by short stories in magazines - they're either too self-consciously experimental and disappoint by the content not matching the form, or they are simply banal. What I want from a short story is to be left thinking about it afterwards, I want it to lodge in my brain and change something. In Lighthouse, none of the stories disappointed, but I particularly liked KJ Orr's quietly disturbing The Shallows and Margaret Jennings' intriguing My Family.

Of the poetry, I was very taken by Mike Saunders' long poem Triptych, and Michael Rutherglen's Sensitivity to Initial Conditions, a wonderfully language-rich exploration of potentialities framed in terms of mathematics. But that's not to say that these are the only poems I enjoyed - they are just two of many.

One particularly nice touch is that each issue has a cover feature: a poem or piece of flash fiction of up to ten lines printed on the back cover. Issue 6's was a compelling little poem by Ella Frears which was an exploration of its own title, the phrase 'Coming Into Your Own'. 

Having sampled the wares, I shall definitely be subscribing to this one. 

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Poem: Chy an Peber

Photo: SallyDouglas

I was reading this week about Slow Food UK's campaign to revive forgotten British foods - among them the Cornish saffron cake. Well, the saffron cake fills my childhood with its fragrant yellow yeastiness. My grandfather was an artisan baker, and for me as a small child the bakery was a place of enchantment and fear. I was terrified of the ovens, which were black and cavernous, and had something of Grimm about them, but I was equally entranced by the magical transformations that took place each night in this strangely unremarkable-looking house of wonders. And reading about the revival of the saffron cake - which to be honest has never been lost in Cornwall - I was reminded of a poem I wrote a while back. Saffron cake is definitely in there, but the main stars are the Cornish pasties.

I read this poem at my Grandfather's funeral.

Chy an Peber
(House of the Baker)

For my Grandfather, Lloyd George Trethewey

It’s your domain: an almost-creature,
a watchful dragon leaking light
through the interstices of night. Its yeasty breath
warms drowsers in dark houses,
reminding them of morning.

Inside, the heat-noise-light of
Milton’s Pandemonium.

A restless anchor roils and cleaves
elastic saffron sea,
shoals of currants tossed by endless waves.
In a vast vat a huge pale belly swells.
Deep-stitched quilts of fresh baked bread
already snuggle in their beds,
but in another place a groaning mouth rasps
pebbles of potatoes with its teeth.
A barrel of knives throws weeping dice
of onion, swede and naked spud.

You pour out the dusty roll of soft cream velvet.
Armed with a sharpened saucepan lid you frisbee
perfect circles, stack them into Pisan towers.

And now creation.  A miner’s lunch halfmooned by
those punched holes. Rope-edged.
Your fingers type a perfect crimp, neat rows
of baby toes on a foreshortened foot. Pale purses
in neat ranks, upon the tray’s parade.
You love their schoolgirl uniformity. Banish
some because their pleats aren’t neat.

And then into the dark cave’s heat, the dragon’s
lung. Its breath is savoury, meaty, with a taint
of adolescent sweat, the smell of ripening.

And finally they’re born, and borne aloft, slid into
cooling racks to settle and to breathe. Suntanned shells
with perfect fluted frills. Keen oysters eager for the feast.

Outside, night’s mouseness slips away.
Shops are lifting up the eyelids of their blinds.
The vans move off, as carefully as hearses.                                       


Sally Douglas 2008

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

National Poetry Writing Month 2013 Evaluated

Photo: Sally Douglas

Well, NaPoWriMo's over. I lost the last few days because of a family crisis, but over the month I managed to produce twenty-five poems. Some were completely new, some were old drafts dragged out for finishing. But the great thing for me is, that I have twenty-five poems that wouldn't have existed otherwise. National Poetry Writing Month has got me writing again. It's broken the block - not just with my poetry but with other writing too.

I know the quality is varied, but there are some poems I am really quite pleased with. Shell, This Day, That Thing You've Carried For So Long, Looking Out, Music Lesson - these are poems I am glad I have written. With time, no doubt I shall see some flaws, but that doesn't matter. I can still change them!

I've also had a great time reading poems produced by other poets this month, some by people I already knew, some from the NaPoWriMo website, and some via Twitter. Thanks for sharing your work, people!

Monday, 29 April 2013

Poem 25 - Red-tailed, Bumble

Red-tailed, Bumble

Red-tailed, bumble,
common carder,
cuckoo, mason,
tawny mining,
leaf-cutter, hoop-shaver,
humble, honey,

Red-tailed, bumble,
common carder,
cuckoo, mason,
tawny mining,
leaf-cutter, hoop-shaver,
humble, honey,

Red-tailed, bumble,
common carder,
cuckoo, mason,
tawny mining,
leaf-cutter, hoop-shaver,
humble, honey,

Red-tailed, bumble,
common carder,
cuckoo, mason,
tawny mining,
leaf-cutter, hoop-shaver,
humble, honey,

Red-tailed, bumble,
common carder,
cuckoo, mason,
tawny mining,
leaf-cutter, hoop-shaver,
humble, honey,