When the reader ‘Enter[s] the Ziggurat’, it is a dizzying experience, a journey into a kaleidoscope of revelations, with a mix of spiritual, mythical and cosmic explorations. We encounter ‘An ocean of charms', 'Runes reaching into the void’, ‘mystics shaking the sun,’ and ‘a fizzing fusion of self perpetuating energy.’
A series of seven glowing Invocations ‘burning in the black’, ‘to enchant the heavens’ and ‘the serpent shattering the sun’ light the incendiary spark that makes this book an ‘electric mass of wildfire.’ It’s difficult to choose any poem over another – this is a poetry collection that is utterly immersive, organic in its evolution, its impact cumulative that casts a spell of enchantment -‘‘flaming petals falling like raindrops" from cover to cover.
Malik's distinctive prophetic voice displays a deep appreciation of the timeless quest to understand our existence tempered by the burning sense of alienation at not being able to know answers to the big questions. How do we understand reality? What is there left to believe in? How do we make sense of our place in the cosmos - "Who conjures the moon", "Who conjures the stars’?. These are some of the questions we are left pondering after embarking on this arcane, spellbinding voyage.
When you leave the Ziggurat, you leave basking in its glow, a "gilded lantern at the bridge of the world". Malik encourages the reader to consider the old magic and evoke the Gods and myths of the ages. This is a poetic voice that "illuminate[s] the void", tracing our efforts to tell ancient stories and mythologies that we have connections to, no matter what we choose to believe in.
Review by Rhona Greene, September 2021.
Book of the Month: August 2021
Published by: Penned in the Margins
Reckless Paper Birds, the metaphor with which McCullough invites his audience into his collection, is a bit of a misnomer. That is to say - there’s nothing truly reckless about these paper birds. If his poems appear to be jaunty, witty, plummeting from the pages of this collection with reckless abandon, sometimes headless, often open-beaked and easy, then this is the magic trick of them and it is in this that the beauty of his poetry lies. Beneath the reckless, the maddeningly-accessible colloquialism of his work, is a bedrock of careful revision and editing and measuring and sheer hard-toil of a poet’s poet who is onto his third collection of poetry.
This collection has a lot to say about bodies; poems like ‘Nuthatch’, ‘Jay’, ‘Tender Vessels’ (one of my absolute favourites) and others observe and examine the margins and boundaries of bodies, the fragmentation of them, bodily sensations, and sometimes the fear and neuroses around bodies which don’t work and those which fail. These are poems which take joy and pleasure in the body, which make statements about the plurality of bodily experiences, of masculinities plural, but which also worry about violence, disease, infection and McCullough uses these moments to address more serious issues – homophobia, oppression, ageing and homelessness.
Many of the poems have a cinematic quality, a cartoon-like surrealism where bodies can transform into huge licking tongues, where office stationery personifies and ‘punches a giant hole in the day’ for the poet to jump through, where a pinned poster of Lady Gaga on a wall has a voice and weeps in a possible abstract homage to Picasso. Content and subject matter are egalitarian, democratic and fresh – discarded Reeboks sit alongside references to Leviticus, politicians at a conference loiter next to Danny, ‘masseur extraordinaire, bringer of happy endings’ – and the collection is full of voices, idiomatic and real, always treated generously and with love, they fill some poems to the brim with a chaotic energy and celebration of difference, rather than the disparate, bleak and alienated voices used by a poet like Eliot.
Alongside this bounce, the playful inventiveness of language and montage (which reminded me a lot of Frank O Hara), McCullough’s poems are also deeply intense and personal and it is in the juxtaposition between these tender moments and the profane and every-day that gives you that whiplash impact that you get when you know you are reading truly good poetry.
Review by Emma Smith
Book of the Month: June 2021
To open Anna Saunders’s Feverfew is to be greeted with a flurry of wings that flutter as they fall from the sky, landing in between the pages of this burning, searing collection. Saunders follows in the line of rebel and revolutionary Percy Bysshe Shelley when she turns her critical eye to corruption. The clash between modern idiom and classical mythology is strident, stark and feels fresh.
This is a collection that walks on the dark side too. The imagery of desire and eroticism is writ large in poems inhabited by the sword where feathers and wings are replaced by the tongue, by lashes and hooves. Saunders poetry is playful too, full of shape shifting personas, storytelling and – in more touching moments - snapshots of her parents and their voices. The energy in this volume radiates, its heat like the Sun which Icarus, the subject of “now the Earth…“, flew too close to. Scalding.
Review by Emma Smith
Kathy Miles is, like all gifted poets, at times a photographer, delicately capturing people, places, times in sepia light - the warmth of a teapot under a cosy, the filigree strength of a cobweb. And at times she is a surgeon performing vivid, visceral feats of dissection, reaching her crafter’s hands into the bodies of these poems, touching sinew and clavicle with her fingers. Where there is hardness, sharpness, bone, there is also warmth, depth, humanity, blood. Tongueless magpies, rag and bone men, fortune tellers, seahorses all populate Miles’s verse. She has a breathtaking gift for the unusual metaphor: the badger as the louche indolence of dementia; waiting for a hospital update on a loved one as going under the sea stand out most. This is a collection with a telescopic scope, reaching out, down and inside. It has, quite simply, good bones.
Review by Emma Smith.
The confessional poems in Kari Flickinger's The Gull and the Bell Tower capture a wide canvas of emotions, with fleeting, often surrealistic observations that convey fear of social-detachment and the painful weight of rejection – “our skulls heavy/ in our carven heads”, to wry musings on love and relationships – “most/ promises were constructed/ entirely of words”.
In a collection full of shifts and playful experimentation, poems with an oblique, classically-inspired style were a particular draw with distant, fragmented echoes of the imagist poet, H.D., “Your sweltering eyelids—a stripe of lightning/ crack me—a walnut. I reach a little—/ so late”. As a romantic writer, Flickinger shows an expert use of extended metaphor in ‘In a Sentimental Mood’, one of several stand-out poems that display a real sense of ingenuity and originality. There's a postmodern spirit at work through the collection, that never strays into wilful obscurity, or leaves us cold, but keeps the reader guessing, opening up rich, multiple interpretations.
This debut collection offers dazzling imagery, universal feelings articulated through poetry that we often struggle to express, and wry humour.
Kari Flickinger’s The Gull and the Bell Tower is a fine addition to any poetry library and will be one of the standouts of 2021.