Book of the Month
Black Bough Poetry's choice for 'Book of the Month', June 2023 is
ROCK|SALT by Scottish writer, Larissa Reid. Review by Glenn Barker.
The book is available from the poet.
Twitter: Ammonites_Stars ammonitesandstars.blog
Larissa Reid's ROCK|SALT presents a concert of voices; the geology, landscape and people of Fife come to life from her native coastline in the east of Scotland. Reid's 21 poems, in three sections, five of them written in dialect, pulse with the ebb and flow of the land, the sea, and human activity. As part of the ROCK|SALT project, Elspeth Knight has collaborated with the poet to produce a beautiful series of mixed media artworks echoing the themes and content of the poems.
Larissa’s work is profoundly elemental, a very coarse form of harmony in the embrace of a natural drama between the forces of seasons and the soil and salt-air. In ROCK|SALT we become, with her, part of the landscape, able to shift and sway with its stark and complex character.
Through Reid's poetic lens, the land and seascape, all elements, are a marriage of understanding, respect and memory built into the rock; its knuckles, bones and sinews exposed, expressed, scoured and punctured by machine, material and people.
In ‘ROCK|LAND’, ‘Murmur’ we
Turn and twist, quiver and quell, / Caught in the yield and flow / Of croft and shore.
a description that sings through these poems, so solid and grounded in the natural and abrasive rhythms of life, so far removed from the cacophony of the urban landscape. ROCK|LAND ‘Harvest’ serves another hard edge, where
Sweat beads roll as we heave on twisted threads,
Bending sickled sheaves to our will
as the land is forced to human muscle and will.
MINE|UNDERGROUND utilizes an introspective metaphor suggestive of her own mortality, a stone-weight thrown yet too large to be moved by tide; her heart-heaviness refuses to budge, representing a dark night of the soul:
I bore it deep underground / Navigated dark ink / Tripped and cut my soul in the black. / I bled from quartz veins; / Streams of fragmented crystal
In SHORE|SALT - ‘Yoke’ - we are amidst the people, their voices absorbed into the fabric and stone of time, suggesting a sense of heritage, perhaps even a sense of permanence:
His friends jostle and shout / Lining the room’s sea-torn edges, / Adding another layer of voices / To its drunken wood-panelled histories.
Reid's writing is powerful when it focuses on the poetry of the turn of seasons and the passing of time, when generations are in one place, and the tide and people breathe its ebb and flow, again in concert:
It’s reassuring; the continuity, the time, the place; / The map repeatedly routed / As another round of stars makes its way / Across the taut Burntisland sky.
ROCK|SALT is an invitation to become immersed in the raw edges of land and hard sea. Larissa Reid inspires us to connect and blend with the harsh materials of her landscape; to feel its surfaces with her as she inhabits the character and voices of her weathered and fragile-anchored community.
She birthed daughters of sandstone light / And sea shadows; / One turns a wave in her palm, / The other coaxes life from deadened earth; / Once witches, now whisperers.
This is a highly recommended collection from a talented writer.
Glenn Barker, May 2023.
Glenn Barker was born in Worcestershire and now lives in South Yorkshire. He has been published in The Broken Spine, Dreich, Fevers of the Mind, The Wombwell Rainbow and Wildfire Words. He is a contributor to TopTweetTuesday. His Twitter handle is @Glenn_A_Barker
2019, Fife, Scotland: Author & Poet Larissa Reid. (Pic by Cate Gillon)
Book of the Month
Paul Brookes ‘These Random Acts of Wildness’ published by Glass Head Press.
£5.00. Contact poet to purchase (links at the bottom of this article).
How do we live with the wildness on our doorsteps and in our hearts? Paul Brookes grapples with these poignant human questions in a touching, meditative, thought-provoking collection of sonnets. He takes a microscopic look at the daily things we do unthinkingly, how we try to tame our environment through cutting grass, ironing clothes, washing pots and binning our waste.
‘We all want the wild to be uniform’ he observes in ‘Lawn Cutting’. Later, he watches dandelion clocks flying over ‘powerhosed driveways’ destined to be ‘uprooted as unwanted weeds’, and even apologises to a sycamore tree for pulling up ‘its young’.
Elsewhere Brookes draws an unsentimental picture of the wildlife around him, of baby birds ‘falling into soft jaws of cats as gifts’ and of a young hedgehog who eats its siblings. ‘I chirp and whiffle, splat out quills and sigh’. In ‘I make a cuppa’, he remembers how his seaman father brought home ‘carved elephants for the sideboard’ and concludes ‘we collect the wild as ornamental/ domesticate, put on a pedestal.’
The poet's style is refreshingly loose and conversational within the constraints of the sonnet, and sometimes veers toward a sly, choppy poetic shorthand. In the childhood poem ‘In Washing Up’, he observes ‘Metal scouring pad wool stings doing pans.’ The very act of cleaning itself is transformed by his imagination. Boldly assuming the identity of a vacuum cleaner, a speaker of one of the poems states ‘I inhale your decay. It spins around/inside me.’ And cleaning, he concludes, may be a sign of a deeper want, reaching ‘places of loss with perfumed polish.'
The sonnets contain vivid poetic images of nature, Swallows as ‘vital/boomerangs spinning back on themselves’, and dove-song ‘fat as strawberries and cream’. The gorgeous graphic art on the cover by Jane Cornwell reflects the mood of the poems, showing a graveyard angel wearing marigold gloves and clutching a duster. Above him are two trees, one dead and the other one leafy, with a human heart shining in its branches.
This collection is about the duality of life - our attempts to clear away mess and the inevitability of its creation through human activity and death in nature. One of my favourite poems is ‘The Surfaces’, a meditation on polishing and our ludicrous expectations of how we can rub away eveything bad. ‘Sanitise life’ it orders. ‘Every deep rub brings out the grain/ let’s dust away death, and begin again’. It is especially poignant to me, whose mother cleaned constantly, with undiagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder throughout her life.
Other human concerns are expressed in this collection. ‘Holgate’ describes bullying at school and its effects on a child: ‘I need to stay silent. Any words break’. Other poems deal with intimacy and grief, with moving tales of local men who died from a lightning strike, war or typhoid.
This is an eye-opener of a collection. Paul Brookes, always a generous, selfless promoter of other poets, has laid bare our daily struggle to tidy up and tame the wildness of our lives.
by Lesley Curwen
Lesley Curwen is a poet, broadcaster and sailor. She often writes about loss and rescue, about the unthinking damage caused by modern lifestyles, and how being close to the sea (in mind or body) can help salve our hurts. She is often on Twitter as @elcurwen. She blogs about poetry, and features other poets’ work on her website. http://www.lesleycurwenpoet.com/
Nine Pens are about to publish a collaborative pamphlet ‘Invisible Continents’ written by Lesley and two poet friends from Greenwich Poetry Workshop, Jane R Rogers and Tahmina Maula.
Link to Paul Brookes reading a selection of his poems.
Paul Brookes is at Twitter @pauldragonwolf1 insta @paulbrookes07 #thewombwellrainbow firstname.lastname@example.org
Book of the Month
The Black Bough Poetry book of the month for March 2023, is Eli Horan’s The Mask, originally published in 2021 by The Broken Spine Arts. This book is currently available for a flash discount at £6 posted (worldwide), a pretty astonishing bargain for a work that will burn a hole in your desk but not your wallet, although this sale is likely to be temporary.
Burning is an apt word for this American writer. I’ve read some of Eli Horan’s work before and it’s pretty fair to describe her as a full-pelt, full-tilt confessional writer who wears a burning heart on her sleeve.
We experience, in virtuouso, lyrical works, huge highs and deep lows, depictions of emotional trauma, the adverse circumstances women experience in a male-dominated, brutalised society and an intense focus on the fragilities of selfhood. It’s no wonder, then, that Horan feels a strong connection to the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who is the subject of The Mask, which is a beautifully presented book by Broken Spine Arts. The cover is a stand-out – an immaculate, patterned design – and we are transported to the world of the Mexican artist. Horan describes the book as
a celebration and tribute to my long-time artistic heroine and sister in pain - Frida Kahlo. Each of these poems represents my interpretation of one of her paintings… but even more so - the painting married with my bond with her - our shared meta-narratives - our struggles with identity, men, gender, bi-sexuality, loyalty, politics, aversion to stereotypical roles made by men and society for women to be entrenched in.
Horan inhabits characters in this collection, instilling in them great passion, vigour and sensuosity. In taut, staccato poetic phrases that almost mimic tango-like movements, the readers are drawn into heart and soul of Kahlo and the artist’s immediate world:
Your touch. Your kiss.
Our tongues ---
Which perform the tango each time
We enter the forest;
Each time we dance;
Intertwine; chalice to chalice
Once touching; we are divine.
Will be red - we owe
Elsewhere, there are equally arresting poems, such as ‘My Dress Hangs here’, where the female subject becomes a commodity, a piece of meat, described in almost nonchalant fashion, lending a kind of black humour and surrealism to the writing
Of course it does -at 6am the men
bring my innards from a low truck
with battered rims; they carry them on
their backs into the rear of el restaurante -
they are the parts of animals; I can make out
intestines and other salchicha-type shapes –
they will be cooked to perfection, later,
not resembling anything como mi muerte feo
such a pretty dress - I wear to my
quinceanera - I wear it to meet the gringos
en San Francisco - y ¿por qué no?
They love me like this - Desire me like this –
There’s an explosive, carnal edge to the writing as Frida is overcome with desire for her lovers
Feeling the lick of the jaguar
Her kiss - little fingers of the monkey
I love, I love his kiss –
Straight line from the thorn to my jugular –
A woman’s throat - her pool of nectar
And also below in the Garden - subtle caves
She keeps for you
(‘Nectar of the Gods and a Woman’s Throat’)
In ‘The Mask Vol 1’, we experience a particularly meta moment where one of her characters speaks back to Eli, the writer, another example of where you want to fist-pump the air at Horan’s ingenious approach to really attempting to inhabit characters playfully and turning back from the text, tongue firmly planted in cheek at herself. It’s this postmodern spirit which creates many surprising moments throughout the text.
That feeling when life is ending –
When you know it’s time to go
When your eyes have gone yellow
Cut holes in the retinas, and turn them to blue –
Oh that house; I’ve told Eli to make a new stanza - here
To describe how I have died in that flowering house
The way in which women have flowered in that house –
At 18 - I was punctured in the way a sword enters the bull
And yet I did not die - neither did I die when
You fucked me sister - querido, mio –
See how - I will never succumb to anything
Horan’s poems about Kahlo wisely stop short of overly strong characterisation, which is one of the aspects of the work I appreciated the most. Part of this is an implicit recognition of the fluidity of Kahlo’s identity and the diverse facets of her personality; also, and more importantly, the recognition that any attempts to encapsulate Kahlo as a character, to be too omniscient, is fraught with the potential for inaccuracies and subjective bias; so we have snapshots of Frida, sensory impressions, which become dynamic, flashing insights. This continuous energy through the work is maintained by its bilingualism – the weave of English and Spanish - that feels exotic, sensual and highly-charged, politically .
I love this book and feel that to truly do it justice, I will have to come back to it over a number of years and also know more about this cult artist. Nevertheless, you don’t need to know much about Kahlo because this is a pretty extraordinary and inspiring poetry collection in its own right. The writer manages to convey the essence of the whole person and, in doing so, Eli Horan shows herself to be a writer of incendiary talent with this high-voltage collection. I heard Horan read these poems at the launch night and the emotional aspect of her writing really comes out - it's unforgettable, actually. There's something so gutsy about this writer and her work.
Somewhere, Frida is breathless with a copy of The Mask.
Review by Matthew. M. C . Smith
Book of the Month
Nightjars, all the way from the heart...
The new poetry collection, Nightjars, by London-based Z.R. Ghani and Glasgow-based Andy MacGregor, is a unique and memorable collaboration, mesmerizingly beautiful and haunting to the last word.
Nightjars addresses themes of life’s transience, the cost of grief, the loss of relationships and the struggle to keep going. In 'What lies concealed', A.M. writes,
But how can we witness the invisible
when the sun goes down behind the staggered pines
…and nothing I see or hear
will ever be the same again?
And in' Invisible paths', Z.G. writes,
I think of you more often than I’ll admit
when the emptiness has chewed away at the world
With great originality, each poem springs from the one before, as if born together. By borrowing key phrases and images from each other, the authors have written a poetry pas de deux, a word-ballet with each piece lending words to the next in a daisy-chain of imagery and emotion.
Again in 'Invisible Paths', Z.G. writes:
I hear you in the street lamps that come on
to tally up another evening, or in the laughter
of others and I fail to join in
Then in 'Shadow boxing', A.M. writes:
The street lamps that come on
to tally up another evening
stitch a ragged wound of illumination
all the way from the heart
Words echo and repeat and lead the way to the next piece, weaving a moving tapestry of endings and beginnings. There is a richness here, a richness of feeling and thought that flows from piece to piece, dressed not only in beautiful language, but also in depth of experience: love, loss and hope. These are poems about inner landscapes and emotional terrain.
In 'Star-catchers', Z.G. writes:
I have wanted to drop my lantern in the snow,
cover those miles like a sentence across the page,
accept the hum of total silence, as it hurts and heals
And, in 'You said nothing of the dawn', A.M. writes:
Though the morning lies a long way ahead,
I have wanted to drop my lantern in the snow,
to watch its light spill out across the land
and pile in drifts against hedge and wall.
I love this image of the lantern in the snow, searching for life’s meaning and guidance, casting its light in a drift.
I cannot overstate the beauty of the writing in this collection. It is effortless and moving, drawing us into the authors’ contemplative melancholy with elegant phrasing and life-truths: ‘I’ve come to see there is no descent ahead/just the land always rising’, ‘My mind is a mountain/setting free it’s fledgling seeds’, ‘As the night sky unveils its silk road…’, ‘Winged ones land/gently like murmured condolences’. These are words to savor, to reread.
Yes, there are disparate references - churchyards and frankincense, cheap music and even the constellation of a slug (!) - but the threads of emotional resonance and philosophies ring through them, almost as one piece and ensures that, as readers, we are constantly surprised by invention.
The final poem, itself titled 'Nightjars' and signed by both writers, asks the fabulous question, “Is this the Sunday of all my days?” It summons the book’s central themes of life’s impermanence, the pain of losing what one has loved, and the perpetual search for a glimmer of happiness. “The light bows its last behind the spire like a bird…”
This is painterly work, rich in universal truths and masterful in imagery. These are two of our own best poets, clasping hands and running through the trees, writing from their collective hearts and minds. As one, they are music.
–Regine Ebner, January 2023
Regine Ebner is a poet from the Sonoran Desert. Her collection 'Oxidised Pennies' is published by Alien Buddha Press.