Two flashes and a poem

Spring of the MusesI love how art forms can inspire and nourish one another, so when published Deborah Gaye of Avalanche Books let me know that her next anthology would be poetry and prose poems prompted by music, art and dance, I was immediately entranced.

The anthology, Spring of the Muses, is now out, and contains three of my two of my flash stories and a poem: Fermented Cherries, Heliography and Ingrained.

Here are the first lines of Fermented Cherries, inspired by the powerful lament of Fado music.

The Fado rolls out, washing over me. It’s a salt-weighted tide that ebbs and rises above the listeners’ heads. The vocalist leans on the humid air, lungs hauling in breath and pushing it out as song.

I stand in the doorway, held steady by the sound and by a burst of heat from the kitchen where sardines roast in rows.

I can see him sitting near the bar, a glass of ruby liquid cradled in one hand. The light catches on his hair and settles in crows’ feet like sediment.

To read the rest you’ll need to buy the anthology. There are some real gems in there, including Alison Brackenbury’s conversation between Handel and Hendrix: Purple Haze, and Alwyn Marriage’s jubilant Nancy’s Star Turn.

Buy the Spring of the Muses anthology. Visit the Avalanche Books website.

Review – Quartet: The Four Seasons

Quartet coverEdited by Deborah Gaye of Avalanche books, Quartet is a celebration of the moods that make up each season. The anthology of poetry and short prose doubles up as an almanac reminding us of the best that every quarter of the year has to offer.

Two of my pieces, a poem and a flash fiction (More Water Than Land and The Moth Room), lodge in these pages, among with many, many others. We begin in winter with a murmuration, glimpses of lapwings, an “upturned umbrella” on Pendine Sands, and the generosity of a dawn sky “layered in gold.”

In DecemberJohn Mole welcomes nostalgia in the form of “our ghosts/ as they come out of hiding/ to warm their hands/ at the fire we have made”, while in Foula, Auls Yule, Katrina Porteous invites us to “drink to the days/ the sun makes ripe”.

In Precious, Gaia Holmes evokes the magic of ice working “its dark magic,/ gliding and glazing/ the grid of dull roads,/ laminating grass/ and slug tracks,/ making rotten fence posts/ precious”. It’s such a vivid, recognisable scene of the ordinary rendered spectacular. Continue reading

Poetry review – Woven Landscapes

Woven Landscapes coverThis slim, blue volume from Avalanche Books brings together the words of six strong poets with a shared love of the world around us. Selected and arranged by editor Deborah Gaye, the affect is of attending an evening of readings, with each poet’s work presented as a mini collection within the book. It’s an unusual approach for an anthology, but it works beautifully, giving you the chance to absorb each writer’s tone and rhythms before drifting into the companionship of the next.

And each one truly does have a clear, resoundingly individual voice. Section one, from Roselle Angwin, is a sensual tangle of the intimate and universal, beginning with Apple Tree and a wassail in an orchard that offers up memories of rural customs even as the poet urges us to rest “your palm to the trunk, tell you how to open/ the eyes and ears of your hand” to experience the “journey between earth and star.” It’s a powerfully enticing beginning. Each poem conjures the same magic, elevating the ordinary details of life while contemplating big issues – politics, mortality, pilgrimage and migration, all elegantly laid out in vivid verse.

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Poetry review – Impossible Memories by Chris Tutton

Impossible Memories coverA palpable joy of language ripples through Chris Tutton’s latest poetry collection, Impossible Memories. Wry comments on human existence and musings on advancing age are tempered by heartfelt declarations of love.

I had the impression of memories being savoured throughout, as though Tutton was leafing through his mind for moments worthy of being rescued and pressed onto the page. There are whispers of regret over love’s dissolution, but also incidents glowing with quiet bliss – held gently cradled in two hands to share with another before it flutters away.

Frequently, humour spikes through, reminding us that human relationships are more complex than daydreams, as in the drolly titled Fawning in Love Again, in which our narrator laments: “Your wool is coarse as a/ drunken curse, yet I wear it/ next to my skin.”

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Poetry review – Wordstrokes

Wordstrokes coverActually, I have a confession – this is partly a review, partly just me tooting my own trumpet, because I have four poems in this anthology. Tooo-ti-tooo!

Published by Avalanche Books and edited by the keen-eyed and astute Deborah Gaye, Wordstrokes: The Poetry of Art reveals how different creative mediums can energise one another. In this case, every piece of writing featured has been prompted by paintings, sculptures and art museums, with the result that the crisply printed black text on white seethes with colour.

As a passionate advocate of bringing different expressive forms together, I found this assortment of poems (and a single work of prose) to be a page-based equivalent of visiting a gallery, only the images appear inside your head, generated by the words as you read them.

Among the most moving examples are Bird of the Sea by Susan Taylor, after a carving by Bridget McCrum, which opens with the elegant stanza: “remember/ her like /the font /that was leaking/ the water/ that held/ first flight”.

There isn’t a single dull note in the anthology. Other highlights include In Response To The Sea by Sarah Miller (prompted by Emil Nolde), which is a sultry poem that zings with flavour: “We talked sweetness/ until the wind took it/ sucked what was left/ of the fading orange sun”.

Likewise, Stitching Twilight by Kay Lee (inspired by Paul Klee) is richly layered with colour and texture: “This could be a new embroidery,/ one you made from a grandson’s drawing –/ see the bird, its beak open/ to drink in the last of the daylight.”

Deborah has arranged the assortment of works to build up impressions of thoughtfully curated rooms, where each piece subtly elevates its neighbours. Moods spill into one another, while narratives gain momentum, and more abstract creations present the impression of an endlessly shifting, shimmering ocean.

Inspirations are wonderfully varied, but include Edward Hopper, Millais, Paula Rego, David Hockney, Frida Kahlo, Kandinsky, even Yoko Ono, as well as a raft of lesser known but equally emotive painters, sculptors and makers.

My four pieces are Tea (inspired by Ai Weiwei), More Water Than Land (inspired by an untitled abstract painting by Katy Webster), Last Night I Dreamt (prompted by the sculptures of Paul Smith) and This Gallery, inspired by a host of visual artists.

To get your hands on a copy of Wordstrokes: The Poetry of Art, head down to your local bookshop (Waterstones will do, or any other with friendly, intelligent inhabitants), and ask nicely for them to order it in. The ISBN number is 978 1 874392 26 2. They should be happy to oblige. Alternatively, click here to buy it from Amazon.

What are you reading? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)

Poetry review – Of Love and Hope

Of Love and Hope coverFewer subjects seem to inspire more poetry than the thorny topic of love, so it takes a lot for one book of love poems to jump out from the pile. Of Love and Hope does it rather beautifully though, without shouting for attention, but simply by being spilling over with thoughtful, evocative words.

The fact that this poetry anthology is sold in aid of Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Care certainly helps. Nothing assuages the guilt of paying out for yet another book (when your shelves are already packed with unread ones) like knowing the proceeds go to a good cause.

Plus you really are likely to read this one. Editor Deborah Gaye has brought together a carefully selected array of poems that twist, flip and sigh their way into your emotions.

The poets who contributed to the anthology are truly top-notch, counting among their number Seamus Heaney, Wendy Cope, Carol Ann Duffy, Victoria Wood, Arthur Smith, Sir Paul McCartney, Roger McGough, Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch and Margaret Atwood. An impressive guest-list! Continue reading