Poetry review Bragr by Ross Cogan

Bragr by Ross CoganBragr is Ross Cogan’s collection of entrancingly personal poems inspired by Norse mythology. Quite simply he picks up Earth and its neighbouring galaxies, gently placing them where we happen to sit or lie so that we nestle with wonders.

I found myself reading most poems more than once – firstly for the pure beauty of the word choices and secondly to drink in the meaning of the piece.

In Part 1, The Beginning, And The Rest sweeps us beyond the presentation of a creative act – writing, painting or music – and draw us to the exquisite nature of the silence just beyond that last fading note.

There’s a playfulness to the assortment – from the evident delight of selecting the perfect phrase to conjure a scene or emotion, to the joy of regarding the world and its surroundings, to summon up origin stories of time and humanity and pin them to the page.

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Poetry review – Kierkegaard’s Cupboard by Marianne Burton

Kierkegaard's Cupboard book coverBiography as poetry is an enticing literary choice. Rather than asking us to ingest and retain the cumulative details of a life, we’re instead invited to mull over scattered and strung selections of moments which offer a suggestion of the sum of the whole.In

While the majority of poetry shares roots with autobiography, for the poet to focus on a historic figure is a more unusual, but when done skilfully, the results are hugely pleasing. Think magician’s act blended with both anthropology and archaeology, and thoroughly interlaced with respect.

In Kierkegaard’s Cupboard, poet Marianne Burton has unearthed and thoughtfully restored a scant horde of treasures from the archives of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Throughout she has provided contextual signposts to help us understand the contemplations laid out before us, which support those of us new to Kierkegaard’s meandering preoccupations without intruding on the elegance of the poems themselves.

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Writing prompt – missing

Hair grip, Arnos Vale Cemetery by Judy DarleyOne of the early inspirations for my story Knotted Rope (published on the Seren website) was a small pink hair clip I saw lying beside a grave in Arnos Vale Cemetery. It made me wonder about the child who had lost it, and then wonder what would happen if the child want missing instead of the clip.

Could this inconsequential item serve as a clue? In the end my story about a missing child took a different route, and that initial thought was reduced to the following:

       I overhear one police officer mutter to another: “Shame it’s not a girl.”

       “Excuse me?” My voice rattles through the air. “What difference would that make?”

       “Oh, none, nothing. Just, little girls tend to carry things, hair slides…” He flounders, pointing to a broken clip on the side of the path. The pink paint is peeling away; it’s spotted with rust. “They’re more likely to leave a trail.”

       I glare at him. “If you’re any good at your job you won’t need a trail, will you?”

What ephemera you spotted by the side of a path or road? What directions could it carry you in your writing?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

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Poetry review – In Her Shambles by Elizabeth Parker

In Her Shambles by Elizabeth ParkerI recently had a conversation with poet Elizabeth Parker in which I mentioned that post-it notes are a reviewer’s greatest ally. They’re a tool that can work brilliantly, but also have their fallibilities. With In Her Shambles, I ended up needing almost as many post-it notes as pages, as every poem contained lines to call me back, and make me want to re-absorb their power.

Parker is a master of shimmering last lines, drawing you quietly to a crescendo – a moment of thrill or unease. In each case, the final few words lie in wait, ready to tilt you off kilter, steadied only by the surety of Parker’s pen.

In Lasagne, the making of a meal represents a deeply rooted love affair, in which the ending stanza speaks volumes: “I peg pasta/ between fingers and thumbs/ lay it down for him.”

In Lavinia Writes, a eulogy of sorts to Shakespeare’s ill-fated character from ‘Titus Andronicus’, that ultimate declaration is a shout of rebellion, as the silenced victim, her tongue cut out, finds a way to share her anger by unpicking the stitches of her wound: “I tear more, free more/ until I am fluent.”

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The Spoke at Seren Poetry Festival

The Spoke poets with shadesFabulous poetry group the Spoke have been on something of a roll recently. Of the four, Paul Deaton and Robert Walton launched their debut Seren titles in 2017, with Claire Williamson and Elizabeth Parker set to follow with their Seren debuts in the coming months.

On Saturday 17th February 2018, they will be reading at Cornerstone’s Seren Poetry Festival.

“It’s going to be a fantastic event and we really hope you can make it,” says Elizabeth. “the festival line-up is superb and we’re honoured to be included.”

The evening will take place at Jane Hodge Hall, Cornerstone, Charles Street, Cardiff.

Tickets cost £12 and include a meal of Beef Stew or Sweet Potato and Bean Soup with a roll.

Find out more and book tickets here https://rcadc.org/event/seren-poetry-festival-spoke-poetry-music-little-red/

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at judydarley(at)iCloud(dot)com

Poetry review – Sax Burglar Blues by Robert Walton

Sax Burglar Blues by Robert WaltonA verve for life rollicks beneath the poems in Robert Walton’s first collection for Seren. Pinned to the page, they jostle in place – I have the impression of them being eager to flurry off downstream, seeking new sights and new adventures.

Perhaps it’s the tumult of years inside them that’s caused this. Walton’s debut came out in 1978, and while the intervening years included plenty of publications of individual poems and even a chapbook, this, emerging 39 years later, is the second full book from the accomplished poet.

Walton refers to the expanse of time as an effort of procrastination, but I suspect his delight in actually living, rather than pondering, is part of the reason for the lengthy gap.

His appetite for the world ensures even the most ordinary sighting can be reconfigured, and through Walton’s eyes, a man with a double bass on his back becomes a Kafka-esque “armour-plated coleoptera.”

Elsewhere, an evening’s ironing is laced with tenderness and grace. Memories redrafted are rippled through with uncommon beauty, as a teacher’s words transform into “red kites playing the thermals over the Teifi.”

Humour shines throughout, making the moments of poignancy all the more striking. In The Only Medicine we meet his powerhouse Nanna. Elsewhere we get more of an insight into his own inner life. In Man and Boy, an utter sense of comfort and safety surfaces, while in Up the Bluebirds!, an effort to please is revealed through the simple detail of a scarf that: “lies folded in the dark.’

I’m pretty sure there’s a double-meaning on the word lie – a child’s treachery perhaps built on the love of and for his father. There’s a subtle shame behind the subterfuge, but also a faint self-mockery, not for failing to gain a fanaticism for football, for so yearning to do so. Walton is a man riddled with self-awareness, in both senses of the word, and blessed with an ability to take himself admirably lightly. Just as he sees the glory in everyday occurrences, he recognises the qualities in the paths he’s chosen, and of those he’s turned from.

There’s a fondness for those distant paths, however, which shines up brief flashes of appreciation into something powerful enough to stop you in your tracks. Under Robert’s gaze, the world is full of wonder.

This never more apparent than in his beautifully weighted poem Greenland, in which the scope widens then narrows with breathtaking skill as we take in a snowbound steppe that was once pulsed with life. Robert gather us up in his wings and swoop inwards to deposit us into a moment of dizzying intimacy, beside the white pillow where his mother’s head rests and he is willing her eyes to open.

Sax Burglar Blues by Robert Walton is published by SerenBuy your copy from Amazon.

Read my review of A Watchful Astronomy by Paul Deaton.

Read my review of In Her Shambles by Elizabeth Parker.

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)socketcreative.com.

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Poetry review – A Watchful Astronomy by Paul Deaton

A Watchful Astronomy by Paul DeatonIn his first full-length collection from Seren, Paul Deaton eases us into the depths of his life, awakening us to the complex constellations of families. Carried through months and years, we take in moments of sorrow, wonderment and self-depreciating humour that seems to sum up both the experience of one individual in a moment, and of the scope of human existence on Earth.

The key relationship here is Deaton’s uncertain navigation around his late father, but his sister, mother, friends and rivals populate his journey, along with the moon, weather systems and unexpected flurries of flora and fauna. These latter, from Starlings’ “tall-tree trumpeters” to Sea Bream Dinner’s “wholesome, silver sea thing” reveal a quiet observance of the natural world that borders on reverence.

Despite casting his net occasionally into the sky above, to me Deaton’s poems resonate so powerfully because they are rooted in the earth, drawing our attention to the cumulative marvels of minutiae that could seem mundane in other hands. It’s here that Deaton’s fluid metaphors gleam. A reference to the central heating’s “dull milk shed moan” in Late Hour sketches parallels to other lives we could have lived, while Voices draws back the curtain on what comes after as well. The loss of his father ripples throughout, most poignantly for me in DIY: “He turned up at my house too, when I hadn’t asked.” The recognition and faint irritation of unuttered love is spine-tinglingly palpable.

Throughout the collection, momentum builds as Deaton urges us to contemplate the unstoppable force of time and mortality. Our planet rotates, seasons change and we age, seemingly without mercy. Yet in the midst of this, plants and wildlife flourish, offering echoes of beauty and wonder that lift Deaton’s poetry and illuminate the gloaming.

At his launch in Bristol, Deaton described his poems as “an attempt to make the darkness visible.” He certainly achieves that, but at the same time this poet reveals the light shining amongst shadows, and what could be more human than that?

Read my review of Paul Deaton’s Black Night.

A Watchful Astronomy by Paul Deaton is published by Seren and is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Buy your copy from Amazon.

Read my review of Black Knight by Paul Deaton.

Read my review of In Her Shambles by Elizabeth Parker.

Read my review of Sax Burglar Blues by Robert Walton

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 judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

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The why, what and how of writing poetry

Coriolis Effect by Sarah Dncan

Coriolis Effect by Sarah Dncan

Poet Paul Deaton explains how he came to write Black Knight, his debut poetry pamphlet for Eyewear Publishing’s Aviator Series.

Writing for me has been an intuitive adventure. It first kicked off when I was a teenager; the need and struggle to place myself and where I was; to find something in my life to hold on to. Sounds a bit dramatic, but that was the genesis.

Why I write

Words can offer us a means to place ourselves within our own worlds, when perhaps you don’t feel well placed. Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis calls this a “sacred place, where I allow myself to express my true feelings.”

Poetry offers this self-private room, where words are the outlet and the poems can find balance, meaning and say things that might seem ordinarily, in one’s daily life, unsayable. The words become a mirror to your life.

Talking specifically about my pamphlet Black Knight, all those previous years are in it – many, many years of clandestine writing.

It started taking real shape around eight years ago after I’d done an adult learning poetry course through Bristol University with Totnes poet Julie-ann Rowell. That was actually the point when I started to take my own writing seriously, because someone else, who I respected, took it seriously.

I’ll use that word again and I realise now, without good mirroring it’s quite easy to neglect those things we might have a talent or gift for.

The course in 2008 with Julie-ann was a moment of change. Finally I took some self-responsibility towards my writing. Sadly, I’ve been very good at self-sabotaging, a bit of an expert, which is, to put it another way, and again drawing on poet Gwyneth Lewis from her Sunbathing in the Rain, “I do have a responsibility for the maintenance of the gift.” Previous to 2008 I’d never quite respected my responsibility towards the gift. I’d let the writing flounder as much as I’d let it happen.

Black Knight really is the result of me responding to the ‘call’, and finally embracing it and actually working at it before it’s too late to do something about it.

I decided I couldn’t carry on letting it sleep lifelessly in me and then die. The poems for Black Knight come from this period when I started to graft and push beyond beginnings. It was about the writing and also a personal thing, a statement and a commitment saying this is what I’m about.

In that sense I think the pamphlet is declarative. There’s a new relationship hidden in there too amongst the scenery and also an acceptance of bloodline; a painful one with my father.

Parallex by Sarah Duncan

Parallex by Sarah Duncan

What I write

In terms of themes, the collection draws on two preoccupations or prisms; relationships and then my deeper sense and need for geographical topographical location which draws on a sense of place and the natural world. For me there is very much an interaction between the two, but this subject matter hasn’t been arrived at deliberately. It’s just the way it is for me.

I don’t think I’m capable of writing deliberate poems. In a good way, the poems happened inevitably, which I think is in line with what Seamus Heaney says; you’ve got to write without self-consciousness.

The themes, though, are just a reflection of a sensibility I have that comes to light sometimes, of being alive in the natural universe.

I find the natural world a huge store for correspondences and I’m curious about the interplay between the private subjective and this huge living cosmos, the universe, of which our consciousness is a part.

Like I say, it feels like a sensibility. I try and stay open to that, both of my own processes as a human being and the bigger on-going processes of sun, Earth, seasons, plant, bird life and so on happening around me and outside my back door.

In this way I try and keep the pores open and take it all in – Blake’s idea that we should “see heaven in a wild flower.”  I feel whole as a human being when the two can be brought together in some way; can touch and spark, when the psyche can find those images ‘out there’ in the natural world that can name its sense of itself and the interplay ‘of the big’ that sometimes we can feel a part of.

Undertow detail by Sarah Duncan

Undertow, detail by Sarah Duncan

How I write

In terms of structuring the pamphlet, it was a case of reviewing quite a strong period of new work. It was a bit like I had in my creative garden a load of fallen leaves and I just went about gathering together the ones that seemed most beautiful.

In that sense I wasn’t really writing for the pamphlet – in fact, after having got nil response after a few years’ attempts at pamphlet competitions I’d given up thinking about pamphlets – and this probably helped. I was just writing poems and trying to get them published. And thinking that maybe one day I’d go for the pamphlet or book.

But actually I wasn’t in any rush. For me, when the poems started to get published I worried less about the need for having a pamphlet. Publication felt like its own reward. So Black Knight is really just a bundle of closely connected fallen leaves pretty much off the same tree; that new relationship and the death of my father.

I’m delighted it’s here though, and delighted to be part of Eyewear and Todd Swift’s Aviator Series.

My full-length collection A Watchful Astronomy comes out with Seren next year, and will extend on from this starting point. And some of the poems for that book have moved on too, just as I have.

Paul DeatonAbout the author 

Paul Deaton’s poems appear in The Spectator, PN Review, The London Magazine, The Dark Horse Magazine, Gutter Magazine and anthologies. His debut poetry pamphlet Black Knight was published by Eyewear in March 2016. A Watchful Astronomy will be published by Seren in 2017.

All images in this post (other than the pic of Paul) have been generously supplied by Sarah Duncan. Thanks Sarah! Find more of Sarah’s art at print.sarahduncan.net.

Got some writing insights to share? I’m always happy to receive feature pitches on writing genres and writing tools. Send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Poetry review – Short Days, Long Shadows by Sheenagh Pugh

Short Days, Long Shadows by Sheenagh PughAs we hurtle towards the time of year when this title becomes ever truer, I’ve been drawn to pick up Sheenagh Pugh’s 12th collection again. I reviewed it for Mslexia’s Sep/Oct/Nov 2014 issue, but with only a handful of words to play with, feel the need to take another, perhaps deeper look.

Sheenagh writes of the tenacity of living things to live while speeding towards their own inevitable demise. Yet her pragmatism makes this a far from melancholy thing. Indeed, she seems to suggest that our mortality should make the joy of the everyday that bit more intense.

In her opening poem, Extremophile, Sheenagh marvels at the ability of life to take hold and thrive in the least hospitable environments: molluscs “in the night of the ocean floor”, lichens “on Antarctic valleys where no rain ever fell.” It sets the tone for a collection celebrating vitality in all forms. Continue reading