Friday, 29 August 2014

Free chocolate!

That's simultaneously a terrific offer and a call for the stuff to be liberated from its maker!

In other words, HappenStance Press are launching their new anthology, titled Blame Montezuma, in a cocoa-fuelled splurge that entails giving away chocolate fish with the first 25 orders to be received for the book via their website (see link here). You'll even be able to try the chocolate in situ if you manage to make it along to the launch at Free Verse 2014: The Poetry Book Fair in London (at the Conway Hall) on 6th September.

I very much recommend this second option, as there are also numerous other events going on as part of the fair, while the HappenStance slot will include an additional launch alongside the chocolate: D.A. Prince will be reading from Common Ground, her second full collection, which is packed with excellent poems that creep up and then never leave you.

As for Blame Montezuma itself, it's a lovely book, and not just in terms of the cover:



There's a wide variety of poetic takes on chocolate inside. I'm delighted to have a piece included among offerings from the likes of Hilary Menos, Alison Brackenbury, Stephen Payne, Clare Best, Roy Marshall, etc, etc.

I think a few Christmas-gift quandaries might just have been resolved...

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The concave mirrors of dreams, Ben Wilkinson's For Real

For Real (Smith/Doorstep, 2014) is Ben Wilkinson's second pamphlet. As such, it's useful to view it in the light of his first one, The Sparks, which was published by tall lighthouse in 2008. The Sparks was an excellent chapbook. I reviewed it very positively on Rogue Strands at the time, but Wlkinson's made further strides since then. Six years ago, the blurb on the back cover mentioned "neat and clever poems", which they were. However, they were also slightly guarded, dancing round an inner core that never quite dared to reveal itself. The verse in For Real, meanwhile, is braver and hugely authentic.

One such example is "Hound", a poem that surges with the passion that's required to fight cyclical depression:

"its come-and-go presence,
air of self-satisfied deception,
just as the future bursts in on
the present, its big I am, and that
sulking hound goes to ground again."

This is poetry that bares its heart, not for the sake of confession or self-gratification, but for transforming qualities that are capable of moving its reader.

And what about that title? Well, it works in criss-crossing ways. Of course, Wilkinson uses concrete settings and events as a point of departure, but the everyday is then bounced off the concave mirrors of dreams and nightmares. They are invoked in four poems, implicitly wondering just what is For Real and inviting us to ask that very same question.

What's more, dreams enable Wilkinson to make leaps. He jumps back and forth between realities until the poems reach their final effect, as in "The River Don". Physical and emotional floodwaters lap around the poem's words in both sleep and waking hours until...

"...the house
sat safe and sound - floors dry, photo frames still
something else edging closer, the way water will."

Reading back through this review, I realise I might have given the mistaken impression that For Real is tough going. Well, it's far from that. In fact, sorrow and struggle are laced with passion and optimism, as is perfectly illustrated by its gorgeous closing lines. I'll end with them too...

"Let's say it was. Let's say all we felt
stood there, all we've held off. Let's walk
through that door, love, and never look back."

Oh, and just to add that you can purchase a copy of For Real by following the link here.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Beautiful!

Last month's launch of Ambit 217 was a lovely evening: lots of wine and terrific poetry in a welcoming atmosphere. I can only agree with Katy Evans-Bush when she stated on the night that it was "the most physically beautiful thing I've ever been in". Just to underline what she means, here's an image of the cover:


What's more, the contents are on a par with the exceptional production values. You can get hold of a copy here.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Villalejo on display

Here are two photos of Villalejo on display at the National Library of Scotland. Many thanks to Kate Hendry for sending them through!


Thursday, 24 July 2014

A chronicle of survival, Jeremy Page's Closing Time

In Closing Time, his recent full collection from Pindrop Press, Jeremy Page shows us how to survive terrible emotional suffering with our humanity intact. This is not confessional poetry. It's a book that charts self-reconciliation, stirring empathy on every page.

Page's verse is understated yet highly charged. One such example is "Another Elephant". This poem engages with the reader via the use of reportage and the layering of narrative detail, as is demonstrated by its opening stanza:

"In winter, when the trees are bare,
I can stand here at my window
with that wooden Ganesh on the sill,
and look back to the old house
where it all goes on as it always did
except that I'm not there -
not sweeping the garden path
nor making another pot of tea,
not reading Peace at Last at bedtime
nor cleaning out the rodents' cage..."

An accumulation of specifics is what draws us in and involves us. This enables Page to step up a gear in the second stanza, where he's not afraid to tackle big abstract nouns:

"...And everything that brought me here -
the words, the silences, the pain,
the changing of so many locks -
is the other elephant in the room."

Closing Time is a precise book. It showcases a linguist's knowledge of how to use words to create a ripple. Moreover, the collection is meticulously constructed. The juxtaposition of certain poems has implicit ramifications that are significant. For instance, a hypothetical disappearance/possible suicide note titled "To Whom It May Concern" precedes "Shaving My Father", which is a celebration of love in all its transience:

"...Tomorrow he may not know
who I am or who I was,
but today he does, and is grateful
for the care I take
as I soap his face
with the badger hair brush..."

In other words, Page is questioning the effect of one poem by allowing us to compare and contrast it with the opposite page. He' helping the reader to undergo a similar process to himself, fighting back from the brink via love.

In this collection, the poet reconciles memory with the present, the past with the future. He interlocks and interweaves departures and arrivals, so it's also apt (and no accident) that he should bring the book to an end with the following lines:

"...and I see time future
contained in time past, and understand at last
why home is where we start from."

Closing Time might illustrate great pain, but it's packed with life and is written by a poet who never falls back on facile devices to move us. I feel privileged to have had the chance to review it.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Ambit Launch 217

The launch of Ambit 217 will take place next Tuesday (22nd July) at The Sun & Thirteen Canons pub in Soho, London, starting at 7p.m.. I'll be attending and reading my three poems from this issue alongside excellent poets such as Katy Evans-Bush and Marianne Burton. It should be a terrific evening!

Friday, 11 July 2014

National Library of Scotland poetry competition

I'm chuffed to report that my poem Villalejo has won the National Library of Scotland's "From Home to Beyond" poetry competition.

Villalejo will consequently form part of the Library's summer treasures display, "Voices from the Commonwealth", until the end of August. Now that's a lovely prize!