Friday, 14 February 2020

The sort of review that dreams are made of...

I feel very fortunate to have received some excellent reviews for The Knives of Villalejo, my first full collection, over the past two years, but Christopher James' recent piece takes the biscuit: it's the sort of review that dreams are made of.

Not only does he display a profound understanding of how my poems go about their business, but he also enables me to learn more about my own work, which is always a sign of an excellent reviewer. However, perhaps the most important point from a personal point of view is his highlighting of the layers and depths that can be found in my poems.

I can't quite bring myself to extract quotes from his extremely generous post, though you can read it for yourself by following this link to his blog...

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Special offers from a special press

HappenStance Press are one of my favourite poetry publishers. In fact, my shelves are full of their brilliant books, which is why I'd like to draw your attention to their current set of special offers.

As mentioned previously on this blog, I'm a firm believer that Tom Duddy deserves to be recognised as one of the best poets to have emerged since the turn of the century. If you haven't yet discovered his incredibly moving poetry, an excellent point of departure would be The Years, the posthumous collection that HappenStance brought out in 2014 and I reviewed on Rogue Strands at the time (see here). The Years is now on promotion at the HappenStance website, down from 12 to 9 pounds. Get your copy by following this link.

And then there's J.O. Morgan's In Casting Off. Morgan is a unique figure in contemporary verse in many respects, but perhaps most of all due to his breadth of ambition and his control of book-length narratives. In Casting Off is a rare achievement and is also available at 9 pounds instead of 12 at the HappenStance shop (click here!).

These are collections to savour, to go back to again and again, as my well-thumbed copies can testify. But there's an extra bonus to purchasing them now: by doing so, you'll be helping to fund HappenStance's next publications, ensuring we'll enjoy their new books for years to come!

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Grappling with love, Clare Best's Each Other

Titles sometimes fall flat or don’t quite represent the book that follows. However, the title of Clare Best second full collection, Each Other (Waterloo Press, 2019), certainly does so, as the poems are riven with duality.

First of all, the book is divided into two sections. Moon House evokes the dynamics in relationships between two people: wife and husband, daughter and mother, mother and son, son and father, grandson and grandfather, and in doing so it seems explicitly autobiographical. Each Other, however, appears far more fictionalised, portraying the evolution of an imagined couple.

Secondly, while the two sections might initially give the impression of being separate entities, the crux of this collection lies in their implicit dialogue. In order to get to grips with the terms of that conversation, it’s worth comparing their technical qualities.

Let’s start with Moon House. In this section, Clare Best captures and treasures moments. She’s explicitly personal, as in the ending to My father-in-law embraces my son:

…The love between you overwhelms the dream.
You both bristle with light,
I’ve never seen love as bright as this.

I must wake up and find my son, tell him
how much his grandfather loves him.
The love, the love. I will hurry now.

Love isn’t just invoked in these lines. Instead, it becomes a chant, being defined and redefined.

There are many instances throughout Moon House where Best, far from fearing this abstract noun, meets it head-on and wrestles with its potential connotations. As a consequence, Each Other (the collection’s second section) then comes as a shock.

In Each Other, most of the poems are driven by anecdote and observation. One excellent example can be found in the opening lines of What they depend on…

She believes in miracles, education, cotton sheets.
            He prefers wool socks, a tidy desk, blue cheese.
She swears by scent, candles, unexpected sex.
            He likes promises, weekends, knowing what’s next…

The casual reader might well be disconcerted by the juxtaposition of these two approaches in a single volume. Nevertheless, further inspection of the collection gradually reveals its cohesive nature. In fact, the poet’s skill is such that she is convincingly able to employ contrasting techniques and then let them play off each other (sic).

To explain this concluding statement, let’s go back to that afore-mentioned implicit dialogue between the two sections. Similarity and difference, definition and description, the abstract and the concrete, are all harnessed, inviting us to join Clare Best in her grappling with one specific term that also just happens to be this excellent book’s final word: love.