Wednesday 19 April 2023

Ten Poems about Wine from Candlestick Press

I have a poem, titled La Vendimia, in the new pamphlet/mini anthology from Candlestick Press, Ten Poems about Wine.

I'm grateful to the editor, Jonathan Davidson, for having selected my work, and it's especially pleasing to appear alongside such a star-studded cast. You can get hold of your copy via this link, while here's a photo of the pamphlet in all its glory...

Monday 17 April 2023

A celebration of Sphinx Reviews (2006-2023)

Sphinx Reviews is a project that has run alongside HappenStance Press since 2006 (see its website here). Founded by Helena Nelson and co-edited for the last six years by Charlotte Gann, it specialises in reviews of poetry pamphlets, a format that has long struggled to receive critical attention, and provides an incredible service to poets, publishers and, of course, readers.

By my tedious manual count, a total of 1461 books have been reviewed on Sphinx, many of them by more than person, the equivalent of over 2,000 pamphlets that were received by Helena Nelson, repackaged and sent back out to her loyal band of reviewers. 2,000 batches of stamps to be paid for. Umpteen treks to the post office. 2,000 reviews that were edited by her (to the huge benefit of the reviewers themselves, whose prose style and critical approach to poetry were often transformed via this process). 2,000 posts that were formatted, uploaded and optimised for search engines.

What’s more, for many poets, the review of their pamphlet on Sphinx was the only critical response they’d ever receive. That’s a hugely generous gift in anyone’s language. Looking back at the archive, there are a fair few poets who have sadly died in the intervening years, though their reviews on Sphinx remain. As a record of pamphlet poetry in the U.K., it’s irreplaceable.

And now, of course, Sphinx is coming to an end. Helena Nelson has given so much to poets over the years via Happen
Stance Press itself and via Sphinx Reviews, in both cases to the detriment of her own writing, but even this labour of love must inevitably be finite.

Like so many positive presences in our lives, Sphinx has probably come to be taken for granted, as if it were destined to accompany pamphlet publishing forever. It will be sorely missed once poets and publishers bemoan the absence of alternatives. However, its online archive is to be cherished and celebrated. Here’s hoping that in the aftermath of this closure, we at least start to see more of Helena Nelson’s exceptional poetry…!

Monday 10 April 2023

Understated but resonant, John Lynch's These Days

From the title of the book itself to the titles of the individual poems, from the tones and colours of the cover to the absence of blurbs, from the syntax to the semantics employed in the poems, pretty much everything about John Lynch’s first full collection, These Days (Garlic Press, 2022) feels understated.

As a consequence, especially bearing in mind that current trends in the poetry scene seem to be heading in an opposite direction, it might not come as any surprise that
These Days seems to have flown under the radar. In fact, there don’t seem to be any other reviews available online at the moment. However, a closer look demonstrates that Lynch’s poems are very much worthy of recognition.

The poems in this collection work in tandem and build their effects when read together, their emotional impact gradually accumulating, page after page. Any quote from them inevitably fails to do them full justice, but the last two stanzas of
Vent give an indication of their latent power...

…One evening, in the kitchen
I found her scraping what he’d said
wasn’t cooked into the bin,
then she opened the window wider
to let out all the steam.

A tub of Peter’s vanilla ice-cream
amongst the cutlery and saucepans
on the draining board,
she stood staring out,
scooping up mouthfuls with a tablespoon.

Of course, on first reading, this feels like a quintessential kitchen-sink drama! However, there’s a complexity to these lines via the details that are layered to make the scene come alive, while a subtle music also gathers force, especially in the final stanza, in which the final two lines are of particular interest.

From the penultimate line onwards, Lynch’s cadences step up a gear, the soft consonants interspersed with explosions, the aural patterning of the vowels in ascendance. And then the pent-up emotion comes to a climax in the shortened penultimate line before its release in the longer final line, 
a metaphorical vent with an implicit reference to the poem’s title, thus complementing and contrasting with the more obvious physical vent of the previous stanza. In this context, deft juxtaposition extends the poem's reach.

As is made clear by the above extract, Lynch’s unassuming approach is actually underpinned not only by a deep understanding of the ties between meaning and language, but also demonstrates an unexpected capacity for deploying sophisticated technique when required to make a poem lift off.
These Days is a collection with emotional depth that’s capable of generating its own poetic worlds. Prejudices and fashions might put many readers off, but John Lynch is a skilled poet whose work resonates. Thoroughly recommended!