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Neil Young, The Poets’ Republic and the ‘everyday world seen through new lens’

Brexitweetageddon.jpgAhead of my launch next week I thought I’d share this review (on my latest creation) by Neil Young, co-founder of The Poets’ Republic. The Poets’ Republic’s guiding principle is to strive to publish poetry that is hard to ignore; Issue 1 was released in May 2015 and since then they’ve published some gritty, relevant writing.

So here’s the review. I’m really hoping you can join me and my fellow readers (Jill Munro and Sarah Barnsley) at the launch.

Everyday world seen through new lens

In the Curator’s Hands by Abegail Morley (Indigo Dreams Publishing, £6. http://www.indigodreams.co.uk) ISBN: 978-1-910834-49-7

You know you’re in strange territory from the opening lines of the first poem, The Depository, in Abegail’s Morley’s new slim volume: “At its darkest point, nothing shifts. In this breathless/place we’re foxed-paper, dip-penned letters”.

Reality is inverted, everyday objects speak back to us, and the dismissably familiar is imbued with intrigue. It’s quite an accomplishment, but Morley sustains the theme and effects throughout twenty-eight poems without once straying into the repetitive, or exhausting the surprises. It says much of her ease with her craft that she takes such a reverse-angled approach while capturing attention. It’s as if we are being invited to look again at the mundane and littered – paper, tickets, dusty toys, ephemera – through new lens, then turn them inside-out to explore their ghost existence. None of which would be possible without the pacing and vibrancy of language to carry our momentum; and here the poet excels. Morley has the best poets’ savvy to know that each line must be revealing without labouring for it; nothing jars; everything flows, her inner ear never falters. I found myself reading these poems with the ease of movement as if they were being whispered to me.

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That’s quite a spell to weave. The language, at times, is intoxicating, and she manages to make the simple striking by how it pauses us. Hence, in poems such as ‘Ephemera’, the opening line, “The opposite of how I am lolls at Piccadilly”, is immediate but so unusual in its observation it tempts the reader back. I found myself revisiting it, even as I followed the poem through its vivid collision of street-scene to upfront vision from a bus seat: “I ogle pocket seams, sodden floor-strewn tickets”. There’s a sense here of life being stilled, or drawn to slow-motion so that we observe the disturbing magnitude of its minutiae.

Elsewhere, that knack for the killer line is repeated. In ‘Chronicles’, she shows how a few well-aimed words can distil a storyline, including background characterisation: “When his sister ran away for good this time”. ‘For good’ and ‘this time’– knowing and menace are compressed. Likewise, ‘Hair Wreaths Wrapped in Tissue’ has the undercurrent of threat: “I see his lips twist in a Kirby-grip grin”. I defy any poet to come up with a more shudder-inducing line in 2017 than this, as a commonplace item metaphors sexual sneer. Morley reinterprets the everyday brilliantly. That said, the poem-titles alone attest to one who is alert to the need to offer something newly-minted amid a deluge of writing vying for our notice. I’m caught, at once, by the strange insistence – with maybe a hint of black humour – of ‘Photograph of Woman in Glassinine Envelope’. The poem is deceptively elegant, while exploring further the recurring impressions of estrangement and loss: “The loop of your voice/finds me flinching 50 metres below street level,/weeping on escalators where people rub hands/on rails”.

For all that disturbance, it’s worth emphasising the poignancy that leaks out from these pages. These are poems that move the reader by how urgent but unobvious they are. In that way, they also carry the depth of empathy and insightfulness of poetry that has no limit on its shelf-life. In a book in which almost any poem might be a highlight, I struggle to choose a favourite, but I’ve found myself returning most to ‘Boxed In’ for how it conjures the childlike wonder and fear of the world through the eyes of a boxed toy: “I’m the girl trapped in the box, stomach/an empty honeycomb/gold drained,/dull lustre,/tinny when struck/by a raised fist.” You get a whole lot of hauntingly affecting poetry for 33 pages here – and it leaves you wanting more.

– Neil Young

 

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Valerie Morton reviews All the Naked Daughters by Anna Kisby

All the Naked Daughters, Anna Kisby, (Against the Grain Poetry Press 2017), £5.

This beautifully produced pamphlet with its elegant cover – the first from Against the Grain Poetry Press – contains 20 stunning poems from Anna Kisby, a poet I have long admired. Within these pages are a multitude of women’s voices and nobody is better at getting inside the feelings of a woman than this talented poet.

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Making use of her work as an archivist, Kisby gathers material from centuries of womanhood – in this collection are ekphrastic poems, poems of hardship, childbirth, loss, struggle and curiosity about bodies. We find ourselves reading about suffragettes, oranges, hysteria, mothers, daughters, dogs, waitresses and shopping bags. From the opening poem The Fallen Alices the reader is drawn in, impatient to keep reading and the reward is something unique and original with every turn of the page. For example Alice in Wonderland was published in 1865 during a period of anxiety about the Fallen Woman and female suicides into the Thames:

Of all the stories told by the Thames this is ours:
we are the curious, the questing, the covetous, the lost,
we are the girls who never grew up.

………

We are the punished, found drowned
in pools of our own tears. We are rushing towards you downriver.
Speak of us. Our elegant corpses are the stuff of ink, pen and paint.

And this is exactly what Kisby does – she speaks on paper about women in all their different guises:

Grandmother was a Showgirl

She wore a skirt like a staircase so he climbed it, pawed at the cabinet of her bosom
when she twirled him .

A book serves as metaphor in the sensuous Affair with the Professor

He folds me over
at the corners, leaves me waiting
for days. I crouch on the back shelf
knees to chin. I am stuck as a baby
in breech.

Kisby turns BBC Radio 4’s Gardener’s Question Time into a political party broadcast about ‘austerity’ in Reap the Benefit:

The time has come to cut back, a voice soothes,
slash overgrowth, prune –

The reader is treated to the history of oranges in Orangematic – from 1970 until today: from ‘when she was born the rumour of oranges was like a whisper of silk ‘ (1970) until ‘Oranges taken for granted, hardly worth the time it takes to peel’. (now).

In the title poem, All the Naked Daughters a stuttering mother tries to answer a series of questions from a furious daughter on a visit to an exhibition of nude paintings:

Mum where are the pubes?

I thought it was porn’s fault, everyone expecting us hairless?

Who made ancient women shave? Were there razors in the olden days?

By adopting the voices of others Kisby brings us unforgettable female characters and experiences.
I will never again look at or carry a Waitrose bag (Archives) without wondering what might be at the bottom of it – but then that is the mystery of these poems. Open the pages and discover for yourselves this remarkable poet who tells us:

Time is precious, fleeing, on my heels – my slow smile
crosses the finish line. (Tortoise Missus)

Against the Grain Poetry Press could not have chosen a more worthy poet to launch its own debut pamphlet. It’s left me with a taste for more. I highly recommend this collection – and as Bill Greenwell says on the back cover: “Kisby has produced a stunning cabinet of curiosities”.

To buy a copy of this pamphlet go here

Valerie Morton has been published in various magazines and anthologies, and won or been placed in a number of competitions. After completing an Open University degree in 2011 she taught Creative Writing at a mental health charity. Her two collections (Mango Tree 2013 and Handprints 2015) were published by Indigo Dreams Publishing. Since 2015 she has been Poet in Residence at the Clinton Baker Pinetum in Hertfordshire. Her most recent endeavour was publishing A Poetry of Elephants in aid of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (2016).

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Poentry from Samantha Baines

bainesSamantha Baines’ TV and film career has seen her either exclusively playing cockney women in the 1950s (Netflix’s The Crown, Call the Midwife and A Royal Night Out) or being a bit over the top in comedy shows (Lee Nelson’s Well Funny People, Sunny D, Pop Sludge Bucket, Hank Zipzer, Doctors). Her debut collection is most definitely from this decade…. a bit over the top? … you’ll have to read it for that one.

When not poetting she tours the UK performing her own brand of science stand up comedy (with puns) and was a UK Pun Championship Finalist 2017 – the first woman in the history of the competition to perform in the final! She’s also a What the Frock! Best Newcomer Winner 2015 and a Funny Women Finalist 2014. Her debut Edinburgh Fringe show 1 Woman, A Dwarf Planet and 2 Cox in 2016 enjoyed a completely sold out run at the Pleasance Courtyard in Edinburgh, got 4 and 5 star reviews and had extra shows added due to popular demand.

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Samantha has appeared on BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio London, Virgin Radio, BBC Radio 2 and is looking forward to whoever else will have her. She writes for Time Out, Stylist, The Guardian, Huffington Post and Standard Issue and has her own poetry blog (go see it here). When she’s not doing all that Samantha likes to have an earl grey tea (in her pyjamas) at home with her two cats: Victoria and Albert, who insist on sitting on her laptop, especially whilst she is trying to send a really important tweet (probably to Brian Cox).

Enjoy this silly collection about life, amazing women and the very strangest news stories from the last few years (with any face you so wish). Revel in the comedy lines, the rhymes and the ‘really did that rhyme’ times from this award-winning actor comedian.

 

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The House of Ghosts and Mirrors – Oz Hardwick

ozThe book focuses on how memories and imaginings haunt familiar places, their stories crowding landscapes long after people have passed away. The poems are centred on the house that three generations of Oz’s family lived in for 60 years.

Oz said: “As we grow, our surroundings – and the events that happen within them – become part of who we are. Likewise, we leave traces – certainly material, but perhaps ‘spiritual,’ for want of a less loaded term. These poems are essentially centred upon a small terraced house that my family – three generations – owned between 1955 and 2015. But through memories and stories, it spreads out way beyond the personal and domestic, and even outside that time-frame, to consider what passes and what lasts – a subject at the heart of English poetry since the earliest surviving verse we have.”

Time behaves differently in The House of Ghosts and Mirrors: generations pass each other – and themselves – in rooms that appear empty; adults occupy their childhood dreams and nightmares; stories enact themselves in portraits and postcards. Visitors come and go carrying contracts and lanterns, letters from lost loves. In parties and pageants, they parade as gamblers and gangsters, heroes and hags, demons and drunks, trailing the accumulated bric-a-brac of lifetimes like a breadcrumb trail that loops through a darkening wood – a darkening world – but always weaves its way back home.

For information about Oz Hardwick go here

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Matthew Stewart – The Knives of Villalejo

Matthew Stewart’s debut collection, The Knives of Villalejo, from Eyewear Publishing was twenty years in the writing and worth the wait. It charts a life begun in suburban Surrey where “bottles chimed on the doorstep”, “clothes will wait their turn till none remain, / just those hangers drooping like empty yokes” and certain phone numbers are never forgotten.

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Stewart guides you through his life – its troughs and peaks, taking you to the vineyards of Spain, letting you have a sip of his life at various stages, from a wine that deepens with age. He hangs on to “how childhood once tasted” in his family home back in England, when he still lets “some vowels tug me home”. There is tension between the two places – England and Spain, between the present and the past that never slackens and is itself “like the fine scars of unknown wounds”.

There is however the comfort of food at the beginning of the collection and wine later on. It’s as if these most basic, nurturing and everyday things are what we hold onto and the taste or smell of it sites us, strengthens our foundations and gives us a sense of being. He tells us, “Now confront the day, bite by bite”, but it often feels as if it is a life often spent in the margins, of never really belonging in the places he finds himself.  In After Twenty Years Apart he’s “still in the background”, in From Farnham to Villalejo his “mother-in-law summarises/ another neighbour’s life, both of us grin./ For a moment I almost belong”. There is a sense of the “almost” like a whisper or a haunting.

I do feel throughout the collections as if I am watching Stewart watching himself as if he’s standing beside me outside his body. In my ear is this whisper: “Tremendous beauty and tremendous ugliness puts you on the outside of things” (Peter Bogdanovich) – there’s beauty in home, peace, familial love and then there is the ugliness of watching a life  stripped from the body of someone we love, until, for us “there’s not a hope/ of dodging the dark suit”. And then there’s this: “What do we mean by saying that existence precedes essence? … He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself.” (Sartre). So I can’t help but follow Stewart to see what he will be and where his poems take us.

There’s a foreboding of loss from the outset, the title of the poem, Sooner or Later foretells this and from its opening line, “For the moment it skulks/ below forgotten gifts” we suddenly feel the weave of Stewart’s veins, his life, his future. Then there’s the actual loss, of a part of himself that always seems to be in another place, the loss of family members and the need to hold on to what is precious, “I only want a single pair of hands/ to stretch my spine and open me at last”. Sometimes he can be like a delighted-foreigner with an over-sharpened life, at other times he’s a grieving son, or an alien in an alien land where “muttered stories mirror muttered stories”. But listen hard, he says, “Listen as I stroke my message out”.

I urge you to put you ear close.

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“Matthew Stewart is a poet of consolidation, truth, and freshness, with a masterful sense of economy. His poems matter, and his first full collection has been too long in coming. These poems have the rare quality of resonating a long way beyond their modest physical limitations.” Rory Waterman

Matthew Stewart blogs at Rogue Strands – a site that is always worth a visit. He I lives between Extremadura, Spain, and West Sussex, England and has two previous pamphlets with HappenStance Press.

Available from Eyewear Publishing; Paperback; £10.99

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Chattels – Gareth Writer-Davies

today's poem vertical

CHATTELS

the furniture
has it all worked out

it can just
stand around, being decorative or useful (or both)

taking no responsibility
beyond its function

I reach for a shirt
and the wardrobe can have a twenty-four hour break

I sit down upon a chair
and the springs (with a sigh) take my weight

but over the years
from house to house (the removal van receding)

I find they gather
like devotees and whisper, with the unexpected gift of speech

like butlers
that have witnessed my affairs, the intimate moments

of love
birth and death, a discreet cough or a creaking stair

a reminder
of their enduring presence

I breathe
the ghosting air of acquiescence

as without a word
the door shuts and the drapes swag the living-room to darkness

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Gareth Writer-Davies was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and the Erbacce Prize (2014), Commended in the Prole Laureate Competition and the Welsh Poetry Competition (2015). He is the Prole Laureate for 2017 and Highly Commended in the Welsh Poetry Competition.

His pamphlet “Bodies”, was published in 2015 by Indigo Dreams and his next pamphlet “Cry Baby” will come out in 2017.

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Bill Greenwell, writing endorsements and discovering the personality of the book

BillAhead of the launch of our very first pamphlet, I thought I’d ask Bill Greenwell (who along with Tamar Yoseloff wrote an endorsement for Anna Kisby’s pamphlet, All the Naked Daughters) about the process of reading a manuscript and writing an endorsement.

How did you approach writing Anna’s endorsement?

I suppose ‘carefully’ is one way of describing it; and ‘slowly’ another. I very much appreciated the time that (I suspect) went in to endorsements on my books, and I suspect I spend longer on endorsements than on reviews – not least because there is such a small amount of space.

How differently do you read a collection when it is for writing a endorsement?

I really only offer endorsements for the work of people with whose writing I am familiar, so I suppose I start with a firmer sense of what to expect. I can’t help proof-reading, too – I think my first look through is always looking for any other way I can help (as almost everyone whom I endorse has at some time been subjected to my editing). I think this first business-like approach frees me up to read it a second or third time for enjoyment. It’s a bit of an odd process, because I don’t ordinarily read all the poems in a collection at one go. I read them and dip in and out. But for a testimonial, you have to feel you have the measure of the collection – what its preoccupations are, how the pieces fit together, what the ‘personality’ of the book is. So I suppose you could say it is a lot more scrupulous, even than a review. After all, you are writing about a collection that will be intensely important to the writer, so that’s a responsibility. It is polite to be scrupulous.

What key themes did you notice cropping up in All the Naked Daughters?

Can I bat that word ‘themes’ away and say I prefer ‘preoccupations’? In a word, skin. As I say on the outside, it’s a very tactile book, and there is a beautiful obsession with bodies, and also with other surfaces: skin, fur, flesh, lips, different temperatures. One poem admits that ‘my fingers are in love’ with an artefact: not surprising when you know Anna is an archivist. There is also quite an enjoyably surreal relationship with the dead – ghosts, voices from the past, women who were painted. And the imagery is quite surgical: The hillside is a patient for the surgeon of the sky. The day opens and closes about us like scissors. Perhaps I mean forensic. It’s a collection about looking.

I love your phrase “a cabinet of curiosities” and how it captures the pamphlet in a few words. How hard is it to sum everything up in so few words? What tips can you share on short and sweet?

Very hard. Or easy if you immerse yourself in a book like this, I suppose. I have no tips other than to micro-read as well as skim. You have to get into the detail, and, with a bit of experience, a phrase will turn up. That’s the theory. For me, this was a great book to review, because the poetry I like is at the surreal end of the spectrum, and also quite cool – a sort of mixture of odd imagery and cool voice. Anna’s poems possess both. They’re unusual – half the battle for a reader, at least, if the reader is me.

Bill Greenwell endorses Kisby:
In Anna Kisby’s collection, All The Naked Daughters, a book has a physical relationship with a professor, Alice is not a singular Wondergirl but a plural of trodden-down young women. A maternity ward is like a collage of cut-outs; Gardener’s Question Time has been replaced by instructions on how to face austerity. These are glittering transformations: all the poems raid and reinvent the past. They are also extremely tactile and sensuous. Kisby, an archivist by trade, has produced a stunning cabinet of curiosities.

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Penelope Shuttle endorses Greenwell:
Here is one of the sharpest tongues around in the poetry world, one of the sharpest pair of eyes, and the sharpest of hearts. Acute observation, recollection, wit and deep feeling are directed by the energy of imagination and focus of craft in a long and sustained collection that sees this poet at the top of his game, holding his nerve on the knife-edge of experience.

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Bill Greenwell was New Statesman’s weekly satirical poet from 1994 to 2002, and has been a regular winner in the parody competitions which appear in the NS, Spectator and elsewhere for over thirty years. His collection, Spoof, includes parodies from the Independent, Spectator, New Statesman, TES, and Radio 4. Impossible Objects (2006) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for best first collection. His second collection, Ringers, was published in 2011. Both are published by Cinnamon. From 2002 he has been a creative writing tutor.

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Words that Burn – Amnesty International and the Cheltenham Literature Festival

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A new national poetry and human rights education project, Words that Burn, from Amnesty International is working in partnership with Cheltenham Literature Festival, supported by leading UK poets and spoken word artists including Inja, Sarah Crossan, Amy Leon, Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish.

Developed with the support of Lord Saatchi and The Poetry Hour, and in partnership with Cheltenham Festivals, the free teaching resource will help secondary school students explore human rights and express themselves through poetry. Each term Amnesty will provide information about an individual who has had their human rights violated. Students will be able to have their solidarity or protest poems sent to the individual or the relevant authority by Amnesty, so their literary creations can have direct impact and contribute to human rights change. Engaging with classical and contemporary poems and exploring spoken word performances, Words That Burn aims to help young people discover that their voice matters and their words can make a difference.
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There’s also interview time with the project’s ambassadors, including top poets Keith Jarrett, Sarah Crossan, Inja, Amy Leon and Sabrina Mahfouz, who are famed for their works that speak out for basic human rights – from Keith Jarrett’s A Gay Poem, to Inja’s Freedom which wasinspired by two of the most prominent campaigners against the Transatlantic Slave Trade, mixed with his own experiences – and have each recorded Make a Difference in a Minute poems for the project.

When solo Inja provides the ‘Page to a Rave’ show where anything goes from poetry, reggae, hiphop, grime, drum and bass and anything that brings vibes. As well as running creative writing workshops, appearing at poetry events around the UK, Inja hosts for the DMC World Championships, the legendary Dj Die and his two time Redbull Cultureclash winning Gutterfunk label and is a regular feature with hip hop reggae-inspired Dj Vadim.

Sabrina Mahfouz was raised in London and Cairo. Her work includes the plays Chef, With a Little Bit of Luck, Clean, Battleface and the love i feel is red; the poetry collection How You Might Know Me; the literary anthology The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write and the BBC shows Breaking the Code, Railway Nation: A Journey In Verse and We Are Here. She received a Fringe First Award for Chef and won a Sky Arts Academy Poetry Award.

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Amnesty International do such an amazing job standing up for infringed human rights around the world and Cheltenham Festivals are proud to help instil the importance of this work in the next generation. The Words that Burn project not only educates children about those that don’t enjoy the freedoms they might, it also builds their confidence in their own words and the importance of using that power to help others. They will each produce poetic works based around Amnesty International cases which will be sent to the persecuted and the authorities responsible.