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Lorette C. Luzajic’s Pretty Time Machine reviewed by Rennie Halstead

Pretty

Pretty Time Machine                         Lorette C. Luzajic                Mixed Up Media   2020

Lorette C. Luzajic is perhaps best known as the editor and owner of The Ekphrastic Review. An accomplished artist and poet in her own right, Lorette’s first collection has been published recently by Mixed Up Media. The collection contains 110 ekphrastic prose poems characterised by an understanding of the experience of love, suffering, tragedy and loss.

In Disappointment, ( after Water Lilies by Claude Monet, 1919) Lorette admires the beauty and dreamy mood of water lilies, shrouded by morning’s last weight. She recalls hearing that Monet dusted his water lilies every day at dawn, removing the dust that blew in from the unmade road outside. She sees this as an act of artistic commitment, this obsession against nature interfering with nature until:

The spell snapped like first love, shattered, about learning about the maid.

How:

Claude hired a cleaning lady to tend to his passions, someone to dust and wipe his water flowers before he painted them. Another arrow through the heart of poetry.

The Glass Swan (after The Old Courtesan by Auguste Rodin, 1885) puts the woman from Rodin’s sculpture in her apartment, undressing, unaware that she is witnessed. Lorette describes her nakedness and lack of awareness with great sympathy:

Something about her nakedness, unguarded, about her not knowing, makes your eyes well up. She has become forgetful, and will not notice the curtain is open until tonight when she seeks fresh air in her sleep. Her breasts are beautiful, for all their sadness.

It is the humanity of Lorette’s view that captures the attention, and the essence of Rodin’s sculpture. The old courtesan is still a woman to be treated with warmth and respect.

There is something like glass in the thin hips and elongated gestures of the dancer’s arms. It catches you then, suddenly, as stark and as naked as she is: we will all get old, those of us who are lucky enough.

In a change of mood, Lorette has a number of poems relating to the problems of drug use. I found Clean (after Erased de Kooning, from a drawing by Robert Rauschenberg, 1953) a sensitive and moving exploration of addiction. Lorette draws us into the world of the recovering addict with great skill, so that the reader experiences life in the aftermath of a death from a drugs overdose.

The narrator has recently lost her addict partner and has moved to the cottage with her brother-in-law. Together they try to come to terms with their grief and fight their own addiction, to get clean.

The poem opens:

The little white house was haunted, but we’d expected as much. The wounds were still fresh. We’d moved to put death behind us, but the past is always with you. Still, the house was spare and sweet and the yard was cheerful with tulips.

The grief is ever-present, and in her grief the narrator clings to the brother for comfort:

I was crazy and the only thing that held my grief at bay was you. I wouldn’t have loved you at all if he hadn’t begged us to look after each other.

There is hope to come out of the death and grieving but the brother is unable to maintain his abstinence:

one night, after a long and peaceful while, I returned home and found you pacing the yard. Your heart was beating wildly and your eyes were wide and crazed. I saw him today, you told me. I knew before you said another word that you had fallen.

The narrator describes the descent into addiction:

I had seen it all before [… ] My life was a nightmare of spies and hospitals.

The hospital telephones:

I stood in silence inside that little white house, my heart empty, eroded, clean. Just like the two men I loved most in the world, erased by methamphetamine.

The devastation felt by the narrator is total:

It would be a long, long time before I would feel anything again, maybe never. I saw the years stretch out ahead of me like rain.

Another theme running through the collection is the death of Lorette’s father, to whom the collection is dedicated. Just Before It Rained (after When the Moon is on the Hill by Mark O’Brien, 2015) focuses on an intimate moment with great sensitivity. A couple, presumably a father and daughter, pull over to look at the map and a sliver of moon:

I’d never seen that kind of ice chip moon in summer. The air was low and near, close to the truck [… ] We had pulled over to figure out where we’d gone wrong […] but your attention was outside the window.

The father gets out of the truck and goes for a walk:

After a long time, you came back and told me what I already knew, but had to hear from you. There’s no cure this time, you told me […] There was a kind of detached relief in your voice.

The sky closes in. There are no blues like these ones, the book’s last pages.

Falling (after Silver Birches by Pat Moffatt, 2004) has a different tone. The poem focuses on the narrator’s experience of love:

There were no witnesses to what happened inside of me while we walked through the ravine woods, stopping in a clearing to kiss hungrily.

The poem is full of desire:

I pawed at you with a hunger I’d forgotten, if I’d known it at all […] You were awkward and strange, and how you took my mouth was almost desperate and so beautiful.

The narrator finds her reserve torn down, giving herself to the moment:

I couldn’t control the space between me and another. I went with the tides, I had no choice, and fall’s red sunset soaked the forest where we embraced […] I could not know what was ahead, and didn’t care. The softening had already been done.

A similar look at the nature of love and passion occurs in the short but striking You Took Me Into The Woods (Woods #4, Kim Dorland, 2008) where the first person narrator describes how autumn had just that day spun down to gold.

She is kissed passionately, leaving the ravine: with bruised lips and straps to adjust, and somehow more innocent than I had ever been.

I was uncertain about reviewing a collection of prose poems. The concept of the prose poem is so slippery, with one person’s prose poem being another one’s prose, and complaints about lack of rhythm or “poetic” language. This volume has memorable prose poems because the style Lorette chooses allows her to tell her stories in a smooth flowing way that engages the reader throughout. Space prevents me looking in detail at other memorable poems that I found really engaging. There is love as well as loss in these poems, and Lorette presents both to us vividly in this memorable. collection

 .

 

Rennie Halstead writes reviews, poetry, flash fiction and short stories.

 

           

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The Frogmore Prize 2020

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Frogmore Poetry Prize 2020

The winner of the Frogmore Poetry Prize (founded 1987) will receive two hundred and fifty guineas and a two-year subscription to The Frogmore Papers. The first and second runners-up will receive seventy-five and fifty guineas respectively and a year’s subscription to The Frogmore Papers. Shortlisted poets will receive copies of selected Frogmore Press publications. Previous winners of the Prize have been: David Satherley, Caroline Price, Bill Headdon, John Latham, Diane Brown, Tobias Hill, Mario Petrucci, Gina Wilson, Ross Cogan, Joan Benner, Ann Alexander, Gerald Watts, Katy Darby, David Angel , Howard Wright, Julie-ann Rowell, Arlene Ang, Peter Marshall, Gill Andrews, A K S Shaw, Sharon Black, Emily Wills, Lesley Saunders, Sarah Barr, Eve Jackson and Polly Walshe.

Adjudicator:  Poet, editor and translator, Maria Jastrzębska was born in Warsaw, Poland and came to England as a child. Her most recent, fourth full length collection is The True Story of Cowboy Hat and Ingénue (Cinnamon Press/Liquorice Fish 2018). She is the co-founder of Queer Writing South and South Pole and co-edited Queer in Brighton (New Writing South 2014) with Anthony Luvera. Maria will read all entries.

 

To find more details go to their SITE

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8th Ó Bhéal International Five Words Poetry Competition

8th Ó Bhéal International Five Words Poetry Competition

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At around noon each Tuesday (GMT), from 14th of April 2020 until the 26th of January 2021, five words are posted on the Ó Bhéal Five Words competition page. Entrants have one week to compose and submit poems that include all five words given for the week.

The competition runs for 41 weeks, until the last week of January. A prize of 750 euros will be awarded to the winner, 500 euros for second place and 250 euros for third place and if available the three winners will be invited to read at Ó Bhéal’s anniversary event on April 12th 2021 (an additional travel fee of 100 euro plus B&B accommodation will be provided for this). The judge for this competition is Grace Wells.

Follow the link for submission guidelines:

http://www.obheal.ie/blog/five-words-poetry-competition/

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Erosion – Tina Cole

Erosion

Tina Cole was born in the Black Country and now lives in rural Herefordshire. She likes to write about people and relationships good or bad. Her collection – I Almost Knew You (2015), focussed on those themes. Other published poems have appeared in U.K. magazines such as, Creative Countryside, Poetry Café, Mslexia, Aesthetica, and The Guardian newspaper. In 2019 she won the Oriel Davies Writing Competition and the Welshpool Poetry Competition judged by Liz Berry.   She is the organiser of the annual Young Peoples Poetry Competition – yppc2019.org.

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The Dancers of Colbek by William Bedford – reviewed by Rennie Halstead

9781909747579The Dancers of Colbek by William Bedford

Two Rivers Press 2020

The Dancers of Colbek is the latest collection from William Bedford. There are so many poems in this collection that strike a chord with the reader that it is impossible to do them all justice.

The opening section, Slow Stopping Trains looks at the period up to the end of the Second World War and the 1950s. 

The Kitchen Garden tells the story of Mrs. Pearson’s son, who looked after the kitchen garden at the Big House in 1941, and brought eggs from the estate, quietly, to help the rationing. ‘Don’t tell they nosy neighbours / they gets none’ Bedford creates a sense of character in a few words, as he does so often in this collection. The son takes the poet to visit the kitchen garden, a country kind of Eden with an abundance of produce, a regular harvest supper / of fruit and vegetables though the gardener also allowed wild flowers to flourish: ‘Not weeds … windfalls, survivors’

The gardener sees the bombers returning to their Lincolnshire bases, salutes them by waving his red handkerchief, and joins up, abandoning Eden for war. The poem concludes ambiguously: The rabbits were soon after the carrots / They never found the hoe.

In Memoriam has the narrator visiting a churchyard, the church folded in mist … the patient snow a holy wreath for grief. Against this cold background the village choir is a clamour of new life. But there is no rest, no staying to grieve here. Grief must be more active, experienced in solitude. The narrator has to leave the churchyard and return to the blue ache of the Wolds / as lonely in my years as you in yours. The church bells may peal, the choir may sing, but underneath there is the long yearning to walk away.

Flitting, the central section of the book, focuses on the life of poet John Clare (13 July 1793 – 20 May 1864). Bedford writes in Clare’s voice and retells key events from his point of view. In I Stood By Your Cot Bedford shows the scene when Clare is committed to Matthew Allen’s private Asylum. We see Clare looking at his children in their cots, and reflecting on his circumstances:

You were asleep
Best, mebbe.
Too many tears if I’d stayed.

 
Too many when I’d gone.

He
allus loved my childern.
Reckoned the fields
Eden.

But now no-one is listening. No one writes to him. He is going back to an asylum, against his will, to be cut off from those he loves.

I have lost what I loved
the most,
taken away.

The poem ends with reference to his internal conflict between poetry and family.

They have the words,
written legal.
But not the poetry.

The poem The Flitting looks at Clare’s visit home after he escaped from the asylum and walked ninety miles to see his family, believing he was married both to Mary and Martha. He tells of his journey through:

bramble, hazard,
carters’ wiles
a gypsey crawl

to find
a home in Mary’s smile.

He whistles and sings, walking at night and finds fields and commons enclosed. He walks acrost bare fields of stubble, … where Eden used to be.

The poem loops back on itself, repeating Two wives I have, and starting stanzas with I walk / where wind whips elms, and again where Eden used to be. Finally Clare reaches home to be told:

Then Patty
sayas me home.
Sweet Mary died.
And how can I forget?

Bedford’s apparent rambling, and repetitious style shows us Clare’s quiet desperation, in tellingly simple dialect. We see his concerns about the industrial revolution and his memories of the countryside as a childhood Eden.

The last section, The Moving Field picks up the local history theme with arrival of American Air Force to Lincolnshire bases in the early sixties.

The Badger sets the persecution of the creature in the context of passing time. The opening line establishes the scene:

I grunt for a wisdom men don’t know;
….
trees where I dig for roots,
a badger’s kingdom. Night is my time.

We move to the persecution: the sticks & stones of boys, / men with poison to the reflection that Time has more chance than guns.

The poem takes us to the true meaning of Time in nature.

Time’s a different kind of hunt.

Men need weapons and know fear, when the badger turns to bare my bone teeth. Time is on nature’s side:
Time doesn’t mind. Likes to creep.
Or waits round corners no one finds.
Time has heavier stones than boys.
Sharper sticks.

The poem finishes recalling the opening line and ending

I bait them all. Catch all.

The final poem in the collection, The Dancers of Colbek retells the traditional German folktale, translated by Robert Mannying in the fourteenth century. The dancers sing and dance in the churchyard whilst the priest is conducting Mass and are cursed for their sacrilege by the priest. For the dancers:

This is fairyland despite what the sermons say
They knew what dancing in church would mean,
the doors locked, the altar denied,
the magic of wafer and wine taken away.

It makes a fitting ending to a collection of poetry that is full of references to the countryside changing and disappearing through the fifties and sixties and on into our present time.

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Jigsaw Therapy – Phil Wood

Jigsaw Therapy

Marc Chagall conjures a circus –
breathe in that hectic glee, he says.
So I – shaped in painterly ways,
a whiff of exotic places – breathe.
Where is the lion tamer? I ask.

Henri Rousseau tempts a tigress,
not shy or sly, her devouring grin
about to pounce on prey beyond
the frame. Startled, a voyeur sweats
in tropical heat. I want to flee.

Henri Matisse dreams a smiling cat,
a harbour where whispers anchor
restless boats. There’s a bowl of fruit
basking in citrus light. The green hour
of la fée verte I bottle up.

And find you lounging on the divan,
sleepy head on a yellow pillow,
your limbs as white as Franz Marc’s cat.
Am I hearing that wormwood purr?
I offer you a jigsaw piece.

.

Phil Wood was born in Wales. He has worked in Education, Shipping, and a biscuit factory. His writing can be found in various publications, including: The Lampeter Review, Runcible Spoon, London Grip, Califragile.

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The Unmapped Woman is born

Delighted to tell you The Unmapped Woman is now out from Nine Arches Press. The brilliant delivery man popped the box of books on my doorstep and here she is in all her glory…

book

A little bit of blurb from my amazing publisher, Jane Commane:

“This new collection explores the altitudes of loss and trauma, mapping the stark new territory that loss leaves behind and the landmarks of recovery and survival.

Several lives and life-changing themes cross paths in this clear-sighted and profound book, and Morley’s adept and courageous poetry guides us through the wooded shades and raw coastlines, dauntless: “Bear with me. I can take nature, let wind whip our faces”. From the hollowing of the empty place and the five stages of grief, these resolute poems with their mettle and wholeheartedness, chart their remarkable, bold course towards the voicing of a song, the light of the next day.”

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Copies are available from Nine Arches Press and signed copies from thepoetryshed@hotmail.com

There’s an In Conversation on the Nine Arches blog about the poem Daughter bulb and it is one of the poems I am reading here….

“In The Unmapped Woman, Morley writes with astonishing technical virtuosity as she searches for recovery through art. As in her previous poems, water is a recurrent motif and the emotional core of the collection. Narrative and emotion are compressed within the single telling image, and the spaces between words, lineation and enjambment recollect the lost presence from where the poems emerge. George Eliot reminds us that ‘there is a great deal of unmapped country within us which would have to be taken into account in an explanation of our gusts and storms’. If Eliot seems to imply that what is most distinctive remains hidden, Morley speaks in a voice that is eloquent and precise as she seeks to understand what happens to the vanished.” – Nancy Gaffield

“Abegail Morley is a natural poet. Each poem seems exhaled in a single necessary breath as she unflinchingly addresses traumatic events. Her language is fresh, fluent and unadorned, with strikingly accurate images, and endings that make the reader re-consider the whole poem. The loss of a baby, suicide of a loved one and the concomitant depersonalisation of the self that dealing with such grief brings is covered with a magical lightness of touch. This is a highly talented, original voice well worth listening to.” – Patricia McCarthy

The Unmapped Woman transports you deep under the surface of a life, to places too often skimmed. In it we find the grief we wear like a sweater, the fragile expectancy of motherhood in which, “I don’t know / which one of us is the honey, which the bee, / or who has the nectar we drink so deeply.” (‘Daughter Bulb’), the ghosts that haunt us, and the beauty that ambushes us. This collection, its probing intensity, is reminiscent of contemporary American masters like Louise Glück, Sharon Olds, and Carolyn Forché, yet decidedly British in tone. Morley knows exactly what she is doing here. The work stays with you, like “the way he planted a word in her mouth / to germinate after he’d gone.” (“The hollowing of the empty place”) These are poems to live with–tight as the skin of a drum. – Robert Peake