Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Review: Coleshill by Fiona Sampson


A collection for anyone Local. I don't mean local to Coleshill but local in the sense of community, of knowing potholes, of knowing Terry as a man and then as a ghost of himself walking down the main road home. Local.
   This is a collection of rhythm, of human rhythm falling into place with nature. Of humans becoming the natural landscape - and isn't it about time? 'a phone rings' and the butterfly effect is set in motion as 'suddenly flocks of starling / are shuttling across the dark'.
 There is a sense of enclosure. A trapping in the quaint countryside that isn't as safe as those outside it seem to believe as Sampson writes through the murder of a girl from the local nightclub. The girl in A Charm Against Knives could be the victim, it could be any of us; it could be the earth 'remember[ing] the whisper / of steel on skin'. That is all a murder has come to, in the grand scheme of nature one death is not unlike another, but the difference lies in the proximity of  local.
     When reading this collection I was reminded of myself, stood behind the bar of the local pub and scribbling poems on the backs of discarded receipts. Poems about the trees and trollies becoming part of the stream.
    There is an important connection to made here that all we hold dear is cyclical, it belongs only to itself. Samspon sums it up in three striking lines 'Imagine bees falling from the sky - / yes, all of them. / Small scabs of air'.
    I was struck by the density of Sampson's verse, how she can conjure up entire communities and dreamlands, present them simultaneously in a 'snow-globe' of understanding. She pierces the heart of the scenic to find the moment of hyper-reality that we don't often assume to belong to such picturesque location. It is this hyper realism that tips the border to the dream land for me. Such as in From the Adulterer's Songbook and the 'one / clear note, / / the night odour' - it's almost unbelievable, transported until you anchor it to real life experience, and then it all too true. Seeing the adulterer's legacy lengthen.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Review: Skirrid Hill by Owen Sheers

From the cover I knew I was in for an exploration. The style of photography on the cover is called Body Landscaping, and it is when the object - often a human body - is made to look like an entire landscape on its own. In this case the shoulder and collar bones transformed into a valley, a hill, an estuary, a mountain. A landscape only too well known to many of us, iconic Wales.

  'Skirrid Hill' is a exploration of familiar introspection that takes the reader by the hand and helps them navigate their own personal history. It is only fitting then that we begin at the 'Last Ac't. There is a feeling here that we are seeing the writer in a similar role to the actor 'bowing as himself  for the first time all night.'. There is a distinct difference in confidence in Sheers second collection of poetry. A writer who is confident in his own raw emotion, confident even in the instability of image. The entire collection pivots on the grey area between having something, being one thing, and loosing it or becoming something else. Beyond that as the concept of the collection we see poems themselves altering before out eyes.
          Poems like 'The Farrier', that in tandem throw images of the farrier carrying on his days work, and that of a bride on her wedding day, alongside the ambiguity of the horse. All images pulling together to deliver the fatal blow as 'The sound of his steel, biting at her heels'.
     The winds of change are constantly blowing, I am older now than I have ever been and younger than I ever will be again. 'Inheritance' makes that abundantly clear, after the style of R.S. Thomas as Sheers ties in an incredible welsh poetic history to his work. 'From my father / ... / From my mother' here could mean the biological parentage or the rich heritage of poetry. the offspring, the barer of this tradition 'what they forged / in their shared lives;' - the heavy weight of this burden, but also the combined ancestry of it, a wonder that what humans really inherit from their families and from their environment, the collection continues to add to this image, speculating how we inherit the world around us and the skins of our old selves.
   An interesting vein of this collection is Sheers's investigation of language. Wales is a fascinating hub of bilingualism, but it hasn't always been this way. Just as his first collection 'The Blue Books' hovered on the edge of languages with it's obvious rooting in the blue books of 1847,the discussion continues now. In 'History' set in the Lleder Valley of North Wales the blades of slate make a 'rusted, / metallic sound' telling the 'story of stone'. Here mixing the Welsh language both with the landscape as ever present and also making it Other, disconnecting it from any known language.

       Sheers is one of my favourite writers both in Wales and generally. I devoured this collection.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

On Life

I'm ill. I'd forgotten.
    I forget quite often.
Until I feel my chest and feel the shadow of stickers left by the nurse, testing my heart rate. 'Standard procedure'
Until, on a warm sunny day I roll up my sleeve only to feel the dead scar skin and roll them back down.

I'm ill and I'd forgotten until the nurse called me in and described the funny anecdotes of her day to take my mind off the routine check-up that makes sure that nothing, other than the instability of my mind, is throwing me off balance.

The appointment took all of 10 minutes and yet for the next 4 hours I lie down with a cup of tea, watching the entirety of RWBY until my eyes ached to match my head. Thrown completely.

It's something I am only just getting to grips with in a safe way. Earlier this year I decided to take the step, after 3 days in bed, to see a doctor, and thankfully this time he listened. He didn't tell me that 'everyone gets sad sometimes' like the last one or throw pills at me that would only make bipolar worse and take me to the very edge; but the fact that this has happened before put me off for over a year. The counselor that stood me up before Christmas one year, or told me how great my abusive ex had been because he was also a patient of hers.

Because all of these things happen to too many of us with mental health issues I'm forced to ignore that little voice telling me that my voice isn't worth being heard and to understand that I'm not 'bragging' but merely being visible.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Review: New Light for the Old Dark by Sam Willetts

I chose this book as part of the 2015 Reading Challenge, this is my book with antonyms in the title.

Titles are something I struggle with as a writer and a reader. A bad title, a telling title or just something unappealing can instantly turn me away from a book; I do tend to read books based on instinct or initial appeal and occasionally recommendations. They also have the power to get me excited about a book or a poem or a play. They can light the fire of curiosity. Recently an editor came back to me with lovely compliments about my poetry but she didn't like the titles, and it has taken me nearly two weeks to rework those titles. It's like imagining your best friend with a different name - doable but a difficult habit to break.

Anyway; this title 'New Light for the Old Dark' slowly reveals itself through Willetts collection. It is about looking at childhood, heritage and ancestry, and the self in a 'new light' and dispelling the preconceptions that we leave behind us in the 'old dark'.
    The poems flow through Willetts own childhood, the upbringing of his mother's escape from the Nazis, and the redemption from a heroin addiction.
    Willetts manages to convey these unbelievable events through smaller, familiar images which give the reader a foothold in his reality. From the image of a little girl against her mothers hem to a Redbreast, the Dublin messenger-bird, the reader is absorbed into the world presented and becomes an active participant in its unfolding.
    There are moments of brutal perception in 'A Child at Their Party' when Willetts describes the scene as 'from a children's book written /  by adults for themselves.' - what a wonderfully heartbreaking observation. One that takes us back to our own childhoods and how we remember them, but also, as children the reminder that we were never on our own authority and that in fact our memories and environments; that we often hold so dear, are merely constructs. Artificial nostalgia created by adults for the adults that they are, that we were to become.
    The collection has a sense of loss about it, a sense of being the puppet, but this 'new light' shines onto the strings, and although we are the pawn in this big game of life and government it may actually be what we make of the 'old dark'; of our culture, history and within ourselves that breeds that light.