Reviews of the Ephemeral

Archive for August, 2013|Monthly archive page

Edinburgh Fringe Review: Utter! Presents … Identity Mix-Up and We Are All Orange Ghosts

In Festival, Performance Poetry on August 29, 2013 at 5:30 pm

– reviewed by Lettie McKie

As poetry is, like much writing, an essentially solo activity it is not surprising that many performance poets, after several year on the circuit, will eventually feel like the time is right to develop a one person show. Many careers have been launched after successful shows, Kate Tempest and Luke Wright being the most obvious recent examples.

This year several London poets who could all be described as ‘emerging’ are taking shows to the Edinburgh Fringe; Paula Varjack, Rob AutonDan Simpson and Keith Jarrett amongst others. I managed to catch Dan Simpson and Keith Jarrett’s shows which are both part of PBH’s free fringe 2013.



First up: We are All Orange Ghosts – by Dan Simpson

This show has recently finished its run after 16 consecutive shows. Putting the ‘One Man’ into the proverbial title Dan Simpson did everything himself from set up, costumes, props, music and welcoming guests. He was chatty and friendly as we arrived, efficiently organising himself whilst putting us at our ease. He started by introducing the premise of the show as a ‘lecture’ about Pac-Man interspersed with poetry and complete with the inevitable teaching aid, a flip chart!

Dan’s persona as the geeky Pac-Man lecturer was instantly likeable and warm, but not overdone. He started the performance with a neat, tongue in cheek delivery of his Pac-Man rap introducing the slightly pathetic character of Clyde the Orange Ghost. As the show developed he presented a parallel between this character and himself and with people in general, using Clyde as a representative for human vulnerability. Over an hour he delved into his own past using poetry largely inspired by his childhood, alongside a story written when he was a teenager, to illustrate his carefully considered points about growing up, finding yourself and happiness. His performance was earnest, heartfelt and had moments where it was very easy to relate to. The strengths of the piece lay in entertaining, image rich poetry which he used to tell his own story, picking out funny stories and giving us a sense of his character as well as how he has come to see the world and his place within it.

Although Dan was charming and very likeable, I felt the show could have benefited from less explanation and more direct engagement with his art form. He used the lecture format to express thoughts and feelings that could have been more deeply explored through the sort of poetic storytelling that he so effectively showcased at other times. By choosing not to use his poetic expertise more thoroughly the show floundered a little bit in places and occasionally lacked impact. We are All Orange Ghosts was undoubtedly a little unpolished, but showed great potential as an interesting exploration of identity and happiness.

Star rating: 3/5



Next up: Utter! Presents … Identity Mix Up – by Keith Jarrett

This show was a very interesting contrast to Dan’s piece. Delivered in an entirely different and less formal way, Keith’s show took a more straight forward format as a series of poems and linking sections. This meant that it was easy to focus on the poetry itself (which explored very similar themes to We are all Orange Ghosts) and although Keith did include costumes and props that I felt were largely unnecessary.

Keith chose to develop and deliver poems that focused on specific issues, all of which impact upon a person’s sense of identity e.g. name, gender, religion, nationality, sexuality, and disability. Like Dan, he drew heavily on his own personal experiences from childhood and adolescence, building up a rapport with the audience using no obvious persona other than a public version of himself. He delved into stories about his background and upbringing in lyrically rich poems, charged with emotion, passion and lots of humour. He played around with different characters, for example the differences in himself from weekday school boy rapper to smartly dressed Church goer on Sundays. He tackled controversial issues head on with tongue in cheek humour, I found his ‘gay’ poem was particularly clever: asked in the past why he didn’t have a ‘gay’ poem he wrote one in the guise of the poem itself being confused about its own sexuality. This is a great example of Keith’s ability to turn an interesting twist on a subject, making the audience see it from a different and unexpected perspective.

Star Rating 3/5

Both shows were a delight to watch for slightly different reasons. Identity Mix Up was less conceptual than We are All Orange Ghosts and benefited from this simplicity. Both poets are consummate storytellers and approached their subject matter with honesty.

Edinburgh Fringe Review: Charlie Dupré – The Stories of Shakey P

In Performance Poetry on August 29, 2013 at 1:00 pm

– reviewed by Lettie McKie


The Stories of Shakey P – Shakespeare Remixed

The first piece in this hour long Shakespearean remix see’s Charlie Dupré present the world’s most famous Elizabethan playwright as a rapper. Leaping onto the stage with characteristic energy, Charlie goes straight into his first story with very little preamble. He presents Shakespeare as the underdog in a playground rap battle against an older bully, Marlowe. Shakey P ultimately triumphs because of better insults, tighter plot lines and more enduring posthumous popularity.

Thus begins an intense hour’s retelling of some of the bards most famous plays including Othello, Richard III, Macbeth and Hamlet.

A Cerebral Approach

It is a well-known fact that much of Shakespeare’s verse is written in iambic pentameter. The five beats to the bar rhythms were develop by early writers because they closely mirror the natural pace of speech and this form of metre is one of the most popular forms for verse to take; period.

In this fast paced poetic romp Charlie uses this fact to his advantage by cleverly contrasting the iambic pentameter with its four beats to a bar alternative the iambic tetrameter, commonly used as a basis for much rap music.

The result is an immediately accessible performance. Intersecting his stories with helpful explanations and insightful asides the show feels, at times, like a GCSE English class, albeit the coolest one you’ve ever had.

Multiple Characters

Charlie slips effortlessly between multiple characters and voices to tell his stories. He hooks each retelling on a different premise, Richard III is told through his ‘counselling sessions’, Othello compared to Eminem’s stalker hit ‘Stan’ and so on. Some poems are more polished than others but all command attention for the original way they tackle very familiar storylines. Reminiscent of the comedic Reduced Shakespeare Company, these poems distill the key themes and plotlines of the plays into witty vignettes.

The Music

In another interesting twist Charlie is accompanied by Oliver Willems and Oktawia Petronella on strings. The double base and violin are used throughout the piece to create a soundtrack to the pieces, the contrasting tones of the two instruments used to differentiate character and mood. This both helps Charlie to build on the drama of his performances and also takes the idea of Shakespearean rap that one step further, imagining what sort of instruments available in the 16th Century could create the right backdrop for spitting rhymes like a modern day MC.

The Verdict

Teachers all over the country should know about Shakey P! A fantastically entertaining, energetic and fresh account of Shakespeare’s oeuvre, not to be missed! So if you did miss it at the Edinburgh Fringe this August, keep track of his website, Facebook or Twitter for future gigs.

Star Rating: 4/5

Edinburgh Fringe Review: Around the World in Eight Mistakes by Sophia Walker

In Festival, Performance Poetry on August 29, 2013 at 9:50 am

– reviewed by Lucy Ayrton

Around the World in Eight Mistakes is a powerhouse of a spoken word show from a phenom of a performer. Poet and performer Sophia Walker guides the audience through an hour of misadventures with skill and panache.

The style slips effortlessly between storytelling and poetry – the tone is so conversational, you can end up in a poem without realising how you got there. If it sounds like this might have been a bit confusing – it wasn’t. This informality of style was emphasised by the venue’s casual setting, as The Royal Oak’s bottom room is a tiny little pub space, where the audience sat all over the place with no discernible ‘audience zone’. And Walker roamed around the space, including everyone with her warm and accessible delivery, so the show felt, at times, like you were just having a really interesting chat with someone cool in a pub. Which, I suppose, is exactly what was happening.

There were some damn good jokes, some real wisdom and some genuinely shocking moments within this show. Walker‘s writing pops with amazing lines, while cliches were neatly subverted (“all grass looks greener in the shadows” was a favourite) and some images left the (obviously captivated) audience audibly gasping. The section on Uganda left me feeling shaken and a bit hollow. You know, in a good way.

This show closed on the 23rd, so if you didn’t manage to catch it, then watch out for Sophia Walker (her future gigs will hopefully be listed here). As well as performing this superb show, she also won the prestigious BBC Poetry Slam, so next time you are able to see her: you should grab a ticket with both hands.

Star Rating: 5/5

‘The Only Reason for Time’ by Fiona Moore

In Pamphlets on August 28, 2013 at 9:12 am

-Reviewed by Afric McGlinchey


After the premature death of a lover, it would be easy to succumb to a tidal wave of bitterness and anguish.  But, unlike Auden’s famous ‘Funeral Blues’ poem, where, in a rapture of grief, he exhorts the world to ‘stop all the clocks,  cut off the telephone’, Moore is more private in this chapbook, addressing not the world, but her absent lover: ‘Your death kills me a thousand times, / the tyranny of repetition’ (‘1010101010…’). Like Auden, however, her world has slammed to a halt.

The radiance and gravity of the poems grow out of volcanic emotion, channeled into strict forms, creating a poetic experience of grief. Everything is pervaded by her partner’s absence, poignantly symbolized by his Aran jersey, which she wears, but ‘which holds me differently’. The shirt, which a medical team had to cut off him, and which she found bundled in a wardrobe months later, is another symbol: ‘a shirt for a gentle hug’, now ‘slashed through’.

In both tone and content, Moore’s poems are layered with sub-texts and juxtapositions. Her attention alights at times on the cosmos, infinity, and also on mundane objects that have gained a resonance – the grey metal latch of a gate, a padlock, the clatter of change in a pocket, the stainless steel of a kitchen sink.

While her palette is muted for the most part, we see a flash of colour in ‘the white/purple bleed of petals in ‘Eden’, and in ‘the flaming/ orange, purple and fuchsia red of an Irish hedge’ in ‘Third day of fog’, suggesting natural erotic instincts that have been repressed through grief, leaving not only the landscape, but the speaker herself, ‘leached of colour’ (‘The distal point’).

The poems are imbued with an elemental grace: ‘O of the eye, the sun, the ocean, stopped by doors and windows and ceilings of earth’. Her soundscape is unobtrusive at first, but there is subtle internal rhyme, assonance and dissonance at work:

‘The water’s embrace jolts,
heaves, lulls me…I kick hard, breathing for you

through strands of hair…The drab land calls, the sea
spits me out – numb, dripping salt, living for you.’

(‘On Dunwich Beach’)

The moon is a recurring motif.  In one poem she describes it as ‘a white-gowned eroticist’ and confesses: ‘I want to bare all for you.’ It’s probably no accident that the three moon poems are all written in  three-line stanzas and hint at frustrated erotic desires: ‘my usual despair, worn out by night after // long night of nothing.’

Moore’s grief is solitary, with only the moon and the ghost of her lover for company. Even the cold, implacable sea, into which she plunges, ‘swimming for you’ spits her out again. She sees her partner in the leafless trees ‘whose outlines are all gesture’ (‘Overwinter’). The skeleton of the fish on her plate reminds her ‘of the last time we ate mackerel together.’ Poem after subtle poem reveals the significance of small events, set against the shadow of death.

In  the title poem, she gives in to a fantasy that time might not be linear  but looped, so that her partner who ‘went out/ through it like a door … will come back in /before you left, and intact.’ Several poems touch on philosophical, though not spiritual, observations. She is earthed in the natural world, and her departed lover is simply a ghost lingering here, not in some other eternal realm.

There are a few moments of light relief, such as the glimpse of a cluster of nuns ‘like five pints of stout /just poured’ in conversation with a man, ‘mud on his boots’ on a country lane in Ireland (‘Truly’). Another is the leap of joy experienced at the sight of ‘Bullocks –’

…‘at a gallop–
all bunched up
shouldering each other
muddy rumps rocking
up/down, hooves
thundering, rope-tails
flying…oh, the rain
roars for them’

This energy and momentum contrasts with the otherwise stopped-time sense of her emotional state. But it also suggests that the speaker is not yet finished with living.

Moore’s strength lies in her close, concrete observation of happening events, and in her perspectives. In the most dramatic poem, ‘What kind of sound crowds make’, when a child’s head is trapped between the doors of an underground tube, she forensically compares the collective ‘oh!’ gasps of the crowd to ‘the kind of sound crowds make / at executions of the surely innocent’.

There is a feeling of detachment and disconnection with the world, so when, in the last poem, she addresses the reader directly, it’s a jolt.  Again, she layers the impact. We are made aware not only that we have been voyeurs to her grief, but that we too, have our own ghosts. Or, in fact, our ghosts have us: ‘You are the fire around which your ghosts are talking.’

But, as she writes wittily in ‘Hunger’: ‘One way to dispose of a corpse is to eat it.’

I am reminded of a beautiful poem by Matthew Dickman called ‘Slow Dance’ in which he says of his twin brother: ‘I know that one of us will die first and the other will suffer.’ This is something we all face. But even with this fear of impending loss, we wouldn’t do without love. This collection is not just a lament, but an ode – to the fact that the intensity of grief has been balanced by the joy of an earlier, equivalent love.

A profoundly heart-wrenching, spare and beautiful chapbook.

‘Clause in a Noise’ by Mark Goodwin

In Pamphlets on August 27, 2013 at 12:30 pm

-Reviewed by Hayden Westfield-Bell


Opening with a dedication to ‘Tony Frazer, and his faith in play’, Mark Goodwin begins his new chapbook, Clause in a Noise published by Knives Forks and Spoons Press with a hint; that these poems may be more than they appear. Heavily engaged with the concept of play, Goodwin’s poems challenge syntax and test the boundaries of traditional poetic forms whilst exciting the casual reader with sound-infused lines that electrify the tongue.

Read them aloud, hold them in your mouth, taste them and feel the words as they form at the jaw because Goodwin’s poems benefit greatly when given voice. A rolling of the r’s or a tumble of t’s’ snag in thorny staccatos (‘asymmetrical beasts receive electrical signals’) or blend seamlessly into smoother rhythms (‘enjoying erosion; a pestling’) and the words on the page seem to fade, transferring onto your tongue. The poems become your own as you’re forced to navigate a rocky terrain rich with jumbled tenses and pause to stroke the petals of a line struggling through a crack in the earth, like ‘a belch of roots’, ‘some local cruelty on a floor’ or the line ‘she messes her mouth’.

Perhaps you stumble a little over ‘but some two couldn’t stay this’ and bruise your knee ‘under generalisations that / I without will read & shout’ but the hard-going nature of the text serves to emphasise the more distilled lines that can be found within the poems. Structurally, the poems are written in free verse and feature rare cases of rhyme, ‘Chemicals of a Dog’ and ‘A Contiguous Body’ are particularly effective at exploring the page adding a visual dimension to the poems and affecting their reading.

Here’s where the ‘spoilers’ begin: Goodwin claims that ‘Facts of a Teleology of Utterance’ is a translation of Giles Goodland’s Myths of The Origins of Language, ‘A Contiguous Body’ is a translation of The Separable Soul by Elisabeth Bletsoe and, perhaps the most telling translation is that of Peter Redgrove’s Electricities of The Cat, which becomes ‘Chemicals of a Dog’. From origin to teleology, soul to body, electricity to chemicals, Goodwin’s ‘translations’ are really not translations at all…

The poems begin to unfold in front of your eyes. ‘An incomplete desert is declined’ from ‘ Facts of a Teleology of Utterance’ makes sense when understood as a mirror image of Bletsoe’s ‘the whole forest is named,’ but it’s important to refrain from cataloguing the lines as simply creative opposites, or of considered and constructed mistranslations. ‘A weight of absence’ becomes (in ‘Contiguous Body’) the ever beautiful ‘a lightness of presence’ and ‘he clears his throat’ from Myths of The Origin of Language translates into the feral ‘she messes her mouth’ in Teleology, through inversion these lines enter into a kind of parallel poetic universe – remaining as powerful as they were in the original, albeit, with an altered message.

Not all lines are beautiful, however, and the nature of translating every word into its opposite often results in conflicting dangerous lines. Tenses distort, the syntax breaks, and though Goodwin is often quick to pull in the slack and pull the language together with alliteration or assonance some areas of the poems can appear dense and unrewarding. ‘Chance for a Large Dark’ was particularly intimidating, though perseverance is often rewarded; ‘smoking / in the day it was to be the very hamlet of life / listless around its inertia emailing’. These distortions and destructions raise interesting questions as to the nature of language and the way we use oppositional dyads; conjuring up visions of Saussure-ean semiotics and Wittgenstein-ian wordplay, but come across aggressively when judged poetically.

A ballsy pamphlet of considered ‘mistranslations’, Mark Goodwin’s Clause in a Noise is a collection of reinventions; grasping beautiful lines from the likes of Giles Goodland, Elisabeth Bletsoe and Peter Riley and pull them into a playful parallel universe rich in staccato and sound. Poetry miners and puzzle solvers will find the collection rich in poetic treasures but the more casual reader might hesitate on the fringes; uncertain of the contents within Goodwin’s swirling poetics.

‘Bike, Rain’ by Cliff Yates

In Pamphlets on August 27, 2013 at 10:11 am

-Reviewed by Fiona Moore


Some of the poems in Bike, Rain start ordinary and turn strange. A few are surreal all through: a colt climbs a tree, a chicken roosts on someone’s head, “She broods, lays eggs on my head. They roll down my face, / smash at my feet.” ‘Chicken’ can stand for whatever you want; things get worse and the poem is frightening. Other poems hang around on the fringes of strangeness, and some don’t seem strange at all, which may make the reader think, What have I missed?

The language is plain, often deliberately flat, but full of distinctive turns of phrase and syntax. It is descriptive in a quirkily factual sort of way, whether or not the material is fanciful. That combination gives Yates his most memorable phrases, such as the final couplet from ‘Just Before You Taste It’.

‘Something’s going off in the fridge, making
very little noise, making almost no noise at all.’

I hadn’t read anything by Yates before. I started with the first poem, ‘Life Studies’, whose opening lines couldn’t be more anecdotal and, along with the aftertaste of the Robert Lowell title, made me wonder where I was being taken. But then – “Someone said the best moments are moments / of realisation” – it turns into a sort of manifesto. Lowell and O’Hara are named, and there’s even a reference to the poet’s signature. It’s easy to see why Yates says he loves O’Hara, who (he says) hated Lowell. Those easy opening lunchtime lines are a Lunch Poems take-off. “There’s something in Lowell that I recognise,” he adds, but doesn’t say what. (He’s not deeply confessional.) There’s probably a Lowell take-off in there too.  Maybe there’s a link in the delight taken in oddness:

‘I sit next to a girl who smells like a bag
of crisps or maybe I can just smell crisps.’

That’s on the tube in London; around half the poems involve journeys, mostly by train. Odd things can happen in the context of trains – see the fridge quote above. See also the title poem, though that appears not to be odd at all, except in the stand-up comedy absurdity of the micro choices we make.

After reading the book several times over weeks, I’ve found the poems that have lasted best are mostly the ones in between the extremes of surreal and ordinary; they are the most surprising. My favourite is the beautiful ‘Alt St Johann’, which conjures up a fairy tale-like family holiday.

‘The cherries are finished on the tree,
the redcurrants ripe on the bush.
We sleep at the top of the house in the room
full of musical instruments. The music
enters our dreams and leaves by the gate
leaving it open.

This, I decide, is paradise
where they lend you their shoes and they fit.’

Opposite is a balancing poem, ‘Easter’, about a later, grown-ups-only visit to the same place, changed of course; with an unusually explicit emotional statement, “So much guilt today you can hardly bear it / but you do and carry on”. Each poem enhances the other, but also stands on its own.

Overall, the effect of reading these poems repeatedly is restful – like being with a companion who is friendly, humorous, questioning, existentially anxious in a daily sort of way. Knives Forks and Spoons Press mostly publishes experimental and ‘outsider’ poetry. Bike, Rain doesn’t fit that profile. But Yates’ use of language makes these poems original, and lifts the best of them into being very striking.






‘Lines Underwater’ (ed. Laura Seymour, Kirsten Tambling)

In anthology on August 26, 2013 at 9:08 am

-Reviewed by Caroline M. Davies


People have been writing about mermaids for centuries but Lines Underwater is an anthology which brings the mermaid into the twenty-first century. 

It started as a collaborative project, Poems Underwater, between Laura Seymour and Kirsten Tambling early in 2013 with visits to three places in th UK replete with mermaid histories and stories. They decided to invite other artists and writers to contribute to the project, resulting in over forty contributors to the book covering a range of disciplines.  It offers exactly what I would want from an anthology; fresh work from writers with whom I was already familiar and an introduction to new voices.

Lines underwater also includes multi-media elements. There are scannable barcodes so you can access songs and short films. These are also available via the website if, like me, you don’t have a smart-phone. Twitter finds its way into one of the short stories, #mermaidsrock by Piotr Cieplak, a witty and cautionary tale about our continuing obsession with monarchies and celebrities. I read it whilst all the fuss was going on in the UK media about the birth of a British royal baby. Cieplak’s story provides a new twist through the inclusion of social media and even the mermaids are not what you’d expect.

The anthology is organised into four chapters covering various aspects of mermaids in story and myth: ‘Stories of washed up things, ‘Nets, nerves and wires’, ‘Bricked in and crossing borders’ and ‘Skin, scales, skirts’. Rebecca Gethin’s poem gives us the fisherman who carved The Mermaid Chair at St St Senara’s church in Zennor;

‘Vicar assumed he must have communed
with an angel, asked him to carve what he’d seen.’

Katie Hale reclaims the Sirens from being wicked women who lure men to destruction into much more sympathetic creatures:

‘We couldn’t help ourselves but sing.
To see men’s faces lift,
and hope rekindle in their eyes –
who wouldn’t give the gift.’

The deaths of the sailors in Siren’s Song are a peaceful release and this was a poem I kept going back to for a re-read.

Mermaids are used as a metaphor for contemporary issues and dilemmas. Most memorably, Jo Stanley’s ‘Adaptation’ recasts the mermaid as a WAG, the girlfriend of a racing driver undergoing surgery to transform her tail into legs. It provides an incisive commentary on celebrity culture and cosmetic surgery and also includes veterans from the war in Afghanistan and transgender surgery:

“Mainly I visited Stella, who was in supported housing in Slough. She was feeling lonely for all that some of her army mates visited between tours. Seeing their injuries upset her but she loved feeling one of the boys again, as they tried to drink themselves sane.”

Like much of the work this is a long way from the somewhat clichéd traditional view of a mermaid as an enchanting woman with a fish tail. Lines underwater is by turns playful, thought-provoking and above all packed with original work.

I leave the final say with Charlotte Higgins’ ‘Ariel’:

‘No one ever told you
that you cannot sing these new words
any more than a man can waltz on the surface of the sea.’




‘Toebirds and Woodlice’ by Leilanie Stewart

In Pamphlets on August 24, 2013 at 9:34 am

-Reviewed by Jenna Clake


What is most striking about Stewart’s Toebirds and Woodlice is its difference to her other pamphlet, Metamorphosis of Woman. Granted, the strong, honest personae are still there, but this time, Stewart is concerned with the mind. The pamphlet opens with ‘Ode to Childhood Dreams’, in which the persona is created through dialect:

Mira scotch-hotch
stole me money
and me right to breathe

The persona’s further threat to ‘ram me gaddow up yer ass’ is hardly unexpected from Stewart: her personae are outspoken and impossible to ignore.

Stewart states that the pamphlet contains ‘poetry for those who spend at least 60% of the day in their heads’ and it is easy to see why. There is a childlike quality to these poems; ‘Neanderthal’, ‘Tinnitus’, ‘Daddy-O’ and ‘Greenwich Meridian’ seem to be voiced by the same speaker, who appears to be attempting to pronounce a new word and simultaneously formulate their thoughts. The thoughts never seem to be truly verbalised, however, with the attempt to pronounce ‘Neanderthal’ ultimately resulting in ‘Nean-a-fish-man’.

The mind is the focus of the collection, as shown by ‘Conundrum’, which charts the cyclical tendency of thoughts:

‘Once I had a cut
That formed a scab
Then I picked the scab
And made a fresh cut’

Each line acts as a new thought, signalled by the capitalisation of the beginning word. However, one is often left wondering what Stewart is trying to say with her poems. Perhaps that is the point entirely: thoughts and the mind are a recurring trend in this pamphlet, and Stewart seems to be attempting to make sense of it all by showing that truly, it can’t make sense.

The tone of the pamphlet is often playful, but at times moves into the more serious. The speaker in ‘Circles and Stripes’ says:

‘I saw this coming
Once upon an idealistic time
Yet it doesn’t make it easier now’

When reading Toebirds and Woodlice, it is possible to chart Stewart’s development as a writer. At times, Stewart begins to experiment with shape, at one point creating a poem, ‘Predator’ to look like the film character. This is one of the weakest poems of the pamphlet, simply because Stewart seems to lose her focus on voice and meaning, and concentrates on the appearance.

The major successes of this chapbook are the poems in which Stewart marries form and content. The narrative poems in the pamphlet are the most effective, such as ‘Causality of a Hopeless Dreamer’, which captures the hopelessness and danger of following ambition in a subtle and affecting way. It ends in a tantalising manner, marrying emotion and surreal images to encapsulate a childlike dream.  The poem begins with short lines that grow longer as the poem progresses, charting the speaker’s journey into the dream-world.

The most successful poem, however, is ‘Sock-it-to-me Football-head’. Here, Stewart comes into her element. Her persona is fully realised, and the surreal nature of poem is made unsettling by the violent images, and the speaker’s apparent fascination with them.

It is when Stewart wanders from creating a voice and begins to experiment with well-known sayings and words that she loses her way, and one might think the poetry a little trivial. However, Stewart’s exploration of the mind through poetry still creates an eclectic and ultimately interesting pamphlet.

‘Metamorphosis of Woman/ Realms of Man’ by Leilanie Stewart and Joseph Robert

In Collaboration, Pamphlets on August 24, 2013 at 9:24 am

-Reviewed by Jenna Clake


Metamorphosis of Woman/ Realms of Man is written by husband and wife Joseph Robert and Leilanie Stewart. The pamphlet is quirky, experimental and full of personality, and the reader is prepared for this by the chapbook’s reversible format:  on one side sits Stewart’s Metamorphosis of Woman; on the other is Robert’s Realms of Man. In the middle you will find the poets’ biographies, which are charmingly vague and self-irreverent, accompanied by photographs of inanimate objects (clothes for Stewart, a screwed-up piece of paper and monochrome squares for Robert).

Metamorphosis of Woman contains fourteen pages of self-published poems. Stewart employs distinctive voices in each poem, creating speakers that are honest, blunt and cynical; this creates a tone that is not dissimilar to Jennifer L Knox’s A Gringo Like Me. ‘Enlightenment’, the pamphlet’s second poem, begins with cynicism:

‘I got stuck
in the hole of enlightenment
my ass was too big to fit through’

‘Enlightenment’ questions the validity of religion, throwing Stewart’s work immediately into a contentious realm. However, the speaker’s candour is so irresistible, that one finds it difficult to be offended. That is not to say that Stewart is running away from controversy; she is able to present contentious issues in a way that invite consideration, therefore encouraging the reader to engage with her work and point of view. However, one gets the impression that even if the reader were offended, the forthright speaker wouldn’t really care.

Stewart’s ability to create voice in poetry is her talent. Her speakers are clearly envisioned, communicating Stewart’s opinions of her own writing: she half-heartedly laments her inability to write ‘nice, neat poems/ about winter, or cats’ in ‘Voodoo’. This should not be mistaken for self-deprecation, however. Stewart’s exuberant personality is in every poem, and it is ultimately refreshing.

Joseph Robert’s Realms of Man likewise contains fourteen pages of poems, which are quite distinct from Stewart’s. While Robert focuses on voice too, his interest is in the sounds these voices make, recreating their idiosyncrasies in a series of monologues and conversations.

Robert’s pamphlet is far more concerned with form and linguistic play than Stewart’s. Realms of Man includes acrostics and miniature crosswords, and experiments with grammar (or a lack thereof).   A personal favourite, ‘Oi! Nope. Oh? Wine Dark’ dissects the meaning of each word in its first line to divulge the protagonist’s lack of confidence and success in an interesting and original way.

The difference in the types of personae that Stewart and Robert write is also interesting. Robert’s are less cynical than Stewart’s, and perhaps more emotionally wrought at times. ‘Deli-Sliced’ implements one of Zeno’s paradoxes, Achilles and the Tortoise, to communicate the speaker’s inability to inhabit the same emotional space as the addressee. The paradox is as follows: ‘In a race, the quickest runner can never overtake the slowest, since the pursuer must first reach the point whence the pursued started, so that the slower must always hold a lead.’ The poem is surreal, with the speaker describing cutting a room into ‘ten-thousand samey cubes’. The persona’s train of thought is also difficult to follow, with each line ending with a dash, creating a stream-of-conscious narrative. However, the final line of ‘Deli-Sliced’, ‘You ever visited, and never stayed’ creates poignancy and direction, by finally revealing the speaker’s failure to maintain a relationship with another person.

Throughout both collections there are references to ancient history, usually in relation to language, which most likely stem from Stewart’s background in archaeology. Robert writes about ‘Hittite grammars’ in ‘Solar’, while Stewart devotes a whole poem, ‘Stoichedon’ to the ancient Greek practice of engraving, to discuss our inability to communicate effectively; this is a recurring theme in both collections.

It is evident why the poets have chosen to self-publish collaboratively: their work shares enough similarities to make the pamphlet seem unified, without one over-shadowing the other or the work blending into one undefinable collection. Metamorphosis of Woman/ Realms of Man is a largely successful pamphlet, and it is entertaining at the very least.

‘Not on our green belt’ (ed. Lindsey Holland)

In anthology on August 23, 2013 at 9:30 am

-Reviewed by Lettie Mckie

‘A selection of Britain’s best contemporary poets united against green belt development’


Traditionally poetry and political activism are not pursuits that naturally go hand in hand. Poets are, by and large, considered by society to be quiet reflective thinkers, musing on events after they’ve happened, rather than taking an active role in shaping them. Poets are, in fact, much more often known for either glorifying an event (Tennyson’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’) or damning it (Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’). However in Britain there is also a long history of poets using their work to speak out and embrace the most controversial and life changing of subjects. From Shelley’s reaction to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 (‘The Masque of Anarchy’) to the ground breaking work of Jamaican poet James Berry (who settled in London in the 1940s) poets have shaped the way we see and understand our 21st century world, the work they produce impacting upon our attitudes and informing our political stance.

This well considered and thought-provoking anthology sends a firm, but gentle, message of a peculiarly British type of protest. Subtitled ‘Poets against Green Belt Development’ the book protest against the threat of building onto protected belts of countryside. Contributors to this book are therefore united not by style but by a clear political and ideological viewpoint. The result is a charming plethora of impassioned approaches to a subject which is clearly close to each poet’s heart. The collection reads like a manifesto, an emotive argument which opposes the threat of over development in the countryside.

The diversity of approach to subject matter is certainly the most successful element of this collection. Some poets (such as Brian Wake in ‘Trees’) tell ‘before and after’ stories of the destruction of the countryside, focusing in on the unpleasant characters and economic attitudes they deem responsible, highlighting a widespread and wanton disregard for the future of the countryside. Wake highlights the frustrating inaction and procrastination of ‘the men from the Council’ who are ‘salaried by our concerns’ and warns ‘They are killing trees, we say and you will not see the wood for dead trees’. Similarly Sarah James in ‘Unelemental’ tells the story of a remote country house which slowly gets sucked into an ever growing town. This contrast between the freshness and purity of the countryside and the hot, sweaty putrefaction of the town is an on-going image that crops up in many guises throughout the collection (Cathy Bryant’s ‘Termite Nation’, Sarah Hymes’ ‘Handiwork’). This contrast is perhaps a little too simplistic but the point is clear, the countryside is immeasurably rich, a source of comfort and a life blood for many. Bryant’s poem in particular succinctly extols these benefits but is slightly overstated:

While in red rage and desiring revenge
Became leavened by time and light…
Through the soft hushings of trees?’

Other poets employ more abstract forms to glorify an existing or a remembered countryside. Angela Topping in ‘Duke’s Clough’, Andrew Forster in ‘The Cottage’ and Lindsey Holland in ‘We’ll Give You Walls’ all evoke beautifully detailed childhood recollections to express a sense of loss and decay. Some of the best poems in the collection focus in on natural life disturbed by the human hand (Valerie Laws’ ‘Chainsaw Massacre’) or an exploration of our deep-seated need for a connection to nature (Polly Atkin’s ‘Room’, Alyson Hallett’s ‘Unremote’). Law’s sonnet beautifully evokes both a passion for the countryside and her horror at its destruction;

‘I would hope to see
Green buds on boughs that shake against the cold
I hear the growling chainsaw gnaw each tree’

Elsewhere, Ira Lightman protests much more directly, pitting himself and his cause against a faceless and oppressive establishment (‘Rob the Hoodie’). This poem is less easy to sympathise with because it requires the reader to share his political and societal views.


Another successful aspect of the collection is the cohesive voice of the protestors. Each poet’s love of the countryside has deep roots (often through childhood memories developed into a lifelong need for fresh air and a connection to the earth) and together the poems generally focus not on aggressively asserting their cause, but a calm glorification of the world they are trying to protect. Although this can sometimes spill over into sentimentality, in general the book’s peaceful message of love for what we have (and a deep seated desire to keep it safe) is what makes it compelling.

Although the poetry in this collection is thought provoking and passionate there is an ingrained assumption that Green Belt Development will result in the total disappearance of the countryside (Geraldine Monk’s ‘Lines After William Blake’, Alec Newman’s ‘Constable Country’). So many of the poems focus on total catastrophe and annihilation as the ultimate consequence of any development, but what is the factual evidence to support this essentially emotional argument? The ideology behind these largely fantastic poems is let down because the question of the appropriate level of fear over the countryside’s future is never addressed. If we take these poems at face value the threats they describe are imminent, but this is an assumption on the part of the authors and no proof is given.

An unsettling and challenging read, this impassioned collection celebrates the countryside that exists both in reality and in our minds. The arguments expressed within these poems are fuelled by the love these poets have for their countryside and the resulting value that they place upon its survival.