Reviews of the Ephemeral

Archive for October, 2013|Monthly archive page

Mosaic of Air by Cherry Potts

In Short Stories on October 19, 2013 at 1:30 pm

-Reviewed by Andie Berryman

Mosaic of Air is a lesbian collection originally released in 1992 with its re-release in 2013. So why re-issue stories from a particular era, in this case the 1980s: would the stories now be a bit dated? In her foreword, author Cherry Potts examines this decision herself, she points out which particular lines are now mercifully obsolete (such as ”He couldn’t very well marry Phillip, could he?”), but also points to the stories which still, sadly, portray elements of contemporary lesbian life.

Mosaic of Air by Cherry Potts

There’s a short piece called ‘Second Glance’ about a woman ‘cautiously searching for the cues’ before speaking to a woman in a bar (which the author points to in the foreword), I passed it around some LGBT friends (in their 20s and 30s) to gauge a reaction, they all read the piece, nodding their heads and simply saying ‘yes’.

The ground-breaking era of the second wave of feminism and the elements of women’s lives is present throughout the collection. In ‘The Ballad of Polly and Ann’ that element is incest. Not many words are wasted on the perpetrator, rather the main protagonist’s unorthodox journey takes precedence. This (to my mind) mirrors the rise of rape crisis centres during the 1970s and 1980s, which started life primarily tackling incestuous abuse.

Then there’s the reclaiming of myths. The great joy in reading a Feminist collection like this is the re-imagining, from Woolf to Winterson, Cherry Potts also reimagines Helen of Troy as a mere beautiful pawn in the powerplay of the ancient world, but who, like most women in today’s society, negotiates the system. If you read nothing else in this book you must read ‘Arachne’s Daughters’; this takes apart a myth about Arachne (a human) challenging Athene (the goddess): ‘ ”Now, can you believe anyone would be so stupid?” ‘. It’s set as a speech given at a women-only meeting with a clever twist on why so many women shouldn’t fear spiders despite the extra legs and pincers ‘ ”Forgot something though didn’t they?…[Men]… How many Cancers and Scorpios are in the audience?” ‘.

Throughout is the filling of silence through the writing of experience. That’s quite clearly laid out in ‘Winter Festival’, a piece about being alone on what should be a day of being with a loved one: ‘ ”A day like any other, except perhaps for our expectations of it: unreasonable, companionable expectations”. One couldn’t imagine that story being relevant to the here and now, but it’s happening somewhere, to someone.

Another element in the canon of feminist writing is science fiction. There always seems to be a reaching out to space, a place which shouldn’t replicate patriarchal norms, but somehow does and distorts them slightly. ‘Mosaic of Air’ is an interesting parable featuring a proto-post-feminist lead, a computer programmer whose programme becomes sentient which surprisingly encases an abortion debate.

There is longing, there is the blessing of lust requited, written to my mind on a low frequency; this is what happened, it’s important that it’s displayed as an everyday facet of life. Cherry Potts’ writing quite rightly points out that lesbian life has been portrayed like an old postcard left behind the carriage clock on the mantelpiece for years; visitors have noticed it and yet not bothered to pick it up and discover the message on it, because it’s from Hebden Bridge and not Brighton’s clubs.


Review: She Grrrowls! Spoken Word Launch Party 11/09/13

In Performance Poetry on October 16, 2013 at 1:31 pm

– reviewed by Irina Jauhiainen

she grrrowls

She Grrrowls! Spoken Word launched on Wednesday 11th of September. The pilot night’s theme was Politics, which seemed a little scary in the context of a female spoken word event – but this poetry performance fan was happily surprised by the variety of performance as well as the excellent quality of the night.

A rather charming hipster-ish venue …

The show took place at The Gallery Café in Bethnal Green. It seems like a hipstery café that would be lovely to have lunch in, but needs quite an effort to transform into a performance venue. The café’s large tables make it a rather clumsy audience space. The best way to be comfortable is to get to the venue early, have some food (the menu looked fantastic) and sit at a table before the space gets crowded. There was a slightly late start for the show due to technical problems and organization issues, but since the number of open mic performers was relatively low (as you can expect on a pilot night), the show was not too badly delayed.

A political kind of poetry …

Host Joelle Taylor kicked off each half performing her own work. Out of all the performers that night, Taylor was probably the closest to what I expected from a politically themed female spoken word night, but definitely in a good way. It was a pleasant surprise that while this was advertised as a female spoken word event, there were still men in the open mic who were willing and able to contribute to the night’s themes. While the themes of politics and feminism were present in most of these performances, clichés were successfully avoided and a wide range of issues regarding equality and social justice were brought up. The great thing about events like this is that you’re bound to get like-minded people in the audience; the atmosphere was incredibly supportive. There was a feeling of ‘yes-I-want-to-change-the-world’ in the air and it’s hard to imagine anyone left feeling angry or depressed about social injustice, since the performers conveyed their social agenda with just the right amount of optimism and hopefulness.

A stunning blend of styles and subjects …

Poetry workshop organiser Momina Mela and winner of London Teenage Senior Slam Aisling Fahey featured in the second half. These brilliant poets provided a contrast for the slam-style of the open mic with beautifully crafted and literary poetry performance. While neither of the feature poets were overtly political, both had a feminine and feminist viewpoint behind the poems that engaged beautifully with the event’s focus. The night was structured so that the open mic took place in the first half and all of the features in the second, which worked so well particularly because there was such a clear distinction in style of performance. Especially in themed events it is rare to achieve such a variety of styles and subject matters – this night was definitely successful in keeping the audience interested and wanting to hear more.

And ending on a high note …

The night finished with a lovely, uplifting and not at all political music performance from Sunshine in Mae. Lead singer Sula Mae entertained the audience during set-up by telling cheese-related jokes. It must be said in the defence of the venue that with its complications in transforming into a performance venue, the Gallery Café has a stage big enough to accommodate a full band, which is a major bonus and not exactly easy to find, so it was a very nice and rare treat to hear a full band with double bass and all. Sunshine in Mae‘s happy lyrics were a perfect pick-me-up on a rainy autumn evening and ended the show in great spirits.

A wonderfully entertaining and inclusive event …

The next She Grrrowls! Spoken Word event will take place on Monday 18th of November, and follow each third Monday of the month. Entry fee is £5, but admission is free for those reading at the open mic. Next month’s featured acts will be Sophia Walker, Greta Bellamacina, Sarah Perry, Sarah Arnold and Hannah Rose Tristram. She Grrrowls! is certainly not only for female spoken word artists, as the brilliant launch night proved, and the organisers undoubtedly have a great taste in performers and the right contacts to put on more nights just as amazing as the first.

In conversation with Helen Ivory

In Conversation on October 15, 2013 at 9:18 am
-In conversation with Claire Trévien-
Helen Ivory is a poet and artist.  Her fourth Bloodaxe Books collection is Waiting for Bluebeard (May 2013) She has co-edited with George Szirtes In Their Own Words: Contemporary Poets on their Poetry Salt 2012.  She teaches for the Arvon Foundation, The Poetry School and mentors for the Poetry Society. She edits the webzine Ink Sweat and Tears and is an editor for The Poetry Archive.  She will be on a panel on Monday 21 October at Byte the Book on the future of poetry publishing.

Sabotage Reviews: As an editor at the Poetry Archive and the editor of Ink, Sweat and Tears, what do you think is the place of the digital in poetry?

Helen Ivory: I think that having poems online makes it easier to share work.  Before the digital age, if people wanted to read poetry they would have had to get off of their sofas to find it. Now, they can access it on whatever electronic device they happen to have.

It’s also easier to combine other media with poetry- for example on the Archive you can listen to poets reading their work so you can hear the music of their voice and the weight of the silences and words, so the poem’s performance is a working part of the poem.  On Ink Sweat & Tears, we publish work which combines word & image, which can be too expensive to do in print media.

SR: In recent years there has been a resurgence in lo-fi articles, zines that embrace their low-budget, a preference for the hand-crafted over the sleek, I wonder how you feel about this with regards to poetry, and whether you think it’s a movement that is likely to continue to grow?

HI: As a visual artist who makes work from found objects and cuts up ephemera and old publications to make collages, I am very much singing from the same song sheet.  I do think it’s a movement that’s likely to grow because now people are being asked to examine the nature of the media they are using and what qualities they want from it and what that says about the kind of publication they are involved in.

I also think that because of Kindle, books will generally become more beautiful as objects and be valued as such, rather than just methods of giving and receiving information. It seems to me a bit like when photography was invented, when there was a device which could record the world in perfect detail so the reaction was that painters started to explore and question how they approached their medium.

SRWhat has been your biggest challenge when running IST?

HI:Keeping up with the work submitted, which is I suppose a challenge to any editor!  Also, we published two of the poets who have recently been uncovered as plagiarists, they had appeared on the site several times.  This makes us a little bit paranoid, so we have got into the habit of putting lines of work submitted into Google, which is the way that the plagiarists were found out!

SR:On a more personal note, it must have been fantastic to see your latest collection Waiting for Bluebeard do so well (congratulations on making the East Anglian Book Award shortlist in particular!). Are there any ways in which you feel that the process of writing and editing poetry has changed in the last few years for you?

HI: Thank you – I’ve pretty much always written straight onto the screen to gain objectivity, but more recently I have become more attached to using Google as a research tool.  I like the directions a poem can take after doing just a little bit of cross-referencing.  Not too much research though –  I’m more of a magpie.

SR:  It’s rare to find good digital versions of poetry books and I wonder if that was ever in discussion with your editor at Bloodaxe? Do you ever read poetry digitally?

HI: First question – no discussion at all.  Second… I go onto the Poetry Foundation website a fair amount, and dip into various quality online poetry sites.  If I like a poet’s work though, and they have a print publication, I will buy it.  Personally, I wouldn’t buy a digital poetry book unless the book was written with digital media in mind and I don’t think we’ve fully caught up with that yet because it’s still a relatively new format and is yet to be explored.

SR: Finally, what new projects do you have in the pipeline?

HI:I am currently poet in residence for the Curiosity exhibition at the castle Museum, so I am writing from that exhibition.  It plays on the idea of the Victorian cabinets of curiosity and the cross-over between art and science.  I’ve also been working on a commission with immunologist Professor Elizabeth Simpson – the commission is finished now, but we are looking at ways I can get some funding to be the poet in residence in her head.

Also, I’ve been working on some poems based on tarot cards and am playing with the idea of making an artist’s book of collage poems for the entire pack.  To make my collage poems, I have been using old publications bought from charity shops and fleamarkets. I love cut and ripped edges and the physical texture and qualities of paper and also the way one can juxtapose texts which have come from different types of publication, and how meaning can alter and gather weight in their juxtaposition.

The idea that there might be some time in the future where there won’t be materials such as these which have been bought by people, passed through many hands or spent time in peoples’ attics and bookcases, makes something die a little in the part of me that’s an artist.  I guess the idea that I cut up books to make work might seem like an act of violence to some book lovers, but I look at it as a way of giving new life and fresh meanings to materials which have been sleeping in dark rooms and junk shops.


Chapters of Age by Peter Riley

In Pamphlets, Poetry on October 14, 2013 at 10:33 am

-Reviewed by Billy Mills


The heart of Ireland is the great limestone lowland plain that stretches more or less all across the centre of the country and which, in combination with the temperate climate helps make the country so suitable for growing grass. There are areas where a combination of natural processes and human activity have denuded the underlying stone, producing strangely fascinating karst landscapes, the most famous of these areas being the Burren region of West Clare and its offshore extension on the Aran Islands.

It’s a landscape of extensive limestone paving with, in the Burren at least, a unique combination of Mediterranean and Alpine flora growing in the cracks of what, at first glance, appears to be a hostile dry and barren environment. And despite this hostility, the area is full of signs of human habitation over a period of some six thousand years. These range from the dolmens and stone huts of the Burren to the great stone ring forts of the islands.

Peter Riley’s poem Chapters of Age is set in this landscape and formally reflects the semi-regular patterning of the limestone paving in its use of stanzas of three lines of irregular length broken up into sections of anything from three to ten stanzas. As you might expect from Riley, there is a good deal of walking involved (his Alstonfield is one of the great English walking poems). In Chapters, there is more than a hint that age is making the process more painful and difficult than it once was.

‘Use of walking stick to lessen this pain,
Inclined to the side of the road.’

There’s also a good deal of singing. Clare is renowned for its traditional music, but the poet weaves the words of English folk songs into his text, along with bits of Yeats, Tarjei Vesaas, William Carlos Williams, George Simmel and a tourist information noticeboard. Reflections on aging weave their way through references to the aftermath of the Celtic Tiger and to older shadows on the island’s history:

‘Finding the way to the bathroom
In the middle of the night half asleep
Strange shadow, shed door ajar again.



Who died for a free Ireland
Mortgaged to international finance


Unbaptised children set in separate graveyards
Mere bits of walled-off moor’

The poem is typical of Riley’s mature work, the tone is deceptively quiet and unshowy, almost, but not quite, conversational. While he is often associated with the Cambridge poets who formed a key element of the British Poetry Revival, he is neither an experimental nor a mainstream poet, he’s just a poet, albeit one of exceptional intelligence. Chapters of Age is, in the true sense, an ecological poem, a poem about an entire ecosystem in which neither the human nor the non-human element is given primacy. Amongst other things, Chapters of Age explores the possibility of our continued co-existence, and the conclusion is not altogether optimistic, as Riley plays with the twin aspects of fear as verb and noun:

‘…….what is the answer to fear?

For there are answers to fear,
Common or garden,
That singing up the coast.’

Tearing at thoughts by Andy Harrod

In Pamphlets, Poetry on October 8, 2013 at 1:12 pm

-Reviewed by Rosie Breese


As Andy Harrod’s website bio explains, he writes “not out of a desire to tell stories, but a need to understand, to develop meaning and connect with myself, others and life”. Fittingly then, his latest collection, Tearing at Thoughts from 79 Rat Press, is an unapologetically candid exploration of the workings of a mind – or series of minds – turning over experiences that are rarely talked about in public.

There’s no contents page, no numbering even. This is a book to get lost in, literally. Poems and photographs are collaged with story-fragments and snippets of text juxtaposed at different angles, making use of font and sizing to emphasise and defamiliarise. Perhaps this is why, when first flicking through Tearing at Thoughts, I was reminded of Marie Calloway’s divisive What purpose did I serve in your life. There’s a real openness about the way these collections are put together – a careful DIY layering of a variety of media in order to build a human picture that is as honest as it is unflinching. Both make the reader question their own voyeurism, their desire to keep reading.

However, where Calloway’s writing moves with cool precision between the external and external world, Harrod is concerned with memories, with the internal monologue, the stream of consciousness, as seen here in ‘Strangled by Fear’, a narrative fragment juxtaposing the contents of a letter with the speaker’s memories of a relationship and their own internal mutterings:

‘I had snapped. I had fizzed; I had pushed. I had smeared thick black lines across us. She stood on the doorstep, the tears dripped from her cheeks, in between the droplets she said she still loved me. I closed the door. She is wrong to believe still. I am too poisoned to be healed.’

The bulk of this collection plays with the form of the half-told story, the details given out selectively, the focus on the internal drama that is so difficult to articulate. The experiences of the speakers are overwhelmingly traumatic: a father is separated from his children; a victim of sexual abuse hides out in a wood; a counsellor listens to a client describing the horrific violence of their childhood. These longer episodes are interposed with shorter pieces that are bold in their attempts to articulate the incommunicable, as seen here in the aptly-titled ‘truth’:

A particularly poignant moment is the appearance of three postcards – literally postcards, scanned in – that function as messages from a tortured internal world. The addresses are blacked out, casting doubt on the possibility of a reader, a sympathetic ear, a home for  these thoughts:


Although Harrod’s experiments with form and medium are refreshing in their variety, the weight of the subject matter and the sheer volume of permutations of human suffering does get a bit much. On top of this, abstract, sometimes vague language is used to grapple with the inexpressible, resulting in phrases like ‘failure assumed’, in the example above, and ‘conflicted and lonely pain shot through my mind’, in opening piece ‘Care to dance?’ In particular, the word ‘black’ crops up so often that it barely seems to mean anything; it becomes a sort of shorthand for pain, to the point where you begin to wonder whether there are other words that could have cut to the chase more effectively.

However, this is a volume that deals with the difficult, the inexpressible. And the reality of these difficult experiences is that they are hard to talk about. Anxiety is nebulous and difficult to pin down; depression is a gradual deadening of the senses and emotions. Our thoughts get out of control; words quite literally fail us. So perhaps it’s as well that Harrod’s treatment of these subjects reflects their difficulty, their numbing effects.

Interestingly, Harrod’s blog is titled ‘decoding static’, and this is just what this collection attempts to do – to forge a path through the noise of a disturbed mind, exploring every diversion and dead end. Googling Harrod threw up a review that described this collection as a ‘perfect summer read’. I’m not sure I’d take it with me for a relaxing day at the beach, but it’s certainly a bold collection, and a passionate one.

Tearing at Thoughts is available to download for free from 79 Rat Press along with 5 other collections by Paul Askew, Sian S. Rathore, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Emily Harrison and Jared Joseph.

Hellsteeth by Jessamine O’Connor

In Pamphlets, Poetry on October 7, 2013 at 9:35 am

 -Reviewed by Afric McGlinchey


Jessamine O’Connor is a relatively recent name to appear in the Irish poetry world, and after winning and being shortlisted in a number of competitions, she’s one to watch. The repertoire in her début chapbook, Hellsteeth is often physical, the poems populated by the elderly, the newborn, and everyone in between, as well as herself. By far the strongest poems for me in this chapbook were the well-placed first and last ones. In the opening poem, ‘Crows feet’, ‘Crow lands / on the blade/ of my shoulder, // Clambers in brambles,/cocks her beak, it’s time’. The pleasing metaphor and the bonding hinted at in ‘our’ almost act as an endorphin: ‘there is all / of our life / for her // to pace / and claw / my bread white skin’. I wish there had been more of this in the chapbook, but the energy displayed here, the wry tone, surfaces elsewhere, too.

Like Sharon Olds, she is not afraid to use the intimate details of her personal life in her poetry. These poems describe simple scenes that turn out not be so simple, a moment sliced open to hint at musculature and skeleton. There’s the ‘alien…spooky’ foetus who turns her bony back on them in an ultrasound scan and ‘I recognise instantly the child of my lover.’ Perhaps it’s the same lover who has onion-breath ‘so strong/ It would knock me down// If I wasn’t already/ On my back’.

You find yourself both wincing and grinning at the comparisons of the three fathers to her labours and the births of her three children in ‘Three new fathers’: the awkward, gotta-get-going first father, the absent, threatening second father, the ‘do as you’re told’ third father who endures her crushing his hand before ‘I roar, and push her out, / Just like that.’ The poems are instantly accessible, so you’d be tempted to read swiftly. But it’s the unsaid that allows mystery to be retained.

In ‘Regular’ the colloquialism of the writing style is appealing: ‘That’s the silver spoon in her mouth / has her talking like that…’ This would be an inconsequential poem if it weren’t for the slight shock of revelation in the final lines that redeems it: ‘Later, ntangling her hair from his hand / He wondered if he’d gone too far.’ This is O’Connor’s strength: the small frisson, the chill that accompanies each personal encounter in these poems.

She also shares something of Rita Ann Higgins’ feisty independence of spirit and clarity. Anything at all might come within her poetic orbit, including ‘Asimo – on Prime Time TV’ which describes a four-foot-three robot: ‘Of course they say you’ll do the jobs we don’t want./ As if a million-dollar-man like you will ever be wasted cleaning loos,/ Or down an aluminum mine,// Or picking over smouldering plastic/ to find pieces of re-useable metal/ Like our children do.’ It’s her politically vehement tone, more than anything else, that identifies O’Connor’s voice.

There’s the sense that she is immersed in the quivering moment of flux, latching on to a brief reflection, as in ‘To Samar Hassan’ after reading about the death of photographer Chris Hondros, who took the iconic photograph of the Iraqi child in a ‘spotlight of grief’ seconds after her parents had been shot in front of her. After seeing the girl’s image in the paper again, O’Connor needs to hold her own baby, ‘weigh that bulk in my arms, and squash/ my dry face against her clammy cheeks’. It’s always a challenge to attempt to write about someone else’s personal grief. Wisely, all O’Connor does is acknowledge what she can express, simply: ‘I see you, and hear that thing people say / How you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone’. It’s a trite cliché, the kind you hear in song lyrics, but she’s holding her own baby in her arms, and well, clichés become clichés for a reason. While the language is prosaic at times, and the content rather straightforward, it is also unaffected.

There’s a refreshing edge to the anecdotes she narrates, which ensures that she doesn’t slip into sentimentalism or self-pity. In ‘We’ve come to see her’ (a title that is oddly unimaginative), she describes a family visit to a hostile great aunt who’s in a care home:

‘The elderly eyeballs have spun
Round, clear and hard,
She’s going to swipe.
The tallest child looms awkwardly,
His sister teeters with pinking eyes,
The box of chocolates going off in her hands.’

What kept me reading was an undeniably voyeuristic curiosity about her revelations. Though there is a sense that these are confessional poems, like a strip tease, they show us enough but not too much. In ‘Fracture’

‘Close your eyes and lie back,
Shut your mouth,
Relax, just picture the money…

…until slowly we’ve coldly unclothed our skin,
Looked away,
And let them in.’

There’s a cold pragmatism here, that nonetheless evokes the hurt and bitterness of being coerced into this situation. I spotted a flash of resemblance between the speaker and the grand-aunt who’s been forced into a care home. This is a poet whose honesty is sometimes raw: When ‘he’ offers sympathy: ‘I snot on his shoulder, and my eyes drain pride/ Down the blue of his waterproof jacket’ (‘Surprise’)

The undeniable earthiness of her work is evident again in ‘Invisible art’ which describes an exhibition of empty canvasses, the audience reading the labels and nodding, while ‘a streaker/ jiggles barefoot/ through the crowd./ No one looks/ at his bouncing balls,/ his conductor’s hands,/ his Rubenesque flesh…’ But O’Connor makes the reader look. Not just fleetingly. In detail.

Yeats once said, ‘I am still of the opinion that only two topics can be of the least interest to a serious and studious mood: sex and the dead.’ In her final poem, ‘Hellsteeth’, (my other favourite), O’Connor’s evocation of her lover is in his physicality, not in the bedroom, but in chores: ‘he was springtime/ Up on rotten ladders’. Now, ‘He isn’t belly-deep in rushes/ Or chasing pigs…No one there/ Since he’s been gone/ Every day of the last ten years.’ It’s the vividness of the imagery and especially the impact of the last line, that makes this portrait, and this poem, so poignant.

While the chapbook is uneven in terms of quality (and editing), you sense that this is a poet who is going to develop. In her strongest poems, Jessamine O’Connor makes the reader stop and think. Read again.

Poems of Yves Bonnefoy 2 (trans. Ian Brinton & Michael Grant)

In Pamphlets on October 4, 2013 at 9:02 am


-Reviewed by Hayden Westfield Bell

Poems of Yves Bonnefoy 2 translated by Ian Brinton and Michael Grant is the second collection of poems in the Bonnefoy series published by Oystercatcher Press. The second collection builds upon the success of the first; re-capturing Bonnefoy’s delicate, apocalyptic environments in a minimal style with a greater sense of tension, emphasis and intensity. Brinton and Grant’s translations are more confident and sure-footed in this collection than the last, the poems more varied in subject and tone, showing further understanding of Bonnefoy’s poetical approach and his characteristic use of language.

The opening poem ‘The Garden’ reintroduces us to images explored in the first collection; we see the resurrection of ‘stone’, ‘death’ and ‘a prow’s shadow’, these images of darkness juxtaposed with the optimism of ‘stars vault[ing] high garden walls’ and ‘pure wood’ jostles the mind between comfort and unease. Suddenly, ‘every road of the star-filled sky / Casts shadow’ throwing us not only into emotional doubt, but also physical insecurity – the landscape of the garden shifting before our eyes into seascapes and oceans, the trees ‘foam’ as the earth beneath us is ‘swept away’. ‘The magnet, you said’ teases us with complex and exotic images rendered in fragile lines; ‘their word begins at the trembling of our voices’, though the closing line of the first and last stanza edge into cliché with ‘eternal’ and ‘mankind’s own darkness’.

We move then to ‘Some Stones’, the first of a number of lengthier poems included in this volume, in which we are privy to the narrators mental anguish over the loss of a loved one. Beginning with a Bonnefoy-ian melancholy (‘traced lines of wind and disappointment […] my hair spread wider than a world’), the poem swells into self-reflexivity as the narrator probes the depths of his emotions; ‘What shall I have loved? […] Will the day keep the few words we had together / Safe in the day’s depths?’ though these angst-ridden passages can drift into sentimental cliché, ‘I loved the trust of those days so much / I watch over the charred words on the hearth of our hearts.’ Love, though, is a particularly difficult emotion for contemporary poets to engage with due its rich presence in traditional and romantic poetry, though this does not necessarily excuse the difficult sentimentalism. Nevertheless, ‘Some Stones’ is a rare poem in which the narrator is actively present within the text, and this presence adds an interesting dimension to the concepts largely kept at a distance in the other poems. These concepts that had begun to feel so alien through Brinton, Grant and Bonnefoy’s explorations/deconstructions suddenly co-exist with the voice of the narrator, giving the concepts a larger presence through association. The meditative, considered tone of the other poems is shaken by ‘Some Stones’, creating an unsettling (though welcome) effect on readers that have been following the Bonnefoy series from the first volume.

We return to the shorter poems; ‘The darkest face’, ‘Evening Word’ and ‘The Book, for Growing Old’ are particularly good examples of Brinton and Grant’s ability to translate Bonnefoy into minimal, fragile, yet deeply moving poems though I consider ‘I dislodge with my foot’ to be the stand-out poem of the collection; by drawing attention to the relationship between stones and ‘hidden lives […] scatter[ing] quickly, / Redeemed by the grass’. The other longer poems in Poems of Yves Bonnefoy 2, ‘The Dialogue between Anguish and Desire’ and ‘May This World Last’ feel a little unsteady in places, the messages of the poems being too clear in places – leaving little mystery for the reader. Whilst ‘The Dialogue between Anguish and Desire’ moves beyond the immediacy of its message into striking descriptions of ‘obscure gardens […] the afternoon / Was crimson’ ‘May This World Last’ seems to struggle to escape the message made clear in its title, though develops strength in its closing stanzas ‘summer / Will last no more than an hour / But may the hour we have be long / Like the river.’

Poems of Yves Bonnefoy 2 is a collection of vivid philosophical poems that investigate the complexity within the miniature and the minimal and how these impact and influence our being and sense of self. This comes across clearer in the shorter poems where the delicate language employed by Brinton and Grant is allowed to breathe, whereas, in the longer poems, the fragility of the language used often feels suffocated by the mass of the poem itself.


Review: Stand Up and Slam 17/09/13

In Performance Poetry on October 3, 2013 at 9:22 am

– reviewed by Lettie McKie

stand up and slam

Stand Up and Slam at The Comedy Café, Rivington Street

Poetry vs Comedy

At this inventive and energetic new monthly night Chatback Comedy Club and Canterbury’s Poet Laureate, Dan Simpson,  have teamed up to create a slam concept with a difference. Pitting the best of London’s Stand Up and Poetry performers against each other they hope to create a compelling hook to get audiences from both scenes involved.

They have also bagged themselves a fab monthly venue in the heart of Shoreditch. The Comedy Café, tucked away on Rivington Street , is cosy and fairly unintimidating.  So far, so good. This event is definitely the sort of thing you can feel very cool inviting people to. Trendy bar. Tick. Plenty of folks in rolled up jeans and chunky knits. Tick. Overpriced beer. Tick.

But what about this Poetry vs Comedy idea? It sounded good enough to give it a go, but to be honest I was dubious as to how hosts Dan Simpson and Paul Sweeney were going to pull it off. My main reservation was how can you compare two art forms that on the surface are so different? Surely the audience will simply see the good in both performances and be unable to choose between them?

As the night got underway however it was clear that however successful or otherwise their slam concept proved to be in the end, Dan and Paul were definitely going to entertain us! Playing to a packed and enthusiastic crowd, Dan was the straight man to Paul’s quirky tongue in cheek character (a loveable prat). The two hosts were slick, well prepared and quickly built a witty rapport with the audience, playing off each other’s exaggerated onstage personas.

The Heats

The event was split into 3 rounds, each with a nicely timed bar break between them. Round 1 was between Canadian comic John Hastings and rapper/poet Charlie Dupré. John was charismatic with a relaxed storytelling style of comedy, he combined fresh capricious punch lines with effortless charm.  As I had predicted to myself all three poets decided to perform work with a comedic edge.  Charlie’s laid back performance allowed for the dry humour in the pieces he chose to come across naturally and the audience appreciated his clever pairing of comedic stories with pithy rhymes and metric wisecracks.

At the beginning of the evening a member of the front row had been picked out to decide a winner at the end of each round based on the audiences’ reaction. The hosts used this feature to ham up their links, competing with each other to impress her through gifts and well- timed compliments. However when it came to the  actual judging she was asked, in front of the whole crowd, to choose between each act and this felt uncomfortable. By the end of round 1 I already felt like there was little point to the slam element of the evening, with such good performances and a great atmosphere in the room why bother picking a winner based on such a flimsy judging idea?

As the evening progressed the quality of acts continued to be extremely high however. The line-up was carefully balanced and showcased a range of different styles across both art forms. Next up was poet Rob Auton and impressionist Anil Desai. Bang said the Gun poet Rob’s poetry is brilliant and he has a unique onstage persona; he’s naturally hilarious and never does what you’d expect.  If you have never seen him before, he’s quite simply wonderful.  Fresh from winning Best joke of the Fringe, Rob is quietly confident on stage and is a master of the well timed pause; the only downside to his sets is that if you have seen them before you are unlikely to encounter much new material. Rob was a great addition to the line- up because his work genuinely crosses the borders between the two art forms.

Anil  was totally different but equally talented and this was definitely the most inspired pairing of the night. Asking a member of the audience to read out names from a pack of cards he romped through his take on these different personas at an impressive rate. He was great to watch as he had the ability to make himself look like each character as well as speak like them. He combined this talent with witty material which was a little hit and miss but generally a great crowd pleaser.

After another break I noticed the audience had started to dwindle and this was a shame. I felt like this was another bad mark for the slam concept, because if they had not been confined to rounds the event could have been shorter, allowing Dan and Paul to distil the best elements of the night into a tighter format.

As it was, although I enjoyed comic Dan Schreiber’s engagingly geeky set and Keith Jay’s articulate, rhythmic poetry, I was quite glad when it ended a little before 11pm. Again, however, what made it worth staying for was the satisfying pairing of two completely different performers which was thought-provoking as well as entertaining.  Dan’s style was very relaxed and cerebral for a comic and Keith managed to successfully bridge the gap between making a few jokes and retaining the integrity of his own poetic style.

The Result

This event worked despite the slam element being, for my money, unnecessary. The pairings were interesting to compare and contrast each act, but to assume the audience needed a competition felt like dumbing it down, when the night was entertaining enough to move between the two genres, soaking up the enjoyment to be found in both.  The slam also meant that the poets had to compete with the comics for laughs and the line-up reflected this. The poets chosen were all very funny as well as good poets, but there are plenty of amazing poets out there who aren’t good at jokes and I’d love to see some of them on this stage!

This event was extremely good fun and succeeded because of the interesting mix of high quality performances which allowed the hosts to showcase  talent and variety across the two art forms.

My opinion? Ditch the slam and continue to book great artists for this fresh, highly entertaining midweek event! And with the next Stand Up and Slam coming up tonight (Thursday 3rd October), why not give it a go?

Review: Landscape II by Melanie Wilson

In Performance Poetry on October 2, 2013 at 3:28 pm

– reviewed by James Webster

The thrum of deep base sound ebbs away, leaving only a ring of tinnitus. The lights retreat to a dim glimmer, the shivers stop running down my spine, and the audience audibly exhale. We’re about two thirds of the way through Melanie Wilson‘s haunting multimedia poem, and she’s holding us on a knife edge.

When we reach the end, spines thoroughly chilled and edges of our seats somewhat worn, the silence is palpable. There’s a distinct feeling that we’ve just been taken on a journey, carried away by the tides of Wilson’s story, submerged in her words and soundscapes. This mesmeric story merges together three different strands of narrative (a photographer, her great-great-grandmother and the woman she photographed in Afghanistan) that flow in and out of one another, all layered over a rich and discordant soundscapes and vividly absorbing video.

It’s a stunner of a show, overwhelmingly immersive, fascinatingly reflective and frightfully tense.

A variety of tools to shape a show …

Wilson uses some incredible technology to shape the show. Evocative images, in beautifully rendered video, are projected onto the massive screen that makes up the venue’s entire back wall, and they draw your gaze, showing you some key imagery, while also dancing round the edge of the story (we see feet, hands, the back of a neck, a cloaked figure, close-up of a spider’s web and the Devon landscape in first person). The electric cacophony of Wilson’s soundscape surrounds us, pulses under our skin and vibrates through our bones, as it plays with contrasting harmony and discord, noise and silence, thickening into an almost physical atmosphere around us. And the sounds of the story (a fox’s yelps, the click of a camera shutter, the bumps and groans of an old cottage, the sound of steps behind us) leap out at us at unexpected moments, provoking repeated shocks of static up the spine and surprised gasps of fear. The set, too, plays its part, with a hardwood floor, table full of letters, photos and technical equipment; it gives proceedings an intimate feel, as if you begin the show sitting in someone’s living room, with Melanie Wilson seated behind the desk, whispering to you through the microphone …

There’s an element of the puppet-master around Wilson’s performance …

As she sits behind the desk almost spider-like, visibly operating the sound and video, shooting out strands of story to ensnare us. All the aspects, the video, sounds and Wilson’s own voice, come together into one powerfully moving tale, each element blending with the others to enrich the sensory experience that presses in on us. It’s consummately done, Wilson’s carefully controlled voice always informing, but never overpowering the visuals and audio, instead it seems to drift out, directly into our brains, falling to a taut whisper and rising to fraught emotion.

It all streams very nicely around the narrative – and around us too – with moments of quiet reverie contrasting against the sudden bursts and threat that reaches into your gut and tugs at you. Together, the visuals and sounds merge with her voice, getting under our skin and leaving it tingling as we’re immersed in the story and the character.

It’s a story that you can lose yourself in …

The writing is clever and thoughtful, constructing a stirring and sparse language with a fragile kind of poetry to it. It’s kind of haunting and kind of gorgeous, leaving a lot of feeling unsaid behind the words, feelings that are fleshed out by the show’s multimedia elements. To use her own words, her turns of phrase “radiate their secrets like old gold”, trickling into our ears and then later building to a rushing surge for the piece’s finale.

The pacing and structure of the show is just right, each stream of the story has just enough meat on its bones to keep you involved. Wilson fills in the blanks of the three women’s backgrounds gradually, like a puzzle, letting them gradually build, before the different strands come together in a crashing crescendo.

And as they all come crashing over us, the sound builds into a rhythmic thump that comes up from the floor and vibrates through your bones into your chest, while the words wash over you and the video flashes with its interconnected imagery and it feels like we’re caught. As if we’re held in this intense moment and suspended in Landscape II’s narrative. But it passes, and the show ends on a quiet, contemplative note that leaves us with plenty to mull over.

Overall, this is an always involving and often scarily intense show …

It tells an intricate, otherworldly and profoundly moving story. While its high concept may not be to everyone’s taste, everyone will agree that the tech is phenomenally done, and it is definitely a hugely enjoyable and interesting way to spend an evening.

Landscape II is on at the Burton Taylor Studio tonight as part of its ongoing tour (presented by Fuel) that also takes in Exeter, Crewe, Brighton, Coventry and more. I strongly advise you to catch it if you can.