Book Review: Terms and Conditions

This post was written for, and originally published by, Bookmunch.

As a reader with no tertiary qualifications in language or literature I was, for many years, reluctant to pass comment on poetry. It is a form that requires more than simple reading of words to be appreciated and I feared ridicule for my unscholarly interpretations. These days I read for pleasure making no claim on any ability to knowledgeably parse or critique. Much like music, if it feeds my soul I will rate it.

On this basis, Terms and Conditions is a veritable feast. It offers a literary dégustation to be dipped into and savoured. So many of the offerings left me sated it is a challenge to select just a few for special mention here.

The book opens with ‘Baby’, in which a child is being carried (or are they directing?), gathering data as they travel by train. Baby’s thoughts are on absorbing the now, but they also look forward to what could be with curiosity, hope and anticipation.

In ‘What do we do when the water rises?’, the subject is the behaviour of fire ants, how they survive as a colony – a lesson for humans:

“How do they know

How hard to hold, and when

To let each other go?”

‘Insist on it’ entreats the reader not to give in to the persuasion of others who are older, who believe they know better, perhaps because they still see a child to be schooled. Knowledge and experience require a past. Life is worth exploring in other directions.

As one who eschews pigeonholing I was particularly drawn to ‘No, I do not Tango’. This notes the names people are given by others, labels widely assigned. The narrator will not be owned by such limitations:

“You can call me anything you like. I know my name.”

‘Surplus, 1919’ was inspired by the two million women labelled as such due to the lack of marriageable men after World War I. At the time the women’s worth was often judged by marriage. It was not they who sent the men to die.

“how now to live: alone

Or worse, with parents; how

To earn, with what to occupy

Those hours emptied of expected

Spouse and children.”

‘How to be fully-grown’ explores the stamping out of impropriety in children, the quashing of fun. Adults look on as the adults-in-training enjoy sliding across a brilliantly-shined museum floor on their knees. How long before they cease considering such pleasures as possibilities?

‘Where once Mercury had winged feet’ offers the nostalgia and excitement of a passionate kiss, emotions generated floating above whatever else weighs down the kissed.

Any Cop?: This entire work, the author’s debut poetry collection, pulses emotion, speaking softly, powerfully in the silences after reading. The poems explore existence, love and ‘the uncertain business of our daily lives’. There is nothing difficult to understand, although it takes more than these few words to eloquently convey the depth of sensation. The appreciation is in how the reader is made to feel.

 

Jackie Law

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Author Interview: Angela Readman

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Today I am delighted to welcome Angela Readman to my blog. Angela is an award winning short story writer and poet. Her new poetry collection, The Book of Tides, has been described as Northern Gothic, touching on feminism and mythology. My review may be found here.

Although I like to think that I read a fairly eclectic mix of books I am aware that I can be less open in my reception to poetry. The Book of Tides is, however, a literary feast.

I was interested to learn more about this young writer’s creative process. Please welcome to neverimitate, Angela Readman.

Where do you typically write?

I have a little desk in the corner of a room. It fits perfectly. It is old, a bit battered, but it’s mine. It was a present from my husband for our wedding anniversary. He put a small notebook in each of the drawers. It’s quite special to me because I knew he was trying to encourage my writing, most people I knew just thought it was a strange habit.

Tell us about your writing process

It’s quite different for poetry and prose. With poems, it usually starts with a line. Even if it’s inconvenient, words show up and stick with me until I do something about it. I have to scribble on the backs of envelopes and post-its I find all over the place. Poems can be quite persistent, even if you’re in no mood to write some won’t leave you alone.

There’s one poem in The Book of Tides called The Woman with No Name that was so guilty of this. I wasn’t writing poetry at the time, I was working on finishing my short story collection, but this line kept bothering me, ‘I wake and can’t remember my name.’ I’d be in the shower and I’d have to say it out loud, then I knew the next line and I had to continue. I had to write the poem just so it would stop haunting me. I almost didn’t want to, it’s a poem so full of grief I knew writing it would leave me feeling shattered, but I had to do it to get some peace.

Once I’ve written a poem, I leave it alone. I’ll come back later and whittle it down. I remove as much as I can, a bit here, a bit there, until I can take out no more.

It’s a different process for a story. I don’t start with a line. I start with a vague idea. It’s something like developing a strange obsession for a short time, something will catch my eye, or make me feel a certain way, and I have to know more about it. I don’t usually know what a story is really about until after I’ve started writing it, then it surprises me.

Tell us about your publishing experience

I’ve found the publishing experience is so different for poetry and prose. The way a lot of prose writers go about it is: find an agent who’ll approach publishers. It really helps take the sting out of it. I was shortlisted in the Costa Short Story Award and an agent approached me. By the time I discovered I was shortlisted again, the following year (when I won) I already had a contract for Don’t Try This at Home on my desk, all ready to sign. I was lucky.

It’s different for poetry. Poets don’t have agents, so it can be a bit of a slog to find a publisher. When I started out, a few small presses gave me a shot, but publishing changes so quickly. Those places either folded, or changed their focus. I found looking for a publisher so daunting I didn’t think I’d do a poetry collection again, but I kept submitting to competitions and journals anyway. I did this for years. I wanted to prove my poems were OK before I bothered a publisher. It’s amazing I found one really. For years, I did just about everything I could do as a poet, other than a book.

I submitted to Nine Arches because of Jo Bell and the 52 project. I found some lovely people in the group were really encouraging. Sometimes someone would ask about my next poetry collection and I felt sort of ashamed to admit I wasn’t doing one. I hadn’t looked, in all this time. I’d given up on the idea. It was shocking.

In what ways do you promote your work

It can be quite difficult to promote poetry. I’m not a performer, sadly, though I used to work really hard to try and be. It never quite worked out. I’d make myself ill with anxiety and came home with one book sale. It wasn’t worth losing a week’s sleep over it.

An audience can always tell when you’re not comfortable, I think. They know when you’re standing there trying to be something you’re not, and respond accordingly. There are so many wonderful poetry performers these days, the audience expects more than ever. They have paid for their ticket, they deserve a lot more than I can give them.

I do all I can online instead. I work hard at sending to anthologies, journals and magazines, and hope it reminds people I’m here. That’s all I can do really. keep working, keep writing, and hope the work wins people over one reader at a time.

What are some of your current projects

I’m working on a few things. I wrote a story collection some people loved, so, of course, all other people ask me about now is a novel. I smile politely and work on something I’m not willing to show anyone yet. I dream of doing a little flash fiction collection sometime. I’m also writing short stories. I have a title for my next story collection, and I’m working on it. Last week, I finished my first story commission, with any luck my story will be on Radio 4 next year (fingers crossed!).

Where can my readers find you?

Twitter: angela readman (@angelreadman)

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Angela Readman’s stories and poems have appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines, including London Magazine, Staple, Ambit and Mslexia, and she has won awards including the National Flash Fiction Competition. In 2012 she was shortlisted for the Costa Short Story Award for ‘Don’t Try This at Home’ – an award she would go on to win in 2013 with the story ‘The Keeper of the Jackalopes’. Her previous collections of poetry include Strip (Salt, 2007). The Book of Tides is her third collection of poems.

 

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The Book of Tides is published by Nine Arches Press and is available to buy here.

Book Review: The Book of Tides

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The Book of Tides, by Angela Readman, is a collection of 52 poems featuring a wealth of lyrical imagery conjured from resonant words. The poems explore, among other things, familial and marital relationships – love, loneliness, and the inevitability of loss. Many link to a theme of the sea making the beautiful cover an apt choice.

The complex, emotive push and pull between mothers and daughters crops up in several of the works.

From ‘The Aerialist’s Shopping List’:

“Let me be a disposable tissue, rolling in the wind, carrying my mother’s tears to the gulley.”

From ‘Hallelujah for 50ft Women’:

“Hallelujah to lasses who got too big for their boots, and stepped outside the fitting rooms of their Mother’s eyes.”

In ‘Backendish’ a daughter watches as her mother sews, “the rag bag spilling […] previous lives on the rug”

Fathers are both loved and feared.

In ‘The Tattooist’s Daughter’ a 14 year old girl feels compelled to sacrifice her skin to her father’s art. Although she makes the offering, it feels like abuse.

In ‘The Honey Jar’ a father is remembered following his death:

“I open my mouth and let a viscous rain of things I’d forgotten fall.”

Some of the poems I simply loved whole – ‘Woman and Rat’, ‘Against Youth’, ‘Fiddling the Gas’. Many offered a wry, contemporary humour.

Others were more ethereal with particular lines piercing my emotions.

From ‘The Book of Tides’:

“like starved birds pecking for scraps of heart”

From ‘The Morning of La Llorona’:

“a waterfall, ready to pour whoever I thought I was into your arms”

In ‘Note in a Bottle’ I was drawn to the fragile picture conjured by “the matchstick ship of a more patient man”

There are poems exploring experiences of sex.

From ‘The Herring Lass and the Soap’:

“The school of him slipped over me”

“I can’t get naked without gutting myself”

On lost love I was particularly moved by the sadness of ‘The Sound of a Knot Being Untied’.

From ‘If I Let You Film Me…’

“we’ll see love when we’ve forgotten how it’s done.”

Although affecting there is nothing mawkish about the collection, rather each poem grasps the essence of the situation it evokes. The offerings roll through myths and the cruelties of nature but are grounded in humanity.

Varied and individually noteworthy, I was not surprised to learn that several of the works included have already won awards.

Read slowly and savour. This is a literary feast.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Nine Arches Press.

Book Review: Ephemeris

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When he was Education Secretary, Michael Gove verbally attacked the “culture warriors” who criticised him on Twitter. I felt proud to be counted amongst them and had a T-shirt printed with the decal ‘Culture Warrior’ that I still wear with pride. I am though all too aware that my cultural appreciation is not always up to par. I recently visited the Tate Modern in London and was more impressed by the incredible building in which the art is housed than with the varied displays. I enjoyed wandering the gallerys but, with a few notable exceptions, I struggled to fathom why these particular presentations were regarded as art.

I have a similar issue with certain types of poetry. I read the glowing reviews, often couched in language that is as impenetrable to me as the words being lauded, and wonder how I too could gain such an appreciation. When I browse these more avant-garde poems I can pick out clever phrases and apply my own interpretation, but I have no idea if this is anything close to the meaning intended by the author.

Following National Poetry Day I was, at my request, sent a collection of poems by Dorothy Lehane titled Ephemeris. Published by Nine Arches Press it contains forty-six experimental and exploratory works which reference science alongside the human condition. Amongst other things it looks at relationships, sex, ageing and illness, all couched within language that requires a degree of deciphering. I am unsure if I have understood the code.

It is not so much that I found it impenetrable as that I did not take from this work the meaning ascribed by those whose praise was quoted on the back of the jacket. As with much acclaimed art, my view is more prosaic. I wonder if I am somehow missing the point.

Ephemeris offers an interesting collection of broad spectrum ideas presented through a lense that, to me, remained largely unfocused. Perhaps poetry needs to be felt more than understood. My frustration at not gaining a better understanding of these works mirrors the way I viewed the exhibits in the Tate Modern. I don’t always get what is going on, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy what I take from the experience.

For me, poetry requires a slow appreciation and much rereading. I ponder if this approach encourages the reader to invent meaning. I am left with a suspicion that it is I who lack some knowledge or ability. I will keep trying.