Book Review: The Heeding

the heeding

The Heeding is a poignant and powerful poetry collection written by Rob Cowen and stunningly illustrated by Nick Hayes. It reflects on the year following the first COVID19 lockdown and will serve in the time to come as a reminder of when the world changed profoundly – how we lived lives altered in previously unimaginable ways. The poems capture the concerns and frustrations of families required to deal with the challenges of: house arrest, homeschooling, a ban on visiting their cared for elderly. It provides an evocative reminder that nobody will live forever.

“They are staring into a child’s eyes, wondering at the storm that’s coming.
How they might put themselves between what they love and everything”

The author is father to young children and his worries centre on them. He reflects on his own childhood and the lessons learned and valued from his parents and grandparents – often appreciated only in hindsight. He was taught to heed what was around him, particularly in nature. He now wishes to pass this valuable skill on to the next generation.

The poems have a depth that belies the ease with which they may be read. Incidents recounted are often everyday yet have an impact, a value, in the connections they engender.

Solidarity on a Saturday Night is a short poem about neighbours lighting up their backyards and somehow feeling together without the need to meet. This Allotment reflects on a humanity that is possible when people are accepting of difference in looks or creed – willing to offer practical advice and their labour along with excess produce.

“When heart-sore, I often wonder if this place is
secretly a model for what should be; how things could be,
were we not so preoccupied with property”

Last Breaths took my breath away, moving me to tears. It is a heartfelt account of a man in a nursing home, dying alone of this terrible plague. He remembers aspects of his life: war, a beloved wife outlived, a daughter who died in childhood, another now banned from seeing him – to keep him safe! The illustration that goes with this poem is perfect, as are so many here. The words brought home to me, perhaps for the first time, how my own father passed away last year – hand held by a nurse in PPE.

Another particularly poignant poem is Dennis, a man taunted relentlessly by local children whose casual cruelty makes their older selves squirm. The reason for his odd tics and behaviour is heartrending.

There are poems that describe encounters with birds and other creatures along with the Yorkshire landscape where the author lives. Nature is depicted as savage as well as beautiful, teeming with life but also death. There are reflections on more human concerns – failing businesses, history, politics, fearful unease.

“These cancelled birthdays.
These bans on being together.
These redundancies, uncertainties,
limits on impulse and joy,
on movement and autonomy.”

Black Ant highlights how we may try to save a tiny creature in difficulties, but will not tolerate those that threaten the structure or safety of our dwelling and family.

Pharmacy Cake brings home the loneliness of lockdown life for the elderly it was sold as designed to protect.

“This braving of sleet and virus;
this coddling of staff, is a way to treat a pain
more mangling, more unbelievably sore
than any of us are collecting prescriptions for.”

Viking Gold is a wonderfully evocative remembrance of a stern grandmother who, in the end, offered the author a window into all she had kept in check throughout her life, just before ‘her mind unspooled towards infancy.’

“Born of bleak moor and indoctrinated patriarchy;
the dark, meagre modesties of mill town terraces.
Be grateful for the least. Repent, repress
the sin of boastful joy; let your worries be endless
lest God give you, with a clout,
something proper to worry about.”

Lockdown, with all the mental baggage it has created, has certainly given the author much to worry about. He is scathing in his opinion of those who do not take the vaccine, especially those who spread fear about side-effects, branding them murderers. I pondered how many were living with such concerns and if this will change how they interact once guidelines are lifted.

Whatever views one ascribes to on this, the collection offers much to consider along with an appreciation of the natural world that continues to turn through the seasons however man is living within. I found this thought uplifting, that we too may choose to go on, perhaps still at risk but not allowing this to rob us of the joys to be found both in our back yards and beyond.

“Be kind. Forgive. Attend and heed.
Be strong, but lead with love not power.
Look for the universe inside the seed”

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Elliott & Thompson.

Book Review: Owl Unbound

owl unbound

“In death
they shall inherit the earth.
Until this time
they have been living
on borrowed land.”

Owl Unbound, by Zoe Brooks, is a poetry collection that explores big issues man often ruminates over – life, death, disappointment, expectations. The author winds her thoughts around the wonder that is nature, where such things happen but are accepted as a cycle. Modern living demands control and sanitisation. There is a disconnect with wider existence – oft ignored interconnections that affect wellbeing.

Where love is mentioned it is as a search for something personally fulfilling, or as a loss.

“Our love is without sap,
like the flayed ash”

There is a loneliness in relationships referenced.

“I stole the moon for you,
but you did not even notice”

Many of the topics explored are presented with a degree of bitterness, but there is also humour in the musings.

As well as nature, history features. Fossils are found on a beach and a young boy wants to believe they are from dinosaurs, not simple sea creatures. The ghosts to be sensed in old buildings are ignored by those uninterested in a past that inexorably shaped people and place, concerned as they are only by current experiences.

Punch is a powerful series of poems that use the traditional puppet to portray cause and effect of attitudes and actions – resentments felt by some men and where this leads.

There’s Nothing To See is a clever play on aspects of ageing, including the increasing invisibility of the elderly as they move through society.

“I have taken off my body
and hung it on the wardrobe door.
It has become too much for me.
I am tired of pulling it on
each morning rumpled by sleep.

I have worn it so long
it has lost its shape.”

There are observations on living in a female body, within and without – menstruation, pregnancy, the souring of friendships, disappointing love affairs, watching a parent die.

The writing is penetrating in the insights shared although with an undercurrent of despondency. What comes through is the importance of surroundings – noticing and appreciating small details that offer perspective on personal problems that must be dealt with.

I took from my reading of this collection how man puts himself at the pinnacle of existence despite the short time each spends amongst the living.  The poems reflect how much better life can be with less naval gazing and more quiet reflection on the wider views to be found all around. Carefully written and offering much to consider, this was a worthwhile read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.

Book Review: We’ll Meat Again

well-meat-again

“The owls are hooting in the afternoon again

or maybe the world is just quiet enough to hear them.”

We’ll Meat Again, by Benjamin Myers, is the third title published by the recently formed Ration Books (I review the first here and the second here). These are pocket sized quick reads intended to be: disposed of, passed on, left for other readers to find. Ration 3 is described on the back cover as ‘quarantine dream scenes disguised as fleeting poems’. In reading them I pondered if the author had been ingesting the special cookies (not that I am suggesting he indulges in such behaviour).

Myers’ trademark appreciation of nature, alongside his willingness to face down brutal realities, are injected with elements so surreal that they at times perplexed this reader. His lockdown observations are undoubtedly pithy and witty but some remained opaque even after several attempts to decipher meaning. Others honed in on tropes that garnered media attention as life grew ever more constricted. Images evoked are often playful, if morbidly so. This is not an offering that celebrates the best of what man can be in a crisis.

“A man accidentally strangles himself with the clanking chain of his sex swing

Neighbours are alerted by the black smoke pluming from his burnt sourdough”

My reaction after first perusal was to question what I had just read. Be assured, enjoyment improves with rereads. There is play on language alongside a reminder of what lockdown featured. Perhaps this work is intended as an aide-memoire for the times we have experienced over the past year.

“Keep two claps apart
and wash your metres

Social the unprecedented
extension hands.

Isolate a lockdown.
Panic immediately.”

As a literary reminder I personally prefer Jonathan Gibbs’ Spring Journal. There is, however, room on my shelves for a collection such as this that both provokes and entertains.

Book Review: We Are All Somebody

we are all somebody

“I realised how powerful poetry can be. It can instil hope, it can inspire and you can feel the emotion in the words.”

“Listen to our young people”

We Are All Somebody is a poetry anthology written by street children who were chosen to represent their countries in Street Child World Cups. Starting in 2010, these international events are organised ahead of the world’s biggest sporting competitions in cricket and football. Their aim is to bring together street connected young people from around the world, and to advocate for change in the way they are seen and treated.

The anthology was compiled by Samantha Richards who, in 2018, represented the UK at the Street Child Football World Cup in Moscow. Inspired by her discussions with members of other teams from across the globe she put pen to paper and wrote out her emotions in a poem. She invited her new friends to contribute in poetry or artwork.

“We must encourage each other to be the best version of ourselves before we can expect others to do the same.”

The book opens with profiles of the young leaders in the competitions from various countries. Their plea is to be treated fairly and with compassion. What they want is: shelter, food, clean water, healthcare, education. They ask for protection from: violence, exploitation, sexual abuse, trafficking, child marriage. Key to accessing these basic rights is a legal identity, often hard to come by.

“They are children like any other children in the world.”

The poems that follow are heartfelt cries for needs to be met without discrimination. Several include references to COVID 19 and the difficulties of adhering to recommended guidelines when access to proper sanitation is limited.

“insecurity and hunger are their greatest threats”

The street children are exploited by all they come into contact with, including at times each other. Despised, unprotected and blamed for their situation they have no recourse to justice.

“We sleep in a group
If you sleep alone, you are sexual prey
If you sleep too deeply, your money gets taken”

Although raw at times, the message herein is powerful. The contributors ask that their voices be heard on behalf of other street children. I hope they find readers who will listen.

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My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Fly On The Wall Press.

Book Review: About a Lover from Tunisia

Ouafa and Thawra: About a Lover From Tunisia, by Arturo Desimone, tells the story of a five year love affair between the part-Jewish narrator and a beautiful Arab woman. They lived in an apartment by a mosque, the calls to prayer marking their days and bookending their love-making. Structured as a poetry collection interspersed with line drawings there is an element of myth to what is the tale of a modern relationship.

The edition sent to me for review was bilingual – original Spanish alongside English translation (by Lucas Brockenshire). The prologue was not translated. The English edition linked to above includes an essay by the author that, as the publisher explains, adds context. Interesting though this would be to read, I was fully able to enjoy each of the poems standalone.

The collection opens with a poem in homage to a girl once loved. The narrator muses on her beauty, how much he enjoyed her naked body and the dark raven curls of her hair. In leaving her country he lost her. There is regret but also acceptance – pleasure in the memory.

The setting – Tunisia – is evocatively portrayed. Mentioned are: the minarets, latticework, encroachment of modern accoutrements, suspicion of locals towards camera wielding tourists. Referenced are virulent opinions separating Europeans and Arabs. The woman, though, is regarded by her lover as an equal.

“That din, that din I was forced to hear
for five years –
But the only inequality between us
was in height: when we stood I had to bend
over her
like beaten up crescent from a molten minaret
to thank her for translation.”

Their are musings on their differing heritages – on forbidden love and forbidden desire, religions attempting to police behaviour. The narrator is aware that women are neither powerless nor incapable.

“All those secret cops,
work for the great Stellar pimp”

“she barely needs me,
to drown her enemies.
She doesn’t depend
only on me,
to tighten the pink scarf
of her enemy –
but it’s the gesture that resonates.”

Although this is a modern love affair, the writing has tones of earth and fire. There is history, myth and tradition that predate the origins of current conflicts. There is so much beauty to be savoured in people and place whatever their daily trials.

When the man leaves Tunisia he takes with him regrets that linger.

“I want to speak to you again,
and that our voices are not dead in each other’s souls.”

She, however, has drawn a line under their affair.

“my Arab girl
across the ocean in Tunisia,
no longer thinks of me,
no longer waiting,
no longer”

The gorgeous imagery of the text is enhanced by the line drawings which offer much to unpack and are well worth making time for.

The language employed is reminiscent of a more ancient appreciation. The woman is depicted as more than beautiful – as powerful and independent. Unexpected juxtapositions add force and flavour to poems expressing love for a person and place.

That both parties have moved on reminds the reader that passion may be enjoyed and fondly remembered without it overriding what comes next.

A paean to a relationship that transcended the petty rules of religion and nationalism. Poems to savour for the many pleasures shared that are still valued though their time has now passed.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.

Book Review: Vertigo To Go

Vertigo To Go, by Brendon Booth-Jones, is a powerful poetry collection with a deeply personal vibe. Running through each entry are musings on the loneliness and perceived failures of modern living.

The narrator gets by on a cocktail of drugs, alcohol and attempts at forging relationships that subsequently go awry. There is an undercurrent of grief for a father who died when the narrator was a child. He castigates himself for not honouring the man’s memory by being the person he aspires to be – ‘more reason to call myself your son’. There are also concerns at how easily he allows the burning of the planet to slide under his easily distracted radar.

“all I do is try to scroll the loneliness away – while faceless corporations push species after species down the ravenous black hole of extinction.”

The opening section, Whippet, contains five poems that hold up a mirror to adolescence.

Ashley presents a set of fifteen year olds doing drugs in a friend’s garage, sprawled out on beanbags while listening to the likes of Hendrix and Cobain. Caught up in the moment, along with thoughts of ‘the luminous tantalizing future’, the narrator misses his friend’s cry to be heard. It is only later in life, when he realises they have lost touch, that he becomes haunted by what may have become of the boy.

“I had been too busy riding the radiant final wave
of innocence behind my eyes
to see his hands shaking”

Testimony precedes this by a year. The narrator is in a church listening to the shrieking output of an evangelical preacher. In a moment of quiet, on his way to use the bathroom, he comes across another preacher evicting a homeless man into the ‘deluge of winter night’ with words of hatred.

“it was one of those moments
when you either scuttle back
into the warm fold of all you’ve known

or you turn your back and leap into a dark future –

away from the sickly sweet cologne
of toilet freshener cloying your throat:
that synthetic smell of fake flowers
trying to cover shit -“

The section finishes with Codex in which the narrator sets out on the rest of his life, away from ‘the religion: a cardboard cutout of love’ and ‘the school: a conveyor belt of hate’. He carries with him the poison of his stepfather’s words: ‘Your daddy never loved you!’ to lose himself in ‘the fear and vertigo and glitter -‘ beyond graduation.

The what comes next is covered in the remaining poems in the collection. There is apparent success – champagne parties held at McMansions with swimming pools – but any pleasure derived is shaded by loneliness and memory. Sonnet is a brilliant depiction of modern living – limited attention spans and the diversions available.

“Breaking news: the news is broken. Purpose is replaced by a plastic replica. How fast does my attention fade on a scale from Brexit to breakneck? Cute Cat Singing Christmas Carols!”

Poem Scraped from Greasy Menu somehow manages to explain the damage caused by modern capitalism, asking how a ‘young child who loved dinosaurs, bees and flowers’ makes the leap ‘from carefree to cruelty’.

“And that salmon, sir, was dyed pink and pumped
with preservatives. Slave-wage workers
with weeping minds picked your precious coffee beans –

But the planet you tamed climbs back up the chain
in blind revenge. No apex predator escapes.
Earth rolls back red eyes (red claws, red fangs).
Don’t you see the blazing December sun? The snowy summers?
The ocean up to its throat in microplastics?”

Another recurrent theme is relationships, often at their breakup. Catacombs is set in Paris, the narrator recognising his failure to perform as required and expected.

“I couldn’t get it right
I walked too fast. I walked too slow.
I chewed too loud. I mumbled.”

At the site of the crash sees the narrator faced with a traumatic death that hits all the harder when he spots a photo of a young boy on a bloody dashboard – who now perhaps faces a lifetime of grief that is achingly familiar.

The repeating aspects in the collection – cutting words that cannot be forgotten; that each person is the sum of everything that has gone before yet struggles to learn its lessons; that how the world is treated will effect all who live in it, including man – are presented with a simplicity that nevertheless eviscerates.

In Poem for my Mother the narrator states ‘you taught me not to look away’. It is, perhaps, when he looks away, when he seeks a chemical release from the loneliness faced, that he disappoints himself more than the father whose love was denied by a cruel stepfather, whose religion was equally hate filled.

It is always pleasing when good writing is packaged well and I must mention the aesthetics of this slim collection. The photos and end papers add to the enjoyment to be gleaned while perusing the impressive contents.

This is poetry I eagerly recommend to all – aficionados and those who would like to read more of the form but perhaps fear they won’t get it. Readers of either ilk will be bowled over by the resonance and connection of each entry in this collection. I am grateful that its existence was brought to my attention.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, The Hedgehog Press.

Book Review: Chaos

Chaos, edited by Anna Johnson, is the most recent poetry anthology published by Patrician Press. Many of the entries have been included in previous collections but have been brought together here as a reaction to various events affecting the UK over the past five years. These include attitudes to: immigration, Brexit, climate change, the current pandemic.

“In difficult times, then, we turn to Art; poetry, in particular, is one of the pithiest ways to process events that seem extreme.”

Many of the poems are provocative – understandable given that the issues being written about have generated controversy yet little in the way of balanced debate. There appears to be an assumption that readers will agree with the points of view of the book’s creators. There is limited exploration of why these views are not held by everyone.

In their introduction, the editor writes

“I hope there is enough in these pages to console, entertain and feed the spirit.”

Sadly, this was not my reaction. While I am appalled by the selfish and insular actions of too many politicians – lining their pockets along with those of their financial supporters and powerful advisors rather than working to help constituents – the issues are more complex than is suggested within these pages. Solutions are rarely as simple as they are made to appear.

Refuge is a Taxi features an immigrant, Basim, who is obviously intelligent and willing to work hard in order to realise his quiet ambitions. His past still gives him nightmares – of the horrific experiences escaped from. He regards his new home as a ‘land of opportunity.’

I found no poems exploring the messier side of immigration – of those who demand the retention of oppressive culture and damaging familial traditions that break the laws of their new homeland. I’m thinking of such practices as: FGM, ‘honour’ killings, forced marriage, rejection of homosexuality. Freedom and safety are not just the rights of heterosexual men.

It is possible to agree with the headline – show compassion, seek understanding – without accepting behaviour that damages those who also deserve protection.

Closed borders are the subject of several poems. In Something Human the freedom offered by a red passport is compared to the plight of refugees.

“I’ve never pleaded with strangers
to let me in to a cold and foreign nation
where I feel unwelcome,
derided and despised for trying
to save my life.”

Ride the Waves explores the removal of freedom that we are currently experiencing within the UK – how it has been so submissively accepted.

“Running away from each other in public
Get back!
We’re too close!
6-foot rule, or 6-foot under!”

The poet ponders if we have already said goodbye to our rights by accepting the ‘sanitised lies’.

Although there are a number of poems focusing on climate change – blame and fear more than a call to appreciate the still beautiful world – I enjoyed the images of nature in Wild Isolation. Birds and mammals continue their daily existence, even amongst the abandoned litter and other human detritus – while people fearfully isolate themselves from the current plague.

“All left in the lurch   to besmirch green and brown –
While squirrels   maintain their slight sordidness
Without being thought – sweet”

Climate change can be hard to discuss pithily. The need to respect the health of the planet – the life support system of all species – may be incontrovertible. How this is currently being approached, especially given man’s innate behaviour, creates unpalatable reverberations. As examples, wind farms kill birds and are a blight on the landscape. They and solar farms – with their tax funded subsidies – add wealth to already wealthy landowners. These poems suggest we may help with small, personal changes. Advocating for these is worthwhile but also of limited impact.

I have found this review hard to write as I fear opprobrium for not always agreeing with good and honourable intentions without reservation.

The writing within the anthology is mixed, as may be expected from a variety of contributors. Some of the poems have a simplistic structure; others require a number of rereads to unpack meaning. Together they are certainly thought-provoking. The issues explored deserve attention and careful consideration.

It is, perhaps, because humans and their behaviour are the focus of these poems that I did not find the consolation the editor hoped to offer. Instead, I found too much polemic – sad reminders of the misnomers now surrounding ‘fact’ or ‘expert’. We undoubtedly need more kindness, generosity and acceptance. We may also benefit from listening more attentively to those outside our echo chambers.

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

Book Review: London Undercurrents

London Undercurrents: The hidden histories of London’s unsung heroines, north and south of the river, is a collaboration by two London-based female poets, Joolz Sparkes and Hilaire. The former concentrated her research around the Islington area although she has lived in many boroughs of London. The latter lived close to Battersea Park, overlooking the then derelict Power Station. Both had to dig deep to find the voices and experiences of local women, commenting, ‘It should not be so hard to find them.’

The poetry cycle created is presented in sequences that flow with the river running through the pages, offering up women from all walks of life over many centuries. All those included are based on research, with Background Notes at the end of the book explaining what inspired particular poems. There are also links to the project’s blog where interested readers may find out more.

Opening in Battersea Fields, 1685, we are reminded of the agricultural history of what has now been swallowed up by the changing city. Women grew crops and tended cattle. Goods were sold at markets or by peripatetic street sellers. The timeline moves back and forth, offering accounts of female office and factory workers. Their essential tasks kept businesses running, families afloat, yet they were neither noticed nor remembered. Many of the roles came with a risk to health, pay docked for time missed due to illness. From the age of thirteen these women were required to earn their keep.

Although badly paid and monotonous, the various jobs the women accomplished provided a spirit of camaraderie that they valued. When the ‘war effort’ required that they take on roles traditionally worked by men, many enjoyed the freedom and new skills learned. By the time the men returned, the women had changed too.

Not all the women featured are what may be considered traditional heroines. Yet it is clear that their actions, although more harshly punished, are no more or less reprehensible than that of men of their time.

The subjects are fascinating in the history they recount – presented in vivid, evocative stanzas. Good poetry such as this can convey so much in so few words.

I enjoyed the poems focusing on the working classes more than the better off, perhaps because their stories are less well known. As the punk from 1977 states, these women are:

“thrashing against
your label of ‘Woman’ –
what you want us to be”

Were you aware that Arsenal Women Football Club are only permitted to play at Emirates Stadium on occasion? Unlike the men’s team, mostly they are required to train and play elsewhere.

In the notes about the poem featuring a family of coin counterfeiters in 1893, we are told that women would be burned at the stake if caught; men were hung.

When the picture halls opened these provided a welcome if brief escape from the drudgery of everyday experience. There were also occasional trips to the seaside. Battersea Women’s Pub Outing provides a glorious image of women drinking and laughing together, larking about and being noisy. Why does this appear more shocking because they were female?

The sequence on education reminds of the importance of being taught to think rather than merely follow – of challenging the prevailing narrative and societal expectations.

And it is in provoking thought that these poems find their strength. Individually they are structured and written impressively. Put together, as they are in this collection, and they are powerful. They provide a social history of the city from an angle rarely considered. The voices of all these women deserve to be heard.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Holland Park Press.

Book Review: How To Make Curry Goat

How To Make Curry Goat, by Louise McStravick, is a collection of thirty-three poems that bring to vivid life the experiences of a second generation Windrush immigrant. The author describes herself as of mixed race and heritage. Many of the poems explore the theme of culture, belonging, and the challenges of expectation and assimilation. Questions are asked about how people change when horizons expand – if this is improvement or loss, and how these affect those left behind.

Opening with Just another road in Erdington, the reader is offered a picture of the place where the narrator first remembers living. There is violence, drug taking and a nod to urban habits and survival tactics. There is also humour in the memories of home furnishings.

Tanned Feet considers skin colour and the pride to be felt in what this represents. Although many of the poems in the collection examine how often the narrator tried to change how she looked or acted – in order to please others or feel accepted – there is also acceptance of her cultural inheritance and how this has shaped her. She may now prefer Earl Grey tea to builder’s brown brewed, but this is neither a rejection of where she came from nor of who she is.

The titular poem is just wonderful. The frequent interjections from the parent add both fun and poignancy to what is a recipe but also an appreciation of stories passed down through generations – memories evoked through the senses and richer for the depth of feeling this brings.

Mommy Belly is a love song to a beloved parent.

“We learn the beauty of belly with skin
that no longer fits.
That does not conform to the rules of playdough
it does not return to its original shape, no
more like a creased cape now
on the world’s greatest superhero.”

Beyond family, there are poems looking at the difficulties inherent in dating and cohabiting. The woman contorts what she is in order to conform, fitting in but not comfortably.

“There isn’t enough space for everyone and her curls take up double. So they pull and they push and use their fingers to touch, make her disappear between the lines”

There are betrayals and endings, pain but then valued lessons learned in hindsight.

“I thank you for teaching me the nature of things that a smell can become cotton fields and tropical rainstorms that futures are real in the moment but live in the past more than anything”

A few of the poems are more opaque – perhaps dealing with the loss of a child, or a child who could have been. It is always a mistake to assume authors create work that is autobiographical but the writing is nuanced and intensely personal in all it represents.

As a white, female reader there is much that resonates but also much to consider. The collection presents a life outside my personal experience but with a strength and piquancy that may be savoured. In avoiding both the didactic and the sentimental, these poems offer a candid window into growing up in a country that invited but then struggled to welcome. The next generation wove their lives around the impact of this treatment of their parents, and these poems reflect that there is much still to be unpicked.

Playful and clever use of form and language add weight to the always accessible reading. This is a poetry collection I am happy to recommend.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Fly on the Wall Press.

Book Review: Depth Charge

Depth Charge, by Chris Emery, is a beautifully produced poetry pamphlet containing a selection of the author’s more recent creations. Themes rising to the surface include an evocative appreciation of nature in all its shades. People are presented at a remove, the reader engaged as observer. There are undercurrents of sadness in what is being lost to the past.

The collection opens with an elegy for an aging coastal hotel. The damp, grey weather provides a backdrop to the echoes of former times. Language is rich and woven together to create images requiring several read-throughs to fully appreciate. The sense of place conveyed is impressive.

There follow a number of poems that portray various aspects of nature. Alongside the wonder lies the question – why it is being treated badly? There is an urgency along with desire for more attention to be paid to surroundings. Creatures are glimpsed and their attributes valued. The tenacity of delicate flowers is admired as they return each year despite being wantonly damaged.

Self-Portrait with Angela provides an injection of humour albeit with a sting in its tail. The narrator is looking back on a summer marked by a crush on the titular girl.

“Flared jeans and Clarks shoes,
my sweaty hat pressed flat
over helmet hair
and seven o’clock lust.”

[…]

“my wasted summer, my staring nights,
it all ran out with the whinnying
district horses, the heavy wheels
of that final cart of local coal
no one noticed.”

Memories of loved ones as they age are written with a refreshing realism. The collection is completed with an imagining of how an afterlife might be. In this, there is none of the beauty that the previous poems reflected – perhaps it is a warning to make the most of what we have, while we still can.

A strong and satisfying set of poems that merits reader time and attention. Fulsome and rich but never cloying – like a good red wine.

Depth Charge has been privately published in a limited edition of 100 signed and numbered copies. It may be purchased from the author.