Book Review: Planet in Peril

“This anthology was founded upon the belief that words have the power to change.”

Planet in Peril, edited by Isabelle Kenyon, is an anthology of poetry, photographs, artwork and think pieces focusing on climate change, pollution, and man’s impact on Planet Earth. Whilst timely given current interest in the subject matter, it is not exactly cheery reading.

An early poem, Mother Earth by Rachael Ikins, injects early controversy with a possible solution to the humans causing so much damage to their beautiful home and life support system.

“She urges them to genocide, war, the moon;
sends in viruses, bacteria, her fiercest warriors the smallest –
anything to rid
the plague that consumes her”

I was entertained later in the book by a poem written by one of the younger contributors, Niamh Hughes, whose Animals reversed imagines the outrage a person would feel if Earth’s other animals treated people as humans treat their fellow creatures. Throughout the book human actions are shown to be selfish and damaging to all, including themselves.

Early entries explore the importance of trees and the true cost of deforestation.

There is a section focusing on the polar regions – a sanctuary under which people dump their nuclear waste.

Preserved in Ice by Dr Sam Illingworth offers a strong portrayal of man’s grasping invasions. Information provided after the poem explains that researchers have collected and radiocarbon dated samples of ancient plants in the Canadian Arctic continually covered by ice for at least the past 40,000 years, until now. Whilst I understand the concerns about melting ice and rising sea levels, I was curious about the time when these plants grew. Planet Earth has experienced fluctuating global temperatures throughout its existence.

The many photographs included of our world and the beautiful creatures that inhabit it are a joy to peruse. I did wonder at the footprint left by the scientists cited and the artists who captured the images. Habitats and species are best preserved if left to nature rather than adapted for man’s convenience, even when intentions are worthy.

In some ways this book felt like an elegy to the world as we know it today. Life on Earth is constantly evolving. Whilst it appears obvious that modern man is a scourge, our own actions may eventually provide the cure. This is a difficult process to dwell on and one many refuse to contemplate despite their lifestyles bringing it ever nearer.

The blazing sun and what to do about it by Peter Ualrig Kennedy takes a wry look at human attitudes, capturing typical responses to growing but ignored crisis. As is pointed out later by Geoff Callard,

“we humans are incredibly bad at trading off short term gratification for long term gain”

There is suggestion that the speed of current change prevents other species adapting. In the futuristic Specimen by Joanna Lilley, Homo sapien is described as “architect of annihilation”. Our unwillingness to radically alter our behaviour is cleverly captured in Sleepwalking by Amélie Nixon.

“we are tired
put your alarm clock on snooze;
shove your head back under the pillow.
just 10 more minutes.”

Another young contributor, Jenna M, provides a poignant hand drawn picture of Planet Earth and the creatures suffering man’s pollution and incursions.

Automachine by Aviva Rynne Browne brings vividly to the fore how wasteful we are with resources, and how little we seem to care about this.

The contributions may be moving but are somewhat didactic to read. The lack of hope would be my main criticism however realistic the portrayal may be. The purpose of the anthology is to inspire change in human behaviour. The bleak picture painted puts into question how possible this is.

There is talk in the news of tipping points, and perhaps the damage wreaked has already taken us beyond what can be fixed. As a species it is troubling to consider that Planet Earth may only flourish if we are removed.

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

A proportion of the profits from this book will be donated to The Climate Coalition and WWF.

Book Review: 60 Lovers to Make and Do

60 Lovers to Make & Do, by Sophie Herxheimer, is a collection of metaphorical contemporary love stories – vignettes written in playful poetry. They are presented with associated artwork in collage format which are a delight to explore. Each subject is introduced by their occupation. These women make use of whatever objects are to hand to create their ideal lover. Of course, lovers rarely turn out to be ideal. As in more conventional relationships, some of the pairings work and many do not.

Each poem is short but neatly conveys the complexities of living with a lover – the unexpected turns such alliances can take.

The desire to find a compatible lover is the driving force behind the creative activity. Subjects make the paramour they believe they want but cannot then control what has become a sentient being.

Some of the lovers turn out to harbour interests that were not predicted. The relationships are, very much, reflections of more conventional encounters.

There are a variety of reasons why certain relationships do not last. The bespoke creations turn out to be as varied as those met in other ways.

I mentioned the artwork that accompanies the poems. These collages are cut from a range of sources and it is fun to try to work out connections. They mostly depict the lovers as cutouts and pose them alongside the gap left from their removal.

There are also cut out words and phrases put together to add a further layer of interest.

As well as the poems – the occupations – the index lists the items needed to make the lovers detailed. This was a quirky addition that amused me.

The collection is entertaining throughout but raises serious issues about desire, control and expectation. A distinctive collection of art and poetry that is well worth perusing.

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

Book Review: Bad Mommy Stay Mommy

Bad Mommy / Stay Mommy, by Elisabeth Horan, is a collection of poems that provide a visceral and often harrowing account of the author’s postpartum depression. Following the birth of her second son, Horan found her world unravelling. Her behaviour made others uncomfortable and, at times, angry. She was not behaving as a new mother is required by society. Most of all though Horan struggled to cope with the change in herself.

“I am you in mixed acrylic on a Pollack canvas”

The author writes of the guilt she feels over how she treats her two young children due to her illness. The boys know that she is sad but must still bear the brunt of her mood changes.

“Who am I? lashing out –
my tongue a leather whip
leaving verbal welts
on the back of someone so small”

In Wellbutrin in my Brain, Horan recounts the effects of the medication she was prescribed.

“I’m fat and puffy yet endlessly hungry,
my hair in my hands and
my back to the wall of a cliff;
then falling, falling
into a Dali sea –

Rife and roiling with
lunatics like me.”

Efforts to be around her family are depicted in raw, emotion. She writes of prowling through night’s darkness and of regrets when, exhausted, she lashes out again.

“But what of the little boy?
Cowering, looking to me for shelter”

Basement Mother is one of several poems that reference her self-hatred. This leads to suicidal thoughts that are expanded upon. In Mother Maple she writes of the cost to her family.

“Funnny, how they hold up
The felled trunk of me
Even as they succumb
From my smothering –
From the immense weight
Crushing them.”

Despite the torment she knows that her family wants her. She struggles to see how, in this state, she can be good for them. She becomes desperate to find a way out of the abyss.

“Gnawing on one’s own failure bed
my prone heart
the same the same”

A climax is reached in Better off without me which is powerful, painful, and should be read in its entirety.

As the title suggests, eventually Horan finds a way to stay alive.

“t’isn’t easy being in the world now
as a member, not an inmate

My own warden.”

It is rare to find such an honest depiction of a new mother’s wounds and shortcomings. The complexities of mental illness are balanced with the love felt for the children, love that is written between the lines rather than sentimentalised. Despite the depression so searingly depicted there is hope in this collection.

A stark yet spirited window into a condition rarely brought into open, honest discussion. An important portrayal that overflows with a rare candour. Hear her roar.

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

Book Review: Moments

Moments, by Daphne Denley, is a poetry collection that recounts how the author dealt with difficult times and emotions following her husband’s cancer diagnosis. Writing became her therapy, a way to vent as she struggled to cope, especially with the need to retain a stable routine for their young daughter.

The early poems express an appreciation of quiet moments and the importance of making memories, of stepping back from the daily hustle before that time has passed and the opportunity gone.

In Cards Apart Denley writes of those she sends birthday and Christmas cards to but no longer meets.

“Truth be known, we’d rather leave
The past behind, just memories keep

Good times we had, but that was then”

Whilst aware of the need to treasure her daughter’s childhood there is exhaustion as she taxis the child to her many activities or simply struggles to get her ready for school each day. Parents will recognise the frustration of misplaced keys and offspring who won’t comply with simple requests and instruction.

The poems do not shy away from the difficulties of dealing with the expectation that parents remain calm and positive whatever they may be feeling or personally dealing with at the time.

The stress of the ongoing situation is obvious and at times false fixes are sought – shopping, alcohol, gambling. The guilt and regret that follow add to the relentless load carried, and yet some form of diversion is required.

There are repeated mentions of bullying but also the importance of friendship. There is concern over the damage inflicted from the consumption of ‘bad’ food and subsequent weight gain. Alongside the negative are positives including an appreciation of nature. Daydreams take time from a busy day but are a necessary distraction.

The poems read as song lyrics more than poetry. The author is a singer in a local band and writes in the introduction that she is ‘happy with rhyme’. The word order is often Yoda like to achieve this.

I suspect Moments will be valued most by those who have gone through a similar experience. If they provide any sort of comfort in such difficult circumstances, to author or reader, they are worthwhile.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Crumps Barn Studio. 

Book Review: Poems of the Mare Nostrum / Costa Nostra

Having recently read a number of crowd pleasing novels it felt good to sink my teeth into this challenging poetry collection. Subtitled, ‘Poems for the twilight of the shipwrecked’, the author opens by explaining the main title.

Places go by many names over time. What we now call the Mediterranean, the Romans referred to as Mare Nostrum, meaning Our Sea. Today, Costa Nostra refers to

“beaches, and the Pan-European defence of coastlines and borders: a machinery which only intensified in recent years.”

Desimone looks to ancient Greece for heroes and beasts

“all of whom seem to have enjoyed significantly more freedom to wander, especially in the light of today’s more clearly defined barriers”

This theme of borders and beasts, ancient and modern, along with the plight of immigrants and refugees and how this compares to the treatment of tourists, permeates a collection alive with anger and contempt for those who dehumanise others in order to protect their privileged existence, despite having more than enough available to share.

Set largely in and around the Mediterranean there are musings on who is allowed in and who must sneak across borders and the sea. The history of the area is referenced along with the many sites over which wars have been waged. There is mention of religious zealots who indulge in alcohol and harlots, against the texts they demand others adhere to. Tourists are mentioned – plugged into headphones rather than listening and engaging, who capture photographs rather than absorbing and dissolving their being into that moment’s experience.

When looking at art – illustrations by the author are included – there is consternation amongst the Muslim brotherhood over depictions of female nudes. Imposition does not just come from the capitalist west.

The poems explore freedom and what this means. They look at walls, borders and prescribed behaviour, at (in)tolerance of non conformity.

“there is nothing remote about control”

Man, with his war machines and war mentality, his striving for capitalist or religious ideals that he then wishes to protect against rebels and invaders, is compared to earlier societies in the area. The author asks if education is the eradication of tradition, and what is lost following polish and cleansing – of the masks donned in so called modernisation.

“erecting new office buildings,
jagged edifices of stress, vomitous,
against the sea”

“They expect to live forever;
they want to sleep with the famous
and to vote for absolute evil,
in the elections
of the continent of good ideas”

Several poems refer to the death of a gypsy woman on a French street, and the attitudes of those going to work in their smart suits who ponder when the body will be tidied away.

I particularly enjoyed Welfare Rat which explores the resentment felt by the well fed when asked to provide a means for the hungry to acquire food. This is followed by Poem Against Switzerland which rails against the country’s expense and values.

“Fear Swiss static: its glaciers birthed
streams of expensive water,
and echoed the birth
of the anti-dream

To the Swiss lands
of Evian for downing Prozac,
I by far prefer Greece:
Onira Gleekee they say before
sending you to bed, “Sugar on your dreams””

The striving for eradication of dirt and smell, for the spread of order and convention and distaste for anything else, is a repeated theme. Also tourists taking, then talking as if knowledgeable of a culture they briefly experience but have not inherited and had ingrained.

Later poems look at fear and how it is generated. How, over time, it has become hidden – a school of sharks transformed into submarines and torpedoes.

“The game of mongering dread, aversion:
today our masters call it “deterrence””

In amongst the anger were mentions I baulked at – the prostitutes, a reference to ‘bestseller housewife novels’, the ‘sexiness of fake blond’ – I disagreed.

I cannot say I got all the references, and nor could I make sense of many of the author’s line drawings. And yet, I understood the passion and resentment that a way of living was being imposed – striving for acquisition a driving force over acceptance.

The poems are best read as though being listened to – as urgent, spoken word poetry. The powerful collection gives more on each rereading.

“In the end,
Sun and Moon can destroy
and recreate like no human can.”

 

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Prote(s)xt.

Book Review: The Perseverance

This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.

What?

I am a one-word question,
a one-man
patience test.

What?

What language
would we speak
without ears?”

Raymond Antrobus is: a poet; a teacher; a son; British Jamaican; Deaf. All of these attributes colour his writing in this, his latest poetry collection.

The Perseverance explores not only experiences lived, or shared with the author, but also the effects of heritage and culture across generations. He writes of how language is used and how this varies in time and place. What does not change is the near universal insistence that those who communicate by signing adapt as best they can to enable understanding by the hearing.

“How do you write me when I am visual?

“How will someone reading this see my feeling?”

Antrobus writes of his father with whom he had an, at times, difficult relationship but who he cared for during the two years prior to the older man’s death. He writes of his wider family in Jamaica where he visits regularly. Themes of grief and dementia are touched on alongside misunderstandings and the search for forgiveness.

Poems that explore the D/deaf experience are both enlightening and powerful.

“I know the deaf are not lost
but they are certainly abandoned.”

In ‘Miami Airport’ an official is accusatory and unsympathetic even when he realises the traveller cannot hear.

“you don’t look deaf?
can you prove it?”

A sequence of poems written for Samantha share the story of a Deaf Jamaican woman whose mother believed the Devil had taken her child’s voice. There is a lack of appreciation that the deaf have their own language, and anyone can learn it.

Many of the poems are searing in effect. Although not vitriolic there is no shying from the way D/deaf people are treated and how this can lead to isolation.

“Before, all official languages
were oral. The Deaf were a colony
the hearing world ignored.”

‘Two Guns in the Sky for Daniel Harris’ tells of a man shot dead by the police when he was stopped and attempted to speak. His language was sign which meant moving his hands. In the moment this was translated as a threat to safety.

A need to belong, to find acceptance, is a recurring theme delivered with finely balanced potency. A mixed heritage can sometimes lead to dual rejection. It is possible for deafness to be regarded as difference rather than disability.

Any Cop?: Notes at the end of the book explain the inspiration for each of the poems included. Although of interest these were not imperative. The writing is accessible; the subject matter and emotion clear. The author takes the reader into his territory. Awareness gleaned is a sobering reminder that to fully understand a situation it must be lived.

 

Jackie Law

Book Review: Tempest

Tempest: An Anthology, edited by Anna Vaught and Anna Johnson, contains a wide variety of speculative fiction, poetry and essays that explore our tempestuous times. Subjects covered include politics, climate change, equality and the possibilities offered from the development of artificial intelligence. Donald Trump appears as himself or in caricature. Dystopias are created to portray imagined post-Brexit worlds or ecological Armaggedon. Although sometimes lacking depth, the collection’s strength is its spread of opinions.

Anna Vaught writes in her introduction:

“I would desist, if I could, from political and social involvement – I know plenty of people who have entirely stopped following the news and/or placed severe limits or careful muting on their social media diet. I understand this, but it is not an option for me or, really, for this press, with its philanthropic bent, passionate sense of questing after social justice and being involved in politics.”

This passion is evident in many of the entries. What is refreshing is the lack of shouting despite the frequent despair so clearly expressed. The issues raise awareness. When there is anger it is controlled and measured.

The opening article, The man who would be Christ, was written in 1988 and is a study of Donald Trump, the property developer. This is aptly followed by a story, The Wall, which I enjoyed until its unlikely ending.

Women must act now looks at the development of robots – artificial intelligence.

“Women must act now, or male-designed robots will take over our lives”

“There are great benefits in the use of AI and we should cherish them. However, the issue is not innovation, or the pace of technological improvement. The real problem is the governance of AI, the ethics underpinning it, the boundaries we give it and, within that, who is going to define all those.”

Whilst finding this subject interesting, I remained unconvinced by the author’s arguments that most low paid, replaceable jobs are held by women because they cannot access anything better. I would have liked references to verifiable studies on this premise, to make the piece appear less opinion. If the only jobs remaining in the future will be in STEM, women are as capable as men.

Some Start Fires is a poem around climate change offering a picture but no solution. Of course, there may not be one as man appears bent on destroying his life support system.

This is Earth is a similarly depressing depiction of man’s selfish tendencies, this time written from the point of view of aliens. Although offering a clear message, its development felt somewhat simplistic.

I enjoyed The cowboy with the calcium spur, a poem that I read as having another dig at Trump.

The Walking Stick imagined a post-Brexit Britain, although I considered the ending another ultimately pointless protest.

Save me from the dogs was a more straightforward story about uncared for children living underground and groomed as criminals. Between the lines lies the question of what options society offers those it rejects.

One of the headline contributors is Sam Jordison and it was no surprise that his article, Rage, had Brexit as its subject. He suggested that those who voted to leave the EU did so out of a desire to return to times they remembered as better.

“I’m pretty sure a lot of the Leave Vote was inspired by misplaced yearning for the years when Baby-Boomer voters didn’t have such bad backs, still had flowing locks and something more to look forward to than nights in watching repeats of Mrs Browns’ Boys. They imagined that everything was better before we joined the EU, because that was when they personally felt better.”

Populists are on the rise… is a cogent essay, first published in the Guardian in 2018, that appears to offer more balance than is normally apparent in newspapers writing for their loyal readers. Perhaps it was simply good to consider some alternative opinion.

Nature and culture provides a discussion on the damage to ecosystems from globalisation.

“We have come to believe that harm to the world is inconsequential, or at the very least if something is lost then it can be replaced.”

The essays around nature and ecological collapse put many of society’s current political preoccupations in perspective.

I readily admit that there were certain pieces throughout the collection that I didn’t get. Neither can I comment on subjects I know little about, such as Palestine. It is good that the publisher offers space to such potentially divisive subjects and divergent opinions. Refreshingly, the authors make their cases without getting shouty or insulting.

The Job takes an interesting idea – a future where most people do not work – and weaves a story of coercion. Although sometimes lightweight, I enjoyed many aspects of this tale, including its ending.

A narrow escape for the Chelsea Hotel takes another dig at Trump, exploring what is valued in life other than money. I couldn’t help thinking its conclusion was reprieve more than escape but the Russian angle was a neat addition.

We should own the stars is an fascinating essay on AI and equality with reference to Bladerunner. This entry was a particular favourite of mine.

Tempest on Tyneside offers a vision of the region as a sought after destination offering beer and football while southern England disappears under water. Ironic as this turnaround is to consider I thought the apparent interest men had in female footballers a stretch too far. It says much about the reader what imaginative aspects of a story can be accepted.

As with any collection of opinions there will be favoured and disregarded contributions. What I enjoyed in the reading was that disparate voices were included. Projects such as this, which take us outside our carefully curated echo chambers, are always worthwhile.

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

Book Review: Vertigo & Ghost

Vertigo & Ghost, by Fiona Benson, is the second full poetry collection from this multi-award winning poet. It is divided into two parts. The first part is a sequence of poems featuring Zeus as a being who regards sex as his right and women as objects existing to satisfy his often brutal urges. The second part explores motherhood and the challenges of birthing and then keeping daughters safe in a world filled with multiple dangers. The themes explored are visceral, powerful, disturbing in their authenticity.

The collection opens with Ace of Bass which is, perhaps, the best depiction of young females on the cusp of becoming sexually active that I have ever read. It brings to the fore their natural desires inhibited by fear born of societal expectation. There is an innocence to the girls’ chatter about boys and music, their dreams of love as a follow-up to sexual satiation.

“and sex wasn’t there yet, but it was coming,
and we were running towards it,
its gorgeous euphoric mist”

This opener is all the more affecting given what comes next. Zeus the abuser, the rapist, the taker of young girls for his own warped and savage pleasure. He is caught and imprisoned but incarceration is temporary in a hat-tip to real life examples of the treatment of rapists.

“The judge delivers
that he is an exemplary member
of the swimming squad;
look at his muscular shoulders,
the way he forges through water;
as for the girl”

Zeus is the hunter and women the prey, yet the hounds are everywhere. The hares can run until they drop exhausted, tormented, broken. Zeus represents the worst of men who lust after pretty women, young girls, even babies. They feel entitled to sexual gratification, uncaring of damage inflicted on their disposable victims. And they are allowed to get away with it.

“I came to understand
rape is cultural,
pervasive;
that in this world

the woman is blamed.”

One of the most terrifying pieces suggested that, if there is life after death, women would remain powerless and abused, surviving in fear – that death may not bring the relief of an ending.

Part two has a very different feel although continues with dark themes. After a few introspective pieces, Haruspex turns a corner and the focus changes.

“my mind has been wrong
for a long long time.

Here is its fruit.
It is true,
I hear voices
and talk to myself.
I am done with shame.”

The author writes of a failed pregnancy and then a successful one leading to the birth of a second daughter, and the effects of motherhood on body and mind. Daughter Drowning is an excellent depiction of the changes inflicted on a previously born child.

“Now she’s trying to get me to look,
and I almost can’t do it, some weird switch flipped
that means I watch the new-born like a hawk
afraid she’ll forget to breathe, or her heart will stop
or she’ll choke on her own tongue if I look away,
even for a second. Meanwhile here’s the first-born
fighting for attention, as if it were oxygen
and she were drowning”

With Termite Queen the poems revert to wider issues facing women, now from a mother’s perspective.

Illness is explored alongside conflict, where women are powerless to protect their offspring.

In Hide and Seek the author muses on the game her daughters play, on how to keep them safe in a world of war and men.

“I don’t know who
I’m teaching you to hide from, but look
how eagerly you learn.”

The final poem in the collection, Eurofighter Typhoon, has the two daughters happily playing in their garden when a fighter jet flies overhead terrifying them both before they can be reached and hugged close by their mother.

“always some woman is running to catch up her children,
we dig them out of the rubble in parts like plastic dolls”

There is an empathy with those who suffer in war zones – their helplessness in the face of man’s selfish, greedy games.

This is a raging, powerful collection that pierces the armour we build to allow us to ignore what goes on in plain sight around the world. The voices are evocative and often painful. They demand and deserve to be heard.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Jonathan Cape.

Book Review: Sincerity

This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.

Poetry, perhaps even more so than prose, is deeply personal in both the writing and the reading. When it hits the mark its effect can be visceral. In a sizeable collection such as Sincerity there will likely be certain poems that do not resonate quite so deeply. Structure and use of language can still be appreciated even when the intended significance remains elusive or opaque.

The issues explored in this collection travel through personal memories to a wider worldview. There are allusions to Trump – ‘Gorilla’ is particularly amusing – and other powerful figures from taught history. In common is their narcissism and view of the insignificance of those who have served them, whether by choice or coercion.

From ‘The Ex-Ministers’:

“And when they are here, they are unseen;
Chauffeured in blacked-out cars to the bars
in the heavens – far, glittering shards –
To look down
on our lucrative democracy.

Though they have bought the same face,
so they will know each other.”

The lack of empathy in certain politician’s reactions to Grenfell is compared to Aberfan.

The homeless and cruelty of factory farms warrant separate mentions.

Other historic figures featured include kings and queens of old. ‘What Tennyson Didn’t Know’ posits that Queen Victoria could have used her grief at widowhood as a disguise, enabling her to live a life previously denied.

Literary notables also feature‘Charlotte imagines the frustrations felt by the Brontë sister of that name.

“the prose seethes, will not let you be, be thus;
bog-burst of pain, fame, love, unluck. True; enough.
So your stiff doll steps in the dollshouse parsonage.
So your writer’s hand the hand of a god rending the roof.”

Amongst the more personal musings are reflections on the passing of time. In remembrances from childhood there are poems reflecting the boredom and mischief of holidays, and the dryness of schooldays:

From ‘Dark School’,

“Dark school. You learn now – the black paintings
In their charred frames; the old wars;
the voiceless speeches in the library,
the fixed equations – ab invito.
Above the glass roof of the chemistry lab,
insolent, truant stars squander their light.”

A parent laments their empty nest. A grown child experiences their parent’s death. Shade and influence are cast from beyond the grave.

Burgling is a clever take on the rarity and value of silence for a writer – a reflection on a retreat taken despite the business of other commitments.

“I steal a silver sonnet and leave sharpish”

Although love and relationships are recurring themes these are never sugar coated. The faults of parents are remembered alongside their more positive attributes. Gardens and woodland spark cherished memories.

In ‘Physics, a marriage avoided in the past is regarded as a wise decision. Alternative scenarios are imagined that do not proceed to the much vaunted happy ever after of the institution.

“You walk towards me across the terrace,
all I want of love
in that world –
correct when you promised
all would be well. Well,
then again, I feign sleep at your footfall
and we are in Hell.”

Death is considered in several of the poems but not feared. The paths walked by the famous are visited with interest but also in the knowledge that it is the cemetery that now holds their names.

The collection closes beautifully with the titular poem, spare and elegiac.

“I look up
from the hill at Moniack
to see my breath
seek its rightful place
with the stars
and everyone else who breathes.”

Any Cop?: This varied collection contains much of note – the humour and sagacity lifting the wide ranging musings; their broad scope remaining grounded and at times piercing. It is an enjoyable if not always easy read. Complex, colourful and humane, it is a worthy swansong for Duffy’s tenure as Poet Laureate.

 

Jackie Law

Book Review: the uncorrected

the uncorrected, by Billy Childish, is an extensive collection of the author’s poetry. Confessional in style it is divided into themed sections, each opening with a black and white woodcut illustration. Childish is dyslexic and the poems appear as written. In the introduction the reader is told:

“He disliked “not naming things by their proper names”, and had no time for elegant embellishments of expression”

“Childish did not hold with the patient modelling and fashioning of a verse which so many poets declare to be indispensable to their art. He thought that a poem, and indeed all art, was emotionally secreted, and that the poet’s job was to refrain from intellectualising it.”

While Childish may be seeking a grounded authenticity, the subject matter – “poetry out of everyday sordidness” – can be challenging to read. He writes of: bestiality; being sexually abused by a family member as a child; being an alcoholic and a sexaholic; being “the bad ending to every fairy tale”.

Although he suggests that he doesn’t wish to be regarded as an artist, this comes across as disingenuous. He produces writing that “disgusts the senses” and appears proud to do so. He expresses contempt for qualifications and execrates the arts establishment.

“emotional truth is the lie of all art and all poetry”

Within this work is much railing against what he cannot be and the suggestion that he behaves badly in protest – in anger at how he has been treated, especially when a child. He also treats others badly, particularly the women he has sex with. He is “hungering for the moment”. Describing himself as a “serial masturbater”, he often mentions his “cock” and its secretions. I found such imagery base and unpleasant to read.

There are also poems about his son and these offer a softer side to his views and actions. In huddie 8.12.99 he writes:

“you came into this world
to teach me to love
and
i welcome you”

He promises the child many things, mostly that huddie will not be treated as Childish has been. Poems revolving around the boy reflect an abiding love. In where the tiger prowls stripped and unseen he writes of his wish that huddie retain hope and wonder rather than be taught at a young age of the many problems facing the world.

Certain poems offer wider perspectives amidst the personal outpourings. a sad donkey and a fat man smiling portrays the difficulties the author has faced, the weight of past experience he struggles under. In animated stone he compares the drunks, murderers or simply unhappy to daemons, gargoyles.

“the painters of old nailed their look bang-on”

The graphic descriptions can be shocking – detail provided of a botched abortion (waterloo station) is particularly horrific. Use of porn and paid for sex is normalised. Casual cruelty to animals is mentioned without apparent regret. Whether it be beauty or ugliness, Childish writes: you “see that which you deserve”.

nite ash offers a moment of reflection yet even this is shadowed by the opening:

“whilst
stood naked
taking a nite piss
i would often look from my bog window
into your strange arms”

It is as if Childish is capable of deeper thinking yet cannot rise above his preoccupation with bodily functions.

He claims to be “a poet who hates poetry” yet writes prolifically, often effectively, in the form. He describes his work as a gift and believes it should be appreciated.

Later in the collection there is mention of aging. From the un ready

“i feel myself younger than everybody
i meet

im not ready for this
i am not ready”

In waiting to become he returns to the theme of artists seeking validation – something he unconvincingly claims to eschew, although his refusal to conform in order to achieve is clear:

“poets
artists
musicians

all
craving to win
to
feel others eyes
crawl over them
and
so be uplifted
and
completed
in others envy”

Due to the language and subject matter I baulked at many of the poems, yet still there is a raw honesty that drew me in. I look to books to enhance and enlarge my understanding of experiences beyond my comprehension. These works may challenge my half century of white, middle class, protestant conditioning but in opening up a different way of thinking they demand and deserve attention.

I cannot say that I fully enjoyed reading this collection but the emotional dynamism has its moments, not least in acknowledging the differences in how each of us defines pleasure. It certainly made me ponder my prejudices.

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