Small Hands by Mona Arshi, A Graph Review

Small Hands.                      A Graph Review:   55 with high points 65


Mona Arshi


small-hands-coverPublished 2015. Liverpool University Press.

978178138181 6.    Paper      £9.99

A small format paperback but packed full with 45 poems that travel across a spectrum of tones and reflections on the human experience

A first collection containing an assortment of new and previously published in journals and an anthology of new ‘voices’.   Hummingbird winning a first from the first Magma poetry competition in 2011 and Bad Day in the Office a second in the Troubadour International Poetry prize 2013.  Followed by being a joint winner of the Manchester Poetry Prize, 2014.  The title of the collection is one of the many poignant poems

Mona began writing poetry in 2008 and went on the receive an MA in creative writing from UEA.

Her style is contemporary, forms are varied using length and shape of lines to combine with the careful choice of words and pace of reading.   Mostly gentle pictures that give a series of flowing images but beware for often you are nudged out of your expectations and you have to follow a word or line that leaps away.

Mona  Arshi was born in West London to Punjabi Sikh parents and her heritage frequently fills the narrative.  She works within quite a small world with a poetic clarity and magnificent handling of observation and language that often glides from reality to dreaming imagery without demur from the reader.

Included are ‘simpler’ poems covering the period of her brother’s death, many others harking specifically to family and home and Sikh heritage. There are four ‘prose poems’ I should call them I suppose, or very short stories, that catch you out with their final words.  The shape of the poetry is considered and varied. The subjects differing but still within an overall theme of observing humanity and relationships.  There is only one poem that has any specific rhyme scheme, ‘Ballad of the Small-boned Daughter‘ which is a sad tale and is the last in the book.  As with all her work there is a beautiful contact with language and story, the objective detail would seem to lessen the emotional impact, however the subtle (at times) changes of direction actually concentrate the mind on the poem.

Selecting favourites from a collection is my norm and though it is probably best to read many of the 43 here in their sequence (as with those around the title piece Small Hands) I am happy to highlight the following:        The Lion,         This Morning,         Gloves,      Ode to a Pomegranate,      Hummingbird,       Ballad of the Small-boned Daughter.

I have suggested more than usual but they are quite short.

Mona’s voice is  essentially poignant, for me, calming and contemplative.  I am quite surprised by this as the numerous stories through the collection are not particularly peaceful, there is much sadness others at times disconcerting.   For me a collection needs to have a style, language and at least in a proportion of poems, a ‘spikey’ quality.  You might call it ‘hard edges’ that may appear in complete poems or just a line or two.  Mona Arshi has style and ‘spikes’ aplenty and has the skill of using words so the spikes sink in and fix in the brain. but eventually with a seeming acceptance.

As mentioned above there are four very short stories, sorry, prose poems.  As well as wishing to read more poetry by Mona Arshi I would be interested in her setting her mind to short stories if not already the case.

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3 Poets: Keats, Macdonagh and Gurney

I have  tried to find a good reason why I put these three poems together.  Havent really got one!

The first is short and  has a surface narrative that intrigues and ends with a sense of foreboding.   This poem is telling of a brief event that has (for us) an untold history and a future destined  but not available to the character (author?) in the poem.  A poem that ends on a line that forces the reader to question the reason why the horn was dropped.  Should it have sounded a warning and failed?  The poem seems to be written as a recollection but the last line leaves doubt.  A guard, a passing witness, a man who finds himself in the midst of telling a story but unable to finish as the horn falls.  As the poet’s pen might drop to the desk, task unfinished.   Thats why I like this poem.

Inscription on a Ruin            Thomas Macdonagh   1878 – 1916


I stood beside the posters here,

High up above the trampling sea,

In shadow, shrinking from the spear

Of light, not daring hence to flee.


The moon beyond the western cliff

Had passed, and let the shadow fall,

Across the water to the skiff

That came onto the castle wall.


I heard below the murmur of words

Not loud, the splash upon the strand,

And the long cry of darkling birds,

The ivory horn fell from my hand.


Keats  is still a key poet.  Below is his well-known La Belle Dame Sans Merci.     I am not a regular reader of Keats so do not know if this is reworking a folk song or traditional story around in his day.  The contents would seem to be based on the romantic traditions of Arthurian legends; ficklety of women(?) and the dangers of meeting a faery!

La Belle Dame Sans Merci           John Keats   1795 – 1821

Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful – a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said –
‘I love thee true’.

She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lulled me asleep
And there I dreamed – Ah! woe betide! –
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried – ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!’

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.


Below is Macdonagh again.  A hundred years after Keats. The world is a different place.  This world is very real. The love is real and never lost despite the apparent ending of the last verse with its first line a comment on a mental descision and acceptance that love would be no more.  The last two lines however emphasise a love that needs no word or action (kiss) but will remain secure in time.


After  a Year of Love              Thomas Macdonagh   1878 – 1916

After a year of love
Death of love in a day;
And I who ever strove
To hold love in sure life
Now let it pass away
With no grief and no strife.

Pass — but it holds me yet;
Love, it would seem, may die;
But we can not forget
And can not be the same,
As lowly or as high,
As once, before this came.

Never as in old days
Can I again stoop low;
Never, now fallen, raise
Spirit and heart above
To where once life did show
The lone soul of my love.

None would the service ask
That she from love requires,
Making it not a task
But a high sacrament
Of all love’s dear desires
And all life’s grave intent.

And if she asked it not?–
Should I have loved her then?–
Such love was our one lot
And our true destiny.
Shall I find truth again?–
None could have known but she.

And she?– But it is vain
Her life now to surmise,
Whether of joy or pain,
After this borrowed year.
Memory may bring her sighs,
But will it bring a tear?

What if it brought love back?–
Love? — Ah! love died to-day–
She knew that our hearts lack
One thing that makes love true.
And I would not gainsay,
Told her I also knew.

And there an end of it–
I, who had never brooked
Such word as all unfit
For our sure love, brooked this–
Into her eyes I looked,
Left her without a kiss.

Third poet is Ivor Gurney.  This poem likely to have been written in the trenches of 1914-1918 war, could be the night before ‘over the top’.  Written to calm himself in the noise of a barrage before the tot of rum and into the unknown?  Is he convincing himself that though a poet (and composer) he is no weaker than other men or writing to an unseen public with the message that if he dies in battle he will die as a soldier and a poet?


To The Poet before Battle        Ivor Gurney


Now, youth, the hour of thy dread passion comes;

Thy lovely things must all be laid away;

And thou, as others, must face the riven day

Unstirred by rattle of the rolling drums,

Or bugles’ strident cry.   When mere noise numbs

The sense of being, the fear-sick soul doth sway,

Remember thy great craft’s honour, that they may say

Nothing in shame of poets.   Then the crumbs

Of praise the little verse men joined to take

Shall be forgotten:   then they must know we are,

For all our skill in words, equal in might

And strong of mettle as those we honoured; make

The name of poet terrible in just war,

And like a crown of honour upon the fight.

Three poets, four poems all with their own regular rhyme scheme and metre.   Each one telling a different tale and holding some sort of secret.   Todays poetry may appear to have less structure and regimented verse  but it is the connection with the poet through the writing that captures the reader’s imagination.



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Laurie Lee: Selected Poems & A Rose for Winter

Laurie Lee: Selected Poems


A Rose For Winter

… copy, The Hogarth Press 1955

Most recent edition of Selected Poems: Vintage Classics 2003  paper £7.99


lee-poems-coverSelected Poems, latest edition from Unicorn Press, paperback, 2014 at £12,99

52 poems included, selected by Laurie Lee for my 1985 publication.  Current ed. is the same content.

Here’s an admission: I have never read any Laurie Lee until these two books. Never seen any tv film either, maybe for the future…..


Noting that all 15 poems in My Many Coated Man are included in Selected Poems. The remaining 37 have mostly been included from his two previous collections:  The Sun My Monument (1944) and Bloom of Candles (1947).  In his forward to Selected Poems he says he cut the total number from others published by about half for S.P..  Whether for the sake of quality or space he doesn’t make clear, possibly the former.

The blurbs says he read Edward Thomas poems  of 1915 and was responsive to the style of poetry Thomas had invested in.  Poetry seems to have been the starting point of Lee’s successful writing and his development as an autobiographical writer seems to have continued in that ‘countryman’ style. His writings continue with a skill for description that helps the scenery burst from the page.   Lee seems to follow the thread of Thomas but in the opposite direction.  Edward Thomas learned his writing style could be pared down, concentrated, filtered and spun down from his natural history notes and writings into concise more silk-like poetry.

Wider reading than I have done would show more of the influences on Lee’s poetry and the enlarged world of autobiography that sealed his fame.

The poetry varies from those with a more formal rhyme scheme to those that are blank.  Sometimes the rhyme is pure, others half-rhyme, usually at the ends of lines.  I don’t recall more than a few mid-line rhyme or much deliberate alliteration.  Well, each poem should be read for itself for study.  Subjects cover war, love direct and symbolic, religious context, and memory.  The natural world flows descriptively throughout.  Despite the subjects I did not find the spikes or hard edges I expected.  Nudges, inferences but all softened by the overall language used; therefor for me the collection was a little disappointing.  The poems will all stand closer analysis if you like breaking things down. Remember that Lee admits that these poems are from his past and he feels he has changed since writing them. They still work but are not as strong as some of the previous poetry I have talked about.  I think his poetry may fade more over time but should still be read as a preview to his later writings.  However, the book, A Rose for Winter still reads well though perhaps as a period piece.  As are Freya Stark, Fleming, Hemingway et al, all still effective today.

For me the poems to recall are:

A Moment of War,    The Town Owl,   On Beacon Hill    and   Shot Fox.

rose-for-winter-coverReading  ‘A Rose for Winter’  you discover a fascinating picture of Andalusia, Spain in the mid 1950s, some 15 years after his years wandering in Andalusia and brief involvement in the Spanish Civil War.     Here the Spanish world is full of wildly different lives and scenes in comparison to England of today, or then.  Spain too, no doubt. His descriptions were as a visitor but also recalling and re-establishing memories and places of his travels in earlier years.

The book is  full of movement and description with evocative splashes of colour and emotion that fill the air despite it being a period of great hardship for so many after the Civil War.  Most frequently he conjures with the gypsy, the itinerant and also the seemingly huge quantity of street urchins, the homeless children and homeless families.   Focus often falling on the music and dance of the flamenco which seems to dominate his love of the country and people.   With his wife Kati they visit the Spanish coastline after accessing via Gibraltar.  A countryside, at least here, that is shown to us as almost deconstructed structurally and economically.  Maybe his preference was for the poorer, humbler areas but the people he meets with and describes seem to have the music of life within them.   Be the areas humble, they are not all bleak and the scenery and descriptions are rich. The section on Alhambra is especially memorable.   Maybe he treats all the hardships around a little casually whilst travelling.  A sign of the man or sign of the time?  Most likely just an observing eye.    He describes the grit and harshness of the lives he sees but honours the pride within all; sadly accepting it as the way of the world at that particular time.  Mind you, he himself seems non too prosperous, except relatively.

His travelling notes are fascinating and plentiful almost preliminaty pauses between the entertainments.  Which abound, usually occasions where music, song and dance fill the book with the electric gravity of the flamenco and Spanish gypsy character.  Bullfights, not the grandiose but the local affairs, get honest descriptive coverage several times.  Lee’s writing is a scenic tour part memoir-cum-travel that covers a factual viewing with a touch of nostalgia.   I am fond of flamenco so find the book quite fascinating as part travel, history and musicology.    His continuous flow of descriptive adjectives and adverbs is potentially overwhelming but luckily for me I can work with it in this book.  However I may well search out  A Moveable Feast to counteract it.

Two for the price of one, eh!

I found this poem without the potency of Lee’s descriptions but I include because it sets a scene:

From: Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke.  Translated by Jessie Lamont.  Published 1918

The Spanish Dancer

As a lit match first flickers in the hands

Before it flames, and darts out from all sides

Bright, twitching tongues, so, ringed by growing bands

Of spectators – – she, quivering, glowing stands

Poised tensely for the dance –  then forward glides


And suddenly becomes a flaming torch.

Her bright hair flames, her burning glances scorch,

And with a daring art at her command

Her whole robe blazes like a fire-brand

From which is stretched each naked arm, awake,

Gleaming and rattling like a frightened snake.


And then, as though the fire fainter grows,

She gathers up the flame –  again it glows,

As with proud gesture and imperious air

She flings it to the earth; and it lies there

Furiously flickering and crackling still – –

Then haughtily victorious, but with sweet

Swift smile of greeting, she puts forth her will

And stamps the flames out with her small firm feet.



With thanks to Gutenberg Project for this extracted poem.




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Three Poems by Philip Ivory

Three Poems




Worthing hospital,  Summer 1976

in memory of Laurence Ivory



Outside, great heat, dry grass;

Inside the ward, three patients-

The old man’s ward.

In the corner bed, my father

Trying to listen to his neighbour,

The Chirpy Sparrow, who talks about thrushes and starlings.

My father has a few days:

He seems to sleep and then he is looking around

His eyes are glazed, he’s breathing hard,

Pale pumping chest,

Talcumed like a baby.

His long body sweats  under the sheet

Oxygen’s no use any more.


Outside I go for a swim-

As I push through the flat hot sea

I breathe like him, in spurts.


Back in the ward,

He’s still, very still

Waiting for a few more days.




THE BODY                                        1977

a self portrait


The outward man stands six foot tall

And weighs 14 stone 10 pounds in all

But have the guts to look inside-

And let me be your helpful guide.


The human heart is merely meat

A bloody purse of velvet heat ;

The kidneys and the liver and the spleen

Are organs with a gorgeous sheen ;

The lungs , those pink and spongey bags,

Cannot survive on a diet of fags.


The genitals past–

Their glory past.





You can celebrate your birthday in many ways:

You can lie in your cot with puckered face

While outside open-top trams clang down to the centre

And your father bikes with a rose to the mother and child;

You can be treated to creamy cakes at the end of the war

And reject them, they’re too rich for a stomach

Bred on dried egg and wheat-flakes like cardboard;

You can jump a few years and be a naval rating

Out drinking beer with his mates at a succession

Of crowded bars in a German sea-town,

Later to be assisted aboard the homeward bus,

Staring at the stars.


You can mark the day as time and mood see fit:

This year I sit in this exam room considering the frowning faces

Of solemn girls crouched over creaking desks;

Whispers around the room implore me for tissues

For more paper and quiet explanations of knotty points;

Tonight we are going out to eat at a little place in the Good Food Guide

Where you have to book a day in advance

For the privilege of eating small amounts, beautifully cooked,

With plenty of elbow room.



June 2 1977





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Guy Butler books reach top of reading pile

Hurrah, just started reading  two by Laurie Lee: Selected  Poems  and  A Rose For Winter  (a travel book of his visit to Andalusia via Gibraltar published in 1955.  My how the world has changed it seems).

the better news is that next in line, as it were, I am happily discovering  ‘an auto biography from 1918 to 1935’   by Guy Butler: Karoo Morning  and immediately after that his 1989 publication: Tales From the Old Karoo.     Of these two which do I read first?    I suspect I ought to go with the former alone.  Trying to read both in parrallel is likely to be confusing for me. (If they were literally worlds apart it might be different but the latter is of the place and period of Guy Butler.)  There, decision made!  Date order reigns so Karoo Morning  is first.

And after those?  Well, Small Hands, it would seem.

I am also recommended to read some Keats.  Hmm, I ought; but then there are so many I could add to that ought-to list and frequently  such well-known names.   No doubt I will but there may be diggings in the boxes old poets seem to get consigned into.  Not forgetting new, to me at least,  poets that bounce out of their creative writing courses with ever increasing quality and complexity.


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Mike Doyle, Collected Poems 1951-2009 A Graph Review

Mike Doyle.    Collected poems 1951-2009                               A Graph Review  average of 70 from serious dipping!

mike doyle coll poems coverPaperback,        Ekstasis Editions. 2010.

978 1897430637      not currently in print.

It would take more than the likes of me to review properly a collection of poetry covering  58 years of a poet’s output.  This collection is the author’s own selection from his prolific writing over those years.  In his foreword he explains his choices as being almost exclusively from his published works, being those that still ‘hold their ground’ (my words) and remain his choice of poems that he wishes to include.   (As simple as that).  He further says that most are unaltered since publication but his notes for those that have been are included at the end of the book.  Mike Doyle collects here  some 337 poems which he reckons to be a third of his realisable output to 2010.  A couple of short collections have been published since.  The given notes are personal and quite fulsome on changes made, they also include brief notes on titles published. Within these notes is included an interview with Mike Doyle by Charles Lillard who included it in Intimate Absences, a selection of Mike Doyle poetry published in 1993.

Mike Doyle, born of Irish parents, Birmingham 1928, grew up around London. After serving in the Royal Navy he was posted to then moved to New Zealand with a subsequent move  to Canada in 1968 as a professor at the University of Victoria, B.C. where he still lives.  Two collections have been published since this 2010 publication.

Again, may I refer you to the Malahat Review for fuller details

The poems are arranged in order of publication, under the heading of what volume they come from.  The beauty of this is that we are given the dates so most likely the poems will have been written or adjusted in the  gaps between.  Not a sure-fire guarantee but at least a likely framework. Mike Doyle himself says that the poems show his change of style from early works to progress into more experimental areas of writing which continued his overall development.  He finally found himself settling into his own style of writing in which he is perhaps now most comfortable. This does not mean ‘staid’!  He uses the word ‘momentum’ for his poetry and this is what carries you throughout the book.  I haven’t read it completely yet, I am dipping, deeply.   The quality, the quantity and diversity of a single voice melding through the years and seasons takes time to absorb.   He takes simple events, meetings and scraps of images that tap into your own memories or create layers of thought.

Mike Doyle has included eight poems from Splinter of Glass, the first (only) of his collections I have read and reviewed.  Three poems I picked out are in this book, Winter BeachSplinter of Glass and Empirical History.  Personally I would have liked one or two others included in Collected Poems  but then I don’t really mind as I have them already.  The problem for me is that I usually select only up to five of the ones I like best from this book to recommend here.  I reluctantly decline.  My excuse being that I haven’t finished reading the Collected Works of Mike Doyle.  Anyway, the poems’ titles are not always what they seem and it wouldn’t help; you have to read the verse.

I opened the book middling and found myself on page 250, exactly in the middle of the 500 pages of poetry and notes. Chose, without reading, the one on lower left hand page, and include it for the review:

Winter’s Over

Eventually, after all, the tulips

commandeer the landscape,

flagging their conquest.


Discarding a sweater, he finds

even the little chill

licking his ribs delicious.


On such a day, the sky’s

endless blue silhouettes him.

He does not notice


the fly tickling the back

of one pink hand, the spider

spinning inside his skull.

Above this is in the book is a poem titled: Prior to Landing and on the right hand page one entitled: Adam at Evening, which flows onto a second page.    These three, admittedly only partially, illustrate the range ( if you could read all three!) and subtlety of thought and language behind each poem.  Often you see clearly the story in images with rhythm which has nuance, cadence in the words and line rather than rhyme.  Throughout the collection, as with this poem randomly included, we frequently find a line, a change of direction that makes you hesitate and reframe the whole reasoning for the poem.  There are often depths that need exploration.

Titles, contents, arrangements in this collection offer everything to a reader of modern and contemporary poetry.    Since his first published collection Mike Doyle seems to have been exploring his own mind of events, current and in memory, whilst also moving along and into innovative poetic styles concurrent around him over the years.  Maybe he feels he has reached a more settled point in his writing now but rest assured there will always be that certain element that lifts him above the mainstream.

I have picked out these as good examples in addition to ones above…………but there are plenty more:

Massage with gladiator oil.        The blue door.       At Creel.        Touchpaper!,       Bella

After my enthusiasm to dip and delve for this review, I promise I will start at page one and proceed with joy!

This is a must-have ‘bonus book’ for any reader of poetry, if you can get your hands on a copy.   I think it will  even supplant my last favourite to become my current Desert Island Book.

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And She Was by Sarah Corbett, A Graph Review

And She Was                                      A Graph Review,  Overall average points: 70

A verse-novel.   By Sarah Corbettgraph Rev., average 70

Publisher:  Liverpool University Press

2015.     Paperback.       978 178381793

and she was coverIf you like your poetry simple or as compartmentalised reading and entertainment then beware this book.  We have here a verse-novel of  77 pages that rush you helter-skelter through a series of superb poems that sets off with the musical title of ‘Nocturne in Three Movements’.  So begins a tale that weaves as mysteriously as a dream, an hallucination in words and images that tease you into almost knowing   …….  always feeling.

Part of the blurb says ‘time and narrative bend’ so they do, in a love story.  Such an all-consuming love and loss.  There is an intriguing blurring of characters, maybe dreams or memories,  conversations  and activities that flow through the poems.   Poems that twist or shove you through to the next that subtly changes style as the theme switches.

Whet the appetite with the following;  a first verse excerpt from the opening  trio of a poem:  second ‘part’ of  Nocturne in three parts:

(C Major)

and it was midsummer and they took off north

to the coast, the train running them through

the night like wolves trailing the scent of deer

in a forest of dreams until morning, a song

of sun and blackbird edging around the blinds.

The sea was a gold dress flung across the arm

Throughout  the book you catch the repetition that links you back to a former verse maybe  a word that is an echo or a hook at the depth of passion and/or loss time and again.  Perhaps a little understanding and comfort may be taken from the last poem as it offers a sense of resolution.

Two people intertwined, paralleled, a man and a woman and a vision of their journey into loss.  Or through the eyes/minds of the lost, stories of love, of loss.  Snapshots but of what? Poems, capsules, beautifully constructed to mesmerise the reader into re-visiting for the sake of the characters and the imagery of the verse as well as charting a story.

The individual poems are free-verse, varied in their stanza lengths but in the first half are often four line verses tailored in layout to give a more current outline.  Frequently other poems are varied in layout which helpsthe sense of movement and sudden change during reading.  This variation in design is an integral part of the  novel and works well in keeping the readers eye.    Not in original ‘concrete’ (bar one, if you want to use that term.   Other designations are available but I can’t recall or find them at present!!)  but taking on an array of line formats.  Perhaps I should have offered an excerpt from the very first poem but that would have been the start of a  typesetter’ nightmare.

A reconstruction, a re-engineering of a timeless theme that deserves a prize.

The blurb offers comparison to David Lynch’s Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, to Atom Egoyan and Haruki Murakami.  All of which I heartily agree with.  You might even conjure with the works of the likes of Fellini and Dali.

It would be unfair tohighlight particular poems as they are all integral to the book.  The notes do say that versions of  several ‘Esther’ poems had previously been published in New Welsh Review but here we now have a total of 34 poems that make a whole.




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