Kingdom of Gravity by Nick Makoha: A Graph Review

Kingdom of Gravity.                                     A Graph Review  points 55 to 65

Nick Makoha



£8.99.        Published by Peepal Tree Press

Paperback, 2017.            978 184523333 4

A set of 55 poems where war and the fictions of liberation are spattered through with African imagery of heat and conflict.  Where no one is safe from the reality or the memories of primitive violence.

His country of origin is Uganda.  He left for England age six.  His early years may have seen brutality afflicting his world but his work is not limited by country alone as it resonates throughout the warring elements of the African continent.  The post-colonial Africa of Nick Makoha is a graveyard of civilisation as well as people.  Truth is documented here with force of imagery rarely carried through such a number of scenes.  A tough collection of poems that spotlight facts and ‘secrets’ from recent dark periods in Africa.

Blood, fire and water flow through the scenery and death in his country.  Scenes arrive in detail you may not wish for.  Callous destruction. Yet touches of regret sometimes creep into those that have slipped via survival mode into the depths.  And asked of, maybe seen, who is God in all this?  Somehow Makoha’s poetry has still retained contact with the innate humanity of the people, clans, tribes of a country struggling with itself.  Glimpses they may be, wishful maybe; but shining still.  Much as the differing lights that flick through his poems.  His journeys are ‘separated’ by ‘airport’ poems. The very first poem, MBA,  is in an aeroplane after take-off and the first two lines start interestingly:

“Minutes after the airbus took off, a German girl in 1st class/  starts talking about the afterlife and things that belong to the dead.”

and the poem slips away into that other place and its last lines are:

.”………..They are moving by memory/ of a stolen blueprint tattooed on their minds./   I have the same tattoo.”

Words you may return to from the close of the book. That particular tattoo is more than a memory in ink.

As a collection full of stories, as I often say, this is a cover to cover read.  The injections are not easy to take but the last four poems lift the reader, cautiously, towards a future and better memories:

“…….    let me bend the way a river does,/. All shadow and sound, around a hill, towards a village/ I once recognised.  There are days/ when this unplanned landscape speaks its music.”

find     Nick Makoha website






Readings by Malika Booker, Kim Moore and Nick Makoha at the British Library

Malika Booker and Guests      (Kim Moore. and Nick Makoha)

At the Knowledge Centre, British Library, London        12 February, 2018

In for a penny, in for a tenner!

The theory was to meet an old colleague for a late lunch and discuss a few bits of poems to put in a collection, then move on in the evening to the above Poetry event.  Part one got cancelled so I found myself travelling late afternoon into London on a football and evening-out slow-train. Exiting at King’s Cross as part of a crowd to be met by a bigger rush of commuters hurrying into the station.     Mind you, the incoming crowds didn’t seem so big as they are in the morning rush-hour.  I suppose I wasn’t at the height of the exodus timings.

So there I was, sitting in a branded coffee bar and making notes until nearer the start time in the theatre.    I deliberately had no knowledge of her work as I think I prefer to see first then ‘look further’, as it were, if keen.  It seems a bit odd.  At this time of night I have a history of needing to join the  home-goers no matter how crowded or stuffy the carriages.  I always intend not to but it seems we all have a morbid mentality to crowd, whether morning or evening rush hour.

Then, it seemed I could feel the tension but not take part!   Instead I had an hour or more spare to mull over items for this blog, local poetry events I might take part in and items to include in an anthology.  Enough time to do little except confirm mental decisions already made.

Next scene is me sitting in the British Library theatre with a large  (300+) audience.  My first visit and sitting comfortably in high-backed seats.  Photo is promo-shot before an audience arrives……

To see Maliker Booker and two other poets of her choosing for an evening event.

Intro. by Molly Rosenberg and straight into NIck Makoha reading: The  Shepherd,Kingdom of Gravity, Bird in Flames, King of Myth and finally Black Death.    A set of dark poems from his Kingdom of Gravity collection.  All of which hinge in some way on his original country of birth, Uganda, which he left at the age of six.  Where memory and story merge I cannot know but the stilling effect of his  first poem established his presence and the audience’s appreciation.  Images were mostly bleak but the message overall was of stories well told of damning and pointless actions. Giving voice to those without, wherever, of man against humanity.  (Nick specifically pointed to the outrageous Idi Amin regime in Uganda as his starting point but actions such as those are worldwide).  Yes, his words were often of hard stories but within were lines that caught sight of his ability to create lighter images too.  I will review this collection “Kingdom of Gravity”  in another blog. (in ‘poetryparc’)

Next on the stage, a contrast to the previous poet, was Kim Moore reading, mostly, from her collection “The art of Falling”.         (A title not to be confused with Falling Awake by Alice Oswald from last year).   Kim Moore lives in Cumbria now and went to university in Manchester so has progressed northwards in her life from her Leicester birthplace.    She seems to have found a place on the reading/festival circuit with a confident, friendly presence and ability to find quick rapport with her audience.  Likely helped by her previous life as a teacher of music. ‘Trumpet’, she said, but no doubt at least all brass instruments as many cropped up in one of her poems: Trumpet Teachers Curse. This was her second poem and one that strings out many memories, no doubt, from all ages of the audience with its description of schooldays and music.

Her initial poem was  My People and others followed after Trumpet Teachers Curse:  How I Abandoned my body to its Keeper, In that Year, Body Remember.   Lastly, from a new sequence currently in preparation and titled; All the Men I Never Married:  Number 1, Number 10

Her poems started with humour, touching chords of memory and slipped contrastingly into a more sombre one of abuse.  You were caught out by the gentleness of her tone and even the apparent softness of words except the creeping knowledge of pain and hurt.   Such as. ‘……his hand a stone/that fell from a great height. It / was not what I deserved.

Again, I look forward to reading her collection ‘ The Art of Falling’  and also her shorter pamphlet  ‘If We Could Speak Like Wolves’

Thirdly, the poet Maliker Booker.

Confident, bangled, finger-nailed and an exuberant reader of her poetry.

Setting her stall with a reading of ‘Pepper Sauce’ and after the audience recovered, Saltfish, St Michael, Nine NIghts, Eve and finally The Conversation.    Pepper Sauceoffering an old-fashioned, old world, form of punishment and Saltfish showing an internal battle at new-worlds massive failures.

Hers was a relaxed performance.  Conversational with her audience, appreciative  of  their reactions to her poetry and thoroughly at home on the stage.  For me her attachment to her Caribbean roots was effective and her thoughts for the immigrants of ‘Windrush’ helped link her present multi-cultural London presence with the content of her Caribbean.    The remaining poems were not in her ‘Pepper Seed’ collection but contemplations/ retelling in today’s currency of Biblical stories and characters which have been completed or being worked upon. Nine NIghts particularly interesting. Eve went down well as a typical role for today, whether Caribbean or feminist it didn’t matter, amusing and with well-made pointers.

The last poem I have a problemwith:  The Conversation.        It is one Malika wanted to end on, one her mother liked.  One we all liked and applauded.   And my problem?     I can’t remember anything about it!! except  it was well worth hearing.  Which makes it even more annoying!      Why did it disappear so easily apart from still recalling the satisfaction of hearing it?    Now I have to search it out!!  My only excuse is that In the applause my mind drifted into comparing Malika to a favourite poet I have read and written about: Lorna Goodison,born in Jamaica, I believe currently their Poet Laureate.

It is not really fair to consider this too deeply here but my impression today is that Maliker Booker is a New Generation, UK version for Caribbean Poetry.  Without looking at her wider output she seems to have a harder edge in her language.  Or could I call it that she has a London, UK, edge as her voice of origin where Lorna Goodison has a tone softened by the  colours of the Caribbean, maybe the climate?          Okay, I may be talking out of the back of my head but that is the sense I get even if it is factually, climatically wrong.

All in all an evening of substantial poetry by three people with much to offer now and more in the future.  With thanks to the Royal Society of Literature and British Library for the event.

I anticipate reviewing all three authors books in due course for ‘poetryparc’

recently filed on ‘wordparc’


Costa Book Award 2017: Overall Winner


Announced  Tuesday  30th January, 2018:    Costa Book Award Winner 2017

Its a pleasure to see such a fine collection as overall winner of this year’s Costa Award.

The ‘Acknowledgements’ say some poems have been published in collections, or online and a few broadcast by Radio 3 between 2014 and 2016.    The last poem (not included in first printing) was Helen Dunmore’s final poem.

Here is a  collection of 49 poems in  which many veer between dream and reality where the author herself may wonder which at times.  The Underworld, stories from the classic myths slip into her poems as naturally as her descriptions of hospital visits, views from a window and dreams of childhood and memories.  Interlaced through all (most) is the awareness of dying.  Surprisingly the poems leave this reader with a degree of comfort and calmness from the upfront, conversational language and clarity of style which helps with the adrenalin rush on reading such accomplished work.

From the first poem, ‘Counting Backwards’  to others where her (or of her children) memories recur in different settings; poems personal, twilight dreams, or people; or just the rain  to the last poem( in the first printing): ‘September Rain’.  there is a beautiful control of language and temperament above the full knowledge that the book (author) is cataloging her thoughts towards death. Individually some lines might seem obscure but their balance is always found in other poems.  Water, as sea, pool or rain seems ever-present.

The last two verses of September Rain:    I lie and listen/ And the life in me stirs like a tide/ that knows when it must be gone.  …………….                                                            I am on the deep deep water/ Lightly held by one ankle/ Out of my depth, waiting.

It seems Helen Dunmore has produced an outstanding series of poems which illustrate  humanity and an understanding of mortality to find a preparedness for Death.  Her final poem:‘Hold Out Your Arms’.   returns to one major theme of a mothers endless love. Here, line after line pick up on elements from previous poems and imagery adds more:    ‘Death stoops over me/ Her long skirts slide,/She knows I am shy.’  : from the start of the fifth verse.

A superb collection!

link to Guardian for fuller report

duende, poems by tracy k smith, A Graph Review

duende      poems

tracy k. smith (2017 Poet Laureate of America)

Graywolf Press         2007

Paperback                  £13.99

I read, in late 2017, that Tracy K Smith was current American Poet Laureate, looked out her books and saw ‘ duende’.

This linked me back to books on Spain and Flamenco, (Duende’); Laurie Lee’s A Rose For Winter’ . and an autobiographical book by ‘Duende’  by Jason Webster of a broken heart in search of learning flamenco guitar at its source in Spain.    Touching also on my own early love of flamenco music, dance, song, tone and passion despite my not understanding it or why.

These little coincidences led me to pick on reviewing  this collection by Tracy K Smith, realizing the fact I was reaching out to yet another spectrum miles away from my norm.

A Graph Review;    68 to highpoints 75     highpoints 75

History’, the first poem, ‘knocked my socks off’ as someone might say!    Should I start a review by just reading one poem?  Yes, if it covers everything involved in casting a poem as the key to explaining this collection.  Ostensibly the first poem is a concise history of the world but you catch images, or rather emotions, of so much more.    Explaining?  Or catching, or touching in a brevity of words the longevity and divergence of being, not just us as humans, or as animals but everything on the cusp of being alive.

However,  midway, with some poems, I felt I was walking knee deep along the a river-bed.  The view around me was interesting, stimulating, but the current round my legs was at times pushing me off balance because I lacked the basic knowledge of where my feet should be.  That I knew I could not see the whole picture and didn’t know what I was missing.    These gaps were  impressioned-over in most cases and I came to my own conclusions.  Not wholly bad but at times disconcerting for this UK orientated reader.

In the main I was held by the variation of subject and the honed, concise and immaculate  language of each line.   Poems here are often longer than the average collection, covering several pages rather than confined to one, which is a real advantage.  All free verse, each line studied, each poem a credit.  There is a habit of finishing sentences mid-line and carrying over to the next verse which becomes noticeable with its frequency.  As free verse throughout I suppose I see this in place of spotting rhythm and rhyme scheme.  The momentum of each poem depends on subject, language and line length.  Passion, yearning and questions run through the collection, options  might be left hanging through the moral and political issues but truth is obvious.  Passion rules this collection.  The subjects often trying to help define with critical beauty while describing darker episodes and corners across humanity.

from ‘One Man at a Time:   Clarity settled in the room like dust./ Or a layer of soot.        a quick pick of the multitude of memorable lines

My favourite poem has to be the first: ‘History’, ranging wider than you might expect.  With ‘duende’ an almost first, maybe next reading!      Not forgetting. ‘Nocturne: Andalusian Dog’ or ‘The Nobodies’ and the glorious ‘When Zappa Crashes my Family Reunion’.

A stirring collection by tracy k smith and long may she continue.

Pine Martens and John Clare

pine marten card

Pine Martens cover image Whittet Books


Originally untitled; NOES editors title


The martin cat long shaged of courage good
Of weazle shape a dweller in the wood
With badger hair long shagged and darting eyes
And lower then the common cat in size
Small head and running on the stoop
Snuffing the ground and hind parts shouldered up
He keeps one track and hides in lonely shade
Where print of human foot is scarcely made
Save when the woods are cut the beaten track
The woodmans dog will snuff cock tailed and black
Red legged and spotted over either eye
Snuffs barks and scrats the lice and passes bye
The great brown horned owl looks down below
And sees the shaggy martin come and go


The martin hurrys through the woodland gaps
And poachers shoot and make his skin for caps
When any woodman come and pass the place
He looks at dogs and scarcely mends his pace
And gipseys often and birdnesting boys
Look in the hole and hear a hissing noise
They climb the tree such noise they never heard
And think the great owl is a foreign bird
When the grey owl her young ones cloathed in down
Seizes the boldest boy and drives him down
They try agen and pelt to start the fray
The grey owl comes and drives them all away
And leaves the Martin twisting round his den
Left free from boys and dogs and noise and men


John Clare
Punctuation and spelling as from JC mss,  text from
‘Clare’, NOES,  Ed’s: Robinson & Summerfield, published OUP.
 If available now, a good collection to have: includes  some of Clare’s natural history writing
This poem attracted my attention because of the recent title from Whittet Books but also that it had mention of  an owl in ‘reality’, which I was  in search of for an earlier page on ‘owls’ poems.  I am glad to have found something by Clare.
I reckon the owl mentioned is the one known now as Eurasian eagle owl from Clare’s note of colour and nesting.  Not the white, Arctic Owl,  or maybe there was another variety that is now extinct.
(Pine)Martens are extremely secretive animals and now very scarce in most of England.   From this poem we can again see Clare’s quality of observation, including boys and hunters’ proclivities of the day.    Clare was not averse to egg-collecting in his youth, ( note in poem the boy climbing the tree is chased away by the owl).  I doubt he was actively a poacher or into badger hunting and the like but as always was an observer of detail of all around him, including the activities of people.   His poem of ‘Badger’ being cornered by dogs and men can be read as straightforward, vivid, descriptive fact but potentially as anti-hunting though he may not have been able to declare it openly.   It might well have been ‘cruelty’ that concerned him more.

Shortlist, Costa Poetry Award 2017

Shortlist, 2017 Costa Poetry Award


Moniza Alvi    Poet

Kiran Millwood Hargrave     Author

Nicholas Wroe Guardian Writer and Editor

This (from below my italics) is from the poetry page of Costa, for the results of all shortlists click for link:   Costa Awards 2017 shortlist

Many other links you could choose as alternative, I would also offer the Guardian pages

The main question for me is which title/author  will I plump for reading as I have not read any of the books?  ‘All’  is not a useful answer as I have to start with one and the judges comments guarantee each one needs to be read.

So, its the debut collections first as the poets are new to me.  Next, is it the new take on ‘Nature’ (Useful Verses) to  ride on my long-term interest in said subject or the challenge of race and identity (Kumukanda)   which also ticks a large box despite my being ‘old, white and British’?  …… but it is ‘being an outsider/onlooker’ that marries into both, maybe all poetry……  so maybe for me the interest is also a challenge of  seeing and feeling through other peoples eyes what I cannot expect to really understand but would like to try.                      So Kumukanda, is the one I will   buy and review first


by Kayo Chingonyi     (Chatto & Windus)

Translating as ‘initiation’, kumukanda is the name given to the rites a young boy from the Luvale tribe must pass through before he is considered a man. Kayo Chingonyi’s debut explores this passage: between two worlds, ancestral and contemporary; between the living and the dead; between the gulf of who he is and how he is perceived. Underpinned by a love of music, language and literature, this debut collection is a powerful exploration of race, identity and masculinity, celebrating what it means to be British and not British, all at once.

Kayo Chingonyi was born in Zambia in 1987, and moved to the UK at the age of six. He is the author of two pamphlets, and a fellow of the Complete Works programme for diversity and quality in British Poetry. In 2012, he was awarded a Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, and was Associate Poet at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in 2015.

Judges: ‘Energetic, skilled, tender and bold – this is an outstanding collection by a major new talent.’



Inside the Wave     by Helen Dunmore (Bloodaxe Books)

To be alive is to be inside the wave, always travelling until it breaks and is gone. These poems are concerned with the borderline between the living and the dead – the underworld and the human living world – and the exquisitely intense being of both. They possess a spare, eloquent lyricism as they explore the bliss and anguish of the voyage. Helen Dunmore was a poet, novelist, short story and children’s writer. Her poetry books have been given the Poetry Book Society Choice and Recommendations and won several prizes including the Cardiff International Poetry Prize, the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award and the Signal Poetry Award.  Her poem ‘The Malarkey’ won the 2010 National Poetry Competition.  She published fifteen novels and three books of short stories – most recently, Birdcage Walk in 2017.  She died in June 2017.

Judges: ‘We were all stunned by these breathtaking poems.’


On Balance by Sinéad Morrissey (Carcanet)

Set against a backdrop of ecological and economic instability, Sinéad Morrissey’s sixth collection revisits some of the great feats of human engineering to reveal the states of balance and imbalance that have shaped our history. The poems also address gender inequality and our inharmonious relationship with the natural world. Sinéad Morrissey was born in 1972 and grew up in Belfast. She read English and German at Trinity College, Dublin, from which she took her PhD in 2003, and has published five collections including Parallax (2013) which won the T S Eliot Prize. She’s lived in Germany, Japan and New Zealand and lectured in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University in Belfast and now lives in Northumberland where she’s Head of the Creative Writing programme at Newcastle University. She’s also Belfast’s inaugural Poet Laureate. Judges: ‘This collection appropriately strikes a balance between technical mastery and range and depth of enquiry.’


Useful Verses by Richard Osmond (Picador)

Richard Osmond’s debut collection follows in the tradition of the best nature writing, being as much about the human world as the natural, the present as the past. Osmond, a professional forager, has a deep knowledge of flora and fauna as they appear in both natural and human history, as they are depicted in both folklore and herbal – but he views them through a wholly contemporary lens. Chamomile is discussed through quantum physics, ants through social media, wood sorrel through online gambling, and mugwort through a traffic cone. In each case, Osmond offers an arresting and new perspective, and makes that hidden world that lives and breathes beside us vividly part of our own. Richard Osmond was born in 1987. He works as a wild food forager, searching for plants, fruits and fungi among the forests and hedgerows of Hertfordshire and co-owns an award-winning wild food pub, The Verulam Arms, in St Albans. He received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 2017.

Judges: ‘A contemporary, agile and original take on the intersection of the natural and human worlds.’

Category winners announced 2nd Jan. 2018;  main winner announced 30th Jan. 2018.


Lorna Goodison: Guinea Woman and Selected Poems

After reading ‘I am Becoming My Mother’, I take a look at Guinea Woman and For My Mother, a collection published in 2000.

Guinea Woman & Selected Poems

Lorna Goodison

paperback       published 2000,    Carcanet

Maybe it is me but there is always a lushness to Lorna Goodison’s poetry.  The feel of her words surrounding you as you read, a sorrow or bittersweet note coloured by the undergrowth of her formative island home.  Even the harshness of some poems are influenced by the colour and warmth of her environment in the Caribbean, others to the more  sombre landscapes of  the North and Europe.  Even here she is able to prick the poems with colour.

Lorna Goodison’s poetry is a distinct counterbalance to the bright-glittering lines of my last read: Smoothie, by Claudine Toutoungi (Carcanet)

Guinea Woman  contains poems from the publications: I Am Becoming My Mother and   Heartease plus a great many as ‘New and Selected’

I mention above ‘lushness’ and depth (undergrowth) and her tone of bittersweet.  I should pick up also on the fact that within these emotions lies a core of flashing steel; or maybe I should refer you to her poem ‘On Becoming a Tiger’ which for me suggests her need to become such, maybe as a self-portrait.  Deeper into this collection and her poems become more extended.  Throughout she frequently places the role of the poet to sit with the people, those torn away and subjugated but still surviving.  Their history, her history, and the catching at truth in the midst of the islands.  Yet despite the hardships of the past or her then present, the enveloping plants and sweet smelling herbs give succour and support.  Her poetry is frequently about the ‘injustice’ (To put it oh-so too mildly!) of people against one another, of the world of transportation and slavery and how that ‘hinge’ has weighed down so many people.  Yet hope, beauty and humanity survive despite the failure of history to truly recompense and the continued need to call for true freedom.

Read.   Elephant.

and:  In city gardens grow no roses as we know them

I have never been to Jamaica but in reading Lorna Goodison I can believe in the heat, the colour, the rhythm of life and language, the humour and both injustice and truth of this sensuous world she shows us.

You can meet her family here and a wealth of people in the pleasure of her verses and the justly acute observations on history and still the present, that sadden and frustrate.  When she is far away from her origins you hear that too.  Her anger and maybe scorn sometimes surprises the reader in poems.

Noting the particular pleasure I had in reading : The Mango of Poetry, I offer this to any poet, would-be or active as a balance to some texts on writing poetry.   I have just see that this poem is is also highlighted on the back cover of her latest full collection since she became Poet Laureate of Jamaica on 17th May 2017 ( until 2020).

All-in-all, this may be a collection published in 2000 but it is a grand set to read and covet.  But then, now a more complete selection is published  perhaps that should become my standard!    Of her work, to quote the last verse of  The Mango of Poetry:   ‘And I say that this too would be/ powerful and overflowing/ and a fitting definition/ of what is poetry.’


I Am Becoming My Mother may be a classic poem, ripe for study, but to gather the fruits of this author you really need to dig only a little deeper and Guinea Woman: New & Selected Poems should satisfy any reader of Poetry whatever their main interest.

I have indicated a few favourites in the text above, others in this memorable collection to recommend are:

To Mr William Wordsworth, distributor of stamps for Westmorland..….( a poem for students of the W.W. too, surely?).

Annie Pengelly,   God a Me,  and  Guinea Woman

I am sorry to have missed her visit to England in July 2017.  Maybe another time.