Kumunkanda by Kayo Chingonyi; A Graph Review

Kumukanda          by  Kayo Kumukanda

                                                                                                           A Graph Review.

graph 66 to 68

                                                                               Points:  a Good 60-68


Paperback     £10.

Chatto & Windus

Once again I find I am almost a timeslip away from a poet and his world.  This time I am taken, live into the hidden areas (to me) of music and culture in East London and Essex by super-constructions of garage mix music in words creating a reality I could never know.   The poetry changing styles as the author grows in age and family hierarchy, always observant and at times poignant but ever tracing reality and truth in developing subjects that progress to his maturity.

This is personal in recording the passage of time and events; registering it as a ‘rite of passage’ for a boy born in Zambia 1987 and living in the UK from the age of six.  Culture clashing within himself as well as in schools and on the streets.  Of Zambia, British surroundings and Black, we read of his touchstones and conflicts through a young life to maturity.

Many poems catch the reader by prodding at the difficulties of his and his contemporaries’ growing up.  Poems not always easy but subtley moving forward.  The simple observations on walking with friends, cricket and a stage performance to cite a few annoy me on his behalf but the telling of his poems shows the quality, strength and his belief in his work and himself.  But it is all from a world I can mostly only see as an outsider.  His pain, anger so visible too, as well as pride, growth and love all fill this collection.

My favourites:    Self Portrait as a Garage Emcee,  Alternate Take, Proud Blemish

but really this is a collection that should be read as a whole, in a sitting.

This collection is powerful storytelling with a satisfying range of poetry, some of which is unsettling but justified; and with a blistering mastery of language.

As a first collection there are some poems deserving classroom attention for GCSE students upwards, potentially more for higher ages…….  This is proof that our poetry has once again found new direction with new voices.

Will it win the Costa Prize for Poetry?  A deserving shortlist for sure but it is not me to judge!




Halloween, 2018, j Johnson Smith

Epicurean Epitaph                                                       jJohnson Smith

They said I’d die of fever, overheating.

I died of ‘Masterchef’,  overeating.




The Reaper came and with a grin

asked how much time I’d like to borrow.

I thought awhile then looked at him

and requested to die tomorrow.

He stepped back into shadow and

waved his sickled hand,

asked me politely to follow

to his pleasant Netherland.

When I declined he bowed and said

he could never come tomorrow

but would be my friend and dine with me

and contemplate our sorrows.


Together we sit, he and I,

amongst the dead and dying.

He no longer talks but only grins

and I wait for tomorrow.


Wrong words in the wrong place.

When I said, “I’d lost my mind”.

you took it so literally!    I didn’t mean to cause

that panic over such a little thing.

Because it really was just a passing phase.

A little phrase that covers many things

of dos or donts  or maybe-shouldn’t-haves

and never-do-agains.       From which I’ve  learned

(or hope I have) to re-think ways of saying; badly;

that I am madly in love with you.


………      Just loosen the buckles a little,

Let my arms relax, I feel like a skittle in this padded room;

though nice and plump it looks, ………

Reminding me of you; when we kissed beneath that moon.

When the black backed night had gone and I paraded myself

in the garden, calling your name in such memorable verse.

When I vowed, or something worse, to follow you to the end of the Earth.

………. Or maybe I didn’t.  It was someone else.  Not me….

This collar is tight…….

And when love blinds you to the world, does it have the right

to insist you wear this suit?  A jacket so tight that it binds your heart

and barely leaves your mind free to wander.  To wander in a storm

that chews the words and spits them out against your best intention?


tagged under: seasons

Smoothie, by Claudine Toutoungi: A Graph Review

         Smoothie                                                     A Graph Review

average 67 points   

By Claudine Toutoungi                                  

A first collection of poetry.


Published by Carcanet.   Sept 2017

£9.99.  Paperback    978 1784104122


62 poems; more than some first collections, all good reading.

With many a light touch the author carries humour and adventure into the surreal; across numerous voices and subjects through beautifully constructed and varied poems.  Images bend between the real and a dreamworld where relationships can hide or be revealed .  You may not feel the touch on your flesh but some poems will pick at old wounds while you smile or even laugh at their words.  The varied voices all carry truth; of a sort!

The very first poem, This is Not a Fad  drops you unexpectedly into the poet’s world and ensures you stay hooked when she insists in the last verse:

this is for real.  I shall remain here,

unmoved by sheep and hedge trimmers,

until you notice me.’

Where is Claudine’s voice?  Insinuating through sunshine and chimera, inventive lines and choicest words with deft undertows of broken glass.


From the first verse of : Apostrophe……….

Tonight the white moon is as slim as a fingernail.

Slick as grammar, this slender curl,

the night sky’s Apostrophe of Possession.’

Or from last verse….. The Local Gods…….

Anubis has a job as an armed guard at the Esna Lock.

Rifle-clad, he lolls smilingly in the sun

but his silhouette does not smile.’

Smoothie is a collection of obvious quality.  Re-reading will be a habit difficult to break.

John Clare: Nature, Criticism and History: Newly Published

John Clare: Nature, Criticism and History

by  Simon Kovesi         Published  4th Sept 2017

£66.99   hardback only

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

ISBN-13: 978-0230277878

  • Size: 8 x 1.8 x 21 cm

This book investigates what it is that makes John Clare’s poetic vision so unique, and asks how we use Clare for contemporary ends. It explores much of the criticism that has appeared in response to his life and work, and asks hard questions about the modes and motivations of critics and editors. Clare is increasingly regarded as having been an environmentalist long before the word appeared; this book investigates whether this ‘green’ rush to place him as a radical proto-ecologist does any disservice to his complex positions in relation to social class, work, agriculture, poverty and women. This book attempts to unlock Clare’s own theorisations and practices of what we might now call an ‘ecological consciousness’, and works out how his ‘ecocentric’ mode might relate to that of other Romantic poets. Finally, this book asks how we might treat Clare as our contemporary while still being attentive to the peculiarities of his unique historical circumstances



  • John Clare and Place              Kövesi, Simon
  • Clare and Ecocentrism           Kövesi, Simon
  • Clare Making Text; Making Text of Clare                  Kövesi, Simon
  • Looking, Painting, Listing, Noting: Clare, Women and Nature        Kövesi, Simon
  • Conclusion: Clare as Our Contemporary; Clare as History                Kovesi, Simon

Simon Kövesi is Professor of English Literature, and Head of the Department of English and Modern Languages, at Oxford Brookes University, UK. 



Waiting for the Echo< 2017 PoetryID Anthology

Waiting for the Echo, A 2017 Poetry ID Anthology

A Graph Review.   45 to plus sixty, good reading

Not yet available in bookshops,  best to purchase  via PoetryID website

978 09542867 7        48pp        Paperback         £5.

(note: there is a same-titled poetry collection by a single author, totally different to PoetryID title in cover and content, listed on Amazon)

This time a review of an anthology from Poetry ID, a creative group based in Hertfordshire.   Here we have fourteen different poets, each with three poems included ( one has four ‘extracts’).

Most of the poets here use a story mode with agile rhythms and chorded words but not so much any connecting rhymes, which I do have an occasional yen for.   Anne Copeland’s first poem has numerous end-rhymes in her Summer Evening and Runner-Up by Rose Salina twists some neatly into her short poem on competition rules.   Apart from that we stick with what might well be called Modern or Free, verse if such terms are still used.

It is a collection that ranges across the world, literally, in place, subject and with styles varied enough to keep the reader keen.  From Brexit to weddings, kangaroos to car crash and with love and many tokens between.  There is much to find and re-read.

I always suggest a few favourites, as below but all forty-three make this a very entertaining and at times thought-provoking anthology.  Always good news for a poetry collection!

The venom of a platypus is not lethal     By Jay Ward

Runner-up        By Rose Salina           Modern Dance  By David Van-Cauter

Vase      By Yuko Minamikawa Adams    Syria: the 47     By Nicola Jackson

Jazz club: Tubby Hayes    By Dick Jones



poems JJS


The grizzled old man looked at me

with the morning sun glistening on bristled chin.

His eyes sunken, not hooded like crows

but sprawled-over by lank eyebrows; and his nose!

Thin commas red-lining the beak and you see

the grey from his nostrils peek.

There’s a finite crease in each lobe of each ear

and the duct in his eye predicted a tear, or sleep.

The fine hair cast thin and lopped to one side

hiding the patch where the thatch had died.

Back to his jaw where the line has sagged

and the lips drawn in.

The rhythm is missing, it’s not me nor him.

Maybe, just maybe, I’m seeing his twin.




The hawthorn, once budded and blossom-smothered

So smooth and supple that she waved to and caressed the breeze

Twisting with light to loose her petals and covered

To spell the ground white with flattering ease.

As branches arched, grew wide and reached for sun,

Beneath its shade in dappled light grew nature’s young

To play and grow and shelter as young shoots

In the founding nest among the hawthorn roots.

But time, the tides of man, an unknown thing in hawthorn’s course

Seeks recompense for seasons’ gifts

And bends and wreaks with gales that force

The gnarled and ancient roots to lift

And skin the branches clean of bud and leaf

To leave a memory and make a willow weep.


Poem….                                                                          28.march17

Recollection slips into gear when sitting in my quiet place

And the setting sun brings into view a distant face

That has never aged with signs of wear.

This time it’s red-eyed Henry who heads the line

With his solemn look.  Always hid behind

BIg-foot McCluskey but now he has the shilling

His penitent father gives for sweets

and he’s always willing

To share his treats with those who fold him in.

So there he is, is Big-foot, as heavy as is tall.

With Shiny-face and cheerful smile for one and all;

Unless you mock his mother, striving hard to keep together

A house of children by working the only way she could.

And then beware, big-foot.


I sip my thermos’ tea and hough quietly as childhood ghosts

Drift across the rows of red and white-stringed beans;

Canopies of leaves that point and flutter and boast of ripened seeds

That twist and burst and fall on fallow soil, on forgotten scenes.

Big Mary, Little Jane.  Oddly sisters a year apart

Who always dangled off each other’s arms as if alarmed to part,

Except when chased by Quickey-Tom and then would dash across the lane

To squeal in unison on opposing sides and feign

Surprise or anger amid delight.

And Mickey, Smiff and then there’s Jim.

What became of him, I wonder absently, sipping tea, still steaming

Into rheumy eyes.

He had big plans. Dressed like a mannequin for any occasion.

Always scheming, planning, looking for a reason

Not to be him.


Time, they say, is a great healer.

Glasses, they say are always rose-tinted.

Beds, they say, are of your own making.

But I wonder, in my quiet place,

Of the stories they would make of me;

Of my face that never ages,

Of my eyes, one, two, three.


for Jean, Poet.                     JJS.    9jan.2017


A gossamer.

One hundred threads

of finest silken line.

A spiders web of steel

in summer through winter’s grip

and yet a sip of wine

that weds your world to mine.



Three Poems               J Johnson Smith

Dandelions Poems by Arthur Berry

Dandelions     Poems

By Arthur Berry

Paperback, self-published

Introduction by Arthur Berry dated as 1993 so  reckon publication same year or one after.

No isbn and I can’t remember what price I paid about four years ago.    I bought it in a small art shop in Longton or Burslem, I believe, one of the ‘Five Towns’ round Stoke on Trent.

Cover probably drawn by the author, an artist, lecturer in painting and also playwright with productions at Victoria Theatre, Stoke on Trent as well as this collection of poetry and two other titles.

87 poems over 131 pages, including frontispiece and index.

I haven’t labelled this as a Graph Review as it is most unlikely copies are available easily.


Arthur Berry, born in Smallthorne, North Staffordshire in 1925, son of a Bricklayer and a Publican’s daughter.  The blurb on the back cover offers, plus a brief resume of his working career, as an artist, lecturer in painting.

I include the last paragraph of his own words of introduction: (I was advised by the shop  that I should read, or be read to, in the local accent of North Staffs.  I fear I failed on both counts but nonetheless having visited the towns of his area I have a fair mental picture of the places if not the accent…… and to be honest the need for accent never worried!)


“This then is a rough account of the times I have lived in, and I recognise it as the main theme of my work.  I did not consciously think about it at the time, as I wrote my poems but it must have seeped in – as did various bits of daft, thank goodness.”

Arthur Berry 1993


First observations on reading is the good humour touching much of the verse, though dark.  The humour is filtered within far darker tones such as disillusion, disappointment and even anger at what his surroundings had become.    Observation in spades as to be expected from a painter with a quickness and lightness of touch for words that carry the scene in a bluff and gritty manner.  The poems move around many places and sights though characters are often in the limelight and everywhere is the same gritty, eloquent, matter-of-fact delivery.

Rhythm, rhyme and half-rhyme aplenty though nicely balanced in poems of differing levels of scheme and length.  (Acres of solid rhyme-schemes are not my favourite so Berry suits me well!)  No date-order given to the poems.  The variation in lengths is appealing for  the reader (me).  The shorter poems may be 16 lines and the longest about 90 lines while many sit comfortably on a single page, more or less.   No glossary but most local words are obvious in meaning.

Time, change, levels of sadness, maybe at the losses of lifestyle and a touch of bitterness through the telescope of time where hardship-visible has been turned into hardship almost invisible but certainly more complicated, are all there.  Especially where community/society has been eroded by change industrial change.   Demolition and ruination run from the start of the collection but all are progressed through his verse with the spotlight of a painter.  In his own introduction he points out that he discovered his overall ‘theme’ while reading through the verses some years after they were written.  ‘Change’ weighed heavily, maybe the failure of it to improve more so.

I have been visiting this area some twelve years and the regeneration of the last few years has been enormous.  Arthur Berry must have lived through the years when the pottery kilns stopped smoking until even the great china factories, distribution warehouses and painting shops slowly declined and closed.  Whole areas collapsing into disrepair and streets in neglect.  He wrote particularly of the old and loss of, a community, its housing and livelihood.  Some names, some workshops still exist and the few surviving seem to prosper but his view was different, earlier than mine. He saw the decline happening, I have only seen at its lowest and its recovery.   Many of the old terraces he would have walked around are gone and now replaced with new housing although some streets of terraces are being rescued, refurbished slowly to honour the history of the place.  He saw their terrible decline and demolition, wrote about the losses but within his verse was the parallel of his own losses of youth as well as his memories.  I have to say that very few of his memories seem to be rose-tinted, just remembered for what they were.  What replaced his icons of memory will now have to wait for another time, another writer or painter.

His poems cite street and pubs, it is a very local book but with sentiments that many people will recognise if they lived in a seriously declining neighbourhood.  He is sometimes harsh in his depiction of people, of the labouring, working class and their environs, the drinking and the mess, but times and lives were often hard.  Maybe his eye caught only the jaundiced side of his world.

The very first poem.  In This Place,      Creates a sombre mood yet bodes well for the collection.

Memorable others are:   How to Paint a Picture of Nile Street        and:

Dandelions                       Title poem:  p18

Where the end of the wall

And the waste ground meet

At the back of the canal

And Navigation street

Dandelions bold as brass

Grow among the bitter grass

In this place of empty chapels and aborted kilns

By the still smouldering fires

That burn the mattresses of the recently dead

These sour yellow flowers raise their heads

Damp rags suns that shine

On the sides of a lost loop line,

Among wild lupins and cinders

Fed on the dried excrement of dogs

Among the canals wet clinging fogs

Hard flower suns that gleam

By the edges of the poisoned stream,

Where the hiss and slip

Of a rat, nuzzles against the dead body of a cat

Among the slime and burning lime

And down in the flattened cemetery

Where my drunken uncles lie,

Over the iron gate

Into a bland white sky

Ghosts of these rag suns are blown away

Into the passing traffic of the day.


Another, The Procession, page 19, leaks nostalgia

The Hoppo and The Bus Shelter are party to several others that show bleak caricatures of people.  Often, descriptions are highly focused but bleak.   Nature frequently creeps into his poetry but is often succumbed or overridden by the smoke of urban exhausts, hardship and disrepair.  Arthur Berry highlights the last section of his collection saying the moorlands, countryside, outside his towns had some effect in the following poems but even here they tend to suffer an overspill from man, even the countryside itself!….. except for  Wrong Category,  and  The Apple Tree,  which have a gentler touch.

Maybe you might see mostly depression in these poems, in all areas and meanings but there are lighter moments, touches of beauty in the drab; humour in the seemingly continuous difficulty he sees.  Or rather I read memory and nostalgia and humour tucked into some outrageous descriptions.  All images seem ‘true’ as they are drawn by a painter who only describes the backstreets, the ‘kitchen sinks’ or the Dicken’s-like scenes that should have gone years ago but in fact never will.


If all the kittens

Our cats once had

Grew into cats

By now they would have

Found their way to London

And in the tall white houses

Round the squares

Distinguished men

Passing on the stairs

Would say to each other

With some concern

Where are all these

Damn cats coming from.


After finishing this collection, the above poem and between its lines, says a lot about the man I imagine him to be.  Perhaps his brush is aimed elsewhere!     Thank you, Arthur Berry, for poems with many layers like a painting, much to see and more to explore.





Copyright remains with copyright holders of Arthur Berry.