Costa Poetry Award 2017 winner: Helen Dunmore

Announced on 2nd January on Radio 4 ‘Front Row’   and Costa Prize website:

   Inside the Wave       by Helen Dunmore

       published by ‘Bloodaxe’

I havent read this collection yet as I chose to look at a debut collection shortlisted, by Kayo Chingonyi:  Kumukanda, Graph Review, a few dates ago..

The judges reviews for Helen Dunmores collection suggest this is a ‘must read’ volume  of her most recent poetry.  She completed and put together this new work after being diagnosed with cancer.  At the same time completing her final novel, ‘The Birdcage’

I would only be repeating the announcement to say more but should highlight that the second printing of this title contains her final poem written days before her death in March 2017 and included in the second reprint of the book.  Therefore if, like me, you are about to buy a copy then make sure it has the poem    ‘Hold Out Your Arms’.

The outright winner from all the section winners will be announced on Radio 4’s Front Row on Tuesday 30th January.       By which time I hope to read and review this title.

Advertisements

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.

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!

 

 

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.

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

 

 

John Clare, The Trespasser: A Graph Review

John Clare, The Trespasser.  

By John Goodridge and R K R  Thornton

A Graph Review:  high marks to 70s

 

 

Published by Five Leaves Publications.      2016.      Paper £6.99

10 pages of notes and 3 on further reading in print and web

Originally an extended essay in ‘ john Clare in context ‘,  Cambridge 1994.   For this current paperback the typescript was extensively revised, corrected and additions of new material. Also with new and updated references, recent and primary included.

Both authors are Vice-Presidents of the John Clare Society, Professors of English and have been authors and academics in literature and poetry, especially of working/labouring-class with particular interest in Clare. (among several others).

A slim volume of 90 pages of which 74 are text.

You may have read one or more of the now several biographies on Clare, perhaps an academic work such as ….. Clare’s Place in Poetry by Mina Gorji (2009).  (Reviewed on this website).  Or the growing number of texts and collections on specific areas of Clare’s life and poetry.   You will certainly be reading his poetry.  Nonetheless, this little book sums up John Clare’s personality and passions.   He placed himself as an ‘outsider’ and many small pointers throughout the text give glimpses to the make-up of Clare: from a Scottish grandfather who abandoned Clare’s pregnant grandmother to his ‘loneliness’ as a scholar in the village and much leading on from these. Other aspects may be brushed upon in this book but here the authors have hit upon Clare’s core strengths of belief that of ‘every man’s need of liberty’ and Enclosure’ was one large corrosive part of his world.

He may have been shy, awkward and diffident in the presence of those in authority though his pride may also have held him back at times. His writings showed strength of belief and a confidence in himself as a poet.  The awareness of the life of poverty he came from made him desperate to support his family but equally to refine his art and be published, ideally to provide some income to ease his family’s struggles.  A path that was too hard eventually as his health had always been problematic.  A life of hard physical work, often periods of poor or no food, hectic times of too much drink, a growing family and the costs of sudden fame followed by its slow dissipation were too much for him.  His first period in a private Essex asylum, a momentous walk home and a brief time with his family still produced much fine poetry, briefly home in Northborough and the many years lodged in Northampton Asylum produced much more.

Throughout his life he was a naturalist, an observer of all things and wrote about his local community whether from  minutely detailed wildlife, most widely known today, to village life, including satire with scorching caricatures especially in ‘The Parish’.

‘John Clare, The Trespasser’,  does indeed focus on the dire effects of Enclosure on Clare and community-life but uses the definition of a trespasser to travel over the wider fields of his life and work.   He defined himself by his locale and his community. Was compelled to be an observer, a collector, a musician with violin who wrote down words and music traditional of his day from travelling musicians and gypsies.  Gypsy music was so different to his tradition that of he was fascinated by it and spent time with them to study their music. He also found their way of life quite convivial.     His interest was also aroused by the Scottish drovers that passed through, likely as a link to his grandfather.  His liking of Burns another connection to Scotland, including the lowly origins of Burns himself and his poetical style and songs.  Clare was a man without a place in his own village for more than his writing and his spent fame that leaving him floundering, but he could assimilate much that caught his passionate nature.

The last section,  Enclosure, gives the strongest description of Clare.    For me it confirms him as a radical, political poet whose passion is shown in his work though frequently undermined by his poor circumstance and his own diffidence (shyness, almost speechlessness) in the presence of  moneyed people.  Some might say he had an inferiority complex, or more likely a class-complex.  Perhaps his behaviour was partly due to his keeping himself in check as angry outbursts to the wrong people would have severely harmed his ability to retain any employment.  The poor-house loomed large at these times for all labourers and Clare’s father would end in one.  It also seems he felt more able with his village peers when enjoying drink and music at the local ale-houses or celebrations.

Whatever his outward manner, his heart and writing were fixed on the damaging effects of enclosure on nature and the labourer and  Community.

Mentioned in this book, these are poems to read with a fresh eye:

The Mores,    The Lament of Swordy Well,   The Cellar Door,    The Progress of Rhyme .                           The Lament of Swordy Well is highlighted as Clare’s depiction of the result of Enclosure leaving nothing but dreams of the past for the labouring poor, among much else.

On the first pages, Goodridge quotes from an early Clare poem:      ‘Narrative Verses Written after an Excursion from Helpston to Burghley Park’  and describes it as a core ‘journey’ (experience) in his development as a poet.

The book in total is a fascinating short study of John Clare.  It may appear to focus on a small aspect but this is a core description of the man and uses choice selections to illustrate his ideals and his skill in writing more than poetic studies in natural history.  The authors explain the realities of Clare’s words and the use of poetical reference and political sub-text in particular poems.  Highlighting his use of counterbalanced language within an analysis of lines of poems, noted above, brings a strength of understanding not only to the meaning of the work but to the fire and sensibilities of Clare himself.

No doubt the ‘Conclusion’ of this work puts it more clearly….. ‘it is no longer enough to read Clare as a simple observer of nature in transparent descriptive verse,……’

And a quote from the back cover, from another reviewer:  ‘At last a label has been found that fits Clare almost perfectly’. : Roger Sales, Literature and History.

For me Clare will now be thought of as a man who dared to trespass, in a multitude of ways, throughout his life and writings.

link to another comment on Clare as labourer and Enclosure:

John Clare, The Trespasser is a ‘must read‘ for Clare enthusiasts and students of the labouring classes and landscape in the 19th century.

 

 

 

 

Efficiency versus liberty to roam.      Profit and productivity, cost of enclosure and policing.

 

 

 

The cellar door,     Themprogress of rhyme……. in Scottish drovers, gypsies and other clarean trespassers.

 

 

 

Clare: the times of his life

Small Hands by Mona Arshi, A Graph Review

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

graph-review-55-to-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.