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.

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


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.

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 http://www.malahatreview.ca/reviews/181reviews_bradley.html

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.

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.