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.


Blood Child by Eleanor Rees, a Graph Review

A Graph Review
55 with high points up to 65graph review 55 to 65



Blood Child

by Eleanor Rees

Liverpool University Press

978 178138180 9                         softback                       £9.99          published 2015

blood child coverA beautifully designed series, simple formula for the covers but rich in colour.  Slim with 45 pages in this volume.  Font size is smaller than some larger formatted collections which means the content in this ‘Pavilion Poetry’ series is at least the same, possibly more.  The downside of this is that I had to wear my glasses as print just that little bit smaller than I could cope without.  Additional upside is that this smaller format fits beautifully into a jacket pocket.  You might even manage two!
19 poems plus usual index and last page of notes and acknowledgements which usefully outlines their provenance.

This is Eleanor Rees’ third collection.

For me Blue Black is the most fascinating and memorable.  There is a continuing of the link with the ‘animal’ world and a flitting between and juxtapositioning of the living and the natural forces of nature, it’s beauty and rawness and the timelessness of history.  The initial images filter tension into and out of the poem and the progression of slipping into different focus seems to offer a degree of relief as the subject timeslips.  The rhythm of the language pushes you along and the story in all its potential levels makes itself clearer as the verse progresses.  In fact the more the story clarifies the greater the tension, which remains for some time after the closing of the final lines, of the book.

This is a short collection of 19 poems but the author and publishers should be applauded for having a collection that does not fit the poem a page routine.  Of course there are single page poems but many slide over to two, or eight or ten (Blue black) pages.  In this third collection we can read the substantial creativity of Eleanor Rees and her melding of history, nature and emotion and the skill in developing a ‘oneness’ from a multitude of ideas.  Foremost in her writing is the use of changing forms, transmogrifying, as it were into different species whilst in full flow which is offers both continuation and further development of style as well as theme.  There is also the touching on the darker recesses of the unconscious mind, not a digging, more a small bore-hole into Pandora’s Box.

Yes, I have to admit to a bias of ‘the memory of the land’ which I have interpreted into this last, and maybe other, poems.

Maybe a short collection warrants fewer titles to pick out, here goes, a live choice:

Obviously my main choice is. Blue Black
And in no particular order: Dusk Town,    Arne’s Progress    and    Seal Skin and the title poem,  Blood Child.   However, the whole collection is for re-reading.

John Clare and the Place of Poetry

Assuming you have read Clare’ s poetry and or some of his prose writing and appreciate what he is about.   Assuming you know a reasonable amount of his career in print, with or without his time in asylums.  And assuming you would like to get to real grips with his writing and functioning as a poet then I can only put forward Mina Gorji’s book as a vital read.

John Clare and the Place of Poetry,         978184631163 5            published by Liverpool University Press,     hardback     published in 2008       available via Amazon

This is not a specific review of the book,  just a glowing response to it and a heavy suggestion that you read it.

The book  is condensed writing but only 177 pages, including notes, bibliography and index, concentrating mainly on his published poetry.    Every word shows John Clare emerging as a confidant and sophistcated poet aware of his world both in nature and the needs of his public.  His place on the literary stage is described, examined and explained.  He wrote poetry in a style he chose for himself, for the needs of his perceived public.  Today it has resonance with that of  Wordsworth and other poets of his day but has a vital and immediately personal feel to it that Wordworth can lack.  ‘Poetry now’  versus  ‘written in tranquility’, perhaps.

His knowledge of poetry around him and the mechanics of writing it was perhaps ultimately a problem for the niche he chose to publish from.  Maybe his lack of confidence and sophistication, especially the former in public, caused his publishing career to fail.  Maybe his mental state held him back too, to fail him later.  Destiny, I suppose.

That which should be  more widely read are his Nature Notes and prose.  Here, his style may be as elemental but is even more true to his world of field, flower, wildlife images and sounds.  His failings? Maybe that he wasnt quite able to grasp and build upon his initial success in print or with his literary peers.  Opportuinites were there but like many before and after it was not his lot to prosper from initial success.

His poetry faded to a shadow but like many folk songs it  was recalled and appreciated by experts and enthusiasts.   Perhaps the Tibbles’ biography and selections were the first stirrings of re-recognition (certainly was for me).  Over the years publishing has grown from small appearances of Clare in selected volumes, a couple more biographies and increasingly, Clare selections and complete volumes of poetry and prose.  Clare has been included in university studies for some time and  also A level exam boards.

What would he have made of this slow-burning  survival and  steady brightening of his flame?   Who knows!    Probably a great deal of satisfaction and maybe pride that  his work, his life, was being read and that his emotion was being transferred into generations so far into his future.  No doubt great sadness too, that it was so much too late to support the family of a village labourer, whose life was Nature, writing and finally, so many years in an asylum (albeit with an enlightened doctor).

I hope there will be a paperback edition one day but in the meantime buy this book or get it from the library.

If you like John Clare its a must!