Trees Have Suffered For This




Ways of Saying, Helen Ashley (32pp, 3.50, Acumen)


I get no joy in putting the boot in, but this collection was a disappointment from cover to cover, full of plain-daft metempsychosis, pointless new age posturings, derisively over-written and rich to the point of nausea, only relieved by unexpected hilarity from fey (all too fey) word choices. The use of 'wraith' brought only invited connotations of pesky hobbits and dreary noble elves. The sheer spiritual hyperbole of it is excruciatingly funny. There is an unbearable tweeness of being that fails every poem. The pantheistic conceit and the Goddess-bothering from retired religions, is so cringe-worthy that this excess of nonsense approximates entertainment: 'c I call / to Selene, Hecate, Artemis'. Call a cab to rational rehab, please. I can't take this overblown, dippy-hippy, Gai/Goddess trip seriously, not just because it's a load of 21th century reinvented crap, but that it is not even dressed up in any lines worth reading (Bill p.6) : -


     A few tossed berries lie, untouched

     as if some child had tried,

     with one last meal, to hold the bird

     on this side of reality.


Ah reality, wherefore art thou? One must have a heart of stone, to misquote Wilde, not to laugh out loud.  It is as if some particularly over-enthused middle-class coven had raised the spirit of McGonagall without the pleasing use of gratuitous rhyme. Bored Edwardian vicar's wives used to bang out pamphlets about seeing God in a drop of dew c etc c we now have the modern equivalent woven in Wicca. If unbridled trite tweeness blows up your skirt, this collection is for you. I'd sooner take my chances in a bare-knuckle bout or a crash course in modern science. One moment, there's 'More Than Meets The Eye': -


     Between what is there and what is not,

     imagination runs free. From these ruins,

     I retrieve enough to weave the magic

     of my own particular Camelot.


Go! McGonagall go!




The Beckoning Wild, Lucy Lepchani (32pp, 3.50, Acumen)


To be honest, for 70 per cent of this collection, cut and paste from above. Some of the Goddess-bothering is more contemporary, as Kali is still around, though paired in a poem with Sheela na gig, a fat exaggerated cunt, for cross-cultural, cross-historical spiritual indigestion. Lucy is a better poet with more points of contact between a world I recognise and the poet's negotiation with it: poetry of cultural difference; warm familial humour as in 'An Armada of Aunties'; the tragi-comic 'First Cut'. A much more rounded poet of greater range, maturity and skill, though marred by many of the same conceits and failings found in the previous pamphlet. Besieged by born-again pagan proselytising, I take comfort in Wittgenstein's 'What we cannot speak about we must pass over in Silence'. And if quoting from the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus counts as a specimen of pretentiousness, may I say in my defence, this positively pales in comparison to the absurd posturings of these poets. Enough.





Sandcastles at Evening, Martin Lyon (32pp, 3.50, Acumen)


At last a real poet and a real collection of erudition, skill, mastery of form and a broad range of subjects. If you wish that modern poets would stop just chopping up 'textual constructs' and throwing them across the page, with less skill than a Jackson Pollock imitator suffering with random, uncontrollable ticks, then this gem of traditional verse is a must for the pocket. There is the odd duff line or clich, and I never find the word 'eternity' or 'eternal' a worthwhile member of a line; further, to see eternity in someone's eyes seems, frankly, less than a compliment: 'Her eyes are mirrors of eternity', (The Love, p. 7) Should have gone to Spectre-Savers. Yet as a whole this pamphlet was a joy to read; a particular favourite was his Conn where the Irish King's conquests and boastings are trumped by the triumphs of Rome. No pyrrhic victory is this diminutive classic by a poet who knows his trade. 


The three above are part of Acumen's occasional pamphlets series, it would be a cheap to remark, 'Thank the Goddesses that they are occasional'. But sometimes it is worth taking a cheap shot if it in any way curbs the enthusiasm of the commissioning editor for printing material fit only for the perusal of a particularly desperate scatologist.




Faber New Poets 6, Annie Katchinska (17pp, 5.00, Faber)


My first thought was this is not worth parting with a fiver; hardly an aesthetic judgement, but as Nick and Dave cut the guts out of dear old Blighty fiscal concerns have to be faced. Whinge over. This is an intelligent and witty assemblage of poems. There is no over-riding structure or movement. Thus the collection is so because it is slammed between two covers, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but when we are so short-changed on quantity, it is too much like judging a banquet after been given just a selection of diverse canaps. Give Katchinska a full title. What I have seen of her work is exceptional, skewed by her Russian culture which provides for a pleasing eccentricity. Her refreshing point of view yields disquieting overtones that resonate and linger, prompting some re-reading. Her 'Too Many Storms' and 'The Baker's Daughter' move the reader strangely, disturbing lazy and simple interpretation.  A tantalising glimpse of someone in need of a larger collection in which to establish her originality.





Faber New Poets 7, Sam Riviere (17pp, 5.00, Faber)


Ignore the opening poems, especially 'The Kiss'. It has all the gravitas of a scene from a teen-soap. Move on and you will be rewarded: quality poems abound. Riviere's 'Observation of a Neanderthal Colony' is one of the best contemporary poems I have read in quite some years. The point of view unusual, distant and non-judgemental which makes the climax of the poem much more disturbing in its objectivity. Occasionally, Riviere needs to par down her wordage; 'Myself Included' is a huge, rambling baggy jumper of a poem that needs putting back into shape and all the loose threads, cut and woven in tightly. Yet overall, this is an impressive impressionistic collection of real impact.




Faber New Poets 5, Joe Dunthorne (17pp, 5.00, Faber)


Accomplished, assured and well made this collection has few faults, but no real virtue. There is nothing that really grabs the imagination. I can't fault this work and nor would I wish to, but it fails to excite; nothing exceptional leaps out of the page. There is one poem, in fairness, which does offer something new, his 'Fill the Blanks' offering originality by omission, but, while novel, the poem remains necessarily insubstantial. Overall, competence is everywhere - brilliance in short supply. A good poet. A strong collection. 




Faber New Poets 8, Tom Warner (17pp, 5.00, Faber)


Warner is a good poet and has put together a strong collection, complicated by wilful obscurity, elliptical lines and images that disrupt expectation. Poems and subjects meander in and out of the defamiliar enriching what could be mundane. A lost budgie is framed alongside the weak surrealism of '... as elsewhere rooks hang their black on the last light'. A motorway drive is thrown, from the start, by syntax, 'They drove in silence / and brightness of dawn'. The omission of 'the' ensures that the poem establishes its strange otherness quickly. Too often this can  become just another gimmick, but Warner uses his arsenal of textual effects judiciously. An insidiously original collection.


Last word of the Faber pamphlet series. All are good writers. All have been hamstrung by Faber. Faber are in the fortunate position to be Arts Council and Lottery funded. The cost, given Faber's buying power, of producing these pamphlets is a matter of pence. But Faber suggests a RRP of 5 which means that, despite the excellence of the writing, these are woefully overpriced dooming these to underselling. Long term the prospects for these pamphlets are not good: pulping or dumping on the remainder market. If Faber wants to help these poets, then it should charge a realistic RRP, especially as much of its costs are not borne by the publisher but the public purse. A shame. These are fine collections but few will be prepared to incur the expense.  Both poet and public have been short-changed.



     Daithidh MacEochaidh 2010