Bone Ovation

Bone Ovation, Caroline Hardaker: Valley Press

Bone Ovation is the debut poetry pamphlet from Caroline Hardaker. It is a slim collection of 20 poems, published by Valley Press, that satisfy an interest in myth and folklore. Hardaker’s poetry is an example of mythology as a splitting open of the present, of stories and a deep-seated connection to the past. It considers an element common to
all: “Composite of brittle chalk and precious like the stalks of daisies in chains.”  Bone.
Hardaker positions humans in relation to non-human things, so much so that they are transfigured. This at first seems anthropomorphic, in that human attributes are applied to non-human entities. But, as we pick these poems apart, it transpires that the human is morphing into the non-human; becoming less human and more planetary. The pamphlet is varied and vicarious, each poem adding to the deep well of stories that constitute mythos.

Hardaker’s skill as a poet is apparent from the first pages. Blank space cleverly settles the reader into the collection:

W h i t e s p a c e

for eyes’ respite



She experiments with the page and shows no fear, using the blank page to create meaning as much as the signifying words. The result is abstract and expressive. Her style is distinctive in its use of assonance and alliteration in a play of patterns between phonetic sounds. ‘The Rains,’ for example, is a short poem (only nine lines in two stanzas) yet it glows.

Each raindrop contains a soul
I’m told, and sleet is nought
but the urgent need of the dead to meet
their loved ones in the mortal world.

The narrator recalls her grandmother habitually eating drops of rain: “She said it made her feel alive again.” Traces of the past fuse with the present, handed down orally from one generation to another. It is a celebration of kinship, etched in memory and the natural imagery of falling rain. The poetic voice tends to our mortality – a life cycle that repeats, repairs, restores – but also regards a transcendental and immortal consciousness, a spiritual being-in-the-world, in a simple ritual of remembering and returning.

‘The Weight of My Feet’ recounts the experience of having a/living in a/being a physiological body: “tired feet / tired fire-feet.” The aching body distracts the mind from itself, simultaneously returning the mind to itself as part of a body that aches. The poem is thick with imagery of flora and food to explore the restorative responses of the body to
survive, seemingly of its own accord. The speaker’s feet “shed skins,” are “red plums to stand on,” an adolescent bulb “amongst nimbler water lilies.” Aching is expressed through the italicised refrain and interruption: “My tired tired fire feet,” where, in its excess of sensation, pain disrupts thought and, in the end, stops the poem altogether: “I have so much more to say.”

Bone Ovation

‘The Paper Woman’ depicts a mythical figure, told as hearsay between folk: “Who is she, sir?” The figure in question is a fragile woman whose body is metaphorical paper. She is slow and magnified:

once an hour dropping crepe lids

over ochre corneas, crusted dry

more to shut off the world than moisten the eyes.

She is rapt, tainted, even cursed, and alienated from the rest of the world. Her porous skin is stained with pigments of ink, “bold tattoos / like the Bayeux Tapestry,” a body that bears the consequences of history:

The event is etched on her skin
with a sharpened stave, leaving bitter rivets which
itch to a depth she can’t scratch.

Hardaker conjures a beautiful parable of “warm, soft cloth” on paper, water seeps into the fibres “to expose her raw insides.” Her exposure is potent, cleansing the skin, in order to relieve the inner itch. Fragmented, but elegant and humorous, ‘Sticky White Rice’ demonstrates the humanness in Hardaker’s poetry through simple, ordinary, everyday observation. The subject of the poem is making sushi, a fiddly task, and the lines knock into each other as an effect of enjambment: “but / I want to crush it – / push it tight in my fist / humiliating it.” Juxtaposing Pictish painting with neatly setting the table, the poem is a short and sweet expression of our internal dissension.

In ‘The Woman is Like the Picasso,’ Hardaker explores art through aspects of cubism in short line stanzas, abundant in its painterly quality:

You’ll not know her, she looks to the side
all eyes
a spectrum of illicit shades
hair all quantum in sharp directions

It is descriptive of Picasso’s many cubist portraits of women (Weeping Woman with Handerchief III, for example), a retelling of painting through writing to communicate a point of view: “See that fierce pride under bashful eyes? / Even Picasso couldn’t capture it. / He tried.” ‘The Woman is Like the Picasso’ speaks to ‘The Paper Woman,’ each
exploring the blank, flat or delicate qualities of the page that art and writing attempt to release, like moments of time to be filled.

In many of these poems, personality is a physical attribute and the separate stories speak to each other in the cosmos of the collection, as in ‘Marriage & Black Holes’: “I’m the sucking goop between galaxies there, / spread thin like emollient blackcurrant jam.” The handle of myth is light-hearted and humble, using art and language as tools for reference and meaning. Bone Ovation is a small fable of poetic thought, shaping new imaginings of the modern world to add to an ancient history of mythic story-telling.

Click here to order Caroline Hardaker’s Bone Ovation from Valley Press.

About the Publisher:

Valley Press is an independent publishing house based in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, UK. They publish poetry, including collections, pamphlets and the occasional anthology; fiction, including novels and collections of short stories; and non-fiction, including memoirs and travel writing.

Review by Kirsty Watling

Kirsty is a writer, bookseller and recent Literature graduate specialising in twentieth century literature, visual culture and critical theory.


Giant by Richard Georges

Giant, Richard Georges: Platypus Press

I was entranced by Richard Georges’ poetry collection, Giant, from the very first words. I found myself understanding and appreciating his visions out to the ocean from an island home. I felt a sense of timelessness from this poetry too. Connections with creation stories (and scientific truths) from across the globe blend together with memorable imagery such as this initial sentence from Giant:

“Having lost their sight in unlighted deep,
the gods of our fathers rose and strode
towards falling shards of sunlight”

This collection includes such almost mythical poems as well as poems describing specific places. Georges has a sharp eye for seemingly insignificant details and his vivid portrayals of sights as everyday as the angle of plants:

“tamarind trees lean over narrow
coastal roads like wiry grandmothers”

Allowing me to clearly envisage Caribbean landscapes as he does. We observe goats precariously but blithely feeding by the roadside and, later, see the grotesque image of a lamb who was less lucky with the traffic. We also learn of families blighted by alcoholism and grief.


Giant uncovers many aspects of island life that diverge from the tourist brochure promises, but I never thought that these poems lost hope. There is anger certainly, and a resentment perhaps of a colonial past that still rears its uniformed head from time to time but does not provide the basic resources to ensure that the lights stay on in the people’s homes.

Since my initial reading of Giant, I have found myself returning to the book either simply to reread those poems I particularly liked or, more frequently, because a certain concept or turn of phrase suddenly occurred to me and I saw it in a new light. I love that I can continue to interpret and understand Georges’ ideas in different ways.

Click here to buy Giant direct from Platypus Press.

About the Publisher:

Platypus Press is a boutique publisher based in England.  We seek to unearth innovative contemporary poetry and prose from a broad variety of voices and experiences.

Review by Stephanie Jane

Stephanie is a travelling blogger usually to be found in her caravan somewhere in Western Europe. She loves long country walks, theatre trips, second-hand shops, coffee and cake, and, of course, reading. She makes a point to read diverse authors from around the world as this allows her to experience countries and cultures that she may not get to visit in person. Literary fiction is her favourite genre, but she is happy to try niche reads across the board and enjoys supporting small publishing houses and indie authors.


Style and Substance 

Style and Substance 
Three Poetry Collections from Valley Press
I had initially assumed this recent selection of three poetry collections from Valley Press to be indicative of their ‘house-style’ – a thematic focus on the landscape and related elemental wildness – but a quick inspection of their website reveals the absolute eclecticism of their output. Prolific publishers, Valley Press have a strong line of poetry as well as fiction, non-fiction and memoir on their list. So, in addition to their ‘distinctive, no-two-the-same’ book covers, what is it that shapes this small press into a coherent publishing brand? I suspect the answer is revealed in this representative selection, though not in anything so obvious as their themes, as I’d first imagined.
Earthy, mythic, mundane – each of these collections explores a deeply mined connection to the land, local lore, history, memory and culture. Di Slaney’s Reward for Winter, with its traces of life on a Nottinghamshire small holding, its lexicon of loam and straw giving voice to the landscape with its human and other inhabitants, its impeccably researched local history.  Jo Brandon’s The Learned Goose with tales of Tabu, tales without magic and tales of rebirth recounting both the magical and the mundane.  Malene Engelund’s The Wild Gods drawing on the vocabulary and landscape of the mythical Norse sagas.
‘With the slip of a vowel, my legend was lost’ Bildr’s Lament, Di Slaney
‘you wished
your tongue could read the air like mine,
I wished my eyes could talk.’  The Fall, Jo Brandon
‘Listen.  And you’ll hear their necks
unlocking, their bones shift and turn.’  Owls, Malene Engelund
Each of these expertly crafted poetry collections draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources including historical or archival research, classic works of visual art, legend, mythology, and landscape.  Each of the poets is, coincidentally, a Creative Writing MA graduate, although Valley Press publish just as many non-graduate writers, as far as I can see.  So while thematically these poetry collections share a number of rich connections, they can each be distinguished by the quality and individuality of their poetic voice and their specific concerns.
Slaney’s Reward for Winter is a collection of poems documenting her move from city life to smallholder, focused on the everyday observations and experiences she encounters in her new rural livelihood.  With a keen poet’s eye and the novelty of newness she is able to engage both critically and creatively with the realities of life on the small holding, presenting a series of pithy and touching details which many readers may not otherwise encounter. Structured in three parts, How to Knit a Sheep engages with the emotional and physical impact of committing to this new way of life, Washing Eggs gives voice to a laying hen in a series of three half-dozen ‘boxes’, and Bildr’s Thorp draws on detailed archival research of the surrounding landscape and community while Bildr’s Lament invokes the mythological by making lexical connections with the Norse god Baldr.
Brandon blends archival research with homely tales, each poem a mini narrative with richly visual and multi-sensorial detail. ‘Its hooves clattered like a sack of pans / thrown down the stairs’; ‘I have seen my innards flow like unwatered wine, / seen them part from me and suck in life’; ‘you hung like a bauble on a tree, a faded Robin maybe / whose claws should fold easily over the branches, rigid as tradition, / but has slipped upside down’.  Exploring a range of themes and voices, this first collection establishes a strong and sensuous writing style.
Engelund draws us into the darkness and depth of a Norse winter with her chill northern mythologies, sparse imagery and fragile evocation of loss. The concerns of these poems may be animal or human and Engelund’s playful and poignant experimentation with form and language in poems such as Air Song and (untitled) give voice to the voiceless in a variety of ways. November 31st creates a space in time for ‘the ones […] that we loved, but never had’.  Fiercely feminine in its strong and tender beauty, this short collection rewards repeated reading.
So I realise that it’s not the subject that unites these three books from Valley Press, but the style: deeply rich and enriching language and imagery, the creation of a flawless poetic voice, the subtle evocation of lives lived in the everyday magic of this world and its others.  These three collections are fine poetic works, sensitively crafted and distilled which speak to various experiences of life and the wildnesses of landscape and lore. These are works that, I imagine, highlight the unifying ethos of Valley Press in publishing works of elegant literary distinction across a variety of forms and genres.
About the Publisher:
Valley Press is an independent publishing house based in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, publishing poetry, including collections, pamphlets and the occasional anthology; fiction, including novels and collections of short stories; and non-fiction, including memoirs and travel writing.  Valley Press is built on one very important belief: great literature, and great publishing, is for everyone and anyone.
Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow is researching for a practice-based PhD in utopian poetics and experimental writing at the University of Westminster, where she also works as research assistant for the Contemporary Small Press.  Sally’s poetry is included in the #NousSommesParis anthology from Eyewear Books; the experimental collection The Unfinished Dream by Sally-Shakti Willow and Joe Evans was published by Sad Press in October 2016.  @willowwriting