Four Books from Hesterglock

Four Books from Hesterglock (2018)

50 // fifty by Michael Harford and paul hawkins

Cocktail Kafkaïne by Mustapha Benfodil translated by Joe Ford

The City Itself by Billy Mills

logbook by hiromi suzuki

 

50 // fifty by Michael Harford and paul hawkins

This short collection of 50 fifty-word poems by paul hawkins with 50 collages by Michael Harford was written as a constraint-based project during Hawkins’ 50th year.  For the constraint, paul wrote a fifty-word poem every day for 50 weeks of the year, sending one text to Michael each week. Harford responded with a collage for each text and the results are collected together here.  The process of collaboration features not only in the constraint but also in the way the texts and images are presented, and, visually, in the collages themselves.  Each page features a single colour collage above a short numbered text, running through from #1 to #50.  The collages immediately alerted my eyes to the juxtaposition of disparate p/arts – each collage being composed of several cut-out images placed together within its own square perimeter to make an ostensible whole, and the overall project being a placing together of individual pieces – both visual and verbal/textual – to construct the whole.

The images and poems are placed together with varying degrees of harmony and dissonance.  Knowing that paul’s previous projects have focused on dissonance, it’s interesting to note the resonances and dissonances between certain texts and images in the collection.  For example, #13 riffs on the idea of ‘painbirds’ mentioning sparrows specifically and swallows obliquely.

‘same old same old

sparrows dive bomb

peck at your ears’

‘drink swallow inhale’

The collaged image depicts two sparrows hanging upside down from the top right corner – in a potentially dive-bombing location as they point towards the two human figures across the centre.  But their body-positions suggest that they’re sitting rather than diving.  The movement in the image is suggested by the postures and gestures of the two human figures, who in the poem are seated. There’s a line of sheet-music and a cut-out letter (as in missive) – perhaps alluding to the poem’s ‘voices without mouths’.  In the background – maybe sand – and a textured stripe of something evoking the ‘front seat of a renault clio’ in the front.

These resonances are oblique and have to be worked at – readers are invited to make connections between two seemingly disparate and dissonant artefacts brought into the juxtaposition of a single page, or book.  Yet we’re also asked to notice where that resonance ends and the dissonance begins.  Neither the images nor the poems are designed to be directly translatable to each other. This book presents readers with many ways in to a potential conversation, but always reminds us that the interlocutors are distinct and individual subjects: each with their own particular language and way of speaking.

50 fifty

 

Cocktail Kafkaïne by Mustapha Benfodil translated by Joe Ford

Conversation and the ‘(un)translatable’ feature heavily in Cocktail Kafkaïne, a collection of Algerian poetry in French by Mustapha Benfodil with accompanying translation by Joe Ford.  The book presents the texts in mirrored translation, with the original French on the verso (left-hand page) and the translation on the facing recto (right-hand page).  This is, in part, to raise questions about the (un)translatability of poetry, and also to give readers access to a full collection of Benfodil’s body of poetic writing in both its original French and in English translation.  Benfodil, a poet whose name English readers may not be familiar with, performs poetry as protest on the streets of Algeria at considerable personal risk.

Giving ‘wild readings’ in public places has led to his repeated arrest and questioning by the police. While some poems, such as ‘#Tract’ and ‘TATATATATATATATATA’ refer explicitly to politically radical events and perspectives, other of Benfodil’s poems are personal musings – such as ‘Asset Declaration’ and several poems to his daughter.  Regardless of the content, he tells us in the introduction that it’s possible to be arrested and questioned simply for the act of reading poetry or an extract from a play in a public place without a permit – hence Benfodil founded and developed the concept of ‘wild readings’: unlicensed public poetry readings.  Poetry, in Algeria, is in itself an act of wilful political defiance.  ‘A bullet in the narration’ testifies to the threat posed by literary arts in a fundamentally religious society, culminating in a list of the names of writers murdered for their art since 1962.

These collected poems, written over a period spanning twenty years, have a Beat-style aesthetic: irreverent, radical, personal; in the form of spontaneous-seeming long lines of free verse and variations on the list-poem.  And they’re a brave testament to free-thinking and radical self-expression in the face of a repressive regime.

Cocktail Kafkaine

 

The City Itselfby Billy Mills

‘words for this space

a space to frame them

concord of sorts’

The texts framed within The City Itself invite readers’ speculations towards a ‘concord of sorts’, as suggested by the book’s epigraph, above. Comprising poetry, prose and quotation, the mixed genres speak to one another in moments of both accord and discord. The section of fragmented quotations called ‘A Short History of Dominick Street’ immerses readers in the streets of Dublin.  Evoking not only geography and history, but also voice and vernacular, the sounds of the streets are heard in the telling.  The following section, ‘Pensato’ (meaning ‘thought’ in Italian, but also – in music – an imaginary note that is written but never played or heard), presents slight poems often arranged in couplets or single lines that I first expected to be echoes of the language found in the History.  Reading back, however, I couldn’t find a lexical connection. Thinking on it now, I wonder if it’s not the echoes of the language, but the act of listening itself that creates a concord between the two.

‘listen

do not

 

sing

it is

enough’

The poems in this section reflect on sound and silence, stillness and movement, while Mills’ deliberate use of spacing – both the space of the page and the spaces in between lines – invite readers to experience these qualities in the act of reading. The texts weave subtle materialities, often allowing readers to pause and experience ourselves living for a moment. Yet also gently demanding that we do the work of being with these words.

The City Itself

 

logbook by hiromi suzuki

This book of Hiromi Suzuki’s collages is an understated collection of ‘visual poetry’, which, for Suzuki, ‘means invisible poetry’.  The poems, whose text is invisible, are hinted at in the delicate weave of colour, shape and texture with occasional figurative images and fragmented typography of each collage.  Some collages are titled, others untitled.  Some seem linked by resonant images, such as the prevalence of hands in the gesture of holding, while others form loose narratives in concert or alone.

Like the invisible visual poetry of these pieces, Suzuki says the stories are also ‘invisible … in the faint moonlight’, while she hears ‘a voice and melody from the page’.  Each page is a record of daily memory and ephemera, yet each is open enough to speak to us in myriad ways.  These collages rarely reach for mimetic depiction, and instead offer gestures of space and movement by which we might construct our own narrative or poetic resonances with the work on the page.

There’s a youthful and innocent playfulness in the language that is used, sparingly, to give occasional titles and to provide context for the collage work.  One pairing, ‘Where troubles melt like lemon drops’ and ‘that’s where you’ll find me’ depict splashes of light and dark textures with sharp, angular intersections that lend weight to the apparent linguistic levity. Another pair, ‘m for mortal’ and ‘e for embrace’ evoke both visual and textual poetry in their wordplay and images. Displayed together, the two collages read ‘me’ – suggesting the self can be identified as a ‘mortal embrace’ – while sandpaper-like textures in black and white conjure the sense of an abyss.

Suzuki likens her collages to ‘automatic writings’ – creating one each night before sleep.  The simplicity of this gesture belies the depth to be found in the collages, making this a tender and inspiring collection, richly represented in colour by Hesterglock.

logbook

Click here to find these books at Hesterglock.

About the Publisher:

Hesterglock publishes work from poets / artists / writers of any/all gender(s), colour(s), sexual orientation and dis/ability.  Work that is anti-systems of oppression, intersectional, across form(s) and across discipline(s).

Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow researches and writes utopian poetics and performs poetry as ritual to open up [r]evolutionary space for positive transformation.  She teaches poetry and creative writing at the University of Westminster.  Her poems have been published by Adjacent Pineapple, Eyewear, The Projectionist’s Playground and Zarf.  Chapbooks to date: The Unfinished Dream (Sad Press, 2016) and Atha (forthcoming with Knives, Forks and Spoons). Find her on Twitter: @Spaewitch.

Advertisements

Surrey Poetry Festival

Surrey Poetry Festival year 8 V2

 

Surrey Poetry Festival

June 2nd 2018
11.00 am -5.00 pm

G Live, Guildford, London Road, GU1 2AA

Now in its eighth year, the annual Surrey University Poetry festival is curated by this year’s Poet in Residence James Davies. A day long wonder blast of innovative poetry from the following takes place in Guildford, a stone’s throw away from London. Featuring rare readings by American legends Tina Darragh and P. Inman.

Tickets a snip at £5 available from G Live or on the door.

Programme for Poetry Festival

In the Foyer

11 (until 1.30): Peter Jaeger durational performance

All below in Comedy Room

11.10: Introduction to festival

11.20-12.00: Surrey students & Scott Thurston

12.10-12.50: Rob Holloway & Rebecca Cremin

1.40-2.20: Sharon Kivland/Clémentine Bedos & Tina Darragh

2.30-3.10: Lila Matsumoto & P. Inman

3.30-4.10: Amy Cutler & Philip Terry

4.20-5.00: Emma Cocker & Emma Bennett

from 7 in Glass Room

Tom Jenks performs in the evening soiree – exact time TBA

 

Clémentine Bedos is a multidisciplinary artist whose recent shows include a solo exhibition at the Constance Howard Gallery, London ‘Contagious Hystories’. Currently exploring themes of identity, binaries and the Other. https://www.clementinebedos.com/

Emma Bennett’s recent performances include durational piano pieces, an exploration of pining for soft things, and interpreting the words of birdsong. https://emmabennettperformance.wordpress.com/

Emma Cocker is a writer-artist whose work explores the slippage between writing on page, to performance in time, between still and moving image, between individual and collective action. http://not-yet-there.blogspot.co.uk/
Rebecca Cremin draws on traditions of live art, Fluxus, performance writing and site-specific work using language as an object to expose, to investigate, to locate. http://www.veerbooks.com/Rebecca-Cremin-LAY-D
Amy Cutler is a multi-disciplinary practitioner with a special interest in geohumanities – the engagement between geography and arts/humanities. https://amycutler.net/

Tina Darragh is one of the original members of the Language group of poets. Her work explores class, race and ecology. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tina_Darragh

Rob Holloway is currently exploring sonnets and prose poems, and has been a DJ on Resonance FM. https://vimeo.com/93835233

P. Inman is associated with language and minimalist poetry. His work has been described as ‘thick with meanings that never quite complete themselves; full of social ironies and a sly and biting humor’ http://writing.upenn.edu/epc/authors/inman/

Peter Jaeger will perform a durational version of his latest book Midamble, on the lawn at G Live. The book concerns his recently completed walk on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jG1EUZusDTY

Sharon Kivland is an artist who has recently been called a poet, five times, to her surprise. Her work considers what is put at stake by art, poliics, and psychoanalysis.  http://www.sharonkivland.com/

Lila Matsumoto’s poetry explores dailyness through allegory and literalness. http://www.shearsman.com/browse-poetry-books-by-author-Lila-Matsumoto

Tom Jenks is often verbivocovisual and always hilarious. https://www.zshboo.org/

Philip Terry uses Oulipian methods and translation to examine the crimes of bureaucracy and management. http://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781847772206

Scott Thurston’s current work responds to ongoing encounters with various dance and movement practices including Five Rhythms, Movement Medicine and Open Floor work. http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Thurston.php

Students from The University of Surrey have been exploring a range of poetic strategies during the workshop series Making Things Happen including the use of diaries, minimalism, Oulipo and collaboration.

 

Recipe for Being a Woman

Recipe for Being a Woman, Hermione Cameron: Ampersand Publishing, 2018

Recipe for Being a Woman is a playful and pithy debut collection from a poet whose awareness and grip on language allows her to create a concise and deeply ironic sense of being in the world. Hermione Cameron speaks of, to and for the modern age in 28 poems, in which she shows us the world anew, as if standing on our heads. The collection is published by Ampersand, a newly established independent literary publisher who print their own books from Seven Sisters, North London.

The edition is beautiful, made with care and attention to its contents. The decadent decay of flora on the cover reflects decaying ideals of beauty and femininity that the poems present: they offer something brave and honest.

The collection opens with the title poem, ‘Recipe for Being a Woman.’ It is a prose poem that is pithy in both senses of the word, substantial and fruitful like the pulp of an emollient peach: “Her skin should be clear and peachy, her features should be elegant and refined.” Cameron treats femininity with uncanny, at times potentially abject, consideration: “Measure the organs, skin, form and facial features into a bowl and stir together to form a dough. The dough should be firm yet pliable, once she is fully baked.” The result is a manual of tongue-in-cheek aphorisms that elbow-nudge ideas of ready-made gender moulds:

Fold the dough in half and knead it, making sure that all the beauty is contained. Beauty is a woman’s most powerful asset and must, under no circumstances, be wasted.

The language is formal and antiquated, a pastiche of domestic cookery books, which are, in terms of syntax, instructive and imperative. A woman should be edible. The ideal of beauty is upheld by a multi-billion-dollar cosmetic industry that depends on that image. Women consume industry in order to be consumable themselves. The poet’s irony insists that, rather than being told how to be a woman, we be let alone to figure out how to be own separate selves.

Recipe for Being a Woman

Cameron is playful with poetic form. ‘ID,’ for example, is a concrete poem dealing with Freudian psychoanalysis. It seems to put neuroses on the page, wherein the lines that make up the poem warp and scatter in a cerebral formation. The poem looks like a brain and may visualise chatter in the skull that we endure and struggle to silence: “all I have and all I ever really had / is something I can’t hold in my hands.” It is difficult to read the lines in any coherent order, which is representative of a chaotic mind.

She is also playful with language. Such as in ‘Cliches,’ “gone are the days / When we’d sit praying for it to rain / Cats and dogs / Barking up all the wrong trees / in the hopes we would reach our dreams,” she reissues passé habits of language to speak for a new generation in crisis. She shows that a modern or “millennial” existence is far more troubling and complex than we imagine. These poems suggest, with a subtle spirit, that the future is in the hands of a youth who struggle and strive with being born into an accelerating world: 

We never run from the spider

That lures us

Into the World Wide Web

Come let’s see the sites he says

This world he weaves

Words we read

Emoticons over emotions

The collection is political, philosophical and psychological and, at the same time, accessible and relatable. Cameron handles issues of heartache, grief, and self-identification with humour and kindness; in the sense of having things in-kind and an understanding of each other. Her poems are honest and generous with real gumption.

Click here to order Recipe for Being a Woman direct from Ampersand Publishing.

About the Publisher:

Ampersand is an independent literary publishing house based in Seven Sisters, London. Their selection encompasses everything from innovative contemporary fiction, poetry, and criticism, to new editions and translations of literary classics.  Ampersand own their own press and their books are handmade using a combination of traditional and contemporary methods.

Review by Kirsty Watling

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

 

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

Acclimatise.

Sink.

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

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.

 

Paisley: Political Poetry

Paisley, Poems by Rakhshan Rizwan: The Emma Press, 2017

Rakhshan Rizwan is described on the back of this slim poetry pamphlet as “an emerging Pakistani poet”. The focus on nationality is apposite because Rizwan’s poetry bears all the marks of a postcolonial history and perspective, with an emphasis on politics of identity, resistance and belonging. However, the focus on the nationality of the author is somewhat misleading as the work deals largely with the migrant experience in Western Europe rather than with Pakistan. The introduction to the work, by Leila Aboulela, a Sudanese writer, emphasises this aspect of the writing as well as its preoccupation with language and languages. The poetry is thus not confined by the parochial dimensions of nation, but enlarged through engagement with the clash of East and West and its situation within the larger frameworks of contemporary globalisation. Furthermore, in its exploration of issues of gender, the work clearly marks itself out as “intersectional”. That is, gender and race overlap and inform the perspective.

Paisley

The figure of the paisley, which is woven into the fabric of several poems, stands as a symbol not just for the work, but also the poet. This originally Persian design became popular in the west and eventually took on an English name. The poet herself, like paisley, comes from the East and yet writes poetry in English, speaks other European languages, as the symbol of the paisley now does, beyond its original language, and lives in European countries, like our paisley shirts belong to English fashions. Rizwan’s identification with this appropriated and displaced figure is therefore resonant on several levels which are explored. One instance is when Rizwan engages with how Westerners say her name differently from its originally intended pronunciation in “Noon”. She writes further in “Migrant” how no one in the West can understand her. The emphasis is on how the symbols, and the people and language of one culture cannot be understood by another but are always productively misunderstood and aligned with the structures of meaning which are peculiar to one society over the meanings that other groups bestow on them.

Paisley also has another significance which adds a larger dimension to the work. The design is formed like a teardrop. It is the symbol of suffering. Rizwan’s work is wracked by the spectre of suffering. In “Buffet”, Rizwan explores the “gaping hole” (5) which the spectacle of suffering in the media caters to, yet image upon image in this collection obsessively encounters the same sight and panders to the same appetite. Atrocities against Pakistani women by men are listed in “Eve”, a short prose poem and the theme is continued in the poem named after the title of the collection. In other poems we are presented with the bleak picture of life as a misunderstood and marginalised migrant woman who sheds pounds “working two jobs,/ in hopes of securing/ a paper-thin/ ticket home” (15).

This collection of poetry is thoroughly familiar to a British Asian reader such as myself. I know the themes it explores well and have met many people and writers with similar life experiences and preoccupations. The writing style of the work did not particularly appeal to me, hence I have concentrated on subject matter in this review. In my opinion, the poet is suitably described as an “emerging” voice as the collection is clearly the work of a promising young hand. However, I do not wish to lavish too much praise on this collection, which is certainly worth reading. In places, the work suffers from that exuberance and cock-sure confidence of youth by becoming preachy and insisting on the points that are made quite repetitively. Sometimes the work marginalizes the perspective of competing voices which is worrying in a work which aims to disclose a migrant perspective which has itself been marginalised.

In “Eve”, critiques of western feminists, with their western ethos, are presented as deluded monsters who uphold atrocities against women. Certainly, men can pretend that all Pakistani or Indian families are perfectly happy when all is not well and there are real and even widespread issues of domestic violence, exploitation and rape in society. Some men do want to sugar-coat reality in their own interests. However, the “deluded monsters” still make a perfectively valid point in “Eve”: that western structures of thought like Western feminism can’t just be transplanted and exported everywhere as though they were incontestable, universally valid and applicable ideas about people and institutions like the family. It is perhaps surprising, but ultimately revealing, that Rizwan’s postcolonial outlook conflicts with her feminism in this example. It begs the larger question of how coherent an intersectional approach to life can be and how near and far we are as a people from colonial and neo-colonial structures of thought.

The collection as a whole, however, is a serious instigator of thought. It will certainly appeal to a Western audience so that they can see what integration means to those that that they want to integrate and what kinds of things their ethnic minority brothers and sisters from the Sub-Continent are experiencing and thinking about.

Click here to buy Rakhshan Rizwan’s Paisley direct from The Emma Press. 

About the Publisher:

The Emma Press is an independent poetry publisher based in Birmingham, UK and founded in 2012. The Press is dedicated to producing what it calls “beautiful, thought-provoking books”. The Press states that it is “passionate about making poetry welcome and accessible”.

Review by Suneel Mehmi:

Suneel Mehmi is a scholar and an amateur writer, poet, songwriter, musician and artist. He is a member of the British Asian community and lives in East London. He holds degrees in Law and English Literature from the London School of Economics and Political Science, Brunel University and the University of Westminster. He has published academic work on the concept of Law and it relationship to violence in the adult short stories of Roald Dahl. He has previously contributed scholarly book reviews to the Literary London journal and to the London Fictions website.

 

Opening The Magic Door

The Magic Door, Chris Torrance: Test Centre, 2017

Chris Torrance’s The Magic Door is a collection of poetry spanning almost five decades and comprising eight original chapbooks of Torrance’s poems. Torrance began work on The Magic Door in June 1970, and continues to work on this lifelong poetry project into the twenty-first century. His most obvious influences for this work are the Beats and the open-field poetics of Charles Olson in the US, as well as the many contemporary British poets to whom these poems are dedicated: Lee Harwood, Barry MacSweeney, Iain Sinclair and Allen Fisher, among others.

The collection begins, in typically Beat-fashion, with a road trip – from Bristol to ‘The New Territory’ of Wales, marking Torrance’s move from suburban England into rural Wales and his parallel decision to live the life of the semi-hermit-poet among the landscape, geology and mythology of the area surrounding the Brecon Beacons. These poems are lyrical, spontaneous grapplings with mystery and landscape that Phil Maillard suggests in the Introduction could genuinely be called ‘Psychogeology’. They are also musings on the nature of poetry itself. In a later poem, Torrance includes the quoted phrase ‘all poetry / begins in mysticism / & ends in linguistics’, which echoes somewhat the trajectory of this collection, although the explorations into language never really threaten to fully supplant the mysticism of the poet’s preoccupation with myth and landscape. Language and landscape coexist in Torrance’s poetry.

The nature of poetry, the nature of language, the nature of self, and the nature of ‘nature’ are the predominant themes in The Magic Door; the poetic forms shaping themselves around the collage of mystic and earthy lived experiences that shape the poems. The later poems take on a greater visual and sonic quality, fracturing and fragmenting on the page with mini sound-structures forming internally, such as, in Cylinder Fragments from the Twentieth Century:

Voyager

 

The visual fragmentation here is complemented by the sonic structures. The percussive rhythm of the two hyphenated collocations lend their beat to the alliterative ‘gas giant’ in the following line and to the final two syllables, ‘the deep’. This opens out into the sibilance of ‘Saturn / space whale sounding’, which in turn pulls the earlier ‘broadcasts’, ‘ice-cold’, ‘mustard-coloured’ and ‘gas’ into its sonic orbit. Torrance also invents some luscious neologisms that satisfy not only their context but are also satisfyingly pleasing to hear and to say: ‘solstistic’ ‘sludging’, ‘whifflings / & screekings & screelings’. The title of the first book, Acrospirical Meanderings in a Tongue of the Time hints towards this delight in the sounds of words and their play, and is something I would have liked to have seen carried even further throughout the poems in this collection.   

Chris-Torrance_Magic-Door_front

Openness is key to this collection, both in terms of poetic form and in the spirit of incompletion and enquiry that drives it. In this sense, The Magic Door carries the sense of a door that stands open, welcoming in all those who enter. One form of this openness is the poet’s desire for true self-expression, the Kerouacian desire for a transparent language to communicate the self directly and openly from within: ‘opening up the hopefully uncensored self to the present / the fallible, living trace that is us in the world’. Or in ‘Gemini – for Iain Sinclair’:

Gemini

 

Yet the door can stand closed, too, veiling these mysteries from view. There is longing in Torrance’s recognition that language, poetry, is not transparent and open, however much he might desire it to be. He asks, ‘& how do words / manage to lie so, this time / & as always?’ Suggesting, perhaps, that ‘This accounts for / a feeling of alienation within us’. Yet this alienation is also paradoxically what gives the poetry its openness, its resistance to the closure of mono-semantic, transparent and incorruptible meaning.

It is this alienation, the not-knowing of language’s obscurity, that drives the poetic enquiry within The Magic Door, leaving it to stand forever ajar in the half-openness of an incomplete process; the question of the living poet answered-and-unanswered through the continual act of creating the poetic work. These moments of uncertainty about the nature of poetry itself resonate throughout the collection, beginning in the first book, in a poem written in April 1971, setting the agenda for all that is to follow. Recognising that ‘the failed purpose is made part of the poem’ from the outset, there is nothing for the poet to do but to go on making poetry.

Deep Breathing

 

Click here to find Chris Torrance’s The Magic Door at Test Centre.

About the Publisher:

Test Centre is an independent publishing house and record label with an interest in the spoken and written word. Based in Hackney, East London, it was established in 2011 by Will Shutes and Jess Chandler.

Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow researches and writes utopian poetics at the University of Westminster and is the research assistant for The Contemporary Small Press. @Spaewitch