From Issue 14:
THE APPLE EXCHANGE
S. J. Litherland
S. J. Litherland is essentially a love poet. 'The juice of the apple ran in her veins' says the opening line in the book ('Carnal Knowledge'). 'They would coil truth and lies/together, she and her lover. The mirror was expanding into four dimensions/and into the fifth, of imagination'. Well yes, but it would be nice to have these truths and lies (not to mention that fourth dimension) exemplified, instantiated, shown and not just told. As in 'Exiles', for example: 'The hunched look of the unemployed is still in your shoulders ...'
Orpheus and Eurydice, Lancelot and Guinevere, Shelley and Keats, God and Lucifer, Lorca and Rimbaud are brought in to dramatise the various plights of lovers, in extremis or just plain bored, and there's a nice touch of wit to enliven the proceedings: 'My debts are making/love, new younger debts will arise' ('The Debt Problem'). Alongside the concern with passion, licit or otherwise, runs another one with social morality and 'the soul of socialism': 'At best they managed a state canteen when what we wanted/were cafés' ('Oscar'). 'My needs/were hideous/like crying babies' says 'Imperfections'. Litherland is best when she gets these needs down in sensuous detail, worst when she overdoes the mythic lipstick and disappears into the erotic wasteland of easy abstraction.
From Issue 11:
(Shoestring Press, 1997)
These pieces from a marvellously inventive poet, Gael Turnbull, defy labels. They are drawn from a variety of sources: elements from other texts, 'abandoned fragments', mutations and so on. One could call them prose poems, or short poems using very long lines, as despite the apparent relaxation they are poetic in their use of metaphor and draw on assonance and consonance for their effects. There is no discernible link between them except form – which makes it difficult to generalise but delightful to read. Turnbull has sharp observational powers and empathy for what he sees. Take this, from 'An Old man Sitting':
An old man sitting on a bench in a city park is suddenly
aware in his mind of someone he loved half a century ago
and that this awareness has been prompted by a woman
who has just walked past.
Nothing happens, as he is not sure whether it is the same woman or not, and he is an agony of indecision, just as he was at the time of the affair. This is poetic in conception, but the prose form adds to the indecision felt by the protagonist in the reader's mind – it allows the idea to unfold in a seemingly casual way, mirroring the casual encounter.
Some of these piece are wryly funny, others are poignant. This would make a lovely present for someone who thinks they don't like poetry, or who wants a thought to muse on every day. Turnbull leans over and confides in the reader, often remarking on the small and lovable failures of humankind. His stimulus material is eclectic, his reading clearly wide and his style engaging and precise.
From Issue 10:
DOORS OF THE MORNING
The Sandburg-Livesay Award
(Unfinished Monument Press, 1997)
Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) was, I learn, America's favourite poet at his death. He had bee many things, a day labourer, a hobo, dish washer, soldier, farm hand, and newspaper reporter. He was a socialist, founded Proletarian Poetry and inspired many poets who came onto the American scene in the 1930s. Dorothy Livesay (1909-1996) was a remarkable woman too – a Canadian Marxist who championed feminism and social justice throughout her life. She challenged professional and academic elitism and her own selected poems are published as 'The Self-Completing Tree'.
Late last year, Poetry Review took note of the New Populism sweeping Britain. While it remains to be seen what this will lead to, a fresh movement has come onto the scene to promote the idea that poetry can be relevant to the daily lives of ordinary people and can speak to people using common language. This is poetry actually written for people, not for some academic elite, and we need more of it in our lives.
The prize-winning poem 'Message to Myself on My Birthday: June 4th 1989, Tiananmen Square, Beijing' is a moving account of Elinor Benedict's family history – an aunt marries a Chinese man – and her own visits to China. Exoticism, racism, political resistance and unifying struggle are embodied in a rich, powerful narrative that links everyday, personal intimacies to large, historic acts:
your cousins showed you the monument
where the death of Zhou Enlai
brought thousands of paper flowers
black ink verses
to honour him, to mourn
their loss of more
than voices could say.
Echoes of August 31st, 1997 in Paris: a fatal accident and the universal outpouring of grief that followed.
Here too is a poem from Other Poetry's own doorstep, by Jim C. Wilson, which received an Honourable mention: 'At Edlingham Church, Northumbria, 10th March 1996':
And with the singing of the wind, a psalm
blends in with high birds calling. Words of praise
have risen here since Bede, exalting Rome
grew blind while writing histories. March clouds
prohibit the sun.
This anthology takes in a great sweep of geographies, events and ancestries. The poems' titles are mostly transparent, rooted in real life events, regional, familial, e.g. 'Woman of Inishmaan', 'Bosnian Village', 'Factory Whistles, Early 1900s, North Carolina', 'Leaving Ash Creek' and 'The Studio at Aix'. When I looked through the poets' listings I was astonished at how prolific they are – most had at least one publication to their name, others a mountain of life-long involvement and productivity. And I had not heard of one of them before! This filled me with amazement and gratitude, as if I had suddenly gained a roomful of new, good friends to cherish and celebrate.