Joanna C. Valente speaks of death in her collection of poems, Sirs and Madams. The poems remind us that we are wrong—dead wrong—if we think of death only as something that happens when life ends. This reminder weaves its way throughout the book and is most poignant when Valente writes about relationships. The stories within the poems are told by “three sisters dangerous as swans, broken into a hundred versions of themselves depending on which day of the week” (Tell Them They’re Dead, 75)
You know the story. The abduction of Helen. The wooden horse. The fall of Troy.Simon Armitage’s new play is a vivid re-engineering of Homer and Virgil, a meditation on ‘own’ and ‘other’, an unblinkered look at the costs and sorrows of war. In truth, a play about war (rather than a lion hunt, say, another ancient theme) will always be of the moment: Achilles mutilating Hector’s corpse; a British soldier giving a thumbs-up over the body of a dead insurgent.
The poems in We Walk Alone by Mariah E. Wilson, remind me of the great writer John Edgar Wideman’s description of one of his characters in his Damballah. Wideman writes, “He has the gift of feeling. Things don’t touch him, they imprint.” Wilson, too, has the gift of feeling. Things don’t touch her, they imprint. For evidence, read her poetry.
At no point does the book lose its dramatic momentum. In fact, so compelling is the plot at times that it takes some effort to slow down and read the poems fully as poetry should be read, rather than racing on to see what happens. Vanishing Point is quick and easy to read, but the poems repay second and third readings where the complexity of the work begin to unfold. Diana’s self-awareness grows viscerally and sensually as she comes to accept the sensations of her adult body through the final section.
Another writer expressed “deepest gratitude” to Firth “for having left the legacy of his poetry as a comfort and a guide.” Although not wealthy in the world’s terms, Damien Firth had a rich inner life, imagination and vocabulary, and was also rich in friends, who performed this labour of love and made his poetry available to the public.
Slaight’s poetry works perfectly with Terrence Tasker’s dark charcoal images. The pictures convey angry masks, faces, slightly abstract, timeless. The book was originally produced in the 1970s, and has been dedicated to Tasker, who passed away in 1992. The book itself is an exquisite artefact – something to keep and re-read. Though the poetry isn’t pleasant, it’s powerful, evocative and uncovers a universal vein of anguish that will resonate with all readers.
The book is a nice, pocket-book friendly hardcover, with thick, high quality pages, and an elastic to mark the week. The book has a week to a view, with enough room to record (in small writing) activities and appointments for each day (though not enough to write a poem, should you be sufficiently inspired – you’ll need another notebook for that). Each week there is a new poem, starting with Simon Armitage’s “Poetry”, and finishing with Stevie Smith’s “Not Waving Drowning”. The diary also features full colour images of book covers and a Faber poetry chronology.
Autoethnographic is a difficult read. Though the poems are deceptively prosaic, they don’t yield their messages easily, and are unsettlingly dark, disjointed, and at times, so self-referential that they feel like a chaotic nightmare. But once you let go of the desire for linearity and meaning and instead open up to the linguistic subtleties, to new modes of perception, and to the revelations which are decidedly non-linear, the work becomes quite special.
Though the poems in Radiance are powerful and hard-hitting – making the familiar new, and challenging the reader’s perspective, the entire collection is suffused with warmth that continues to charm, even when we’re reading about horror. These are poems that, regardless of theme, remain unabashedly positive, at times, extremely funny, and inviting, even as they’re undermining our prejudices.
Venus Thrash open The Fateful Apple deep in the heart of the Garden of Eden and moves toward Tutankhamen’s tomb, continues on to Atlanta, before mentioning The Tree of Life, The Tree of Knowledge and womankind bearing the brunt of Eve’s disobedience. The reader is left breathless, but driven to turn the page and check the words coming next.