Her visit to Wakefield though will be a chance to meet her in person and enjoy her poetry. On the Balcony Under a Full Moon is a taster. Enjoy!
Really looking forward to the visit of Silvia Pio to Wakefield in Aug/September of 2017. Writer, poet and translator, Silvia has been a great friend of Wakefield writers due to her generous support for them on Margutte, the website that she edits.
Her visit to Wakefield though will be a chance to meet her in person and enjoy her poetry. On the Balcony Under a Full Moon is a taster. Enjoy!
A copy of this review also appears on the Write Out Loud website
It is always reassuring when you pick up a book of poetry and it’s immediately obvious that the writer is entirely at home with the concept of crafting her work, and equally at home in presenting the image which stays in the mind.
… this is the time of day …
where the breath moves
like a child among overcoats.
Julie Mellor lives near Sheffield and holds a PhD from Sheffield Hallam University. Her first pamphlet Breathing Through Our Bones was a winner in the Poetry Business 2011 book and pamphlet competition, chosen by Carol Ann Duffy.
Reading Mellor’s new pamphlet Out of the Weather, from the illustration on the front cover, Turtle Doves by John James Audubon, to the bleak imagery of the final poem, ‘Life: A User’s Manual’, is a deeply moving experience.
Mellor focuses on the particular in her poems - lodging houses, wasps, swans flying overhead. We think we know these things as we think we know the places mentioned: Woodhead Pass, Holme Moss and Emley Moor high-lit like the “sun on slate” view of the Sheffield skyline. But her imagination, her ability to see things new, takes us to another emotional plane where possession battles with love and security is pervaded with ominous threat: “I see you walking across the marsh.” (‘Grace Notes’).
It is the kind of danger that may well have been laughed off in youth, like the car with four student friend passengers overturning at speed and rolling down a bank, an incident celebrated the following night with a “fireball from a box of matches / a pub trick that set my face alight.” (‘The Scar on my Wrist’)
But not all experiences can be flippantly discounted. Maybe those we encounter in later life have a deeper resonance and can be more surely reconsidered through the use of extended metaphor, as in ‘Aftermath’ where one person exists on the surface of the moon while the other hurtles towards Earth hoping to reach supersonic speed, to lose consciousness with the ultimate aim of being in the position to “not feel anymore”.
Eventually, looking back becomes a more sober reflection as in ‘Here’ where memories of the past are economically collected; deprivation, celebration and faith are assembled before the inescapable conclusion,
… where family
is still family, though most are long gone.
I read this collection in one sitting, although there were plenty of pauses to let images and significances register. Then I read it again, acknowledging Robert Frost’s definition of poetry which “begins in delight and ends in wisdom”. Julie Mellor’s poems are delightful, they are imbued with wisdom and they are certainly thought-provoking. This is a collection I will continue to read and re-read.
John Irving Clarke
John Irving Clarke is based in Wakefield and is a published poet, short story writer and novelist. He tutors an adult creative writing class and leads writing workshops. He is a co-organiser of the Red Shed Readings spoken word event and edits the Currock Press website
Julie Mellor, Out of the Weather, Smith/Doorstop, £5
Robert Bausch, Far as the Eye Can See
During the last twelve months or so I have been on a roll as far as American fiction is concerned with a number of excellent novels read: Philip Meyer’s The Son, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, Laird Hunt’s Neverhome and Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night all rack up maximum star ratings. To that list we can now add Robert Bausch’s Far as the Eye Can See which sits easily amongst these highly rated novels.
I am indebted to those good people at Round Lake bookstore in Charlevoix, Michigan for bringing this book to my attention (pop in if ever you are passing as it is a lovely independent book shop) and enhancing my holiday reading during my visit to the States.
As a deserter from the American Civil War, Bobby Hale is not the most admirable of narrators as he admits to re-enlisting several times under assumed names in order to pick up the related financial bonus. Without ever distinguishing himself in warfare he later joins a wagon train heading west where one of his first acts is to kill an Indian in an unnecessary attack. This, in the blunt words of the wagon train leader, is murder and the act sets the course for the remainder of the novel as Bobby Hale embarks upon a journey in a vast landscape where bloodshed and death feature regularly. Nor is this allayed by love. Hale is at one stage married to an Indian woman and whilst he begins to appreciate the comforts this brings, when she leaves him for another Indian he remains largely unaffected. He is later betrothed to Eveline, a woman travelling with the wagon train but he is unable to keep his promise to return to her before setting off west. That Hale retains our sympathy is down to his skilful depiction by Bausch and the authenticity of the first-person narration.
As with any picaresque novel, the protagonist grows in self-knowledge and when Hale begins to show concern for the welfare of others, particularly Ink a young girl who is running away from an Indian marriage and Little Fox, an orphaned Indian boy, he realises that man is always faced with a choice for his actions. As he begins to accept this wider responsibility, the novel moves towards an utterly gripping, heart-stopping conclusion.
Of course there are wider issues to consider beyond personal morality, issues such as the role of women, white man’s treatment of Indians and the establishment of law and order. And as the novel takes in the Battle of Little Big Horn and its subsequent events, it is difficult to ignore the metaphorical nature of the book. But whether you read this book as a personal adventure or a “birth of a nation” novel you should find yourself entirely engaged. It comes highly, highly recommended.
Exactly what it says on the tin! Or are they? These poems are about bodies or body parts: ears, heart, elbow, hips and nose amongst others. It's like a poetic version of a post-mortem except that the body in question here is still alive. Look away now those of you of a squeamish disposition or those of you who prefer your poetry to come in a more pastoral package. However, those of you who do look away will be missing out.
Gareth Writer-Davis says,
"songs plucked from the lute are complex miscalculations"
and therefore romantic, with either upper or lower case r, notions are disregarded,
"my heart has a job to do
and fit to the task
pumps blood around my body"
and the reader knows where he or she stands, the body is not to be worshipped but to be appreciated objectively for utilitarian purposes,
...are cartilage hooks for pencils and cigarettes
they are something I would like to pass on."
and the language is nearly always straightforward, plain nay blunt, so the occasional metaphor in the midst of this visceral dissection of the body comes as a big surprise.
"my ears are bats
and this is a clue that Writer-Davis is not just a one-trick pony, as is demonstrated by a series of poems about his mother. The Slim Shape is as far away from sentimental as it is possible to get, readers may feel as though they have stumbled across something which they shouldn't be witnessing,
"my mother was 36 24 36"
Feeling awkward? Wait until you read the next stanza,
"I did not know what that meant
when I pushed in
the pointy tip of her bra
and watched it pop out again."
But decontextualising does the poem no favours as the poet concludes with a frank appraisal of his mother and captures in three short lines a mistake made and indicates maybe a bleak life,
"mother was a flirt
who married young
then thought better of it."
The fate of his "first and only love" was to "fade away at the edges" as she fell adrift of fashionable mores. But what does the poet care as he completes the poem with the unabashed statement,
"my mother was 36 24 36
was without measure."
The depth of this love is demonstrated in the following two poems, Breathe and String, intense pieces of work where the poet deals with the illness and old-age decay of his mother and in both poems he gives lie to his concentration upon the physical. We are all more than just a collection of body parts as the author well knows, and despite an attempt to cover his tracks, we realise that we are reading the work of an artist who understands both the physical and the emotional.
Consequently, this is an engaging collection repaying a number of revisits but be warned, readers may well begin to reconsider their own body parts during their next bath.
Credit to Indigo Dreams who have turned out a handsome pamphlet which in terms of appearance and content will sit well on any poetry bookshelf.
Indigo Dreams Publishing
9 781909 357716
Don't you love it when you pick up a poetry book, read the first poem and think I'm going to enjoy this? With Jo Bell's Kith, the signs are there even before reading begins because this is a beautifully presented book, credit here to Heather Duncan the cover artist and publishers Nine Arches Press. Against the likes of this, ebooks have no chance.
But to the poems. That first poem Crates takes us on the mental journey of thinking about a crate. Three are supplied for us: a fruiterer's crate, a sturdy plastic tub and a pub crate, each of them very deftly described through careful observation. These are real crates, concrete in the mind and ready for service. Only they are not required for in the final three lined stanza the poem is flipped on its head and the reader has been wrong-footed, tangled in a web with some sixty-nine pages to go.
But it is an enchanted trap where poetry does what poetry does best, enabling the reader to see the world in a new light. Snow for instance in Like Love, "betrays the fox and starves the wren." The woman in Union Street in the poem Shame, pokes at a man "as if he were/a kidney on a butcher's slab."
This is a joy. Earthy, witty and magical, Kith is full of poems which cause you to sit up frequently and gaze out of the window for a while to marvel over what you have just read before you feel able to resume. Read the terror of crossing the hundred feet of water of the Severn in A Crossing before reaching the sanctuary of the Gloucester and Sharpness canal which lays "a sixteen-foot glass slipper at our feet." Or the historical re-imaginings in Infallible and Gloriana where Giotta and Elizabeth 1 speak and authenticity booms from the page.
"Love, sex, boats and friendship" boasts the blurb, and yes, they are all here, but there is also a closeness to nature emanating, I suspect, from living in a narrow boat. How about this for a description of Spring? "The garden's lean, but buds and shadows fatten." and April falling "across the parish like stained glass." in a Nightingale for Gilbert White.
And I haven't yet mentioned the poems of excavation. But let that be because I will be back to this book and I will dig for myself into the layers of meaning, I will be nourished by the humour, prodded by the pertinent phrase and finally, I will take comfort from it like the day's last blackbird,
"holding up its song, a candle flame
as the street lights flicker on."
Jo Bell, Kith. Nine Arches Press 9780993120107
Less than eight months since her last visit, Carol Ann Duffy returned to Wakefield, graciously agreeing to add to her commitment to read at Wakefield Cathedral on Easter Sunday.
Those who saw her at the Wakefield LitFest in September 2013 were no doubt slightly astonished that a poet of such standing should be appearing in Wakefield at all. (Gosh, maybe this city which scarcely honours its literary alumni of David Storey and Stan Barstow does have some pull after all!) But that audience will also remember the almost incessant wailing of sirens as the emergency services sped along the road outside and the venue itself, an un-let, modern-build retail premises, hardly spoke of good cheer and welcome. Accordingly, Duffy's reading was highly competent and efficient - a performance which brooked no argument.
Last night though, in the congenial surroundings of the Orangery, the guest appeared to be much more relaxed from the outset, extending the introduction to her poems and revealing autobiographical snippets. If an author volunteers information about how she learned about the facts of life from a snotty-nosed rough kid behind the bike sheds, or how she encountered a flasher in the woods when she was just a little too far from home, of course you are going to sit up and pay attention, but more so if she gives a direct answer to the question what is your favourite poem of the poems you have written?
I've always had affection for Warming Her Pearls, or the more bilious, Havisham, and I did wonder what her answer would be. It was in fact A Child's Sleep and then the poem was read and afterwards the natural reaction would be to say, of course.
"I stood at the edge of my child's sleep."
All of you who have sweated over how to write the first line of a poem please take note of the simplicity and engaging qualities of the line above. Immediately we are in Frost at Midnight country where the child's sleep is likened to a small wood, a place which is "perfumed with flowers" and is also "dark, peaceful, sacred." In sleep the child evades the categorisations of time and history, or is this just the thoughts of the watching parent? The thoughts of any parent watching over their sleeping child? It might well be so as the poem opens out towards its ending to embrace a universality, to "the greater dark/outside the room" where we are all subject to the maternal wisdom of the moon. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.
Tenderness, not a quality you would normally associate with the author of Education for Leisure or the aforementioned Havisham, but last night Carol Ann Duffy was intent upon showing her full emotional range: the autobiographical recollections of moving to England at an early age, the visualisation of her mother's life before she became a mother, the playfulness of The Counties and Mrs Schofield's G.C.S.E. as well as the heart-breaking Premonitions.
So much giving and yet I wanted more. This is surely a good sign in a poetry reading when I can think of many occasions when I have longed for the opposite. My other lasting response was that I had witnessed a reaffirmation of the power of the spoken word. We were treated to a selection of devastatingly effective poems given a further dimension by a presentation which was choc full of integrity.
And yes, we got the Meryl Streep as Prime Minister joke again. It was like being in the presence of an old friend. A nice thought.
All is Lost
Dir. J C Chandor
How many Robert Redford films feature in your list of favourite films? For myself, I would include The Candidate and Jeremiah Johnson. I retain fond memories of watching him paired off with Jane Fonda in Barefoot in the Park and The Electric Horseman and Three Days of the Condor also occupies a soft spot although I may need to watch that again and make a re-evaluation, while Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, without question, shoots to the top of any such list.
No mention yet, you’ll notice, of All the President’s Men or The Sting, nor have I touched upon The Great Gatsby, The Natural, Indecent Proposal or The Horse Whisperer. Owing to his founding of the Sundance Festival and a broad left, eco-friendly outlook, Redford’s credentials are impeccable but doubts do exist. Doubts arising from a suspicion that that he hasn’t always chosen parts which stretch him very far as an actor and his apparent clinging to leading man roles when the sand in that particular egg timer had long since run through.
I did once forgo a Redford film. The Way We Were was playing at our college Film Society and it was a sell-out. As I approached the door clutching my ticket I was urged to sell it by an anguished female student whose desire to see the film clearly burned more fiercely than mine. I sold my ticket (at face value I hasten to add) and went off to pursue the worthwhile student activity of essay writing or more likely drinking at the Student Union.
Anyway, I digress, the point I’m making is that I wouldn’t have given up my ticket to see a Paul Newman film. But if you share such an ambivalence about Robert Redford, in the case of All is Lost, I urge you to drop it as this is a terrific film.
It is not a spoiler to say that there is no dialogue in the film, nor are there any other characters in the cast. Redford is alone at sea and he has to act to carry this film. And act he does in 106 minutes of gripping drama.
We are not given any back story nor are we allowed any traditional narrative arc. The film opens with the crisis point of a single-manned yacht in the Indian Ocean being dangerously holed by an errant container cast adrift in the ocean shortly after we have heard in voiceover the thoughts of the sailor (referred to as Our Man in the credits) in his final log entry. He says he fought to the end, he refers to “you all” (family?) he apologises and we catch a glimpse of a wedding ring on his finger. And that’s it: no explanation of why he is sailing alone, no information about a start and end point to his journey and no motive given for his solitary voyage. These things don’t matter as this is not Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea battling for one last big fish, this is a film about life and its inevitability.
Most viewers will arrive at this film loaded with baggage. Even when they realise that there will be no interplay between characters they will still have huge expectations of a triumph for the central character who has gained our sympathies; the rule of an uplifting ending for the final reel should be retained. However, what they will find is skill, resourcefulness and enterprise pitted against relentless adversity. Our Man says he fought to the end which indeed he does and, apart from one despairing bellowed expletive, Redford underplays it all magnificently with nuanced eye movements and stoic opposition to the hand which fate has dealt him. He is not so much Hemingway’s Old Man of the Sea but Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner,
“Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea.”
where he is pitted mercilessly against the elements. The storm scenes exemplifying man’s insignificance against the force of nature are particularly breath-taking and the protagonist is thrown about the overturning boat. There is no question here of Redford opting for an easy ride or a camera-friendly, image boosting role; a physically demanding, arduous shoot for a seventy-seven year old actor and a performance which must put him in line for a best actor Oscar. Maybe it is his tilt for the last big fish after all.
Any acclaim for Redford in this film will not be begrudged. He gives a compelling performance of raging against the dying of the light building to a heart-rending conclusion. J C Chandor as director should also receive recognition for a taut and brave film which challenges the conventions of mainstream cinema.
It is time to rejig that list of favourite Robert Redford films and find a space at the top for All is Lost.
On This Day: December 5th 1830
Christina Rossetti was born in London
Bitter for Sweet
Summer is gone with all its roses,
Its sun and perfumes and sweet flowers,
Its warm air and refreshing showers:
And even Autumn closes.
Yea, Autumn’s chilly self is going,
And Winter comes which is yet colder,
Each day the hoar-frost waxes bolder
And the last buds cease blowing.
It’s that time of year again: officially winter by the calendar and the weather forecasts are mentioning the S word. Expect traffic havoc, the country grinding to a halt and politicians making great play of a £50 energy bill giveaway. (£50 from average rises of £120 is still a £70 rise, right?)
So, anyway, Christina Rossetti is giving us a good dose of pathetic fallacy; ascribing human emotions and sympathies to nature. Except that in this poem there is no explicit mention of human emotion, just the relentless march of the year: Summer is gone, Autumn closes followed by the colder winter. The feelings of doom and gloom you have to add for yourself, but that’s not too difficult, is it?