Poem Of The Week: 'In Memory Of Jane Fraser' By Geoffrey Hill (1932-2016)

In Memory of Jane Fraser When snow like sheep lay in the fold And winds went begging at each door, And the far hills were blue with cold, And a cold shroud lay on the moor, She kept the siege. And every day We watched her brooding over death Like a strong bird above its prey. The room filled with the kettle’s breath. Damp curtains glued against the pane Sealed time away. Her body froze As if to freeze us all, and chain Creation to a stunned repose. She died before the world…

Q & A With Susannah Wise, Author Of This Fragile Earth

Fragile Earth is a very English dystopian fiction, in the spirit of John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids and H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, yet isn’t necessarily limited to readers of this genre. It could quite easily be situated on a range of shelves in a bookshop. Susannah Wise states that “it crosses over quite a lot of Venn diagrams of genres. It’s all a little bit commercial but not completely commercial. It’s very dystopian but…

The Dirigible Balloon: Preparing to Launch a New Webzine for Children’s Poetry

Dirigible Balloon: the name used to describe the newly invented airships in the 18th century. From ideas originating in China, the development of hot-air balloons was carried out by French brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier. On October 15th 1783 Jean-Francois Pilâtre de Rozier made the first tethered flight, November 21st Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes made the first free ascent and by January 19th 1784, a balloon carried several passengers to a height of 3000 feet over the…

Review: Diamond Hill By Kit Fan

In his deeply evocative debut novel, Kit Fan paints a portrait of life in transition, a community left behind when the world around is moving swiftly on. Fan, an acclaimed poet, strikes a defining tone: his illuminating and inspired characters breathe life into the hollow space they occupy. Diamond Hill, once the "Hollywood of the Orient" is now a shanty town in 1987 Hong Kong; a region split between rich and poor, East and West, capitalism and communism. The shanty town’s…

Review: The Temptation Of Gracie By Santa Montefiore

In these Covid-restricted days, it’s nice to at least dream of foreign fields. For Greece, read Victoria Hislop: start with The Island if you haven’t read it already, then maybe Cartes Postales from Greece for a complete change. You will quickly be warmed by the sun and immersed in Greek culture and it may provide some compensation on a wet and windy summer’s day in good old blighty. For Italy, it has to be Santa Montefiore. In the pages of her…

Poem Of The Week: 'Edwardiana' By Geraldine Clarkson

Edwardiana An inch or two skimmed from her twill skirt and the day shaped perfectly in her head: seamless tennis, swimming, a cycle down the lane and up, rondeau of elevenses with aunts, then two loops unhooked from her corset for patriotic postprandial singing round the piano, the map of England shaved perfectly on her head. Strong tea in thin-lipped china, a cake-stand charged with madeleines and buttered teabreads – mountains ! – shared perfectly by her bed: a long ramble with a newish lover, in slant-lit gardens, mallow weighting the air,…

‘The Oak Tree Lives Inside the Acorn’: The Invention of Wings By Sue Monk Kidd

I love history, always have, tempted as I was for a long time to teach that subject rather than what became my greater love, English. I don’t believe we can change history, nor re-write it and I do believe it is important not to forget it, not least because of what we can learn from it. Anyone who says they have never made a mistake is lying; the best we can do is to try not to repeat the error…

Review: Mermaid Singing By Charmian Clift

Mermaid Singing, first published in 1956, is the gloriously illustrative account of Charmian Clift's experience when, in 1954, she and her husband, tired of the grim city life offered by London, relocated to live in the Greek Islands. On reflection, they might have confessed to a naive attitude, but their act was brave. They didn't know what to expect, and the vivacity and colour of the culture and society they encountered is captured in an evocative, carefully observed narrative, often peppered…

Flags And Flowers: These Mothers Of Gods By Rachel Bower

The epigraph to one of Rachel Bower’s poems in her latest collection is taken from a Walter Benjamin axiom on the indivisibility of civilization and barbarism. His words could be no more pertinent respecting Bower’s own work, for every tincture of glitter that illuminates her sense of teeming abundance is offset by the presence, or implication, of its deleterious or necrotic opposite. Songs of celebration seek justification in silent wastelands: Bower’s taut, in some ways harrowing, Sestina, ‘Water Birth’, exemplifies a…

‘Why Endure My Own Dehumanization?’: Assembly By Natasha Brown

James Baldwin once wrote, ‘The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers’. It is a desideratum of oppression that inconvenient truths be occluded, Nietzschean constructs rising like treacherous mountain ranges from the impenetrable foggy foothills of unexamined inequalities. A society that does not question its ideology risks a zeitgeist morally sullied by cognitive bias and one in which individuals become unknowingly complicit in heinous social injustice. Baldwin recognised the inimical nature…

Custody Of The Eyes: Like A Tree Cut Back By Michael McCarthy

It is a rare thing to find an Irish catholic priest turning his hand to the writing of a memoir; more difficult still to imagine the demands of a vocation not getting the better of artistic impulse. But, in Like a Tree Cut Back, Michael McCarthy leaves us the fine autobiographical legacy of a life lived according to the principles of his faith, whilst giving free vent to an unusually sensitive imagination and an ethical schema informed as much by…

“Where Men Can’t Live, Gods Fare No Better”: This Fragile Earth By Susannah Wise

This Fragile Earth is the debut novel of author Susannah Wise. Wise depicts a future not too dissimilar to our present, but one in which our current dependence upon technology has worsened considerably. Neighbourhoods are replete with innovative mod cons, from car-charging ports which line the streets (in anticipation, perhaps, of our current green initiative), to mobile phones, or “GScopes”, capable of projecting holographic images. Doors open via touch-sensitive panels, and even hoverboards are on the horizon, which will be…

Poem Of The Week: 'Utah' By Anne Stevenson (1933-2020)

Utah Somewhere nowhere in Utah, a boy by the roadside, gun in his hand, and the rare dumb hard tears flowing. Beside him, the greyheaded man has let one arm slide awkwardly over his shoulder, is talking and pointing at whatever it is, dead, in the dust on the ground. By the old parked Chevy, two women, talking and watching. Their skirts flag forward. Bandannas twist with their hair. Around them some sheep and a fence and the sagebrush burning and burning with its blue flame. In the distance,…

Separate Paths Sometimes Coincide: Someone I used to Know By Paige Toon

Long Lost Families eat your heart out. I love the programme and will happily admit to nursing the box of tissues when I settle down to watch it. Well, this novel is thought-provoking, heartwarming and heartfelt. It explores the ties which bind people and the miscommunication which can rip them apart. It also offers a view of people who most need our understanding but are sometimes ignored or worse, face prejudice, for something that is not their fault. The value…

Review: Are You Enjoying By Mira Sethi

Mira Sethi’s collection of short stories brings contemporary Pakistan to life in vibrant colour: it is a compelling insight into a culture about which we might make assumptions, and the fresh perspective she offers will cause us to take a second look. Her characters leap from the pages; their voices, their opinions are often bold, their actions sometimes defiant. Their world is an infusion of modernity underpinned by tradition; their culture is a rich blend of both. The young aren’t…

Review: The Stranding By Kate Sawyer

The Stranding is the exceptional debut novel by Kate Sawyer, which begins with the end, but then explores what happens thereafter. Whilst this is a story that launches from an apocalypse, the overriding focus is on a theme of hope and human connection. We can relate to the characters we meet, despite not knowing what it would be to share their reality; they are grounded, resilient and appear able to place value only in what truly matters to them. The…

'Hurt People, Hurt People...': An Ordinary Wonder By Buki Papillon

Virginia Woolf once said, ‘The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages’. Simone De Beauvoir coined the term ‘situated freedom’ in her work, The Ethics of Ambiguity, writing that, ‘our capacity to act and make sense of the world is always constrained by our lived experience of the world – these objective conditions open up options, whilst closing down others’. Sartre’s existentialist philosophy compelled him to explore the concept of ‘L’Autre’, his plays and novels examining the insidious…

Poem Of The Week: 'Grace Darling' By Michael Longley

Grace Darling After you had steered your coble out of the storm And left the smaller islands to break the surface, Like draughts shaking that colossal backcloth there came Fifty pounds from the Queen, proposals of marriage. The daughter of a lighthouse-keeper and the saints Who once lived there on birds’ eggs, rainwater, barley And built to keep all pilgrims at a safe distance Circular houses with views only of the sky, Who set timber burning on the top of a tower Before each was launched at last in…

Review: Fatal Solution By Leslie Scase

I always enjoy a new murder mystery, especially getting to know the new detective on the case and this one did not disappoint. This is the second of the Inspector Chard crime series which promises to run to seven volumes, giving the author plenty of scope to develop characters and perhaps to introduce some recurring themes and relationships. Set in Victorian Wales, in the Valleys to be more precise, Inspector Thomas Chard is something of an interloper in the close knit…

Poem Of The Week: 'Those Winter Sundays' By Robert Hayden (1913-1980)

Those Winter Sundays Sundays too my father got up early and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him. I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. When the rooms were warm, he’d call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house, Speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well. What did I know, what did I…

Review: Oracle By Julie Anderson

Last year I had the pleasure of reading Julie Anderson's Plague - a captivating story introducing readers to the sharp and shrewd protagonist, Cassandra Fortune, who, despite her name, seems rather prone to misfortune. The skilled writing of Anderson depicted a complex crime thriller, infused with politics, corruption and scandal. This May, in what the author herself describes as “the further adventures of Cassandra Fortune”, our protagonist returned for another gripping appearance, once again inadvertently becoming central to a murder…

The Smell Of Lemons: Japan Stories By Jayne Joso

It is fortunate that a knowledge of Japanese culture is not a prerequisite of identification with the cast of Jayne Joso’s latest excursion into the hinterland of a country about which most of us, in any case, know very little beyond cliché and stereotype. To take the telling epigraph to this fine collection of short stories an interpretation further, is, as Wassily Kandinsky suggests of his own art, to approach Joso’s work without preconception and with scant regard for the…

Poem Of The Week: 'Everest' By David Wilson

Everest Once it was Chomolungma, Mother Goddess of the Earth, a face whose veil rarely lifted, its whiteness the White Whale’s. Now it’s like Elvis near the end, a giant in a soiled jumpsuit, blank, useful for percentages, a sheet from which the music’s fled. In ‘Everest’, his award-winning poem of overcooked ambition and ecological despoliation, David Wilson’s two compact quatrains burst with meanings which contradict the grace and respectfulness of the climber’s traditional mandate. For globalisation and easy travel have brought that great, essentially unknowable, mountain-mystique within touching distance…

Doggerel For The Discerning: 'Glad To Be A Dalek'

Glad To Be A Dalek I'm not your average Dalek, you know the sort I mean, all bent on domination; giving vent to all that spleen. I like to think I'm different from other Dalek crew, who keep emotions hidden while exterminating you. I don't agree with killing, with plans to subjugate. The Universe is lovely and I find it hard to hate. In fact, I've got my own plan; I'm working from within! I'm teaching other Daleks how to knit and sew and spin. I run a secret workshop where Daleks can relax and find their inner…

‘The Grit In All Of Us. Every Writer’s Ideal Material’: Red Sky At Noon By Simon Sebag Montefiore

Having read the first two novels in Montefiore’s ‘Moscow Trilogy’ some time ago, I have at last come to the third. Chronologically, it sits in the middle and while it can be read as a standalone novel, it reconnects with some of the old names and we meet once again, in particular, the Jewish writer, Benya Golden. Saved from the death penalty, he has been sentenced to twenty-five years’ imprisonment in the ‘netherworld’ of the Gulags, for a crime he…

Playing Without Thinking: Like Fado And Other Stories By Graham Mort

The silence following conversation, the lit but empty room, the scream of an unseen child - these are the unknowables of Graham Mort’s strange and wonderful new collection of short stories. The idea of a life proceeding elsewhere, the lineaments of which must have unfolded in some other time or place, are plangent suggestions here, and concealed possibility follows naturally in the wake of each tale. Encouraged to construct a bigger picture on the periphery of Mort’s wide-angled lens – the…

Poem Of The Week: 'A Smile To Remember' By Charles Bukowski (1920-1994)

A smile to remember we had the goldfish and they went around and around in the bowl on the table near the purple drapes across our front picture window and my mother, poor fish, always smiling, wanting to appear happy, she always told me, "be happy, Henry," and she was right: it's better to be happy if you can be but my father beat her two or three times a week while raging through his 6 foot two frame because he couldn't defeat what was attacking him. my mother,…

Americana Meets Aesopica : Fox 8 By George Saunders

Regular readers of my scribblings may have stumbled across my recent review of A Swim in A Pond in the Rain by George Saunders. Ostensibly a book written for writers to benefit from its playful technical musings and acutely mined insights, but one of equal value for any reader interested in the dynamics underpinning fiction’s artistic energies and the active principles at play during the act of reading per se. Revisiting Saunders’s back catalogue after reading his latest offering amplifies…

Doggerel for the Discerning: 'A Happy Ending for Petrologists'

A Happy Ending for Petrologists A pebble sat upon a beach and thought, as would a stone, of whether in the Universe it was a soul alone. For it could see no evidence to otherwise disprove that rocks had not the wherewithal to think or talk or move. And there with countless coloured stones, all smooth and weatherworn, supressed its angst, lay motionless, stayed quiet and forlorn. Through summers and through winters, it endured its solitude; in pebbly reflection, existentially it stewed. It watched the sun, it…

Review: Not For All The Tea In China By Chris Burrows

If you fancy a lighthearted, whimsical read, this is for you. Chris Burrows is a septuagenarian from Barnsley who has run his own business for sixteen years. In those years, he has travelled to all corners of the globe, buying and selling his wares, negotiating deals and experiencing a broad range of transport, accommodation and food. In this book, he reminisces about his encounters in a world outside of Yorkshire. He is a gentleman from a bygone era, amusing and…