‘Tizita, That Sweet-Sour Memory’: Unbury Our Dead With Song, By Mũkoma Wa Ngũgĩ

Noetic forces clearly exercise their influence on our lived experience, illuminating the penumbra cast by our subliminal consciousness. That said, perhaps visceral agencies exert a more cathartic energy able to penetrate the shadows cast within both our inner, and outer lives. Tolstoy told us that, ‘All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow’. The Sufi poet Rumi once commented that, ‘The soul has been given its own ears to hear…

The Tinnitus Of Grief: A Narrow Door By Joanne Harris

This novel is the last in the Malbry trilogy but may be read as a standalone – indeed, I didn’t know about the other two books - Gentleman & Players (2005) and Different Class (2016) - when I read it and I don’t think anything was lost because of the omission. As for A Narrow Door, my goodness, I couldn’t put it down and yet I had to - at frequent intervals. Don’t try to read this novel all in…

Review: Burnt Sugar By Avni Doshi

Burnt Sugar follows the story of a mother and daughter, through whose tangled relationship we uncover the depth of a connection, and explore our own familial interactions, whether undertaken freely or circumscribed by perceived duty. The mother, Tara, suffers dementia, declining progressively, and her daughter, Antara, who is the main protagonist, endeavours to understand the condition whilst also reassessing the mother, who she has always held in a form of contempt. Antara tells us her mother gave her her name,…

There Could Be Temples: Still By Christopher Meredith

Christopher Meredith’s richly engaging new poetics of time and observation gives unconscious lyrical direction to Roland Barthes’ philosophical enquiry into the capturing of a photographic moment. In the latter’s seminal work, Camera Lucida, Barthes’ Punctum – an apprehension of meaning that is uniquely personal to the viewer – may signify a world of drama and volition in two faded, coffee-stained dimensions. Meredith’s initial contemplation moves the limitless possibility of Punctum into the realm of negotiated memory and, particularly, continuity in…

Poem Of The Week: 'One Cigarette' By Edwin Morgan (1920-2010)

One Cigarette No smoke without you, my fire. After you left, your cigarette glowed on in my ashtray and sent up a long thread of such quiet grey I smiled to wonder who would believe its signal of so much love. One cigarette in the non-smoker’s tray. As the last spire trembles up, a sudden draught blows it winding into my face. Is it smell, is it taste? You are here again, and I am drunk on your tobacco lips. Out with the light. Let the smoke lie back in the dark. Till I hear…

Coming Home: Connections - A New Collection Of Short Stories

The making of connections – counter-intuitive and otherwise – is grist to the short story maker’s purpose. Short stories are obliged to do more work; focus becomes expedient as relationships are dissected, domestic dynamics examined and anxieties worked through on the written page. With her latest anthology of stories for Fuzzy Flamingo Press, Jen Parker’s curatorial skills facilitate a sense of general cohesion; the title of the collection is far from circumscriptive – light lets in between the rafters –…

New Research Reveals The Bard's Influence On Infamous Acts Of Terror, From The Gunpowder Plot To 9/11

The works of Shakespeare inspired and angered some of history’s most infamous terrorists including the conspirators behind 9/11 and the Gunpowder Plot, new research has revealed. New studies by Dr Islam Issa, Reader in Literature and History at Birmingham City University, examined how terrorists throughout the centuries have responded to Shakespeare’s writings, and why the iconic playwright’s work has been linked to acts of terror. Among those found to have been influenced by the work of the Bard, are some of history’s…

‘You Have To Take Your Chances When You Can’: The Great Frost By Chris Speck

The ‘Great Frost’ was an extraordinarily cold winter in Europe in 1708–1709 when temperatures in England plummeted to -10C. It is said that, among many other phenomena, chicken combs froze solid and fell off, soil froze to a depth of a metre, livestock died frozen in barns, fish froze in rivers, game died in the fields, small birds died in their millions, the wheat crop failed, people went to bed and woke to find their nightcaps frozen to the bedstead…

Going Astray: On A Distant Ridgeline By Sam Reese

An excursion in the very best, meandering sense, Sam Reese’s absorbing collection of short stories for Platypus Press is circumscribed only by uncertainty of definition. For his book’s title, On a Distant Ridgeline, imposes an horizon which flatly refuses to be attained. Which is surely Reese’s point: abstract yearning takes precedence, here, over concrete ambition; a struggle to be heard over a flotsam of competing voices. A slender thread of raddled identity is worked subtly through a broad fabric of…

Poem Of The Week: 'The Couple Upstairs' By Hugo Williams

The Couple Upstairs Shoes instead of slippers down the stairs, She ran out with her clothes And the front door banged and I saw her Walking crookedly, like naked, to a car. She was not always with him up there, And yet they seemed inviolate, like us, Our loves in sympathy. Her going Thrills and frightens us. We come awake And talk excitedly about ourselves, like guests. Hugo Williams’ spare, stripped-back poem is an exercise in distilled reflection. With deliberate, minimalist simplicity, the poet gives expression to a vicarious fellow-feeling…

Poem Of The Week: 'Frustrated Virtuoso' By Norman MacCaig (1910-1996)

Frustrated Virtuoso In the corner of Crombie’s field the donkey gets madder every minute. I listen to his heehawing seesawing and imagine the round rich note he wants to propel into space, a golden planet of sound orbiting to the wonder of the world. No wonder when he hears what comes out of that whoopingcough trombone his eyes filled with tears and his box head drops to lip the leaves of thistles – accepting that they’re all he deserves. Enough seriousness already… Scottish poet Norman MacCaig’s wonderful, witty take on hope extinguished needs little in the way…

‘Hiding Away From The World Never Works, Because You Still Have To Meet Yourself In The Mirror Every Morning': the Seven Sisters By Lucinda Riley

There are only a limited number of musical notes, yet after all these centuries, composers can still create new music – a different arrangement of notes on the stave. Surely, the time must come when every permutation has been tried and there can be no more new music? Even more amazing, there are only twenty-six letters in the alphabet and yet, how many books are there on the shelves, all with different arrangements of those letters – the mind boggles! But I…

A Dream Of Suffocation: 100 Poems To Save The Earth

There are many mantras in Seren’s new anthology of ecologically concerned poems, and it is a shame that radical change and recovery cannot be effected by the simple reinforcement of creative solutions through repetition. For here, in concise and refined form, we might find a teleology of celebration expressed in a form of biblical chant (‘A New Song’, Michael Symmons Roberts), or hope borne out of the absolute ordinary in Grahame Davies’ understated ‘Prayer’ – a hymn to the silent…

Poem Of The Week: 'Noon' By John Clare (1793-1864)

Noon The mid-day hour of twelve the clock counts o'er, A sultry stillness lulls the air asleep; The very buzz of flies is heard no more, Nor faintest wrinkles o'er the waters creep. Like one large sheet of glass the waters shine, Reflecting on their face the burnt sunbeam: The very fish their sporting play decline, Seeking the willow-shadows 'side the stream. And, where the hawthorn branches o'er the pool, The little bird, forsaking song and nest, Flutters on dripping twigs his limbs to cool, And splashes in the stream his burning…

The Artist As Poet: Quest For Ions By Browzan

Christopher Brown (aka Browzan), visual artist, filmmaker and poet, has published his first collection of poems Quest for Ions, with artwork designed by Russian born, Berlin-based visual artist Olya Dyer. Autobiographical in nature and written over a decade, the collection is an act of self-exploration of personal truths, initiated and organised after a period of reflection in Copenhagen. Described by Browzan as part of a cathartic process created during significant events in his life, the importance of art features strongly…

Review: Date With Deceit By Julia Chapman

Wresting the ground away from kitchen-sink caricature, Phil Redmond’s creation of an entirely new form of televisual realism in Brookside in 1982 was a brave attempt to restore authenticity to soap opera convention. That, in his enthusiasm for remaining within spitting distance of the social zeitgeist, he may have overlooked his audience’s taste for titillation and excitement, is an object lesson in the disconnect between the integrity of artistic assumption, and the punter’s desire for escape. Obliged to chuck ever…

‘Don’t Be Scared If It Hurts, Healing Always Hurts’ Bea’s Witch By Daniel Ingram-brown

I have said before that a good book is a good book whether it is written for children or adults and this latest novel, by Daniel Ingram-Brown, and described as young adult fiction, is a good book! Beatrice Crosse is in yet another foster home, a situation she knows only too well. She was ‘removed’ from her mother when she was three and has spent the intervening years cared for in more than one ‘home’. This time it is Denise who…

…The Blurred Line Between Friendship And Love: You And Me On Vacation By Emily Henry

‘Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it, let’s do it, let’s fall in love’. Cole Porter’s sublime lyrics perfectly capture the infatuating magnetism and devil-may-care allure of romantic attraction, without a whiff of the perils to be faced by those under its deliciously intoxicating spell. Oscar Wilde, himself no stranger to reckless longing, once said ‘When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving oneself, and one always ends by deceiving others. That is what…

'...That There Was In Me An Invincible Summer': Three Summers By Margarita Liberaki

Fitting to begin with the words of Albert Camus when considering Three Summers by the Greek novelist, playwright and screenwriter Margarita Liberaki (1919 -2001), for his letter to the author gave the book the richly deserved perennating adoration it enjoys in both Greece and France to this date. Camus wrote, ‘The sun has disappeared from books these days… You are one of those who pass it on’. Published in 1946 but set a decade earlier, Liberaki’s semi-autobiographical and sumptuously poetic…

Poem Of The Week: 'Pianist, 103,' By Helen Dunmore (1952-2017)

Pianist, 103, looks at the morning where she will play from nine to one and says how beautiful each note, each sun. Such scales of suffering – no one can weigh them, she says how beautiful each smile, each footfall each startled face in the heat of love – Helen Dunmore need say little more. Her poem bears a purity that is purged entirely of superfluity. Reflection is wrought, instead, in the silence beyond words – the conjuring of a context around the raftered bones of suggestion. The centenarian pianist of the…

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…

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…

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…