The Bog Togher And The Byerley Turk: Ireland's Forgotten Past By Turtle Bunbury

Acclaimed broadcaster, writer and journalist Turtle Bunbury has pulled off a feat of exquisite skill - the upholding of a mandate to edify entertainingly without overwhelming his audience in scholarly aridity. Ireland’s Forgotten Past is a rare and cherishable thing: combining assiduous research with a nose for ribald fun, Bunbury disinters the odd, the arcane and the profoundly surprising from the dark recesses of a mostly unknown history. His purview is panoramic: beginning with the tectonic continental shifts of distant geological…

Poem Of The Week: 'Snow' By Edward Thomas

At a time of apparently relentless deluge, we might yearn for the muffling silence of the white stuff. When streams become rivers and rivers become lakes, changed landscapes throw our sense of proportion, leave us at our lowest annual ebb, incarcerated by the twin spectres of SAD and looming climate emergency. Snow is a handy cognitive corrective, unless you are a hill farmer in which case it is almost certainly an airborne punishment. Snow In the gloom of whiteness, In the great silence…

Song Of The Wind: White Ink Stains By Eleanor Brown

Eleanor Brown’s first collection of poems, since her acclaimed volume Maiden Speech of 1996, is freighted with unspoken empathy. This unusual and beautiful volume gathers the lost voices of the past in a benign web of poetic exegesis, restoring individual merit commemoratively and declaring an affinity with those who ‘go down in history’ unnoticed, in Tony Harrison’s resonant words. Some of the poems here are responses to interviews recorded for the Reading Sheffield oral history project. Using an approximation of individual…

Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Christmas (which now seems so far away) means Santa and in our case that always includes books. This year, the variety was notable. Anton du Beke’s Moonlight over Mayfair still awaits my attention (and Mum is impatient to get her hands on it, too!) as does Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage. The first one I picked up, though, was Sally Rooney’s Normal People. An odd title but, then, who defines what’s normal? Rooney’s second novel is inspirational and thought-provoking, exploring…

Poem Of The Week: 'Everything Is Going To Be All Right' By Derek Mahon

Everything Is Going to Be All Right How should I not be glad to contemplate the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window and a high tide reflected on the ceiling? There will be dying, there will be dying, but there is no need to go into that. The poems flow from the hand unbidden and the hidden source is the watchful heart. The sun rises in spite of everything and the far cities are beautiful and bright. I lie here in a riot of sunlight watching the day break and the…

Just Passing Through: The Valley Press Anthology Of Prose Poetry

The beautifully written Introduction to Valley Press’ new anthology of Prose Poems is a mirror to that which it describes. This hybrid form of expression, with a ‘mercurial resistance to definition’, has many detractors amongst poetic purists, but perhaps its quality lies in its very refusal to be circumscribed. It is distinguished from poetry only in terms of lineation, yet it often fulfils the criteria of lyricism and distillation of meaning by which we measure its enduring counterpart. And it is…

And So The Wind Blows: Poems From A Green & Blue Planet

The best poetry exceeds expectation, outreaches its own grasp, and sometimes yields unexpected, or unintended, rewards. The application of a connective thematic structure in Hodder’s wonderful new collection releases an energy which helps the poems to breathe more easily, or at least to enable the reader to make inferences about contemporary relevance which may transcend the limits, even, of authorial intention. Aimed at those amongst us who will inherit the future – our children - Poems From a Green and Blue

Poem Of The Week: 'My Heart's In The Highlands' By Robert Burns

My Heart’s in the Highlands My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here, My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer; Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe, My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go. Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North, The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth ; Wherever I wander, wherever I rove, The hills of the Highlands for ever I love. Farewell to the mountains, high-cover'd with snow, Farewell to the straths and…

Poem Of The Week: 'We Won't Get Fooled Again' By Blake Morrison

We Won’t Get Fooled Again Among the Saturday bargains – hose pipes, open-crotch panties, inflatable chairs – this one: ‘Front-door spyhole. Six-foot span. You see unwanted callers. They don’t see you.’ The picture’s inspired. A curlered housewife safe behind her door figures immediately the scar-faced stranger looming outside is not selling brushes. She won’t open up. Europe’s new frontier! The end of the terror! Never again those games of happy families cut short by a rap in the heart of the door – father leaving us to answer it, then the loud,…

Urbanus Magnus: Fucking Good Manners by Simon Griffin

There is a genre of literature, frequently best-selling, that takes a sardonic scalpel to what we mostly recognise as commonsense. In less than capable hands, such a strategy is doomed to failure on grounds of tedious reiteration: the material facts of the way in which we disport our affairs does not always bear excessive scrutiny. Think Grumpy Old Men – overcooked television series, and subsequent book whose diminishment of economic return was predicated entirely on the enervation-inducing repetitiveness of its…

Poem Of The Week: 'Star Of The Nativity' By Joseph Brodsky

Star of the Nativity In the cold season, in a locality accustomed to heat more than to cold, to horizontality more than to a mountain, a child was born in a cave in order to save the world; it blew as only in deserts in winter it blows, athwart. To Him, all things seemed enormous: His mother’s breast, the steam out of the ox’s nostrils, Caspar, Balthazar, Melchior—the team of Magi, their presents heaped by the door, ajar. He was but a dot, and a dot was the…

At Home In Grasmere: Vital Stream By Lucy Newlyn

There is an authenticity to Lucy Newlyn’s magnificent new reworking of William and Dorothy Wordsworth’s elemental outpourings of 1802 which has less to do with faithfulness to language than to the nuances of their profoundly unusual relationship. Her attention to detail in this lengthy series of sonnets is nothing short of phenomenal, her affinity with the Wordsworth’s writings predicated upon extensive research. Newlyn’s compendious academic knowledge of the Romantics is evident at every turn, and she has found a form…

A Point Of Departure: When The Tree Falls By Jane Clarke

It would be a hard heart that didn’t yield to the bucolic simplicity of Jane Clarke’s poetics. Her metrical sense slows in obedience to a languid lyricism, creating an adagio which is as much about rendering intensity of feeling as meaning. Giving vent to her love for her departed father through a shared affiliation with the rustic landscape of her formative home in Roscommon, When the Tree Falls is a protracted and desperately moving song of loss. And, in the sense…

Poem Of The Week: 'If My Grandmother Had Had Balls' By Tom Sastry

If my grandmother had had balls she would have been a juggler and joined the circus where she would have learnt how to eat fire and not get burnt. Instead, she kept house with the violence of a perfectionist and left bruises and is not missed. Tom Sastry’s embittered and perfectly rounded skewering of his grandmother is a neat antidote to the compelling, some might say sentimentally-cloying, portraits of conventional expectation. For here, rendered in two simple quintains, is a domestic tyrant who does not spare the rod, an…

Poem Of The Week: 'Home' By Deryn Rees-Jones

Home As if we would never arrive, we check our watches and connections. So many elsewheres as we walk into abandoned rooms that somehow have forgotten us. A window propped, half-open on a garden, stares. A bird as if to say, you’re here, glances its wings against the blue so far away, then becomes invisible. How they call to us, the lost places. Now I carry my life, as a snail might, slipping across grass and stone: the shrugged contours of her shell’s light spiral, the glistening of her bridal train. Like a half-remembered song, marking us,…

Poem Of The Week: 'Last Post' By Gill Petrucci

Last Post - Written to mark the closure of the historic Malham post box The vivid red soldier poised at his post ‘G.R.’ gleams proudly on his chest. Yet his jaw is clenched tight, straining behind the fixed metal plate now marking his useful end. He considers for a moment his years of platitudinous service. Practical, noble and necessary, he never missed the vital daily pick up. What could he have done wrong ? He misses those familiar sounds; paper envelopes slipping inside, the creaking hinges. Jangling keys, then letters cascading into…

Song Of The Ungirt Runners: The Result Is What You See Today

The monumental growth of the Park Run phenomenon in recent years is one yardstick of running’s burgeoning popularity. It is fitting, as one of the curators of this fine anthology of poems implies, to measure that phenomenon in the words of its practitioners, in a medium of expression which best captures the immediacy, the pain, the gratification and the freedom associated with this most psychologically liberating of pastimes. Park Run has levelled the playing field and opened a theatre of infinite…

Poem Of The Week: 'London' By William Blake

It is difficult, when reading William Blake’s appalled vision of the London of 1794, to remove an image of Hogarth’s brutal satirical picture, ‘Gin Lane’, from the mind’s eye. A metropolis in turgid flux, the city here wears the clothing of despair, ignominy and resentment as transparently as a gin-soaked mother careless of the fate of her child. An approximation of a contemporary reality of terrible endurance for many, it is an undiluted image of hell. London I wander thro' each…

Hunting the Light: Speak to the Earth by Jean Stevens

Sometimes a poet will find a means of extruding emotional gravitas through lines of verse without appearing to do so. For Jean Stevens, love, grief, elegy, longing are insuperable states of mind, as natural as the taking of measured breaths. And we should not be surprised that the battery of formal devices which litter her poetics are applied, if applied is the right word, equally naturally, as easefully, dismissively subordinate to the rendering of meaning as oxygen is a ‘dispassionate’…

Troy Story: Natalie Haynes at the ILF

There is a sense in which Pat Barker’s award-winning and profoundly necessary take on the IliadThe Silence of the Girls - re-writes the narrative of male hegemony, the immovable blocks of force and power which drove Simone Weil’s seminal, allegorical pre-war reading of 1939. The story of the Trojan Wars is the bluster of endless battles, of armies grinding towards resolution, in which women are enslaved, voiceless ciphers at the mercy of capricious shifts in mood, and male…

Poem Of The Week: 'Baldanders' By Christopher Reid

The quiet revolution which didn’t quite rattle the foundations of poetic approach in the late nineteen seventies is tidily exemplified in the poem ‘Baldanders’. Christopher Reid was one member of the ‘Martian’ group of poets instituted by the controversial Craig Raine, whose mandate was to present a vision of the world viewed afresh by means of a skewed sense of perception and daring use of metaphor. Baldanders Pity the poor…

Beyond the Hellespont: Great Cities Through Travellers' Eyes

The curation of Peter Furtado’s new collection of travellers’ essays could not have been achieved without a compendious commitment to research. For alongside established purveyors of what I hesitate to call ‘travelogue’, the interstices of history, of cities in time, are occupied by passing visitants, fellow journeyers who are often giving impressions of places which have since contracted, or returned to dust. From dust to a trawling of dusty archives, Furtado’s efforts reward the curious reader: his extrapolation of lived…

So Many Elsewheres - Home On The Move: Two Poems Go On A Journey

The naturally peripatetic Robert Louis Stevenson said that ‘to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive’. And if the contributors to Parthian’s involving and original new pamphlet remain physically static, their senses are liminal, sensitive to the nuances of ‘elsewhere’, and as open to suggestion as the imagination allows, yielding the most revealing kinds of observation. What is fascinating about the premise of this short, interwoven, collection of poems and images is that it does not demand an…

Poem Of The Week: 'Jovo' By Igor Klikovac

The best part of most of our lives is conducted in relative peace and stability, and it is difficult to persuasively compute the bitterness of an experience which is entirely alien to our senses. Igor Klikovac, Bosnian by birth, Londoner by residence since 1993, is a witness to a world in chaos, an interpreter of the industrial-scale horror which played out during the internecine Yugoslavian conflicts of three decades ago. ‘Jovo’ is one of a collection of meditations on a…

Return Of The Troubadour: Simon Armitage At The Ilkley Literature Festival

Harold Wilson’s first visit to Downing Street as a child prompted the un-childlike, and deeply precocious, assertion that he would one day grow up to be Prime Minister. Is it likely that it ever occurred to Simon Armitage, born just a few miles further down Huddersfield’s Manchester Road, that he would one day ascend to the Oxford Professorship of Poetry, let alone the dizzy heights of Laureate? Probably not, and in a very profound sense, it is not in the nature…

Poem Of The Week: ‘The Shadow Of Us’ By Rowan Righelato

Rowan Righelato’s gentle paternal lyricism is a profound antidote to Philip Larkin’s sardonic take on ‘fucked up’ parental legacy in his much-quoted poem, ‘This Be the Verse’. Hoping, against hope, that the son will avoid the worst toxins of nature and nurture, the father/narrator opens a figurative door onto possibility as he blinks into daylight on leaving the theatre. The Shadow of Us Are you going to die? my son asks, happily. I push open the heavy door between the darkness of the theatre and…

You And Me In Paradise: Trouble - Grist Anthology Of Protest Short Stories

Clearly not disposed to thinking laterally, I remember making a contribution to a university project on the subject of ‘Conflict’ with a presentation about war. It was in hindsight, and with a gentle nudge from the presiding lecturer, that a conspicuous truth emerged: there are issues of contemporary resonance at least as pressing as the retreat from Dunkirk or Saigon. Try domestic abuse, homophobia, institutionalised racism and sexism, whose victims also wear the outward, and inward, scars of conflict. And one…

Poem Of The Week: ‘Ruin’ By Richard Martin

That revenants ‘persist’ in holy places may have more bearing on perceiver imagination than ghostly appearance, but, as Larkin found, some deep, irrational compulsion draws us to consecrated ground. Ruin A narrow spit of rocky land, thorn bushes, a brief pebbly beach, a diminutive ruin – a barrel roof broken-backed as an old sofa, a blind arrow-slit of a window, one caved in corner trailing leaves; a chapel, oratory, or such, abandoned, they say, centuries ago, a refuge now for errant goats. Whether the spirit of the saint, that locally…

End of an Era: The Buses and Trains of West Yorkshire

West Yorkshire – Thirty Years Gone by Alan Whitaker, published by Willowherb Bradford Railways in Colour – Volume 2: The Lancashire & Yorkshire and Great Northern Lines by Alan Whitaker & Jan Rapacz, published by Willowherb. Provincial railways and bus networks are, or were, as sure an indicator of municipal growth and expansion as the preponderance of West Yorkshire’s former factories and mills. The teeming workforces whose labours created enormous wealth for the concentrated glutting of textile millionaires, demanded transport systems which…

Poem Of The Week: ‘Epitaph On A Tyrant’ By W. H. Auden

There may, or may not, be a new and pressing lesson, here, for readers of Auden’s poetry. That we sometimes fill political vacuums with a less desirable alternative to the recently deposed is a situation arrived at either by systemic inertia, or by an act of collective will, or both; think Weimar Germany and the advent of National Socialism. Epitaph on a Tyrant Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after, And the poetry he invented was easy to understand; He knew human…