Poem Of The Week: 'The Latest Decalogue' By Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861)

The Latest Decalogue Thou shalt have one God only; who Would be at the expense of two? No graven images may be Worshipped, except the currency: Swear not at all; for, for thy curse Thine enemy is none the worse: At church on Sunday to attend Will serve to keep the world thy friend: Honour thy parents; that is, all From whom advancement may befall: …

Poem Of The Week: 'The Drum' By John Scott Of Amwell (1731-1783)

The Drum I HATE that drum's discordant sound, Parading round, and round, and round: To thoughtless youth it pleasure yields, And lures from cities and from fields, To sell their liberty for charms Of tawdry lace, and glittering arms; And when Ambition's voice commands, To march, and fight and fall, in foreign lands. I hate that drum's discordant sound, Parading round, and round, and round: To me it talks of ravaged plains, And burning towns and ruined swains, And mangled limbs, and dying groans, And widow's tears, and orphans’ moans; And all that Misery's hand…

‘The Heart Of Most Murders is …’ : The Heron’s Cry By Ann Cleeves

By George, I needed something a bit less maudlin given my recent assortment of reading matter, so the prospect of a new murder mystery was just the job, and there being only three deaths, it seemed positively lighthearted! I like Ann Cleeves’ books and was keen to meet her latest detective. This is the second Matthew Venn novel and it was purely by chance that The Last Call was on TV at the same time – not necessarily a good…

A Dream Of String Vests: Ian Duhig – New And Selected Poems

If it was possible to extrapolate and catalogue every reference, every literary or historical allusion, every formal device from this glittering collection of old and new poems, you’d be obliged, at the very least, to doff your cap to a stupendous intellect. Not that forelock-tugging is Ian Duhig’s bag: the cleaving towards equity and redress that animates his poetic mandate, no less than that of Tony Harrison, is an instinctive corrective to the double-handed absurdity of obeisance. Of the sort…

Review: The End Of The World Is Flat – Simon Edge

For those familiar with the work of Simon Edge, his recent novel is not going to disappoint. The End of the World is Flat brings us a refreshingly pointed reflection on the zeitgeist: a light-hearted lampoon, underpinned with a wit and intelligence that gives resonance to the satire. Woven into the prose is an excoriating commentary on our current state of affairs, how easily we let intangible forces grip our consciousness. But none of this detracts from the humour that…

‘May This Curse End With Me’: The Song Of Youth By Montserrat Roig

Earlier this year I read Victoria Princewill’s astonishingly emotive debut novel, In The Palace Of Flowers. Set in the opulent Persian royal court of the Qajars at the end of the nineteenth century, Princewill’s novel addresses the fear of being forgotten. Her enslaved protagonists are forced to navigate omnipotent, profoundly malefic political and ideological forces, whilst simultaneously enduring the brutal suppression of their authentic selves. Princewill’s audacious triumph was to use her novel to deny history and those writing it, the…

The World Of Never Again: The Nine By Gwen Strauss

We are approaching a time of remembrance once again. I know many might not regard reading about the abhorrent treatment of fellow humans by the German SS during World War Two as entertainment, but sometimes it can be sobering and thought-provoking to reflect upon the trials and tribulations of others, to learn and to remember, and, sometimes, to put one’s own life into perspective. The heroines of this book were the same age as my own mum who volunteered to…

Poem Of The Week: 'Emily Writes Such A Good Letter' By Stevie Smith (1902-71)

Emily Writes Such a Good Letter Mabel was married last week So now only Tom left The doctor didn’t like Arthur’s cough I have been in bed since Easter A touch of the old trouble I am downstairs today As I write this I can hear Arthur roaming overhead He loves to roam Thank heavens he has plenty of space to roam in We have seven bedrooms And an annexe Which leaves a flat for the chauffeur and his wife We have much to be thankful for The new vicar came yesterday People say he brings…

Review: The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger, winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2008, is a work of fiction expertly penned by writer and journalist Aravind Adiga – and it is a story that pulls no punches. Best described as a rags-to-riches story, our protagonist is an Indian entrepreneur who has clambered his way to the top of the greasy pole, one smeared with corruption and bureaucracy. The narrator relates the story of Balram Halwai (his identity prior to becoming a businessman), and its…

Poem Of The Week: 'The Beach Couldn't Be Found' By Katrina Naomi

The Beach Couldn’t Be Found Under the scorched weed and rubbish, the crows, the human shit they fed on. The water was so far out, nothing you’d swim in. Only the dogs sunbathed, their fleas popping in the heat like corn. The sea was no colour and there was no path through the broken things, flies wafting up and resettling. There could be no way through for us. The beach didn’t know it was a beach, didn’t know what was expected, that it had duties to perform. No one had…

Review: Stone Heart Deep by Paul Bassett Davies

I’m not usually a fan of psychological thrillers in any medium but never say never, so I picked this one up and was quickly engrossed in its compelling tale. Adam Budd (oh, what literary references could an English teacher weave into that name) is an ex-military man whose experiences are only shared with the reader little by little. He is also a "burned-out investigative journalist’" with a nose for a story and the courage to do what it takes to…

Dragging The Snare: All The Men I Never Married By Kim Moore

Kim Moore’s brave and open-hearted new collection does not offer any form of resolution to the significant questions it sets itself, but rather a working through of continuing anxieties and turmoil. Her disparate use of form stresses mending at point of fracture, of bones knitting but leaving surrounding scar tissue. And we should not underestimate her skill at formal representation which is often manifested in broken lines, radical indentation and reinforcement by repetition, as though to circumscribe defiance in a…

‘Writer, Maverick, Iconoclast, Visionary’: The Young H.G Wells, Changing The World By Claire Tomalin

The desiderata of satisfying literary biography, if ignored, causes clumsy, if erudite scribes to produce turgidly pharaonic doorstops which leave the unfortunate reader more soporific than stimulated. Worse yet, impartiality on the part of the writer often spawns a jejune encomium, or a biased exercise in fustigation. Combine a vacuous biographical subject with the authorial dexterity of a will-writer, and the reader risks mild boredom, or abject stupefaction! For a literary biography to be truly scintillating, engrossing and valuable we must…

Review: A Calling For Charlie Barnes – Joshua Ferris

A Calling for Charlie Barnes is a deliciously frank and unreserved account of one man, epitomising the American dream, who, if we are blunt, appears to have achieved diddly squat. A frisbee designed to look exactly like a flying Toupee? Why, surely that must simply be the best invention never to have reached its full potential? This one example of Charlie Barnes’ business ventures best sets out why so much has failed. He has ideas, he has great vision (or so…

“Love All, Trust A Few, Do Wrong To None”: Leave The World Behind By Rumaan Alam

Leave the World Behind is the third novel by US author Rumaan Alam. An urban family – mother, Amanda; father, Clay; and their two children, Archie and Rose – go to stay at an idyllic holiday home in the country. The home is hyperreal in its quaintness, eliciting Little House on the Prairie vibes: “The front yard was bound by a picket fence, white, not a trace of irony in it”. But a Lynchian air of menace is present from…

Award-Winning Author to Judge National Children's Writing Competition

Award-winning War Horse author Michael Morpurgo is to judge a children’s creative writing competition as part of Yorkshire Festival of Story (YFOS 21), an online event running from 12th to 28th November. Children from across the UK are challenged to write a 750-word fairy tale that features a tree or trees. Open to children aged 7-11 and in conjunction with Hull Culture & Leisure Library Service, the writing competition provides a fun and interactive way for children either at home or…

Review: Test Signal Edited By Nathan Connolly

Test Signal, co-published by Dead Ink Books and Bloomsbury, is an anthology of contemporary short stories produced by writers based in the north. The book emerged as a result of a project undertaken during the pandemic, in partnership with the organisations New Writing North and the C&W Literary Agency and was compiled after an open call for submissions revealed a wealth of literary talent based in the region. The book comprises a refreshingly diverse collection of genres, styles and literary techniques:…

Poem Of The Week: 'That I Could' By Jane Clarke

That I could That I could take away from him these long days in the hospital, the digging for a vein in his arm, the drip that stops him sleeping, the pain that makes him whisper, Jesus Christ, oh, Jesus Christ. That I could take him back to his cobblestones and barn, his rooks in the birch trees, his nettles and ditches, limestone and bog. That I could find the words to tell him what he will always be, horse chestnut petals falling pink in the yard, the well hidden in a blackthorn thicket, a…

Flattening The Curve: By Degrees - David Tait

The total number of Covid deaths recorded in China as at 3rd October – 4636 - might look unrealistic at first glance. In a nation that painstakingly stage-manages its own reputation abroad, and is structurally reluctant to divulge information about its demographic and sociological patterning, robust mechanisms of state control, propaganda and censorship could easily disguise a much higher figure. But lockdowns in China would have followed the iron inflexibility of the term’s meaning with no let or margin, perhaps…

B Is For Boat: Orphans Of The Storm By Celia Imrie

A trip to Waterstones the other weekend and a browse around the ‘new fiction’ table was just the tonic, with Autumn days looming. There was plenty of choice and one of the books I selected was Orphans of the Storm, partly because it was written by Celia Imrie whom I love on screen, and partly because it was based on one of the many true stories from the Titanic. And it’s funny what you learn. Talking to my nonagenarian mother…

Interview With Chris M. L. Burleigh

Poetry, like any form of literature speaks to us through many voices, its polyphonic diversity made all the more potent by dint of its refusal to be corralled, or reductively diminished by banal literary conventions. As such, poets are seldom psychocentric, often seeking to express their idiosyncratic responses to life unfettered by prescriptivism. The quintessence of resonant, satisfyingly nuanced poetry owes more to authenticity of voice, than to intellectually finessed legerdemain, or technical bravura. If we are to harvest all…

Poem Of The Week: 'Bertram' By Nigel Forde

Bertram Helped home again and left in the dark By the cold fireplace, the foxed mirror, He leans against the mantelpiece and dribbles; Bellows at headlights that reel a slither of windows Across the ceiling-spin until the neighbours Thump another flake of plaster from the walls. The light has gone on the stairs. The sink Is larded, the scrap-bucket crawls. A bath tap drips. There is the smell of dog but the dog has gone. Another night of hurling photographs and weeping, Another slump into clammy oblivion And the taste of heartbreak.…

‘Very Few Of US Are What We Seem’: The Supper Club Murders By Victoria Dowd

The words of Agatha Christie purloined from the Queen of Crime’s, The Man in the Mist seem both apposite and minatory when considering the marvellously macabre, Gothically spiced crime novels given to us by Victoria Dowd. Wickedly amusing badinage ricocheting between the less than convivial members of our familiar mishpocha, evince Dowd’s affection for Oscar Wilde. Add to this consummate employment of tropes considered to be the desiderata of the hallowed murder mystery genre, and we begin to appreciate Dowd’s…

Interview With Rachel Deering

The path taken by those following their literary muse can be one strewn with impediments and obstacles. Traversing such a rocky road can both make, or break the creative psyche of those brave enough to venture upon its uncertain sods. In exceptional circumstances, adversity acts rather like a white hot crucible, forging a talent ever more glowing by dint of the elemental forces acting upon it. Rachel Deering is a poet epitomising this dynamic, for her path to her debut…

‘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 –…