BEING ALIVE, edited by Neil Astley, Bloodaxe Books, 2004,
512 pp £10.95 ISBN 1 85224 675 8
I happen to have been a school teacher myself and know
how difficult it is to find poems that appeal to teenagers. And when 1
managed to keep up a lively discussion about a poem, I was pleased with
myself Ah, but what sort of poem was it? Please don't ask me that. The
kids were interested and that was a step in the right direction.
So now when I see that Neil Astley- the successful
publisher of Bloodaxe poetry and personal editor of many anthologies- gets
plenty of flak from the likes of The Times Literary Supplement, I think
they've got the wrong end of the stick. Only last April 15 the TLS in four
hostile paragraphs (p. 14) again proved their misunderstanding of what
Bloodaxe is all about. It's his "marketeers' instincts" that
Neil Astley is so proud of and that the TLS find unforgivable. OK they'll
never agree. OK those glorious, glitzy Bloodaxe brochures will not please
everybody. But surely there's plenty of room for everybody on the poetry
The point is that versus the whingeing
poetry-doesn't-sell brigade there is the
look-I'm-selling-poetry-Uke-hot-cakes one-man brigade. And by God, it
seems to hurt, it seems to hurt a helluvalot
Neil Astley is in fact reaching out to a different
readership altogether. He has set himself the daunting task of going out
in search of those who, for some reason or other, don't normally read
poetry. Of course, once Bloodaxe has helped them over their reticence they
might end up not only by reading more of the poets on offer but even, who
knows, by subscribing to the TLS, or PNReview for that matter, who also
had a swipe at Bloodaxe.
Saying there are different kinds of readers, and even
different ways of reading poetry, and therefore the market - yes, the
market - should offer as wide a variety, as inclusive a range, as possible
is not dumbing down. The cultivated readers - the semi-cultivated are
another matter - will be happy to be introduced to poets they have never
heard of- however "minor" some of them may turn out to be.
But then Neil Astley himself can be unhelpful and even
rude. In his lecture at St Anza, Scotland's Poetry Festival, at Parliament
Hall, St Andrews on 18 March 2005 (and I almost crashed my printer
downloading it from the internet), Neil Astley is accusing, yet again,
those who are not with him of being elitist, dinosaurs and what not. Oh
dear, he does himself no favours by his sweeping generalisations and
tarring everyone with the same brush. If he goes on like this he will
become part of the problem not part of the solution. Of course the
market-place is a tough, bitchy, vicious, back-stabbing sort of place, but
to the market one has to go. And there is no point in getting paranoid
Come on, life is far too interesting to spend time
ranting against all and sundry in this way. Yes, "the rest of the
poetry world seems hell-bent on self-destruction..." So what? If they
sink the better the rest will swim. For God's sake, this is getting
boring. They may baste their arrogance with their own seam (guess where I
got that from) as far as I'm concerned. Ranting so much about a certain
Nobody, as Neil Astley does, "That were to enlard his fat-already
pride" (see, I'm also being elitist). So let's calm down and get on
with the job.
Being Alive is a sequel to Staying Alive; and we are
promised a third volume, Being Human. So we have that to look forward to
rather than worrying about what So-and-so said or did not say. What counts
is not what people say but what they do.
And what Neil Astley has done here is give us a selection
of some 300 poets - about 100 of which did not appear in the previous
Staying Alive-poets from Peru to Poland, from Brazil to Belfast, from
Chile to Chicago. All of them, except Emily Dickinson, from Yeats onwards.
In his introduction to Being Alive, Neil Astley sets out
his aims of making poetry interesting to a wider readership, and points
out quite rightly that accessibility and excellence can go hand in hand.
Sadly he overdoes the list of positive responses to Staying Alive. There
is no need for this. The books speak for themselves. On the other hand,
it's only human that Neil Astley should be on the defensive bearing in
mind how unfairly he is treated by those who will not admit that the ends
( selling poetry) can justify the means (puffed-up publicity).
The reader's interest is immediately kindled by the way
the poems are grouped under ten themes which both differ from and overlap
the twelve themes in Staying Alive. At the opening of each section there
are a couple of quotations about poetry by poets. Stimulating and food for
thought. All the more stimulating if controversial. Then a short
introduction which, again, different readers will find helpful in
different ways. Referring to Cavafy' s "Ithaca", about the joys
of voyage and discovery, we are told who the Laistrygonians were. I hope
that's not dumbing down.
Then the poems themselves. About 500 in all. Reading
poems by themes is enriching because similar or dissimilar poems set side
by side can shed light on one another and spur the reader's awareness. So
in the section "A Mad World" (which covers ground similar to
that of "War and Peace" in Staying Alive) "The Diameter of
die Bomb", translated from the Hebrew of Yehuda Amichai, about the
far-reaching destruction of a bomb, is enhanced by the preceding
"Casual Wear", by the American James Merrill, about a terrorist
attack, and the following Normal MacCaig's "The Red and the
Black" about the uncomfortable presence of evil. From here we are led
on to poems written under the impact of 11 September. In "The Wound
Man" Sinead Morrisey imagines the Spanish poet Lorca, who witnessed
the Wall Street Crash of 1929, witnessing again the 11 September in New
York. Equally complex but in a different way is John Burnside's
- with the news in my mind and the muffled
dread of what may come-
I knelt down in the sand
But my personal favourite in this section is
"Revenge" by the Nicaraguan Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy
My personal revenge will be your children's
right to schooling and to flowers...
My personal revenge will be to give you
these hands you once ill-treated
with all their tenderness intact
In the section "Daily Round" there are poems
about urban life - in Manchester, Belfast, San Francisco, Detroit- as well
as rural life and myths like Grace Nichols' "Sugar Cane". The
London Underground is mentioned in Anne Rouse's villanelle "Her
I leave you the later tube trains, dank
At the hand-rails from a human sea,
Dreaming down to Morden via Bank
And again in "To Virgil"
make me press the correct buttons
on the automatic ticket machine
by Helen Dunmore who, together with Derek Mahon and
Czeslaw Milosz, has as many as six poems in the anthology. And, yes, she
is a Bloodaxe poet but not so the other two.
I must say I laughed heartily at Peter Didsbury' s "
Spawn of a profligate hog,
May the hand of your self-abuse
Be afflicted by a palsy...
My your teeth be rubbed with turds...
The section "Ends and Beginnings" is primarily
about death, not necessarily in a sad or negative way. As well as a
variety of approaches to the subject, mere are three poems in a row about
candles and, further on, three about rooms - "candles" and
"rooms" meaning different things in different poems. And
together with old favourites by Larkin, Heaney and T. S. Eliot (yes,
Eliot) there is Jane Kenyon' s "In the Nursing Home",
She is like a horse grazing...
Master, come with your light
halter. Come and bring her in.
The other sections of Being Alive, "Exploring the
World", "Family", "Love Life" and so on are,
needless to say, equally captivating.
At the end of the book, as there would be no point in
repeating "The Sound of Poetry" or the very useful Glossary in
Staying Alive, the "Further Reading" section has been extended
with reference to individual books, as well as anthologies and essays and
handbooks. And, yes, you've guessed it, Neil Astley makes sure his
Bloodaxe titles are on the list - and I don't blame him. There is a bit of
comment on each book to help the reader choose. So, with all the
inevitable omissions, this provides as good a starting point as any.
I suppose the best way to read the book is by dipping in
here and there. Or, as Denise Levertov says, "O Taste and See".
Or ‘O Come and Read’. It's the sort of book we will never have
finished with. We will be returning to it again and again, and it will
lead us back to Staying Alive and will take us forward to Being Human when
it comes out in 2006.
The Day Of The Sardine ISBN 1-873226-72-1
The Watchers and the Watched ISBN 1-873226-73-X
by Sid Chaplin Flambard £8.99 each
Sid Chaplin has a reputation as an authentic voice of
working-class fiction. Set in his native north-east and published in 1961
and 1962 respectively, these two reissues explore adolescence, growth,
work, material hardship, glib violence, love, marriage and parenthood
among his working people . Each book has a hero: Arthur Haggerston in the
first, Tim "Tiger" Mason in the second. In both cases, they
reveal a way of thinking, a potential, an unease and a kicking against the
pricks untypical of their community. Yet the books not only explore the
typical, in a way, they sink into it.
Chaplin is not a great writer. He had talent but he
didn't hone it enough. Alan Plater and Melvyn Bragg, in their
introductions, over-rate him. There is a condescension in the attitude
which sets him higher than he deserves. Lawrence came from the
working-class but requires no special pleading. At times Chaplin's writing
is simply sloppy. One small example: on page 112 of The Day Of The
Sardine, in the space of eight lines he uses the word "light"
three times. Such repetition needs to be carefully placed if it's
deliberate and is going to be effective. Here, it looks like negligence.
Chaplin's less than rigorous approach to style probably came from his
urgent need to embrace relatively new subject matter from a relatively new
perspective. Yet the loose ends, the inaccurate focus, the thoughtless
word drag down the quality of the art and make the depiction of the world
it treats less than accurate.
Nevertheless, Chaplin is an interesting case and read for
their stories, their occasional sharp insights, their access to the minds
of working-class north-easteners, these are worthwhile books. The Day Of
The Sardine is something of a Bildungsroman in which Haggerston's
first-person narrator takes a little too seriously some of his and his
companions adolescent posturing. The Watchers and the Watched is superior
by virtue of its territory. It explores honestly the difficulties of
married life and is especially keen as far as Mason's cowardice in the
face of his wife and the demands of erotic love is concerned. That Mason
learns to become more of a man in facing up to what marriage means, is
poignant, yet the underlying sense that relations between the sexes are
marred by pettiness, withholding, egotism and fear ( especially among the
men) lifts the book to the verge of the muscular exploration of a truly
serious theme. It touches also on the terrible distortions of human
sexuality engendered when families twist and parents abuse their potency:
Tot, the peeping-Tom and near rapist has been abused by a clinging,
narcissistic mother. In introducing such a character and theme, Chaplin
begins to avoid the glib perspectives on working-class life which fail to
take into account the intractable problems of our psychology, yet he
resolves the problem of Tot in an inadequate way by suggesting towards the
end of the book that having "clicked" his problems will be over.
There is a hint of that naive utopianism throughout the books, though only
a hint. For the most part, Chaplin is true to the depressing harshness and
limitedness of his characters' lives while at the same time doing justice
to the spirit of resistance and desire for change such circumstances are
bound to engender. When he touches on the politics of that resistance, he
can be astute. Uncle George, the pompous Labour man of The Day Of The
Sardine is, to his nephew, a transparent meritocrat, lost in the
contemplation of his own inflated ego and utterly lacking in the
hard-headed modesty needed to effect real transformation. Plus ca change.
Chaplin had to struggle to make himself a writer. He
succeeded. He could write. Like Joe Orton, what he lacked was an
education. Orton was lucky: Kenneth Halliwell educated him. Chaplin was
essentially self-taught. His lack of education shows in these books. To be
a writer, you need to educate your mind to pay close attention to detail,
which is where the devil always is. Chaplin was not to blame for his poor
education. He was denied because he came from the working-class. In this
way and others these books attest to the waste of poverty, the
destructiveness of hierarchy, the violence of class and the derangement
behind the pursuit of money.
by Piotr Sommer ISBN 1-85224-702-9 £8.95
This is Polish poet Sommer's second collection from
Bloodaxe. He has taught in American universities and has clearly been
influenced by the American demotic. The poems are all plain-style,
down-beat, low-key, trying to touch off moments of epiphany by a
concentration on the ordinary. In his chosen style, Sommer writes with
great mastery, his tone is always perfectly controlled and the
conversational tenor never sinks to mere banality. There is a fine
six-page poem entitled Belated Letter in which the restrained imagination
of the shorter pieces is given greater scope and which reveals just how
expansive an effect an unadorned style can elicit The last two lines of
Let's go and see a friend to find out
who we are; he probably knows.
an example of how a great and disturbing theme can be
opened up in a simple way. The title poem too, just fourteen lines, is
full of a sense of unease and doubt which emerges very quietly from its
Throw In The Vowels
by Rita Ann Higgins ISBN 1-85224-700-2 £9.95
Rita Higgins's New and Selected, is a substantial 224
pages which provides most of her poems to date. She is a poet of
recognition, her work full of knowing references to the everyday and she
is determined to turn her attention to the dirty, unpleasant underside of
modern life, particularly the banal struggle of the poor to cope with
exasperating and demanding circumstances. Many of her poems tell stories
and all of them have a button-holing quality. Occasionally you feel more
talked at than too and her word-play can be at the lower end of
McGoughism, but she has a real talent for the surrealistic image, can be
very funny and at her best can find connections between words which are
surprising and delightful. You might call her a stand-up poet, ever
conscious of needing to keep her audience with her. Some could say this is
grabbing them in the one-and-nines, but her work is full of well-read
references lightly employed. It would be impossible to read this book
without finding half a dozen poems you'd want to return to, retain, tell
others about. Enough for any collection. And some of those surrealistic
effects are truly unforgettable.
by Jen Hadfield ISBN 1-85224-687-1 £7.95
Jen Hadfield was born in Cheshire, at the time of Gawain,
a wild place of rough folk. There is one reference to the Green Knight,
but the poems are set north of the border. Cheshire is very polite these
days, which is perhaps why she felt the need for poetic relocation. She
has a real poet's ear. Her parallelisms of sound spark attention and her
rhythmic command is obvious. The best lines are these:
tides back and forth across her dashboard
as she slaloms mini-roundabouts.
Precise, surprising and eliciting a clear image attend by
rich allusions. When she applies her poet's skill to bring focus as
accurate as this she is full of promise. The poems form a sequence at the
centre of which is Lorelei's Lore. There is plenty of ambition in this, a
desire to reach something mythic, to transcend. Yet I'm brought back to
those three lines above: sharp, clear and rooted in commonplace
experience. Perhaps that's where her talent really lies ?
The Toast Of The Kit-Cat Club
by Linda France ISBN 1-85224-677-4 £7.95
A poetic biography of the colourful and fascinating Lady
Mary Wortley Montagu, this is an excellent read simply as an introduction
to its subject. Linda France introduces each poetic chapter by a prose
explanation of the period and events it will cover. The poems themselves
are direct and readable, voicing Montagu's hopes, joys, disappointments
and despairs. Like Ronsard, France is at her best when she writes of love.
The Letters To Edward which make up almost all of the second chapter are
beautifully balanced and capture precisely the nervous hopes and fears of
burgeoning love. It would be a shame to give away details of Montagu's
life as discovering them is a real pleasure. France's idea of celebrating
and introducing her subject in poetry is a fine one. Maybe others will
follow her lead ?
What Narcissism Means To Me
by Tony Hoagland ISBN 1-85224-689-8 £8.95
Tony Hoagland's easy, conversational tone belies the high
demands of his art. He makes it look easy. Rooted in the commonplace, his
poetry has the knack of getting behind our customary masks. His essential
territory is that of the modern American mind. His explorations are
laconic, relaxed, friendly, funny yet telling and at times devastating.
The final lines of the title poem read:
... deep inside the misery
of daily life
loves lies bleeding.
The cliché almost jars. He gets away with it, however,
because it's delicately ironised and comes at the end of a quietly
hilarious meander through a set of attitudes which fail to recognize
themselves as postures.
Superficially, Hoagland's poems look no different from
the work of any number of contemporary writers, but his tone and
perspective are unique. There is a lovely little poem called Narcissus
Lullaby in which he explores the fact that by knowing we are loved we can:
the whole factory of identity go
drifting in the dark....
This is followed by an equally lovely piece, Windchime,
which beautifully evokes the commonplace, tiny stimulants of erotic love
and astutely claims them as far more potent than religious injunctions or
moral absolutes. His theme is essentially the factory of identity and his
target the glib, defended, immature and self-dramatizing selfhood so
prevalent in modern times. Time and again, very deftly and with humour, he
pinpoints how we fail to put Narcissus to sleep because we are manically
proposing our own fraught identities and, lacking the sense we're loved,
desperately trying to feign a secure sense of being we just don't have. In
a poem about Lawrence he writes:
It's a bad day when people speak of their superiors with
a contempt they haven't earned
That contempt for the superior mind and sensibility is
the very essence of the phony, distorted, pseudo-democratic mentality
which pervades our culture. Hoagland has a superior mind and sensibility
and these poems glow with the wisdom, warmth, humanity, delight and plain
common-sense they give off. A master.
The Fourth Quarter
by David Craig ISBN 0-9548691-7-6 £5.99
In a culture obsessed by youth it's heartening to
encounter a poet who treats the nature of ageing. Some of the poems here
are about David Craig's own cancer and they're poignant in their sense
that illness changes and becomes a part of our identity. One of the charms
of Craig's perspective is his thoroughgoing materialism, a source of far
greater genuine wonder at the miracle of life than a sentimental and
childish belief in some overseeing intelligence with a slide-rule and
compass designing every protein and virus. All the poems reveal Craig's
characteristic strong architecture and surprising choice of words. Clear,
bright and sometimes rocky they never waver from high accomplishment and
polish. There is a fine piece entitled What I Am about seeing in a
"silver alloy cup" what has been taken from him during surgery.
Set thinking about what makes him him, he evokes in four striking stanzas
what Marx meant when he said: "Consciousness is an attribute of
highly organised matter."
These seventy kilos of tissues soft and hard:
They are enough for me.
For me too. The Rape and Old Age of Morag is a fine long
poem and Robin's Escape connects old age to childhood in its subject of
Robin Hood's unleashing of his final arrow. Where it lands, let him be
buried. In his beloved forest. A sense of place, a delight in life even in
its dimming. These poems are full of these qualities. In his fourth
quarter, Craig is a better poet then ever.
The Erotics Of God
by Sebastian Barker
ISBN 0-9548691-6-8 £5.99
This collection falls into two sections, the longer title
section and a shorter second, Spirit Of The River. In born, Sebastian
Barker relies on his skill with rhyme and form. All the poems key into the
ideas behind the book and there is an Epigraph, an Exegesis and Notes to
clarify these. The poems, however, work in their own right as small units
of energy held together by relatively conventional formal means. Barker
handles these means cleverly so that never seem too anachronistic or
intrusive. In a sense, then, this is two books in one: the poems can be
read in their own right, or in the light of the organising ideas behind
by Angela Kirby
ISBN 1 -904886-19-1 Shoestring Books £8.95
The Mr of the title is not quite who you'd expect The
poem in which he turns from lover into someone less welcome has all the
hallmarks of Angela Kirby's no-nonsense, straightforward style. Not that
this is in any way a detraction, on the contrary, in most of these poems
she has achieved that oneness of content and expression which signals real
talent. She hails from Lancashire and some of the down-to-earth,
don't-take-yourself-too-seriously, black-humourish qualities of the lower
orders of the county are at work here. There are two excellent and vitally
honest poems about the death of her father, a witty and mischievously
funny piece about Catholic education, a generous and wisely disillusioned
piece about her estranged husband, a cleverly erotic little poem called
Taxi Dreaming. Much more too. She has a fine sense of where to end a line
and the rhythms and cadences of her poems are instantly attractive.
Equally telling, she manages in every piece to hit that mid-point between
writer and reader that is like a gracious invitation. Beautifully
understated at times, often very intelligently funny, full of sharp
observation and, that quality all poets would murder for, memorable, these
are poems anyone with a taste for the modem genre will want to return to.
Angela Kirby has written five previous books, none of them poetry. She is
seventy-three. Marvelous to make such a unique debut at her age. May she
live to a hundred and publish a collection every year, at least!
The Goodbye Edition
by Carole Coates ISBN 1-904886-18-3 £8.95
Leaving The Job, an excellent little poem about the
difference between drudging for money and being busy at tasks you believe
in, as well as the bemused attitude of the institutionalised worker to the
active free spirit, is typical of Carole Coates's easy, familiar style.
She can be sharp and not-to-be-messed-with too as in The Bad Sex Gallery.
The Cartographer Sleeps
by Barbara Daniels ISBN 1-904886-14-0 £8.95
Barbara Daniels likes to rhyme and takes the trouble to
be subtle about it. Formal and poised, these poems nevertheless explore
modem territory. She can write surprisingly about science, maths or
geography, teasing out the human frailties behind apparently hard-headed
knowledge. There's a very interesting interplay in these poems between a
tightrope-walking balance and a wry, amused view of life that has a hint
of Jane Austen's reserved humour .
by Christine McNeill ISBN 1-904886-15-9 £8.95
The lead poem, The Refugee, displays Christine McNeill's
high, finely-wrought talent. She can evoke a scene, an attitude, an image
in few and precisely chosen words. The compassion and sensitivity in these
poems comes through all the more convincingly for the almost severe
control of her means.
The Willy Poems
by David Caddy Clamp Down Press, Cape Porpoise ME USA. £7.00.
An abiding presence of the small presses as editor and
writer, David Caddy has a deservedly high reputation. In this poem-series
he explores the conditions of rural life through the experience of the
outsider, Willy. Caddy has honed his skills as a poet over many years and
there are no disappointing lines here. What is intriguing about this
collection is its relationship to the urban reality outside of which it's
set. The strangeness, in all senses, of Willy
of potato-faced, barrel-
bellied men and women...
brings to life the slowness, potential cruelty and
entrapment of rural life. That Caddy manages to distil poems of clear
modernity from this subject matter gives him a hint of Heaney. He is keen
in his recognition of the way circumstance implies character:
Whilst he thought he could disprove
the existence of the village,
his heart retained the marks of its holding.
Mention of the "Union Workhouse" connects the
poems to a time of bitter hardship, elements of which continue into the
rural present the book works as a comment on. Willy, victim of the poverty
and outsidership the Workhouse represents, seems a baffled observer of his
own experience. Treated with due seriousness and skill, his life, the life
of his kind, is brought out of the shadows and into the full light of the
poet's sympathetic intelligence. David Caddy has written an uncommon book
which deserves to be widely read.
Living On The Difference
by Mike Barlow ISBN 1-902382-62-3 £6.95
Mike Barlow has spent half a lifetime working in the
probation service and gets some wonderful poems from the experience.
Believe This and Gate Fever are two examples here. As in all his poems,
Barlow is as skilled, as practised and as appealing as a cyclist on a
high-wire. There is something slightly breathtaking about a lot of his
work. Microsurgery, for example, contains these lines:
Ten minutes later the chopper passed so low you could
the thwack of rotors on the air like a slack belt drive.
That comparison has been dug out, is perfect and connects
us to everyday experience so that poetry becomes the means to enfold the
unnoticed banal. Barlow has real talent for this. He climbs mountains and
there is something of the careful ascent of dangerous peaks about his
approach. He never sets off at a glib lick; he is always perfectly
prepared and you never feel you may fall from the cliff face, his hold is
so sure and his careful charting of the route to the summit so expert. He
seems to approach the hard rock of experience with the controlled strength
and hardened grace of a climber and the result is poems that give off
striking images almost inexhaustibly:
I'd forgotten that look in your eyes
like a dirty joke you didn't know whether to tell.
This is a first-rate collection and Mike Barlow is an
excellent poet. One of those writers who justify the existence of the
small presses: the big houses aren't bringing out better work than this.
by Helen Clare
ISBN 0-9548280 0-3 Comma Poetry 3 Vale Bower, Mytholmroyd.
The ever energetic and enterprising Ra Page makes a fine
start in poetry publishing with this collection from the already very
accomplished Helen Clare. It's interesting that the best poetry about
science seems to be coming from women : Clare and Diana Syder in
particular. The science poems in this book are fascinating. There is one
called simply Biology which considers how perspective is absolute in
determining our relation to living things. Others contain specific
references to complex scientific knowledge embedded intelligently in poems
of more general interest. The final section, The Gooseberry Bush, is about
difficult conception. The other view of sex Clare touches on more than
once has to do with toys and titillation. There's even a piece about
undergoing a Brazilian ( with a nice little twist-in-the-tail reference to
the sexually squeamish Ruskin). The effect is, perhaps, of a rather cold
attitude to sex: a matter of the mechanics of either pregnancy or arousal.
Clare is technically controlled, clever, erudite and often surprising.
There is an excellent long poem about Rosalind Franklin which raises the
important questions about women at work in traditionally male arenas and
is full of Clare's remarkable poetic qualities.
the elephant in the corner
by aoife mannix
the tall lighthouse 33 Longhurst Rd SW13 SLR
ISBN1 904551 130 £7.00
Aoife Mannix was born in Sweden though her ancestry is
Irish. She has lived in New York and London. Something of this
cosmopolitanism nestles in her work. Her poems display an openness to
experience and a delight in variety. Her style is smiling and direct and
though charmingly innocent she is never naive. My Revolution, for example,
casts a wry light on the ideas of upheaval and utopianism:
In my revolution there will be free ice cream
Lines as straightforward yet as ironic as this are her
common currency. Karma Settee, for example, neatly entwines mysticism,
rent, comedy, the banal and the endurance of the spirit of betterment. Les
Robinson's first-rate tall lighthouse has excellent standards of
production and looks set to become an ever more impressive presence. Aoife
Mannix is a canny choice.
The Penny Bride/The Good Wife
by Georgia Scott
Poetry Salzburg ISBN 3-901993-17-7 / 3-901993-09-6
Georgia Scott is a Bostonian now living and working in
Gdansk. She has lived in Poland since 1994 and some of the poems here deal
with the historical transformation of the country. The Good Wife(200l)
especially deals with the era of Communism and the arrival of Solidarity.
She evokes cleanly the atmosphere of suspicion, the frustrations in being
unable to quickly settle everyday problems and the fear that stalks
The worst of it was the sound:
a window opening in the night
and a shout
The common tendernesses and affections persist of course,
as in The Strawberry Picker's Wife, a lovely, marvelously economic little
piece which fuses the personal and the political to delineate where they
should be sundered. The Penny Bride (2004) is less concerned with public
events, as the blurb on the earlier volume promising a book of erotic
poetry anticipates. It's epigraph is from Gide: "I often think...that
my love is the best part of me." The book is an attempt to celebrate
erotic love, but there are a few unpleasant drunks at the celebration. The
Big One, for example, is a quick poem about mutual lying. The suspicion
here echoes that of totalitarianism and is as far from love as democratic
centralism from democracy. Still, there are many pieces here which
successfully ease the delight of fulfilled erotic love into view. No small