UPSIDE DOWN HEART
Graham Fulton, Illlustrations by Becky Bolton
CONTROLLED EXPLOSION PRESS: £6
Brimming with desire and insecurity, this is a sequence of twenty-two poems about sex. The title refers to origin of the heart shape as an imitation of a woman’s upside-down buttocks. But this illustrated adult picture book isn’t a porn mag in verse; the poems are sweeter than that. It’s actually a sequence about married sex, as Fulton dedicates the book to his wife and mentions her name in a few works. The poems are similar in form and content and describe either the anticipation of making love or moments of post-coital contentment. The best ones are where the setting is imagist or painterly. A snowfall is described as a ‘suddenly, silent, fall of white’ which the narrator disrupts by scrawling ‘I love Helen’. Other satisfying stanzas are quintessentially Scottish, as in ‘Desired Effect’: ‘I buy you the perfect/ pair of knickers./ House of Fraser./Designer price’. Occasionally Fulton lays metaphor too thickly and sacriﬁces the poem’s inherent intimacy, as in ‘Split inﬁnitive’: ‘We boldly go, we’re sexonauts /exploring the ﬁnal dark frontiers’.
Fulton creates tension in his poems with short lines herded into couplets. The poems’ fragmented appearance complements Glasgow School of Art graduate Becky Bolton’s surreal but sexy watercolours. Giggles aside, this is an intriguing way to challenge squeamish attitudes to sex. TM
IF YOU’RE READING THIS, I’M ALREADY DEAD
Andrew Nicoll does his thing in another comic tale that employs by-now familiar surreal and quixotic elements: a distorted European location, a ﬂawed male protagonist, an absurd aim or journey, and a cast of offbeat characters. The tale is told by Otto de Witte as he sits out the Allied bombardment of Hamburg. He wants to leave something of himself behind, and so he starts to write out the story of his assumption of the throne of Albania many years previously – every man wants to think he has had a moment of glory, and this was his. An acrobat with a travelling circus, his physical resemblance to the assumed Albanian king, currently absent, gives him his chance, and offers his fellow circus performers the chance to get some much-needed money, too. Along the troubled way, as they encounter mad military leaders and vain ofﬁcials, he establishes his love for Sarah, daughter of the blind professor who knows everything; relies on the devotion of his best friend, strongman Max, and enjoys the occasional romp with acrobat
and strip artist, Tifty. Nicoll weaves a world that can veer between fascinating and tedious, but his prose style is consistently sharp. LM
SPLIT SCREEN: POETRY INSPIRED BY FILM & TV.
Edited by Andy Jackson.
RED SQUIRREL PRESS, £6.99.
Launched recently at StAnza, Split Screen is a compilation about past and present media icons. Edited by Scottish poet Andy Jackson, the white pages of the anthology serve as a television screen and each side presents actors linked by similar roles or shows, such as the pairing of Star Trek captains Kirk and Picard. The media history roughly spans the entertainment of Generation X’ers, commencing with the stop-motion children’s television show Camberick Green and continuing with The Sound of Music, Blade Runner, James Bond, Stars Wars and Mission Impossible. Whereas some poems can be pallid descriptions of the actor’s antics, others contain a multi-layered vision. Jo Bell’s poem ‘Tom and Jerry’ describes the jokey frolics of a brown mouse whose ‘head [is] as big as a cherry’. Colin Will’s ‘Yoda’ is composed in the creature’s philosophical but garbled speech, resulting in these clever fragments: ‘Whence we came, thereto shall we all/back go. Time backwards runs’. Kevin Cadwallender’s channels Illya Kuryakin from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in bold, funny quips: ‘Not every man you meet will be/Capable of communicating via pen, /Not every man you meet will /Protect you from Thrush.’ A uniquely-themed anthology that is both historical and inventive. TM
THE LAST HIGHLANDER: SCOTLAND’S MOST NOTORIOUS CLAN CHIEF, REBEL AND DOUBLE AGENT
HARPER PRESS, £20
To read this biography of Simon Lovat is to plunge into a world that is equal parts medieval and modern. The medieval aspects of the late seventeenth century clan system, which allowed Lovat to be tricked out of his legacy after the death of his uncle, and yet which also allowed him to abduct and rape Lady Amelia Lovat (Fraser’s account of this event is both shocking and brave, as it stains the character of her ancestor-by-marriage), sit in stark contrast with the more modern, sophisticated aspects of his life – his flight to France and the court of Louis XIV, and his attempts to raise money for an invasion of Scotland. Lovat was an opportunist if ever there was one – he worked for both Bonnie Prince Charlie’s side after the death of James III, and for George I when he ascended the throne. His life story is packed with incident and there is a cast of characters that surely demands its own listing, along with a portrait of an older Lovat looking like the devil himself. All the horror of his final execution cannot quite rid one of the sense, though, that this end was inevitable and possibly even deserved. LM
SILVER: RETURN TO TREASURE ISLAND.
JONATHAN CAPE: £12.99
Former Poet Laureate and novelist Andrew Motion revisits Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island in this hugely enjoyable sequel. In Stevenson’s original adventure penned in 1883, innkeeper’s son Jim Hawkins discovers a treasure map belonging to disgraced sea captain Billy Bones. The wrinkled artefact is Jim’s ticket onto the Hispaniola with Captain Smollett and a crew of pirates, including the dark-hearted Long John Silver. Treasure Island concludes with Silver sneaking off with a portion of loot and Jim vowing to give up treasure-hunting forever. In Motion’s sequel, history repeats itself. Jim Hawkins’ son (also named Jim) helps his father run the Hispaniola inn along the Thames. One evening Jim Jr. is visited by strangely-attired girl named Natty, the daughter of Long John Silver. Jim ﬁnds the aging buccaneer still alive and questing for his forgotten cache. The young people and a crew led by Captain Beamish hop aboard the Nightingale for a spell of sword-ﬁghting, gold-digging and kidnappings. The original author himself is present as the Scottish lookout ‘Mr. Stevenson’, often asleep in the crow’s nest. Motion offers swashbuckling entertainment while presenting characters blessed with keen self-awareness. Like the original, Silver is a coming-of-age story that follows a young man conﬂicted by a sense of family loyalty and his own appetite for adventure. TM
A keen interest in armed tactics and the spectacle of war is immediately noticeable from this forthright military novel. The author of historical adventures such as Brothers of Arms and Rules of War, Gale has found new footing in his batch of WW2 novels, which include Alamein and The Black Jackals, the prequel to Jackal’s Revenge. In the prequel, commander Peter Lamb and his small band of soldiers are left behind by their regiment and must ﬁght their way through France. Fast forward to 1941, and the same courageous ‘Jackals’ are now holding the pass at Thermopylae in Greece where the Leonidas’ Spartans had died holding back the attacking Persian army.
Gale’s enthusiasm for strategy and history are evident in his detailed plotlines. Parallels are also apparent in his narrative’s style and his characters’ personalities: both are controlled, brusque and conﬁdent. A satisfying yarn for lovers of battleﬁeld literature. TM
THE BRIGHTON BELLE
There’s something of a revival of the ‘Golden Age’ of detective fiction going on – not a revamping of Dorothy L Sayers and Agatha Christie as such, but contemporary writers borrowing the periods after both world wars, along with their traumas and class distinctions, for their novels. Sheridan, an experienced writer of historical fiction, is the latest to follow this trend. Her 1951-set novel is based in Brighton and features a former Secret Service woman, Mirabelle Bevan. Mirabelle now works for a debt collecting service and hides a personal tragedy – her married lover, who was a secret agent, has recently died. But the strange death of a young woman whilst giving birth, and the subsequent disappearance of her boss spark her into action. Action here means an awful lot of house-breaking and having drinks in pubs with unsavoury types (I thought respectable women didn’t drink alone in pubs in the 1950s), but Sheridan has tapped into a period that’s fruitful for a woman living on her own – the lack of husbands, with so many dying in the war, does give some women a certain freedom – and which has a lot to say, socially and politically, about our own times too. LM
MARGARET TAIT: POEMS, STORIES AND WRITINGS
edited by Sarah Neely
FYFIELD BOOKS, £12.95
Margaret Tait really came of age in the 1950s and 1960s. Born in Orkney in 1918, she studied film-making in Rome after the Second World War, during its neo-realist stage, and this influence on her subsequent career is there both in her film work and in her poetry, for all that she might have resisted that notion. Her poems are accessible and written in free verse, to be as real as possible; indeed, many of her early poems from the ‘origins and elements’ series could read as prose. She railed against the state funding of film in Scotland, worried that it meant only certain kinds of films could be made, and whilst she knew some of the poets in Milne’s Bar in Rose Street, and frequented it occasionally, it is easy to see from her feminist poems of the time, like ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’, and ‘Bushel’ (‘Women poets – Poetesses – You never had a chance, had you?’) that she might have found the predominantly male environment there less than conducive to her art. Is the reason she has been forgotten that she never allied herself to any particular group but always ploughed her own furrow? This collection suggests it is. LM