WHEREVER WE LIVE NOW
RED SQUIRREL PRESS, £6.99 PP76
Elizabeth Rimmer’s poetry is connected to the earth. Calling herself a ‘poet, gardener and river-watcher’, this Liverpool-born writer likes to describe ephemeral moments in nature. Her poems are like puzzles or mosaics; each image is a piece of a larger picture. In ‘I said’, she sensuously describes oranges: ‘sharp and sweet and bitter and hot, / as gold as guineas and sunlight’. Her sensitive ear locates gaps and distances, noise and silences, as seen in ‘Celtic Island Monastery’: ‘Air is full of humming bees / and the long still space where prayer was’. She is best when her images are both imaginative and ironic. In ‘Visit Scotland’, she speaks of asylum seekers contained at Dungavel, who is ‘a grim landlady, corseted in steel, her flinty face’. The poem ends on a note of humility: ‘You asked so little when you came… Scotland could not even manage that.’ Most of Wherever We Live Now describes the natural environment, but the collection closes with a re-telling of a well-known narrative, the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Though engaging, there is a sense that Rimmer is hiding behind these story lines. One wishes that Rimmer would end on a personal note with more wistful and lyrical poems about her experiences.
CALDER WOOD PRESS, £5 PP36
Marion McCready’s poems are offerings. Words fan out amongst the white space on the page and repetition of certain sounds provide touching lyricism. Her lines are heavy but hesitant musings, seen in the dark and mournful ‘’The Red Road’: ‘The frost-thumbed grass will cry / with our broken bones alone / (the furniture of our souls)’. Double-barrelled adjectives such as ‘frost-thumbed’, ‘sand-freckled’ and ‘wind-bitten’ describe both the texture and temperature of objects. An airy, visceral mood permeates her work, which captures
the narrator’s unhurried gaze. Much of this gaze is on the Scottish waters, including the Firth of the Clyde, the West Coast islands and the North Sea. Water’s ability to contain and reflect provides inspiration for bobbing poems about life rafts, mussel-picking and cross-bills. Myths of the water are re-told in contemplative poems such as ‘The Herring Girl’ and ‘The Cocklepicker’s Wife’. There is a sense of immobility in the poems; a narrator paralysed by the weight of their surroundings. But it can be argued that the poems in Vintage Sea feel too similar to each other. Each poem contains short lines and unfolds at the same leisurely rate. What one would like next for McCready is a leap into a variety of forms, for her to discover new ways to display her introspective voice.
FULL SCOTTISH BREAKFAST
RED SQUIRREL PRESS, £6.99
Glasgow-born Graham Fulton speaks boldly. His poetry is edgy, agitated and giddy. Short lines snake around the page to express a restless voice. In the title poem, ‘Full Scottish Breakfast’, it’s a ‘useless morning’ after a night out, but the narrator’s mouth can function, at least to berate its owner: ‘head is frying / nearby I try / to pull it all out throw it / all back in to where / the rings turn back to nowhere’. Other poems contain a similar jazzy rhythm and disjointed appearance. Short, unevenly spaced lines which move around the page describe the narrator’s preoccupation with a new gadget, a battery-operated ‘crawling’ hand: ‘You give me a beast with ﬁve ﬁngers / Made in China / green ﬂesh / Madeline Usher nails’. Fulton can also compose portraiture with details so concrete one suspects a long-held grudge, as seen in this poem about a former teacher ‘The Remarkable Love of Doctor McCallum’: ‘loved to see our hate / as he pulled the tawse / from under his cape’. There is an abruptness and aggressive tone in Fulton that may shock some. However, he evokes sympathy with a poem about ﬁnding a departed cat’s whisker: ‘A ﬁnely tapering thread of thin. / It brings it back, the things we slip / as life cleans up; bafﬂing love’. In this poem and with others, Fulton quickly gets to the heart of the matter.
NOTES FOR LIGHTING A FIRE
HAPPENSTANCE PRESS, £10 PP64
Former Brownsbank Cottage fellow Gerry Cambridge writes about light. In ‘Light Up Lanarkshire’, commissioned for the South Lanarkshire Council, Cambridge describes how light ‘streams’, ‘shines’ and is ‘truthful’. How light, ﬁltered through a prism ‘is the luminous violet and red and yellow and lime / Of the born and broken from its brilliant beginning’. Cambridge thinks about birds; their beginnings as eggs, their language of song and their ﬂeeting appearances.
Five poems early in the collection describe a fascination with eggs and their silky contents, re-enacted in ‘Blowing out an egg’: ‘holding it poised to your lips / with nail-bitten ﬁngers and thumbs / like a miniature musical instrument’. Other poems describe the plumage and grace of exotic birds but Cambridge does not reveal their names. One can only guess that in the poem ‘Take-Off’, Cambridge is describing ﬂamingos: ‘And when it ﬂies – ﬂared / wings of unbelievable / Day-Glo pink and black.’ Tidily arranged in columns, Cambridge’s poems are smooth summaries of natural encounters. Other than a few poems about family members, he strictly adheres to the transitory themes of light and birds. His poems are safe in their lack of conﬂict. Though this is ﬁrst collection in nine years, it actually says little about the poet.
HAPPENSTANCE PRESS, £4 PP36
The poems of Open University arts lecturer Peter Gilmour appraise the past. His richly sensuous voice, pinned to the page with commas and full stops, allow for painful history to be relived. This debut pamphlet begins with events leading to a suicide. In ‘Rupture’, a couple veer off the road and the man enjoys the gallant recklessness of the incident. ‘Overkill’ states the death of the man’s wife clinically and militantly:
‘I thought of it as your suicide pack, paracetamol and half a bottle of Grouse.’
In ‘Solicitude’, Gilmour drives the tragedy home tenderly: ‘I married a woman who killed herself. / Our children were then thirteen and fourteen and I ﬁfty, and God, they say, is ageless’. Eventually the narrator laments his wife’s ﬂeeting existence: ‘You did not last with us, you did not keep the pace’. Other poems do not contain such devastating subject matter, but still retain a posture of patient examination. In ‘Evening with Friends’, a face at the window is the subject of much discussion. In ‘Journey’s End’, a boy contemplates where his father has been on his travels. Though this is Gilmour’s ﬁrst publication, it is evident that he is a committed and meditative writer. He takes risks writing about uncomfortable matters, for which he merits attention.
RED SQUIRREL PRESS, £6.99 PP82
Anne Connolly’s poetry should be read aloud. Exuberant and musical, her words are attuned to a meticulous lyricism. Most often in her work, brief lines are arranged in a tall column which creates a tight lyricism. This is seen in the downward shifting
poem about the Good Friday Agreement: ‘Omagh / a ghastly / punctuation / exclamation / deﬁnitely / not a full stop.’ Longer lines suggest a leisurely and contemplative mood, seen in the romantic ‘the long haul’: ‘the narrowed ﬁnger where your ring has circled freely / the map of laughter lines we’ve run along together’. Other times a poem’s text is whittled into a shape, allowing the constructed image to provide a visual dimension to the poem. In ‘Begun’, encouraging lines about the process of in vitro fertilisation are curved and cut to create an embryo. In ‘Handler’, constellations are suggested by the spaced-out positioning of stars’ names on the page. Family history, politics and childhood are Connolly’s main themes, and she sticks to them throughout the course of the collection. Though her poems tend to avoid strong emotion, the sonorous rhythms of her poems reel in the reader.
DIONYSIS PRESS, £9.50 PP82
Born in Manitoba, Canada in 1960 to an Irish father and Scottish mother, Tom Bryan’s poetry is a series of vivid recollections. Long stanzas re-enact scenes at a pleasantly meandering pace. The narrator describes images with an exact and meditative eye, as seen in the semi-mythical ‘Near Life Experience’: ‘daft sky crayoned an absurd blue, / sun spilling too, outside the lines’. The poem describes a pouring prairie sky, which seemed to the boy and his mother ‘apocalyptic’. However, as Bryan sums up neatly: ‘But we who glared / into savage suns were not the ones left behind.’ Bryan’s scenes can be described as odd, but odd for a reason; the poet has decided that it is the strange memories which constitute a life worth living. ‘Istanbul 1976’ describes a poor bear ‘on a rope, dancing / clawless, muzzle on a jar’. The narrator recalls a conﬂicting awareness of prayer and violence. In the calmly devastating poem about a friend’s suicide, rhymes act like zippers to close ideas: ‘Far beyond any lighthouse / or guiding star. / He knew where he was going, / wrote his own dark chart.’ Only the song section at the back of the collection disappoints; one cannot possibly ‘hear’ the indicated instrumental riffs and the gist of the song is lost. Overall, Bryan’s poems are pensive and evocative. His tone is unswervingly conversational and welcoming.
BEARTAN BRISTE / BURSTBROKEN JUDGMENTSHROUDLOOMDEEDS
CAPE BRETON UNIVERSITY PRESS, £9.99 PP183
Dublin-born and Skye-based Rody Gorman’s Gaelic and English poetry act like a stack of Russian dolls. Each aspect of his poetry – the Gaelic verse, the English version, the content of the poem itself, and his device of merging words to create compound phrases which represent a singular movement, concept or place – creates an abundantly layered text. Gorman’s translation device of presenting every English deﬁnition for each Gaelic word creates a complicated reading experience. When perusing his work one must truly be aware of the visual, linguistic and aural elements intertwined. Each poem is read like a tablet, with the Gaelic on the right and the English on the left, allowing the two realities of the poems to co-exist. The text’s two faces are quite astonishing. The Gaelic version is arranged into tight stanzas and in couples and tercets. In contrast, the English version is a post-modernist cluster of stream-of-consciousness phrasing, merged words and lower cased letters. There is a sense of Gorman re-creating the present, seen in the poem ‘hearsmellfeeling you’: ‘i hearsmellfeel you out there wanting from in the / dykegarden in some ﬂocktuftspot or other now that / springsummermay is here though i can’t see you’. The long lines in these stanzas are appropriate; they reﬂect the pace and tone of the narrator’s voice.