cover of Janette Ayachi’s A Choir of Ghosts
painting by Bridget Anne McNeill (2013)
Spaces of Our Own, Russell Jones. Stewed Rhubarb Press, £4.
This is a weird, engaging, challenging set of poems which fall under themes of space, time and the human body. Jones has written a Ph.D. on Edwin Morgan’s science fiction poems, and these works feel inspired by Morgan’s celebrated ‘The First Men on Mars’. However, ‘Spaces of Our Own’, with its sensitive imaginings of teleportation and scientific experiments, is an interesting pamphlet in its own right. The opening poem ‘Blue Planet’ describes aliens looking down on us, perhaps with a mix of superiority and intrigue:
On Earth we are the mine
the miner, pickaxe and cutter,
expert, assessor. We are the jewellers.
It’s refreshing to see poets getting away from the left margin, and Jones stands out when he forgoes standard quatrains for wilder forms. ‘Star’ is a concrete poem of hard consonants stretched out over two pages. The repeating sounds of ‘end’, ‘then’ and ‘a din’ eventually morph into the short sounds ‘darts’, ‘starts,’ ‘stints’ — leading the reader to believe that Jones is describing the birth of a new star. Less cohesive is ‘The Bang’, an experimental skit of two protons colliding in space, due to the presence of some clichéd, rom-com lines. But the final poem ‘Re-entry’ is outstanding; the shuddering descent of astronauts back into Earth’s atmosphere is depicted by repeating each line’s last word in the subsequent line. The result is a tense coil:
another body and we embraced
embraced between the atoms
between the atoms and smiled stupid
stupid as death was imminent
imminent and we knew it
Lipstick is Always a Plus, Tracy S. Rosenberg. Stewed Rhubarb Press, £4.
Chicago-born Tracy Rosenberg’s first pamphlet of poems shares similar sci-fi themes, but she also attempts to deconstruct relationships and notions of femininity. Rosenberg is best when her poems illustrate her quirky sense of humour and give meaning to every day processes. ‘Photophobia’ describes taking pictures of oddities at the beach:
Snarling bottle caps with their ridged silver teeth.
Twisted gum wrappers, those hostile shells of foil.
Another good one is ‘The Time Lord’s Job Advertisement’, obviously modelled after cult series Dr. Who. Rosenberg’s poem calls for a female doctor this time, but with the same leadership qualities and capacity for emotional restraint. For non Time Lord fans, Rosenberg’s lines are slim keys of television trivia, particularly the advice:
When chaos erupts, be prepared to run
across sand or grass or slivered emeralds
clutching treasures. (Nebula eggs? Sacred books
bound in the queen’s flesh?)….
Long lines and repetition suits the poem ‘Perceptions of the Turing Machine’, a poem which mimics the machine’s function to be, amongst other things, a systematic recorder. Midway through the collection, however, it becomes clear that the title of ‘Lipstick Is Always A Plus’ doesn’t totally suit this pamphlet. Though sincere, Rosenberg’s poems about dating seem less engaging than her poems about her personal interests. Her individuality shines, however, in ‘So Where Are You From?’ Rosenberg encapsulates the Scottish curiosity of strangers, and her ‘outsider’ view that despite her years in the country, she will never be seen as ‘native’. The charming ending recalls the West of Scotland device of rhyming slang:
The next time someone asks
‘So where are you from?’
I may just answer:
And that’s them told.
Tender is the North, Sheila Templeton. Red Squirrel Press, £4.
Having won the McCash Scots Poetry competition, it goes without saying that Sheila Templeton is an accomplished poet of Scots. There is something lush and wild about her strings of words. ‘On midsimmer eve’ is a fair example:
I wad lie alang the warld’s curve
its sweet spine, watch sunset’s
lowe dee smeerless in the West
half-grown shinin corn reeshlin
a promise o steepled stooks …
So many lovely sounds in this image of a sun setting over a field. Even if a reader doesn’t recognise all of the Scots words, the dappled rhythms and musicality of her phrases spurs one on. Templeton also borrows words from other languages, including the Maori word for ‘treasure’ in the poem ‘Taonga’ and the phrase ‘Yiaourti kei Meli’ which translates as ‘As Greek As It Gets’. In these poems about receiving souvenirs from abroad and searching for yoghurt in Greece, Templeton gives foreign phrases a Scottish twist.
Due to its brevity, one of the drawbacks of the poetry pamphlet is that it’s hard to locate a central theme. Tender is the North varies in content; it contains poems about travelling, nature, modern warfare, etc. Perhaps the underlying motif is her ability to evoke a sense of closeness, shown in candid poem ‘Intimacy’:
can be the act of coupling
but often, it is not. I have known
a dentist’s hand, yes, even encased
in thin latex, holding my head
with what felt like tenderness,
as we worked in my mouth
more intimate than meeting
in the marriage bed.
A Choir of Ghosts, Janette Ayachi. Calder Wood Press, £4.50
This ethereal title suits this set of twenty-five poems by Scottish-based poet Janette Ayachi. She certainly has a stand-out style; one that may first appear a little crowded, but then takes the reader on a swooping tour of emotions and luminous images. The title poem, ‘A Choir Of Ghosts’, illustrates her richness of language:
Lance-shaped leaves take their silver bow
the sky closes its vermilion curtains
as the night begins its cruel canto.
There is also a lovely sense of form here too. The cascading tercets in some of these works allow for a pleasing rippling effect. Furthermore, In ‘Vampire “Love and Pain”‘ the first line acts as a subject header for the subsequent two:
stray masked children bury dead birds
at dusk in Montgomery park
lollipop-stick crucifixes licked with lichen
This poem is part of a running theme of poems about paintings. In these works about artists such as Munch, Vermeer, and J.D. Fergusson, Ayachi both describes the painting and then enters them herself, which is not an easy thing to do. This is shown in the evocative poem ‘Dieppe, 14th July 1905: Night’
Eyes half-closed the port falls into focus
a shooting star missiles its flame
a blue so pure I am thirsty to consume
its brilliance so I myself can exalt it.
Though some poems could do with being pared down, there is much to admire in this pamphlet, whose luxurious language requires it to be read slowly.