Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Review of Taropoetics

I am delighted that Sarah Hymas has reviewed Taropoetics on her blog, Echo Soundings. Here's what she says:

I was drawn to Taropoetics by Anna McKerrow (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2010) because of the description of "an ongoing pschyopoetic landscape". For a lover of dreams (and occasional tarot card reader) this idea appealed enormously. It'd be like reading the cards, drawing narratives and dreaming all in one.

I had come across Knives, Forks and Spoons Press earlier this year through Adrian Slatcher's Extracts from Levona. A strange, oddly compelling book. It's a small press that specialises in 'linguistically innovative poetry'. You could argue that all poetry should be liguistically innovative, but let's not.

What you wouldn't argue is how gymnastically innovative Anna McKerrow's landscape is. The Tarot works to cycles and so it's apt her book works to the cycle of a year - weekly readings form the basis of the text. She spent another year collating the weekly pieces to produce the poems in the book.

Not that the pieces feel constricted by rewrites, deadened and deanimated by cutting and tinkering. They pulse on the page. Each respond to five randomly chosen tarot cards, and each create a bauble of shadowy images, filched from streets, the natural world, the body, art, religion and mythology in a bubbling chemistry. Together they make a crazy make-believe laboratory, full of vapours and coloured liquids I was a little wary of at first.

It took me a while to adjust to this world, to learn its language to get over the culture shock of unfamiliarity. I'm a lover of narratives. And this book, a cross between Jane Graverol and Carrie Ann Baade, requires a double take, a step back, a step forward.

Then a slow sinking under, a relaxation of comprehension and an open mind brings a different consciouness, a change of light:

"heart sink/barb cruel/soft eye risk/shadow sword stack cut/glass words/cut like a cat/thick pane/even the strongest men/soft spooled/fur will rip/dire musicality..."

Sensuous, edgy and funny. The path these poems take is narrow and foggy, in the sense that I didn't really know where I was going at any given point in them. This makes for a destablised read, but also a vital one, my senses fully alert as to what may rear up.

Because of the Tarot element, there is also a sense of the imperative:

"...buried skull/space waits to be filled/jewel cries victory/through rubble/ignore naysayers/their mouths are stopped up w/rocks/exploded/rare sunset..."

- a commanding overview, the seer remaining hidden behind the images. Again this distance is unnerving, but it somehow it feels safe enough (once I've accepted the jamming and spacing of punctation that inhabits this lawless landscape). Safe, if I am safe, that is. Reading and rereading the unpredictable scape made me feel exposed to suggestion, imagery and connections I don't normally make within my own life experiences. Stumbling between play and dance, I get the feeling Anna wants us to open new pathways. It is one of the roles of the Tarot.

Anna has managed to balance between the spiritual and domestic, the unsettling and safe, so keeping me reading through her year. As a lover of narrative I did feel the absence of shape to the book, but this is not a collection interested in creating form, this is an expansive book, its form is bound by our Gregorian calendar, but even that isn't evident, there is no neat seasonal references as we pass through the year. The expansiveness is generous in its welcoming spirit, calling you to enter.

Go on ....

Sunday, 19 December 2010

New Fairy Tales Issue 6

Rather belatedly, I admit, I need to tell you about the new issue of New Fairy Tales magazine – my second issue as Associate Editor for Poetry. The November issue was surprisingly easy to focus in terms of poetry – we were fortunate to have received a fantastic experimental fairy tale piece by Tim Mook Sang, a Canadian writer. You can check out Tim’s blog at Here’s an excerpt from the poem:


she lives the maiden in her bedroom the top of a tower sleeps & eats there hears
rain outside and counts the drops her parents own her say she cannot leave and
she cannot leave her parents who love her she says combing her hair soft like
velvet blonde like moonlight that stays soft in towers out of weather


she waits for me in her bedroom behind a shut door her father owns her says she
cannot leave and she cannot leave the burly father who needs her she says locked
in the room wrapped in blankets as soft as her skin but I slip under the door like
paper she is scared has never seen me before covers herself in blankets on her bed


she stands in water buckets and pales water to her ankles her mother owns her
says she cannot leave and she cannot leave her mother who shows her the future
in vanity mirrors she says standing in buckets eels swimming infinity around her
ankles she boards up her bedroom window plywood over glass sheets from her
bed she wraps around her torso I am not allowed to enter this room and water
sways against her ankles


she hears me outside her bedroom window boarded up inside she sees only
shadows on the ground I am throwing stones from a cairn to her window a bed of
lilies grows for her to sleep her parents say she does not listen but she hears the
stones clacking against her window

There are also a couple of great other poems by Ruby Ebrahim and David Morgan.

And here's a lovely video promo for the issue:

Friday, 3 December 2010

Sarah Hymas' Host

I have been very quiet, haven’t I? But I have been very busy. Very busy indeed, yes. So to bring you up to date with what I’ve been doing, here’s something I’ve been reading: Sarah Hymas’ book of poems, Host. Now, immediately, the title makes me think about alien beings and diseases. Tapeworms, that kind of thing. Admittedly, I have a sci-fi imagination. I’m thinking about Sigourney Weaver playing scarily focused basketball right now. But the idea of a benign or perhaps unconscious structure being inhabited by another organism – and their relationship – is the focus of this multi-layered work. In Host, humans are the gentle or intrusive organisms swarming on the surface of the earth; but also not alien, not foreign: made of it.

The first part of the book, Bedrock, contains a narrative series of poems voiced by members of the Kibby family. Their relationship to their host, in this case the Yorkshire landscape, is explored sensitively by a writer whose appreciation of the nuances of energy in the natural and physical world is highly attuned:

A forget-me-not envelope scents the dark ward
Of a hospital, as honeysuckle stolen from Scarborough.

He writes in soft leaden whispers, long-limbed
Like the wind, sculpting in my mind. (Postmarked Today, 1927)


Driving alongside the Nidd, I saw myself
become two rivers, split to navigate the island
of my dead father: one sky-silvered quick,
the trained son; the other muddied with cross-currents.
His chest, rising with grass and rocks,
prevented me from seeing where the two might meet. (Nidderdale, 1934)

The family’s physicality has also absorbed the stone and wind of their environment:

Harold’s sweat speckled resin-bright on his forehead (Suffrage, 1910)

However, I have to say that my favourite part of the book is the second half of the second section, Landfall. Less narrative and not seemingly linked, these poems, for me, have the most intense relationship to nature and landscape. Inspired by extreme environments and preoccupied with air, rock, moss and water, these lovely meditations capture a sensual depth that is relatively unusual to find. And there is a real meditative, spiritual tone here too – holy men that, now and again, appear in the Himalayas, offer silent wisdoms, but it is really the silent ecstatic communion with the skies and the mountains that holds the greatest sense of revelation:

A musical score turned sculptural; filling
and falling through air, ventilating my vertebrae.
I breathe in octaves.
Out in minor chords.

With this dawn they magnify,
unfold like the wings of a griffin,
breasted with lotus petal chain-mail.
Trumpets echo up wicket-thin terraces.
Glaciers steal breath
faster than a knotted plastic bag.

The Himalya crevasse my ribcage,
let in light, scalpeled by this altitude,
as I was, yesterday on the walk here;
will be, tomorrow.

Packed salt in tired muscle,
they turn sharp then blunt in a distant wind.
Everything else, behind and below, melts away,
flesh from bone.

(From Pelling)

These poems do not just host or reside; they make a connection, a highway of energy between the physical, the limits of the body and the indefinable other. The thing I like most about this collection is the so-much-more-than landscape they offer: more, they are a being-in-ness, being-of-ness, that I very much enjoy.

Host is published by Waterloo Press. Sarah’s blog is