Saturday, 10 November 2012

things what I've read recently and rather liked

So, here are some poetry books I've read recently and wanted to shout about...

Unexpected Weather - Abi Curtis

I pretty much always trust Salt Publishing when it comes to poetry. My favourite poems in this collection are:

Body Baskets: 'The organs are easy / apart from the queasy second-scent of life / that comes from the lungs / the last soft wheeze of their inverted trees.'

Hong Kong: 'I was gwailo, waiting on the harbour-front, buttoned-up in itchy / green. No doubt the sweat drawing its way down my starched collar / smelt to others of milk and butter.' 

& Hitching: 'She didn't have much / two issues left of a subscription / a chunk of April wrapped / in the pocket of her pack, / and a sandwich of mustard cress. / She counted telegraph poles all the way back / to a town strung with three-hundred lanterns.' 

I'm really looking forward to reading her new collection, The Glass Delusion.

The Possibility of Angels - Keith Bosley

Firstly, how lovely is the title? Very lovely, that's how. I fell very much in love with some of the poems in this book. The first one to claim me was 'Testing the Bells'

'...No sight 
no smell was out of place: only 
the sound spun from the new red bells 
was wrong and everywhere. 
And through the mist of it we walked 
upright, apart, with ears on fire
and watched a girl run past tearing 
the flames out of her hair.'

This book is preoccupied with red-haired women, and fiery women - angels in disguise. The middle section talks about war, and death, focusing on the Vietnam war. I was especially moved by 'Old man' - the frustration of a man in hospital where the staff can't see the person he is underneath the illness. The poem 'Haunted' is also beautiful: 

'When she died 
the house stretched itself 
and the tree burst into song 
they bought some new curtains 
and had the kitchen decorated 
and the soldiers 
the soldiers that used to march
round and round the garden
taking pot shots at the upstairs window 
suddenly went away.'

Another favourite was 'Setting a Folk Song', comparing music to a naked woman you find and want to show off to your friends. Published in 1969 this book is a little hard to get hold of, but worth it if you can.

A Piece of Information about His Invisibility - Laressa Dickey

This is a poetry pamphlet from MIEL press in Belgium. They only started publishing a year ago, but I am very impressed with this collection. In fact, they've published four of Laressa Dickey's pamphlets and I'm definitely going to track down the other three.

This is a long poem, which roams around the page, and skips from person to person and place to place. The second half of the collection is my favourite, with lines such as:

 'I tell you I am watching orchids bloom in my body.
Black pitch in a back drawer.
Sound layered like a flower my hands press.
A man can't open windows in this body.'

So, from a girl locking herself away, to a boy who is locked: 'Boy in a fox body. / Boy of the marlins. / Snapping turtle boy. / Boy captain, / boy of the crab nebula. / Boy night, boy terror.' This is a poem about growing up in Tennesse, and growing apart from family members. This is about 'the map of my body in this / house as I remember it.' Dickey writes her memories down as they come to her, rearranging them into beautiful shapes. She must remember this invisible boy; she must write about him. 

One Eye'd Leigh - Katharine Kilalea

I hadn't read this since 2009, so wanted to dig it out and give it a reread. Kate's got a fantastic way with words, with lines such as 'We sit facing the sea like a cinema / ... We laze in the water like dishes in the kitchen sink,' 'The rain. Some days / I watch it. / Some days / I let my clothes be a wet rose in the washing machine. / ...Amazing / my hair grew / long enough / to fill a bucket,' and 'the boy looked at the fire. / It was bigger than him / and he didn't know it yet / but it was so frightening / that he grew older just looking at it.' 

These poems are a set of portraits: people and places, some here and some in Kate's home country of South Africa. Kate represented South Africa in the Poetry Parnassus this year and it's not difficult to see why; the word 'portrait' here is very apt because she does paint pictures with words; each poem has very definite imagery, very sure of itself, from the first poem which compares a past lover to a bird to images such as this one: 'He was just a boy, running / with a fire in his boot / and he was lifting his legs like a deer.' Beautiful.

Selected Poems - Hans Magnus Enzensberger

I'm always fascinated by poetry in translation. Whose poem are we reading exactly? The author's or the translator's? And, more importantly, does it matter? On a slight side note, I think that, when it comes to poetry, we all translate it ourselves any way. Every reader will get a different poem from the same printed text as the person sitting next to them. That's the beauty of it.

This collection is wonderful. It moves from political poetry, to the more intimate and personal. I could quote 'Hotel Fraternite' and 'camera obscura' in full, but I'll refrain. Here are some choice quotes: 'The man who doesn't have enough money to buy himself an island / who rides on the ferris wheel and gnashes his teeth / who spills red wine over his lumpy matress / who kindles his stove with letters and photos / who sits on the quay under the cranes.'

'in my own foam-flecked heart / while it swims around blinded in boiling foam / and gets rusty and swims / immortal as a paperclip.'

'no great art in that / said the critic / you can't get away with that now / throw away those metaphors / they're a thing of the past / and i threw away the metaphors / and went to the sauna / and found / birch leaves / and this taste of earlier times / in my mouth.'

little armoured - Rebecca Perry

This is a really quirky poetry pamphlet. My favourite of the lot is a poem called 'Wasp.' Here's a snippet:

...little yellow-black armadillo.
little snail-slime wings.
little nuzzler, nuzzling a neck.
little alien, little feeler, little zebra.
little dinosaur legs...'

How can you not fall in love with lines like that? My second favourite is the first poem, 'my grandfather considers his life in three stages' with beautiful phrases such as 'Everything simmered / small fires hopped from place to place / like rabbits from hutch to hutch. He never fired a gun. / At night, counting flaming sheep, thought of his wife / at home heating the house with coals.' The poems themselves have wonderful titles: 'Namgalsipschlar' 'hello, little bird' 'what is the most shop-lifted book in the world?' and 'when the wind full of space wears out of faces' with the great first line: 'i: breathe your lungs out into the air / maybe the birds will feel the expansion of it.' This collection has umbrellas as bats, street lamps as beast eyes, and a man in the moon.

'The air is doing nothing / so the bare trees look like / frozen fireworks.'

Just lovely.

A Body Made of You - Melissa Lee Houghton

I can safely say that this is the most fascinating, beautiful poetry collection I have read in years. I cannot do it justice in a review. I started reading this in the middle of September, and the only reason I just finished it is because I read two poems and then lost it in a pile of books in my bedroom and only rediscovered it last week. This might give you some indication of how many books are in my bedroom. Anyway, I have since devoured this book. The author's note says: 'This is a selection of poems written for other writers, artists, strangers, lovers and friends. Thank you to all the sitters for allowing me to write their portraits.'

It's so difficult to pick favourites. I love Olivia:

'With all these fineries and mermaid's hair 
and a jaw as tense as a fox, you cannot undress 
you are always dressed. Your voice does not know 
if it is British or indeed if your throat comes from the purse 
of an orchid - there's a lamb's bleat in your gut 
and two bride's nervous bellies in your midriff.' 

Then: 'I would say you're from Prague or the northern hemisphere / way up where whales drive men mad with their singing.'

Stephen's portrait: 'today i stopped using / punctuation / because i feel mad'

Suzy's: 'Girls like you and I / made rain happen, without meaning, made / rain storms and lightning get in the way.'

I was sort of reminded of Cassandra Parkin's fiction in the tone (she wrote 'New World Fairy Tales', which I've mentioned here before). I don't know what it was, perhaps because these poems are like interviews - pain-staking studies; talking about someone and examining them when they're standing in front of you. This collection was so damn beautiful that it made my chest physically hurt. So, there you go. I think it's fair to say this book has my firm stamp of approval.


I hope you spy something here you think you'd like to investigate further. :) Happy weekend! x


  1. Wow! Thank you for this post. I'm intrigued by 'A Body Made of You'. Definitely going to search it out and dive in.

    1. Excellent :) I've contacted Melissa, and she's going to come by the blog soon to talk about the collection, too.