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  • Billy Mills 10:22 on 19/03/2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Review   

    Gap Gardening by Rosmarie Waldrop: a review 

    Gap Gardening: Selected Poems, Rosmarie Waldrop, New Direction, 2016, ISBN-gap_gardening_cover13: 978-0811225144


    If the eye were a living creature, says Aristotle, its soul would be its ability to see.

    [p. 172]

    Which, by a process of parallel reasoning leads to the conclusion that the soul of Rosmarie Waldrop is her ability to make things out of language that please an illuminate in equal measure. This selected poems, which I am very belatedly reviewing, serves as a comprehensive introduction to her work for those who don’t already know it and as a confirmation and reminder of her exceptional abilities for those of us who do.

    The arc of her technical development is, broadly, from verse poetry to prose poetry, and this is evident here; of the first 70 pages or so, about three quarters is in verse, and for the remainder of the book a similar majority consists of prose texts which have, in appearance on the page, something of the quality of a series of propositions a la Aristotle or Wittgenstein, but here the exploration of language, the world and the relationships between them is worked out in terms that are poetic rather than philosophical.

    Many of Waldrop’s essential themes and concerns are laid down in the early verse books. For instance, the insertion of graphic road signs in The Road is Everywhere, or Stop this Body prefigures the emphasis on sign and sight that runs through the book while the sequences from When They Have Senses included are early statements of the essential I/you/we or she/he/they relationship that is the essential geometry of much of Waldrop’s work.

    her knees crossed

    over the manner of

    his undressing her


    This triangle, which can be either personal or public, concerned with the possibility of love or of a functioning social order, is laid over a background of the life of an outsider coming to terms with American society and language with an eye for the telling detail that may lie invisible to the insider. The gaps between these figures in the Waldrop landscapes are, on one level, those that she is cultivating, but this is also true of the space between the world and the text, a text that remains constantly aware of its own textuality:

    Voices, planted on the page, do not ripen or bear fruit. Here placement does not explain, but cultivates the vacancy between them. The voices pause, start over. Gap gardening which, moved inward from the right margin, suspends time.

    [p. 90]

    There is a repeated questioning of the verb ‘to know’; what can be known, how it can be known, if it can be known are refrains that run through the pages of this selection. The gaps are epistemological challenges, the space between the I/she and you/he means that the emerging we is limited by the impossibility of truly shared experience, the we being a product of this impossibility:

    Intermittent, she says, as if a space of time, too, could not be occupied by two bodies. Even bodies of experience and memory. As if we had no history, only a past purloined by nothing to show for it.

    [p. 101]

    And so the work turns, in the volume Reluctant Gravities to a sceptical investigation of knowledge, with section headings that echo the titles of Montaigne’s essays (‘On Vertigo’, ‘On Place’ for example). These poems, from which the quotation just preceding this paragraph is taken, are meditations on the epistemology of each other, of the necessary, but unknowable ‘we’. And in the books that follow, with their focus on American history and on language, this ‘we’ becomes increasingly social rather than personal, so that in A Key into the Language of America, which also uses the essay-title device, reflections on Native American language and culture (via a 17th century book on Narragansett), are folded into the text in ways that illuminate the role of language in excluding the Other from the socio-political ‘we’. The same radical scepticism was previously applied to reworkings of key texts in America’s story about itself in Shorter American Memory:

    We hold these trysts to be self-exiled that all manatees are credited equidistant, that they are endured by their Creator with cervical answerable rims, that among these are lightning, lice and the pushcart of harakiri.

    [p. 106]

    After the density of these prose sequences, Waldrop turns, in a verse sequence called ‘Pre & Con, or Positions & Conjunctions’ to a Zukofskian focus on extra-semantic language in a set of finely honed poems driven by grammar words, the prepositions and conjunctions of the title:

    If a bird if

    up into the air

    if cold if


    we must adhere if

    a road if renamed by

    if each if travelling


    From this point, say 1998, onwards, all the elements of Waldrop’s mature writing are in place, and in the books that follow, her concerns fold into each other in ever new, ever invigorating ways:

    A different relation to knowing, the pursuit cannot define the object of pursuit even if the road is lit by a crystal cage, lighthouse, bright red plumage, high noon. I was not surprised to be alone.

    [p. 186].

    The book closes with a substantial selection from the 2010 volume Driven to Abstraction, and a sustained meditation on that most problematic of signifiers, zero. Here Waldrop’s sceptical interrogation of language reaches its ultimate conclusion, a delicate balance between the destructive and generative powers of the word:

    The word’s power to kill – I’m not thinking of white-gloved White House memos – its violence against what it names, what it can name only by taking away its materiality, destroying its presence. Is death itself speaking.


    Or is it? If the word both kills and shows “a certain slant of light on winter afternoons” that we’d search in vain anywhere else? If the word “horse” boils the animal down to the concept, and yet, in the way of hunger, hallucinates four legs, a mane, and folds of flesh? Then maybe this death is not a simple matter. And must hold a kind of life the way fog holds light?


    Here, more than anywhere else, Waldrop refers overtly to a literary tradition to support her ultimate belief in the efficacy of language as a creative medium, the visionary power of the Dickinson overcoming the Gradgrindian utilitarian epistemology of those who would use it as a destructive force.


    I’ve been wondering how to close this all too brief review of what is an exceptionally important book, and have decided that it’s best to leave the last word to Rosmarie Waldrop herself, to close the circle, at least temporarily:

    Out at the sea I stare. As if it were the universe. Could pull the infinite into my eye. Without the rational lines of perspective. With absent wavelengths represented as imagination. Slow the eye I brought with me from Germany. And does not leave its body. Nor change the stance of distance.





    • danielpaulmarshall 23:55 on 19/03/2018 Permalink | Reply

      Your reviews make me want to buy books, please stop, haha.

      Her speculations on the capacity for two bodies, or perhaps voices too, to fill space, is very interesting. Conflict inevitably comes of the meeting of I & you as much as the potential for resolving those conflicts. Though pretty obvious, the range of material to cover on this is inexhaustible. It’s pretty much the foundation of most social construction, if not all. Or am i missing the point?
      i suppose the dialectic is never more in the limelight of our time, we are exposing more & more the flaws in our communication apparatus, perhaps making Waldrop evermore pertinent a voice, deserving of attention. i read this as the Cambridge Analytica revelations are coming to the fore.
      i will, when i am next in England, certainly seek her books out. i dare not buy any more books in my current predicament, but when i am back home i will no doubt be incapable of stopping my cravings.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Billy Mills 08:17 on 20/03/2018 Permalink | Reply

        First off, let me apologise for making you want to buy more books; I know that dilemma only too well. I hope your ‘current predicament’ isn’t too awful!
        And second, you make a very good point about the I/you as the fundamental site of conflict, it’s something that Rosmarie explores with deep insight, I think.
        And thanks for leaving a comment; very much appreciated.

        Liked by 2 people

        • danielpaulmarshall 23:13 on 20/03/2018 Permalink | Reply

          O that’s ok Billy. i’ll forgive you. My current predicament isn’t awful, i live in Korea on an island without a book shop, & the P&P is exorbitant, so i only buy books infrequently, or if i make a rare trip to Seoul. Plus i am moving back to England the end of this year after shy a decade here, so i have enough as it is to try & haul back, so i have curbed my book buying habit, for now.

          Only too happy to leave comments when the blog is worth the time. Your reviews are a good read. Your insights expand on the work that extra step, not pithy, which i don’t mind so much, but i do enjoy reading a thorough review, broaching more into criticism proper.
          i think i may take up reviewing when i get back home & have access to more literature & can maybe persuade some poets to send me their books. Suppose i’ll need to build a bit of trust first.

          Liked by 2 people

  • Billy Mills 21:43 on 27/02/2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Review   

    Recent Reading Four: More Short Reviews 

    The Kerosene Singing, Alistair Noon, Nine Arches Press, ISBN: 9780993120169, £9.99.

    A Tug of Blue, Eleanor Hooker, Dedalus Press, ISBN: 9781910251225, €11.50.

    Like A Fish Out Of Batter, Catherine Graham, ISBN 978-1-910834-30-5, Indigo Dreams £6.00.

    The Tender Map, Melanie Challenger, Guillemot Press, £8.00.

    The Swell, Jessica Mookherjee, Telltale Press, ISBN 978-0-9928555-4-3, £4.00.

    Not exactly recent, having been published in October 2015, The Kerosene Singing is Alistair The Kerosene Singing cover web.jpgNoon’s second first length collection, the first being 2012’s Earth Record. That book included a sequence of 40 sonnets, which may have exhausted the form for Noon, as this second volume features none. Instead, it is formally varied, with poems in quatrains, tercets and longer stanzas, as well as freer forms, and the stanzaic poems are metrically varied, using a range of full, half and no rhyme, showing a high degree of technical accomplishment and control.

    These stanzas frequently consist of collages or collage-like patterns of language items ‘borrowed’ from a wide range of areas of jargons, so that a ‘typical’ Noon quatrain might look something like this:

    “Delete all words”, wrote a Chinese sage,

    “and then you will have the true poster.”

    “There is no such thing as a statement.”

    “Am I asking too many questions?”

    [from ‘Introduction to a Congress’]

    The apparently random phrases will be all too familiar to readers who have ever attended a business conference, but there is an artful deployment of sonic affects (sibilance, alliteration) that lifts the poem beyond the merely representative and into the sphere of verbal music, an effect that points towards the multiple meanings of ‘congress’.

    Noon is primarily a poet of the city, of urban life, but he is also, on the evidence of his poems, an inveterate traveller, and one who wears his travels on his sleeve. His journeys sometimes take him to liminal margins, borders, tombs, of the Oblast of Kalingrad, a Russian enclave on the Baltic coast, whose defining feature appears to be a salt-water lagoon.

    They sow the alders

    To halt the dance of the dunes,

    The lagoon smooth as a salt plain.

    Cattle gaze from the tarmac

    And a pig is loose in the village.

    The coach will take us

    Under the turnpike

    And out of the National Park.

    [from ‘Oblast’]

    Here, as in other poems, the natural world is a place to visit and leave, an attitude that is held up to irony in the opening poem of the book, ‘Encounters’, a poem about desk-bound workers who go hiking in summer (and only in summer), with the narrator demanding that they ‘remove [their] office arse/from its roundabout chair’.

    In ‘The Milan Duomo’, the liminality is of a different order. The cathedral is one of the greatest works of the Italian Renaissance, a landmark of Western art. But for believers, one imagines it to be more, a place where one comes to commune with another realm.  Noon looks at it keenly, and sees the economic basis of culture exemplified:

    five centuries of surplus value transformed

    into a thousand stories in stained glass

    Another poem to deal, obliquely, with economics is ‘The Burbage Valley’, which is, amongst other things, a meditation on the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the landscape of the English midlands. Here, ironic distance is set aside, and form, language and intent become fully integrated, resulting in a poem of great engagement, not in the narrow political sense of ‘engaged poetry’, but as a mind engaging with the world through words and with that most old-fashioned of virtues, sincerity. The voice engaging with the natural world in this poem is not a tourist, but an attached observer, and the result is the most complete poem in the book. It’s is such an integral whole that quotation is almost impossible, but fortunately a video of the poet reading it is available online here.

    The lightly ironic tone of ‘Oblast’ is perhaps the single most characteristic aspect of Noon’s work, at least as presented in this book. At times, it is to the point, but too often there is a sense of irony without an object, a reflex condition of post-modern ennui. Noon is understandably wary, it seems, of anything that might smack of self-expression, and is well-versed (pun intended) in the art of deflection via an ironic mask, and the poems he writes are masterly examples of this approach. But perhaps the mastery is over-achieved? Clearly, here is a poet that has found a voice he is comfortable with, one that he is in complete control of, a kind of poetic ‘safe space’, in a way.

    However, I can’t but feel that he is selling his ability short by accepting the limitations of the safe, the uncertainly certain. Noon can write, and write well, and on the evidence of this book, he has a poet’s instincts. It would be interesting to see him push himself beyond comfort, to take more risks with the technical skill he clearly possesses. Poems like ‘The Milan Duomo’ and ‘The Burbage Valley’ may perhaps indicate the way for this to happen. They lift an otherwise interesting collection onto another level. I’m left hoping that they point something as a way forward, into more uncertain territory, for Noon as a poet. A recent review of Philip Rowland’s haiku-like short poems is interesting in this context.

    A Tug of Blue is also a second collection, and like Noon, Eleanor Hooker has also settled into a-tug-of-bluea comfortable personal voice, one that is characterised by a kind of whimsical sense of the absurd everyday. The poems in this book are very well made, distinctly Irish, with the land, rain, family and a troubled relationship with god at their core, all seen through Hooker’s distinctively quirky eye. The problem for me at least, is that they are closed systems, in which the world behaves as it does only in poems. Take, for example, the opening of ‘A Calling’:

    The night is a drowned woman

    in off the lake to waken me.

    She is filled with stones and moulded

    by the weight of fog.

    Which is perfectly well-written, but the night is no such thing. The same problematic personification, the anthropomorphic fallacy, is present in the very first poem in the book, ‘Weathering’, which is nominally about rain:

    Rain enquires if I’ve brought questions.

    I am allowed four. Four only.

    Before I can deny it, she presses

    her sodden lips to mine.

    Not now, she says. They are come.

    This way of writing about the natural world as if it were human is so widespread as to be almost invisible. It is also, as I have argued elsewhere, deeply anti-ecological, a way of making valid a relationship with nature that is possessive and exploitative, regardless of the poet’s best intentions. It is tempting to dismiss this criticism as trivial, but in my view it raises a vital question: what is it that we want from poetry? Closure or restlessness? The pleasure of recognition or the challenge of disorientation? The first choice leads to a poetry of explicit simile and metaphor, underpinned by the reassuring illusion that the world can be made comprehensible in a neat box, the poem. The second takes us down a different root, a poetry whose humility in the face of the world’s complexity imposes a sense of restless inquiry that, paradoxically, results in a poetry that is considered difficult because it insists on looking at the world as it is in and of itself, where the thingness of things is the organising principle, a poetry where rain is rain, the night is night, in all their rich complexity.

    Hooker comes nearest to this position in the most satisfying poem in the collection, ‘The Shout’, which is grounded in her experience as helm for the Lough Derg RNLI lifeboat.

    After an unpromising first line (The wind is inconsolable.), the poem unfolds in a narrative of ordinary detail:

    I ease us from windward.

    A crew climbs across, carrying

    a radio, a smile, First Aid.

    Eight on board, all below

    except the skipper, luminescent

    in his orange lifejacket.

    In this poem, where the mechanics of the poetic are least evident, Hooker achieves the best writing in the book, and, as with Noon, perhaps has discovered a less comfortable but more rewarding voice.

    batterThe organisational principle behind Catherine Graham’s Like A Fish Out Of Batter is ekphrastic. The pamphlet consists of a sequence of poems taking off from paintings by LS Lowry, but Graham does not set out to describe or evoke the pictures themselves; instead she creates and peoples an imagined world based on them. This world is an unromanticised version of Lowry and Graham’s shared working-class urban North of England. She creates characters who weave their ways in and out of the stories she tells, stories of the everyday fabric of life as they lived it.

    These interlaced stories are redolent with the anxieties of their place and time, which generally happen to be anxieties of any place or time: sex, and ignorance about it, pregnancy, abortion, money, difference, death.

    I never wanted kids; never wanted to be

    a father, I’d rather bat for the other team

    than turn out like my old man. He can

    go to hell. All I wanted was a bit of fun,

    she knew the score, where’s the harm?

    [from ‘Shift’]

    The writing is apparently simple, but it is not artless, and there are echoes of, among others, that great poet of the local, Dylan Thomas:

    She donkey-stoned her doorstep on Thursdays,

    polished George on Wednesdays and if it wasn’t

    a good drying say, gave Mondays a dirty look.

    [from ‘Nancy Dreever’]

    Graham clearly takes pride in her roots, and these poems are ultimately warm and affectionate portraits of the world she grew up in. But she has also, in a sense, grown out of it, if nothing else by being a poet, an observer more than a participant. This need to escape is captured in two poems towards the end of the pamphlet, ‘Head of a Young Man in a Cap’ and ‘A Letter From London’. The former concerns a French pen-pal and a disapproving father. The narrator’s Par Avion relationship with Segre allows her a sense of sophistication that seems to extend beyond the end of the poem. The latter is a found poem from a letter from Lowry to his mother, and is more restrained in its response to the exotic, a bit distrustful, lonely even. These different reactions to escape act, in a sense, as the poles of the world Graham creates in this enjoyable little volume.

    The three books reviewed so far are all serviceable, readable and attractive paperbacks; The Tender Map is more consciously a book to be admired almost as much for how it looks as what it contains. As with Guillemot’s other publications, it marries text and visual art to create thought-provoking conversations.

    This is Melanie Challenger’s first poetry publication in almost a decade, although she has Tender map.pngwritten several librettos and prose on the subject of environmental history, and this concern feeds into the poems here. I say poems, but in fact these small texts interpermeate to create an interesting, if not entirely successful ecosystem of meditation on place and people. Initially, I was concerned that the strategy of naming each piece on the model ‘Placename or Emotion’ signalled an overdose of the pathetic fallacy, but Challenger is a more subtle thinker that that. She skilfully weaves place and emotion so that the emotions are understated, emerging from the placing of the human in the place, not bending the place to the service of the emotion.

    The heron feigns death, its shadow flies

    across the river. Memories

    of the fens move unfluently between us.

    We chase the dark horse of night   cut the waters

    and curse our luck.

    [from ‘Fidwell Fen or Nostalgia’]

    The uncertain strength of the writing is apparent in these lines, but so is the single flaw that I find in it, in the somewhat clunky metaphor in the third line. In fact, near the start of the series, Challenger cleverly calls attention to and simultaneously undercuts stock metaphor, the stock metaphor, in the lines ‘a plough hums,/a reprisal of the endless tides’. Unfortunately, scattered through the book there are a number of implicit and explicit comparisons that call far too much attention to themselves:

    ‘The river is black as the blown candle of our embrace’

    ‘time giving ground/like a frightened sea’

    ‘A slow dusk smokes the kill through the day’s memory.’

    But these are relatively minor blemishes, and anyone who can write a line like ‘those thin tongues of grass thrashing his little death’ quite clearly has a poet’s ear.

    The Swell by Jessica Mookherjee is the most recent in Telltale Press’s short first collections dustjacket-theswellby emerging poets. The writer’s coop model of publication is admirable, and these little pocket-size booklets are fine examples of the sort of thing that only small presses can really do.

    Mookherjee has an interesting background, the child of Bangladeshi parents who grew up in Swansea, she occupies a space between two cultures, and the poems here reflect the tensions of her position as a woman making her own way in that space. In some respects, these are poems of a misfit, uncomfortable in the skins that family and society intend for her, intent on small, or large, acts of rebellion.

    Suspicious of prayers to invisible gods, I stared

    at vicars and asked them who would go to hell,

    whether they worshipped thunder.

    [from ‘The Liar’]

    She also embraces the physicality of female identity, as in the title poem about, apparently, her mother’s pregnancy:

    Drum tight, she looked about to burst.

    He made a fuss of her for a change,

    waded in wearing galoshes

    as her waters broke, flooding

    the house, leaving us to stay with strangers.

    In the acknowledgements, Mookherjee thanks her teachers, and I do detect something of the workshop about these poems., Nevertheless, I also sense an interesting voice emerging from that marginal space that she occupies. An interesting little book.

  • Billy Mills 21:35 on 25/01/2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Review   

    Review of Denise Riley in Eborakon 

    Eborakon is a poetry magazine based at the University of York and the latest issue, Vol 1, eboIssue 3, is just out, featuring, among many good things, my review of Say Something Back, by Denise Riley. Here’s a brief sample, you’ll need to buy the mag to read more:

    Throughout the collection, the formal restraints of song, with or without rhyme, provide a sense of emotional restraint, a pattern of emotion expressed, and then drawn back, an exploration of the language to enact this pattern in, that is deeply moving.

    • Dillards code 14:30 on 13/02/2017 Permalink | Reply

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  • Billy Mills 17:29 on 02/01/2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Review   

    Collected Poems 1964 – 2016 by Barry Tebb: A Review 

    barry-tebbCollected Poems 1964 – 2016, Barry Tebb, Sixties Press, 978-1-905554-31-7, £10.00

    Barry Tebb is something of an outlier when it comes to the history of British poetry over the last 50 years. His career began apparently riding the wave of 1960s counter culture enthusiasm, only to collapse into a quarter century of silence, followed by 20 years of intense writing and publishing activity on the margins of both the mainstream and alternative poetry ‘scenes’. It’s a trajectory that can be mapped now thanks to this welcome Collected Poems, published, as most of his mature writings have been, by his own Sixties Press imprint.

    Tebb is an interesting figure for a number of reasons, not least of which is his position in, but not of, the Northern working class milieu of 1950s Leeds, a world which was to become the ground on which his poetry rests. This ground is apparent in the first poem in his 1966 collection, The Quarrel With Ourselves, ‘School Smell’, a poem which, presciently, Michael Horovitz was to include in his seminal 1969 anthology The Children of Albion. This poem, a memory of the poet’s Leeds childhood sense of ‘outsiderness’ prefigures his later work, but is absolutely untypical of the three volumes he published up to 1970.

    Much of this early verse is apprentice work, a young poet’s idea of what poetry should be, with many of the poems being about artists and musicians, and the poet’s sensitive reactions to them. The importance of ‘significance’ is over-emphasised:

    Lodged in some deep recess of the soul
    Poems are waiting for me to write them
    (from ‘Expectancy’)

    It is interesting to see they young Tebb absorb the modified Surrealism of the 1940s so-called New Romantic poets in poems like ‘Everything in its Place’:

    The blackboard is cleaning itself behind me,
    Making my neck prick as it scattered dust

    There are also a number of short, haiku-like Imagistic poems, along with echoes of Eliot, Yeats and, more surprisingly, Browning:

    But my father called, I left my people
    With a sot who embarrassed the Bishop.
    I was not long in my see, two Popes died quickly
    And my father’s whispers never ceased, Rome called
    And I was Cardinal at last.
    (from ‘The Cardinal Looks Back’)

    And through all these influences, the patient reader can detect traces of Tebb’s original voice emerging:

    Slumped in action
    A matrix of motion
    Blurs direction;
    Left and right
    Gathers them in, sucking
    Gently round blind corners.
    (from ‘Absent Enemies’)

    And then, 25 years of writer’s block intervened, years in which Tebb says he was ‘unable to write’, a silence which was brought to an end by a dream of his first love, Margaret, who called him back in space and time to the Leeds of his childhood. The work which followed his return to writing is at times uneven, but almost always interesting, the ear which was latent in the earlier work blossoming into a unique voice full of assonance and alliteration:

    As soon as we entered Yorkshire
    Hughes’ voice assailed me, unmistakeable
    Gravel and honey, a raw celebration of rain
    like a tattered lacework window;
    (from ‘Hughes’ Voice in my Head’)

    There is a greater emphasis on the personal, and even those later poems that deal with art and artists feel earned in a way the earlier work doesn’t. There are a number of poems, probably too many, on the state of contemporary poetry politics, a not unnatural result of Tebb’s sense of being excluded, but these are more than outweighed by the honesty of the personal poems, especially in those dealing with his troubled marriage to poet and mental health activist Brenda Williams, most notably ‘The Road to Haworth Moor’:

    We were wrong from the beginning, you always said, wrong
    To be together, wrong to go away or perhaps, as Hobsbaum said,
    ‘It was the place’s fault. If we’d made it to Haworth as we
    Dreamed, standing on the moor top, the heather muffling your tears,
    The wind sighing its threnody, crying its cradle-song, whispering
    Promises of its care to come, its breath caressing the very stones
    We sat on, lost beyond the ken of any guide, beyond the signatures
    Of time and place, beyond, beyond…

    This passage might be seen as typical of Tebb’s method, with the preponderance of trisyllabic feet and concomitant preponderance of unstressed syllables contrasting with the intrusion of occasional adjacent stresses acting as counterpoint to the patterns of vowel and consonant sounds; ‘Dreamed, standing on the moor top, the heather muffling your tears’. It’s a distinctive and fascinating voice, adaptable to a wide range of tones and styles.

    At the heart of Tebb’s achievement is the long autobiographical poem that is the direct outcome of his dream, Bridge over the Aire. Despite internal nods to a number of 1940s poets, this poem seems to me to owe a great deal to Basil Bunting’s Briggflatts. As with Bunting, Tebb’s return to poetry is also a return to a lost childhood love and to its associated state of prelapsarian simplicity.

    Aire is 80-odd pages long and divided into six named books, each consisting of shorter numbered sections. The whole progress in a kind of spiral, with themes, scenes and emotions recurring, but at a different slant on each occurrence. The tone ranges from dense sound patterning to child-like simplicity:

    I began this prayer of poetry in poverty
    And this never-ending song started in silence
    After the bells quietened and Sunday was in
    Church or still in bed as I watched the tusky
    Growing in the fecund darkness. The shed was
    Holy, warm and in wonder I felt it move and
    On my scooter I flew over the holy stones of
    Jerusalem the Golden.
    (from Book One)
    “Rag-bone rag-bone
    White donkey stone”
    Auntie Nellie scoured
    Her door step, polished
    The brass knocker
    Till I saw my face
    Bunched like a fist
    Complete with goggles
    Grinning like a monkey
    In a mile of mirrors.
    (from Book Three)

    Book One, Against the Grain, which is the longest of the six, maps Tebb’s reconciliation with his past, with Leeds, with remembered first love, and with poetry. At the core of this deciding for poetry and for love is a thirst for simplicity:

    It’s been a problem ever since
    With everyone, no-one else was
    So simple, always wanting more or
    Less than I could give, when all
    There was to follow was more of
    The same

    The reconciliation with childhood involves an invocation of his pre-pubescent love of Margaret, and the book ends with a physical encounter (whether real or imagined is not entirely clear) between her and the narrator, their love finally consummated.

    Standing In Eden, the second book, opens with twin images of the young Tebb claimed by poetry and of Homer singing the nostos of Odysseus, before moving to a fragmented delineation of the Edenic Leeds of 1950s working class community, as seen through the eyes of children. Tebb is aware that things were not so ideal for all his neighbours:

    For fish and chips
    We went past ‘The Mansions’
    Half a dozen enormous
    Victorian houses abandoned
    To the poorest of the poor
    With front steps missing
    Holes in the halls so big
    You had to jump and
    Rats the size of cats.
    The children who lived there
    Pushed coal in broken prams
    Their jerseys had more
    Holes than wool
    They had impetigo
    We passed them quickly
    On the other side.

    The tone soon turns to lament; slum clearance meant that homes, shops and trades, an entire way of life, have been eradicated in the space between the now and then of the poem. This is Eden demolished, if not entirely eradicated, to be rediscovered only in the smallest of things:

    In the May dawn silence
    I walk the cobbled road,
    The houses gone for sixty years.
    A single wallflower grows
    On the ravaged bank.

    This clearance also meant the movement of people. and the separation of the young lovers of the poem. Tebb moving to the suburbs, grammar school, teacher training college, outwards and upwards, Margaret to who knows where.

    Book Three, The Kingdom of my Heart, moves from the mythic and communal to the personal and historical. The kingdom in question is both the emotional terrain of first love and the Anglian realm of Deira. It’s an urban landscape transformed by the twin powers of love and poetry:

    The park itself will blossom
    And grow in chiaroscuro
    The Victorian postcard’s view
    Of avenue upon avenue
    With palms and pagodas
    Lakes and waterfalls and
    A fountain from Versailles.

    And these powers are inextricably entwined:

    Margaret, now we’ll see
    What truth there is
    In dreams and poetry!
    I am at one with everyone
    There is poetry
    Falling from the air
    And you have put it there.

    The fourth book, Land of my Childhood, brings the reader back to the poem’s present, and at its core is Tebb’s recognition of his ‘outsider’ position: ‘My trouble was I’m not/Really working class’. This sense of difference extended to his preference for playing with girls rather than boys, a distaste for football, and, now, for the sanitised new Leeds of the planners’ dreams:

    This is no land for me
    I who have seen Excalibur
    Pulled from the living tree
    I who have drunk the wine
    Of Margaret’s memory.

    The Mooring Posts of Book Five are the landmarks of the gone world, ranging from the bridge of the poem’s title to local shops. Death, clearance and the brave new world of 1950s suburbia, with its shiny Formica and bright interior décor are folded into each other to signal the Fall, the end of innocence and the loss of love.

    The closing book, The Walk to the Paradise Gardens, which circles around Bonfire Night 1954, is both coda and a closing of the poem’s spiral. The poet finds himself returned to an Eden he never really left, thanks to the power of art. It’s an ending of quiet hope, based on the premise that what is made well and with love endures:

    The Hollows stretched into darkness
    The fire burned in the frost, sparks
    Crackled and jumped and floated
    Stars into the invisible night and
    The log glowed red and the fire we
    Fed has never died.


    Bridge over the Aire is a singular achievement in the same way that Briggflatts is; a poem unlike anything that Tebb’s fellow Children of Albion have, or could have, produced. As with most long poems, there are some flat moments, but overall it is a poem of great accomplishment as well as being a remarkable document of a world that has melted away before our very eyes. There is much to admire in this Collected Poems, but this poem makes it a book to treasure, a book to return to. Tebb is, above all else, a survivor of a gone world, a world of hope based on a firm sense of community and of social democracy in all its messy glory. Read it.

    • debjanichatterjeeoutlookcom 12:54 on 04/01/2017 Permalink | Reply

      This is such an insightful review, Billy! We hope that those who read this will heed your advice to read Barry Tebbs’ Collected Poems… We are sure Barry will appreciate and treasure it. Thank you.
      Debjani Chatterjee & Brian D’Arcy
      (Poets & friends of Barry)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Billy Mills 12:56 on 04/01/2017 Permalink | Reply

        Thank you. It really is a shame to see such a fine poet being neglected by readers of poetry.


    • Barry Tebb 16:13 on 04/01/2017 Permalink | Reply

      I sent this out to more than 40 mags that do reviews in July last year and from them not as yet not a single review.I came across Billy’s blog from an FB mention just before the holiday and this hugely encouraging piece came as a New Year gift.Having read as many reviews of Billy’s that I could: his erudition and intuition meld into a patchwork of flashing starbursts!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Billy Mills 18:03 on 04/01/2017 Permalink | Reply

        Too generous, Barry. Thanks again for sending the book to me. It’s been a pleasure to review.


    • David Hackbridge Johnson 12:37 on 03/12/2017 Permalink | Reply

      A splendid review of a wonderful and moving book. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Billy Mills 22:45 on 05/09/2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Review   

    I Review My News for You: Irish Poetry 600 – 1200, by Geoffrey Squires for The Dublin Review of Books 

    t_223_5178My review of My News for You: Irish Poetry 600 – 1200, Edited and translated by Geoffrey Squires is live on the Dublin Review of Books site from today.

    • Tom D'Evelyn 22:58 on 05/09/2016 Permalink | Reply

      Excellent review– really a review essay. For those of us who read widely and promiscuously this review upgrades our conversation about early Irish poetry. The symbolic culture of the poems as well as the nature of the sentence clearly must influence our readings of the translations. I’d like to read Billy Mills on Mad Sweeney, which I find fascinating. A topography of the old Celtic way?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Billy Mills 23:00 on 05/09/2016 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks, Tom. Funnily enough, I’ve often considered writing about Sweeney. One of these days.


    • Michael Peverett 09:49 on 05/10/2016 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks Billy, fascinating review of a book I want to read very much.

      Liked by 1 person

    • sandeepgirishbhatnagar 14:23 on 09/11/2016 Permalink | Reply

      Well written review. Good work.

      Liked by 1 person

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