Thursday, 3 July 2014

In a Riverside Museum

I have been writing some poems about artefacts in Arundel Museum.


Little spoon
you fill the spaces of my thoughts
with reindeer
tiny and spiky as thorns on a hill

and my imagination
heaves with the later
carving of horn
and the hand that would etch
and whittle a stag
onto the scoop of your bowl.

You would have been a rich man’s weapon
blade in a river
surfacing like Excalibur
(or a bit of it)
during a ring-road dig.

What offering were you
to a Roman god
what appeasement or great wish?

Gilded now
in museum light
you are preserved –
or the one remaining  
side of you is, for you were the first
of six strong sides
around a coffin of lead.

Where is your vault and broken stone?
Dispersed in earth and air
like a chantry mass no longer sung
for a soul’s relief
though wealth was paid  and set  aside
for indefinite
centuries of prayer.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Arundel Stone


A range of patterns, a wealth of stone.
Bath Stone walls transform to limestone,
metamorphose to flint.

St Henry stands aloft in his nook
as a nearby dragon bays at the moon.
Limestone here is granular, oolitic –
fragments of shells in a tropical sea
washed by tides and covered in calcite
through many thousands of years.

We end in River Road – quiet today
with memories of shipping and trade.
Stone walls and broken buildings
have their own tales to tell.

Smells of chalk, smells of the river.
Glimpses of the past touch me
like light through small leaves.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014


Stone in Arundel Castle
hums with vibrations of its past –
a proud defender of river and land
it suffered a poisoned well for the Royalists
and onslaughts from Cromwell's force.

St Wilfrid, says Bede,
brought men of Sussex to a Christian faith
by teaching them to fish.

An ancient Priory solid in flint
bears his name. Here masses were sung
for benefactors’souls.

St Nicholas
would love the church that’s his.
Window arches in ivy and stone
fill up,overflow with light.

A gargoyle glares and spits
rain down from the roof.

Gravestone dates tell sad tales,
sink beneath the roots.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Stone Walk around Arundel. Part 1


We begin with firm feet
on hard pink granite – French and resistant
to hooves and to dung in days when this square
was a bedlam of selling
and the heavy moaning of beasts.

 Graven names on the war memorial
are concise in afternoon sun.

Up the hill by the castle walls
fossils like seeds are pitted in slabs
of ancient Purbeck stone.
We crouch down, try and study them,
get looks from passers by. 

Maltravers Street is solid in flint
but sandstone pillars are weathered,
crumbled, pale.

Below the level of the street
a spooky passage leads to the cells.
Candlelit tours and mystery nights
tell of Victorian ghosts.

 High above tall windows
carvings of Lion, Swallow and Horse
stare out in heritage pride.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Poetry Blog Tour

Poetry Blog Tour


I have been asked by Gill McEvoy, author of the poetry collections ‘The Plucking Shed’ and ‘Rise’ (both published by Cinnamon Press) to take part in the Poetry Blog Tour by responding to these questions:


What are you working on right now?


Since ‘All the Invisibles’ (SPM Publications) was published in November 2012 I have been building up my folders of new poems and publications. I am waiting for confirmation from Pighog Press that they will publish a pamphlet of my work at the end of this year or the beginning of next.


I am also busy working as Poetry Editor for Sentinel Poetry Quarterly, reading submissions from many different countries and enjoying the varied styles. In the summer I am acting as one of the judges for a Poetry Collection Competition organised by Earlyworks Press and will be the editor of the winning book.


How does your work differ from others in the genre?


Difficult to answer from one’s own subjective angle. Friends tell me that my style reminds them of some American poetry in that I like writing in long lines with lots of ellipses and ‘leaps’ and that my poetry tends to be about ideas and concepts rather than anything more personal or descriptive.


Why do I write what I write?


I think I have a strong sense of Place and so the setting of a poem or story is important to me and is often my starting point. I also love history, literature and myth and so aspects of these frequently creep into my writing.


I enjoy finding strong, original images that, hopefully, will bring in associations for the reader as well.


Sometimes I try and write a ‘political’ poem, one that will say something relevant about the world we live in. This is difficult to do because I prefer to come at things slantwise and not spell things out or sound judgmental.


How does your writing process work?


I try and write something most days, even if it’s just editing a piece of work in progress. I prefer the mornings, being an early bird, rather than later in the day.


I keep notebooks of quotations, references, articles, ideas, overheard remarks, pictures etc etc and I refer to these a lot when I need to find a starting point or image. I like writing in pencil on plain paper for early drafts which are usually full of scribbles and crossings out but then I need to see what the lines and line endings look like on the computer and do most of my editing there.


I try to spend as much time as I can reading as well as writing – usually poetry books or books about writing. I try to keep as up to date as much as possible with contemporary, international poetry.




Thank you, Gill, for inviting me to take part in this Poetry Blog Tour. I’ll pass the mantle on to poet, novelist and artist Susan Skinner.

Review of 'A Somersault of Doves' by Valerie Bridge

ISBN: 9781907640124 
There are many kinds of journeys and poets love to tell of them. ‘A Somersault of Doves’ offers a moving and different slant on the theme for these are real journeys of place and time (rooted in memory and the handed-down tale) that span three generations of a family in flight as they travel across warscapes and devastation. Here we have poems that encompass danger and survival, the terror of the fugitive, displacement and loss. There is alarm at the thought of consequences ‘if the Officer unpicks/patchwork documents’, the sense of everything ‘closing now, no escaping’, the fearful ‘concentration/in the camp ‘ which ‘offers others skins’ and where someone will ‘barter for your hide, or cut it from your sleep.’ This is a brutal, painful world where even sunlight licks ‘at rifles’ and men ‘strobe the dark with torches splitting dreams’, where ‘birches ricochet this skyline’ and where those on the run must sleep on a hard floor under ‘a cover/where lice ride bare-back’.
The sequence of poems in this collection follows an interesting structure. Three sections are titled ‘Riga to Vienna 1890- 1920’, ‘London to Vienna 1947-1950’, and ‘Liverpool to Riga1940 -2000’. These describe journeys which begin with the author’s Latvian grandmother, Olga, running away to seek her true parents, continue with the impoverished post-war refugee world of her daughter Yadviga and end in 2000 with the author, Valerie, still ‘treading water’ with her fragments of memories and folk lore from the past. As prologue and epilogue to these tales we have two passages ‘something like amber’ which tell of the sacrificial drowning of a woman, a millennia and a half before, whose bones have been ‘long in the peat’. I love these sections where the corpse’s ‘eye sockets stir as if she’s on the point of speech’ and where, at the end, she is all women, all mothers, and although nothing can change history there are still the ‘no ending stories’.
In her introductory notes Valerie Bridge suggests that her poems should be seen as glimpses  – silhouettes in the distance, tracks in snow, ‘a frieze of figures: ciphers in a snowstorm, like scratch marks on the bark of a frosted silver birch’.  Certainly, in the first part of the collection, this is the mood that predominates. We find ourselves involved in a snowscape where ice ‘stiffens eyelashes’ and ‘crusts your throat’, where birth takes place ‘in wind chill five’ and ‘breath etches the waterfall/iced on these branches marking your face’.  Other images soon creep in, repeat, connect, and repeat again. (The skilful repetition of key words and images is one of the aspects of this collection that most appeals to me.) We have the nightmarish figure of Baba Yaga who steps out of a fairy tale into the waiting room of a hospital where she hides and ‘nods/the night in’. There is the recurrent tale of grandmother as a child out blueberrying and straying from the track, unaware of the bear hidden by autumn leaves in the cave who stops ‘mid snore’ and pursues her all the way back to the safety of the porch. There are images of refugees as ‘luggage’ – ‘wayward parcels or sandwiches’, children who become ‘someone else’s belongings.’
A recurrent theme in ‘A Somersault of Doves’ is the idea of stories changing in versions, of anecdotes handed on through generations like ‘a joining of dots on a map inherited’, of omissions and additions, of memories that strengthen in the telling although ‘there is always going to be something missing’ so that one has the impression of ‘blurring lines on fragmenting tissue’. The romantic tale of Olga’s escape from the backwoods of Latvia is an example of this where ‘differing versions of you jump from in-between carriages’. Parallel with this theme of versions is the continuum of return where the narrator feels the steps ‘on wet pavements now might be those that mounted the verandah,/seeking the place as expected, the empty chair.’  Is it ‘finally your footsteps’, she asks, ‘pausing,/returning, undoing the beginning again?’
Memories that are closer in time, childhood memories that feel real even if they are based on hearsay or impressions from a snapshot, are bound to be more vivid than recollections of older tales. This is why the section ‘Liverpool to Riga’ feels so personal and immediate. I find the poems that deal with the death of the author’s father, a man she never knew, almost too painful to read. The poems about her mother’s dying are equally hard to cope with. It is a mark of Valerie Bridge’s brilliance as a poet that she is able to write on such topics with unwavering honesty, compassion and beauty.
‘A Somersault of Doves’, deservedly, won first prize in the Slim Volume Small Edition at the Winchester Writers’ Conference 2013.  The cover has a marvellous, striking illustration by the artist David Marl and inside the book is a wealth of original material – copies of notes, postcards, envelopes, photos, documents of all kinds – a perfect counterpart to the richness of the poems. ‘Album pages’ says the narrator, ‘become moments when two men chop logs,/a chained dog barks and a dark group is waiting at the open door.’


Review of 'All the Invisibles' in 'Artemis'

In her All the Invisibles, prizewinning Mandy Pannett offers us poems full of sharply observed details, taking on a variety of themes: change, nature, light, history, colour, place. Her work is stylistically adventurous as in A Traveller from the Ship of Fools Explores Dry Land and the querulous, hard-edged love-poem All the Invisibles, here quoted "Let's make a detour you'd say, find us / a ley-line or two. I was used to this: a sudden // appearance of all the invisibles, something / slanting or something blue, a lattice // of light through a leaded window as you, / my directional compass-rose, would sense // the silences moving the air... " This is lyrical, dreamlike, but as the poem develops, there is a separation, "And I am left / on a shingle beach with nothing but empty / spaces around me and nothing is moving the air." One cannot do justice to this wide-ranging book in such a short notice, but Pannett offers much delight with her questing journeys into other landscapes, other voices, in these close-knit, often surprising poems, held firm by their spare, taut rhythms.

Katherine Gallagher