Category Archives: Reviews

Still Life With Grandmother by Christopher Race

A review by Myron Lysenko

The poems in this book are accessible yet deep, serious yet subtly funny. They contain fearful and lonely thoughts in juxtaposition with domestic imagery. Music and the garden are recurring motifs. There are windows through which the poet looks both outwards at scenes going past his life and within as he recollects dead relatives and loved ones who have enriched his life or bullied him into a man who has difficulty in expressing his love.

It’s always a struggle to see out;
To turn oneself into a window;
To become an empty room, a glass wall
Facing out into the foreign flowers

There is wisdom and craft in these brave, isolated meditations full of pain and regret as the poet searches for his identity and wonders where to find his place in a world where everything is strange and foreign. Christopher Race is not afraid to make himself vulnerable as he documents his feelings, fears and insecurities within family and social situations.

The main highlight amongst many highlights is the title poem, a long narrative which captures the personality of a grandmother who was forced to leave England and come to a strange and hot country full of people who she couldn’t feel comfortable with; a woman who spoke her mind and spoke it harshly, a woman who made life hard for her family except the grandchildren who were able to see a softer, more compassionate side. A person who expressed her love for things rather than people; somebody who painted still lives because her own life had stilled when she was still young and free and full of promise.

This is a sophisticated and assured debut. Christopher Race’s distinctive and calm voice is a welcome harmony to the chorus of Australian poets.

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Ethnographic Early Years

UnknownI Dream of You Still: Early Years in Bath
by Kimberly Labor.

 

This is a charming memoir based on diaries kept by a very  (it says so in the blurb)  young American woman. This fact, along with the narrative’s time frame, and its location, (significantly not America) is key to fully appreciating Labor’s book. It reads like ethnography, with the staggering revelations of another time and culture.

The realities of those good old 70s gender roles, the struggle intelligent women put up against them, and the changing – and therefore confusing – sexual dynamics of that period in Western social history, all contribute to an engaging narrative.

Had this been a novel I would have quickly grown impatient with the young woman’s introspective brooding and egocentric concerns. As it is, the universality of the quest for love and a place in the world ensures that this narrator’s ever hopeful struggle, and repeated disappointment, is moving – at times deeply so.

Despite the legendary freedom of the 70s, the young Kimberly is not promiscuous, and she is no Bridget Jones – she has too much self-confidence to be any comparison. It is a remarkably chaste diary for the times, and when the author does embark on a physical relationship, she learns sophisticated lessons and ends the affair because it is ‘only desire’.

Her battle to let go of an unreciprocated attachment to the key player in her drama is a familiar theme (explored in numerous mediums) and it is drawn out painfully and compulsively on these pages. Compellingly too, it would seem, as I couldn’t put the book down until it had been finally resolved.

But it would be too simplistic to call this a story of unrequited love. The object of Kimberly’s desire constructs himself as such, by courting her then stepping back – then drawing her in again as soon as she has regained her equanimity. This lends a touch of psychodrama to the daily, weekly, monthly narrative. Kimberly is no fool, or this scenario would become excruciating. Her efforts to understand herself are both touching and intriguing, and finally (thankfully) liberating.

It is this ability in the young writer to draw us into her drama, and take us with her on the journey from naivety to maturity, that makes this a highly competent piece of writing, and much, much more than the chronicle of confessions we might have expected of a very young woman’s diary.

 

Jane Nicholls
Editor
Pomonal Publishing

[Note: This book is not one of our publications.]

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A review: The Blind by Christine Murray

1-front-200x300There are new voices on the wind, and their singing is to vastly variant tunes.

When I first opened Murray’s ‘The Blind’ I entered into the rhythm of this – for me – new voice eagerly and was immediately delighted by the imagery, the succinct phrasing, the unfolding drama of the first poems… and then I hit a wall.

Suddenly the mise en page confused me. I couldn’t locate a destination or follow her meaning (in the manner I expected) in the refined simplicity of her phrases; couldn’t read the implications of/the unfamiliar placement of the slashes, dashes, dots enclosed by brackets, and the cryptic lines that offered me so little clues to her narrative.

citadel

rings rim bears the swish of silks
it witnesses the ravel/un of thread

from its metal mouth/ its iron lung
a gap will open at a point north -west

slow the revolve to an avenue / a road
nearby a waystation/

there is the constant presence of the dead
in their soul-cocoons / needing caressing

I had to go back and read from the beginning again…

And with this re-reading my excitement mounted. Like a photographer suddenly gifted with eyes that perceived previously unseen spectrums of colour, I entered into a new country, and my ears began to hear its language.

Now isn’t that exactly what poetry should do? I cannot give a fellow writer higher praise than this – that she takes me by surprise and shows me things I never knew our common tongue was capable of.

Over a week I read ‘The Blind’ daily. Each time I began again at the beginning and travelled a little further into its unfolding mysteries. As each veil lifted, the sense of intimacy shared increased, but also the sense of wonder, the sense of being a privileged observer to a grander-than-personal drama. This I attribute to Murray’s unique sense of language as metaphor. Nothing essentially new to poets or poetry of course, but seldom have I found it in the work of my own generation to be as refined or as exquisite as in this collection.

from catapult

stitched in caul and head they will
use the steel tips to force him out

This is a work dense with layers of meaning that emerge gradually from crafted layers of text. Like a cubist painting, its parts make up a whole greater than their sum.  The images of women weaving or sewing, thread together all the elements: the living and the dead, the world weary and the unborn, in the stories and in the personalities that populate this collection. It is one poem and it is many, and it offers both detail and vista.

unleash the skein

red thread the open wound
and from it a thin red rivulet

will drain into a metal dish
and curl into water

and from  shadows

some say they sit behind mirrors watching lives
pass through a room:

that they spindle the threads / that they are blind /that
they have no emotion

they are simply bent to the work that they were given
and never a stitch is dropped /

that is not picked up and brought clean again / for they
simply do their job

by touch by hand by long and patient experience with
the vagaries of man

and woman

I have not enjoyed a new voice as much, or felt such excitement in discovery since I first read T.S. Eliot in high school.

[Note: This collection was published by Oneiros Books, not by us]

 

 

 

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Dispersal – a review by C. Murray

‘Frances Holloway is a poet storyteller whose work is wry and full to bursting with ideas. Pomonal Publishing have done well in snaring the woman and bringing her work out. Holloway’s books capture a universe, they are almost nourishing. I say this as a reader who seeks visualism and colour in her poems. I look for intensity and light in a poem, I do not care if the light is dark or jewel-like.’ 

This is an extract from Chris Murray’s review of our latest publication. Frances Holloway and Pomonal Publishing are immensely grateful for the press she has given this book, both on Poethead and on social media. As previously confessed, we don’t do social media ourselves, so rely on all of you to spread the seed/word (allusions intended).

You can read the rest of Murray’s insightful review here.

In my next post I’ll talk about her own recently published cycle of poems, ‘The Blind’, and about its impact on me, half a world away from Ireland in the dry land down under.

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