Two more good ones from Kindle …

16 12 2013

I love these free downloads from Amazon Kindle!

The Muse of Violence by Bruce Hartman

Muse of Violence cover

The narrator is the leader of a writers’ group who tells a tale reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (“And Then There Were None”). It all begins with Jackie, a young woman who collects married men. They have to be married. The only married man Jackie is not interested in is her husband, who, according to a story she reads to the group, is a pathetic little wimp called Larry.

The following week, Eleanor, an older woman, reads a story she has written in which a wife follows the young blonde seducer of her husband and … Only Jackie is not there to hear it. Why not? It turns out that she has already been murdered, and the story Eleanor told is remarkably similar to what actually happened to Jackie.

Could Eleanor have murdered her? She seems to have a foolproof alibi, but the narrator is not convinced.

And so it continues. Read your story, meet your maker.

Excellent and gripping. And there is someone in the writers’ group for every reader to identify with – always important to me. I identified in this case not with the narrator, who would be most people’s choice, I imagine, but with Caroline, whose viewpoint we also get from time to time. The extracts from her diary make her in effect a second narrator, and I have to say I would have preferred rather more of her and rather less of him.

Nomad by J L Bryan

NOMAD-by-JL-Bryan

 

A teenage child soldier from a future dystopia finds herself inexplicably in this world dressed in the ragged remains of what she had obviously been wearing there/then, and clutching a backpack containing wads of dollars and strange clothes clearly intended for a large man.

And a gun. A gun from the future that she knows how to assemble and operate, though she has no idea how she knows.

She lost her memory in the time-jump, but gradually comes to the realisation that she is here to asassinate the young man, at present a student at Yale, who is destined to become the tyrant responsible for creating the hellish world in which she grew up.

Without him that will never happen.

Or will it?

And another thing. What will happen to her if the world she comes from no longer exists? Will she become a time-nomad, with no world of her own to return to?

That question, so well handled in this book, led me to another question. Isn’t that what happens to all of us? The world we grew up in no longer exists. As James Munro puts it in his poem Fin de Millennium:

You take the high road,
you take the low road,
you take the bloody motorway:
but I was in Scotland ‘afore ye …

And in Ireland. And England. Roads were narrow then,
the high with low stone walls, the low with hedges,
blossom, finches, trains were grimy,
dog-end-filled and stopped at every village station,
bells ringing, whistles blowing, steam and
hats and skirts all blowing; time:
the whistles and the bells fell silent, cigarettes
were antisocial, steam and stations uncommercial,
girls wore jeans, wore strings, wore …

Then was another world. You’d be an alien there.

In Andalusia I sat down and wept;
in Casablanca I remembered then, remembered
cold, grey seas and grassy dunes, the grey-green marshes
and the silence of the north
(a far-off bird, a summer insect,
breaking waves upon a distant beach: a lamb calling).

Catch a plane! Go home! they said. A plane?
I’d need a time machine.





THE NEW BRIDE by Catherine Smith

5 11 2013

Catherine SmithA chapbook which was published in 2001 but only just came my way, the work of a true poet in the line of Sylvia Platt, Elizabeth Bartlett and Dorothy Nimmo.

It opens with the title poem, The New Bride, and from the first lines you are grabbed (and you stay grabbed till you finish the 23 pages of poetry that make up this little book). I don’t think either Catherine Smith or her publishers (The Poetry Business) will mind me quoting it here in full. It is, quite simply, perfect.

Dying, darling, is the easy bit. Fifty paracetamol,
bride-white and sticking in the throat, ten shots
of Johnny Walker, and the deed is done.
A twilight day of drowsing, then the breathing
slows to a whisper, like a sinner in Confession.

Death is dead easy. No, what happens next
is the difficulty. You bastard, howlng in public,
snivelling over photos, ringing round for consolation.
And you have me burnt, like a dinner gone wrong,
you keep the charred remains of me on show

at the Wake, inviting everyone I hate. Oh God,
they come in packs, sleek as rats with platitudes
and an eye on my half of the bed, hoping to find
leftover skin, a hint of fetid breath. I leave them
no hairs on the pillow. There are none to leave. 

And a year to the day since I shrug off the yoke
of life, you meet the new bride. In group therapy.
You head straight for a weeper and wailer,
telling strangers all her little tragedies. You love
the way she languishes, her tears sliming your neck,

you give in to her on vile pink Austrian blinds.
The Wedding is a riot of white nylon. Everybody
drinks your health and hers, the simpering bitch.
She and Della Smith keep you fat and happy
as a pig in shit. I want her cells to go berserk. 

Some nights I slip between you. The new bride
sleeps buttoned up, slug-smug in polyester. You,
my faithless husband, turn over in your dreams,
and I’m there, ice-cold and seeking out your eyes
and for a moment you brush my lips, and freeze.

Wow. Hard to follow that, but there are several other poems in this collection that you’ll want to re-read, and read again later because they are impossible to forget. Like Waiting for the Foot Binder (“The last evening with toes …”) and The Real McCoy, a vampire poem, (“At night I head for the bar with no mirrors and wait …”) and Picture This (“Grandad’s shirt sleeves applauding themselves on the line …”)

Actually, she is rather into clothes lines: in Uncle Aubrey

Uncle Aubrey is dying. On the line
pummelled by sheet-steel winds
night-clothes bluster and bulge.

This poem finishes (I can’t help quoting it!)

He is dying in Welsh. It is part of me
singing somewhere in my blood
voices of sickness and rain.

Voices of sickness and rain” – that is Wales in five words, at least the Wales I once came to know.

In Formica, she sits in a café “between coaches” and reads, carved into the formica table-top, the words “Jason fucked Gemma“. Then pictures it happening, there, across that table, and afterwards Jason taking out his penknife and carving while Gemma stands in the drizzle outside “waiting for the Manchester bus“.

And then there’s Stornoway Harbour, where “On the quay, mackerel convulse in buckets, / grinning like madmen …”

If you can find a copy of this collection, grab it. If not, see what Catherine Smith has been doing since 2001. I just have – here is her website:

http://www.catherinesmithwriter.co.uk





TWO WOMEN DANCING by Elizabeth Bartlett

16 08 2013

I jotted down these thoughts last year while reading this wonderful collection of poems, then put it aside and … came across it again the other day. They don’t constitute a review as such but they are perhaps worth posting.

Two Wmen Dancing cover

“I like a man with poetry in him, but not a poet,” remarked Marilyn Monroe.

Is it perhaps, then, not the poetry – or poetry as such – but the poets?

Wendy Cope – like Elizabeth Bartlett, another very observant and sensistive modern poet herself – seems to thinks so.

I used to think all poets were Byronic -
Mad, bad and dangerous to know.
And then I met a few. Yes, it’s ironic -
I used to think all poets were Byronic.
They’re mostly wicked as a ginless tonic
And wild as pension plans.

Why would they say a thing like that? But notice the adjective Byronic. It wasn’t people like Byron, and Chaucer and Shakespeare, Donne and Blake and Shelley, Browning and Tennyson, who gave poets a bad name. Or Robert Graves or George Barker or Peter Porter. Or Auden, who was gay but had balls. (Those of you who don’t read poetry often or much may recall Switch Off All the Lights in the film “Four Weddings and a Funeral”.) Or Eliot, who wore a veneer of respectability that could fool all except those who read and love real poetry, yet beneath the surface was seething with the mad, bad and wild. “I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”

Real poetry. So perhaps after all, it is not just the poets but the poetry. Let me be honest. If a poem neither moves nor amuses me – nor even shock or arouses me – what use have I for it? Yawn, yawn – well-crafted – yawn, yawn – lovely alliteration – yawn, yawn – original rhyme scheme – yawn, yawn, yawn, zzzzz …

“A poet looks at the world the way a man looks at a woman.” Only a eunuch would look at a woman the way many modern poets look at the world!

Elizabeth Bartlett looks at the world the way a woman looks at a man.

No. Come on, Kanti. I’m writing these notes sitting outside a café in Paris – it’s October, and the weather is perfect – and every single male head, young or old, alone or in company, turns to watch every single remotely nubile female body walk past. It’s “a man thing”. Try again.

Elizabeth Bartlett looks at the world the way a real woman looks at the world: amused, aroused, awed, sympathetic, sometimes censorious, sometimes shocked, but always human. Passionately so. And never, ever boring. Apart from Bernardine Evaristo’s The Emperor’s Babe (which I must review!) this is the only book of poetry I have ever read on and on into the night and the following day, unable not to turn the page.

Elizabeth Bartlett

Elizabeth Bartlett

I challenge you to yawn while you are reading these poems!





A SEASONING OF LUST by Jane Kohut-Bartels

13 02 2013

Seasoning of Lust coverA little book of erotica that came my way, left behind by a visitor actually, and though I try to return books lent to me I don’t feel I need to return this little gem to him. In fact he may have left it on my bedside table intentionally: there are things in here that every woman should ponder, and, if the cap fits (so to speak) take to heart;  and things that any man with imagination will thrill to.

It is a book of “very short stories” and “very short poems”, miniature masterpieces, many of them set in the world of the professionally beautiful and submissive geisha, a work of art in herself, there only to give pleasure.

Not a world we know, most of us, here in the West, though I have had some experience (some experiences) of it – that world, the East – on my travels and during my stays in India and Burma (yes, I know, Myanmar) and Thailand. But I have never been to China or Japan, and now perhaps never will. Being one for Tibet and for freedom I have no wish to visit imperialist China, and the Japanese men I have known have put me right off working there.

However, if anyone could make me change my mind, it would be Jane. I love nearly everything in this book.

Among my favourites are the 200-odd-word story Bad Karma.

“Who is coming?” she said as Midori painted her eyebrows high on her forehead.

“So sorry, but it’s Tanaka-san today.”

Bao’s eyes widened. “Aiiieee! He likes things pushed in odd places!”

“Just do as he wants. We’ll have rice balls later.”

Tanaka-san’s karma was to be short-shafted and have peculiar desires. Bao mourned her own karma.

And Ali Baba And His Four Thieves, where we get something different: belly-dancing. Jane is a belly-dancer (another thing we share) and the belly-dancer here is a silly western girl who is asking for it, and gets it. I found that of all the girls in the book, I couldn’t help identifying most fully with her! (Very embarrassing, but I’m being honest.)

Then there is the Shibari series of thirteen exquisite miniatures. “Shibari”? Synonymous with “Kinbaku-bi”, which apparently means ‘the beauty of tight binding’. (Was this why he left it by my bed?)

And the Haiku. Listen to this:

The glance at a wrist
White, the pulse of a river
Tiny beat of life

And the Tankas:

The morning wren sings,
I stand in the moonlit dawn
kimono wrapped tight.
Last night I made my peace
now free from all attachments.

The collection finishes with three slightly longer stories, two, both unforgettable, set in France, and the third – my favourite, because so original, so surprising – set in Venice. It is called La Vendetta and tells of the spoilt Signora Maria de Guiseppa Agnesi Faini; her husband, Signor Faini; her lover, Alfredo, “an officer, a dashing lieutenant, now on maneuvers somewhere across the Alps”; and her “friend” – Signor Alessandro Balsamo was her friend. Actually he was her cisebo, tolerated by her husband because Signor Balsamo was a castrato. He had been cut when only a young boy (“Viva il coltello![Long live the knife!] the audience yelled when he appeared on the stage) and sang until his voice disappeared.

But now the castrato is growing old and can be treated with contempt. … Or can he?

To be dipped into, then, rather than read straight through. You’ll love it too, I’m sure.





DEVICES AND DESIRES by P. D. James

8 01 2013

Devices and Desires coverSearching my grandmother’s bookshelves the other night for something to read, I picked a out a hefty tome (600-odd pages) by P. D. James, an Adam Dalgliesh novel with a picture of a windmill on the front that rang no bells. Nor did the blurb on the back cover, except that I remembered East Anglia was a haunt of his.  It seemed I was in luck. I am a lover of murder mysteries, medieval, modern, I don’t mind what period they are set in, just so long as they are well written, so I clutched it to my bosom and hopped onto the sofa. This would keep me busy for a couple of nights.

With P. D. James and Adam Dalgliesh, as with, for instance, Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot, you know more or less exactly what you are going to get, and you know it will be faultlessly crafted and beautifully written.

The great difference between Agatha Christie and P. D. James, or so it seems to me, is that whereas Agatha Christie merely introduces us to the population of the village or ship or train or whatever (This is Dr Jenkins, he’s new to the village, young wife, baby; this is Daisy Williams, she’s Miss Myers’ maid – Miss Myers? The elderly lady who lives in that big house – alone now, her sister died four months ago), P. D. James provides us with the sort of detail we have grown accustomed to and perhaps even come to crave from watching soap-operas. By the time we finish a P. D. James book such as this one, we know the characters (in this case those living on the Headland) better than we know our neighbours, better even than all but the very closest members of our family. Dalgleish can return to London, we don’t need him. The drama is over, but we want the play to go on.

Dalgliesh’s elderly aunt has died, leaving him a fortune. He could now give up police work and concentrate on his poetry if he so wished – if. She has also left him a small house and a large windmill on the Headland, a remote – well, headland, yes – on the north coast of Norfolk, not far from Cromer, once famous for its natural beauty but now famous for Larksoken Nuclear Power Station. Infamous, in the opinion of many, including several of the characters in the book.

It is not the power station that concerns us here, at least at the outset, it is the presence on the Headland of a serial killer knows as the Whistler.

Not Dalgliesh’s concern, of course. It is not his patch and he is not on duty. The task of identifying the Whistler before any more women are killed falls to Chief Inspector Terry Rickards, who is naturally wary of Dalgliesh (Dalgliesh upset him once in London years ago) but turns out to be a very intelligent and sympathetic man.

And Dalgliesh does get mixed up in the investigation, of course. He gets to know everyone and we see them through his eyes, but we get to know them better, because the point of view shifts and shifts and shifts again and we know what most of the characters are privately thinking and feeling most of the time.

Which is why, perhaps, we identify not just with the protagonist but with almost everyone in turn. And we don’t, as I say, want to be “cast out” of their lives (perhaps I should say of them) at the end of the book.

Anything else? Yes, two things.

First, an unforgettable moment when one of the characters, Meg, experiences some sort of time-slip. It starts with what seems to be a straightforward “timeless moment” as described by so many mystics and poets, but then she becomes aware of “the sound of horses’ hoofs and tramping feet, of rough male voices, of an incoherent babble as if the tide were sucking back the shingle on all the beaches of the world. And then there was a hiss and crackling of faggots, an explosion of fire, and then a second of dreadful silence broken by the high, long-drawn-out scream of a woman.” When this happens, she is in the house known as Martyr’s Cottage. On the wall outside the cottage is a plaque reading:

In a cottage on this site lived Agnes Poley, Protestant martyr, burned at Ipswich, 15th August, 1557, aged 32 years.

Unexpected, I don’t know why, in a P. D. James novel.

The other is about poetry. Two of the characters are discussing Adam Dalgliesh. She is telling her brother that she has invited Adam to dinner.

‘Am I expected to talk about his poetry?’

‘I imagine he’s come to Larksoken to get away from people who want to talk about his poetry. But it wouldn’t hurt you to take a look at it. I’ve got the most recent volume. And it is poetry, not prose rearranged on the page.’

‘With modern verse, can one tell the difference?’

‘Oh yes,’ she said. ‘If it can be read as prose, then it is prose. It’s an infallible test.’

Very true. They should certainly have this rule up on the wall in the English faculties at all universities. and in the Creative Writing Departments.

On the other hand, there is such a thing as poetic prose, prose poetry, and P. D. James very frequently writes it. There are scores of examples in this one book. I won’t start quoting again, but take a second look at that description of the time-slip …





BETWEEN THE CRACKUPS by Rebecca Lehmann

4 09 2012

The poem that opens this collection, “A Hundred Words For Loser”, ensures that we are under no illusion regarding the poets’ unpoetic take on the sacrosanct – or indeed on anything else.

… A man
tells a bible story about a town filled
with prostitutes and a father who sleeps
with his two daughters.

Then we have “Letters To A Shithead Friend”. Some of these poems are so far from traditional poetry and so far too from from the poetasting “poems” of the incestuous “poets” writing only for each other in many of the little magazines that fill the shelves of university libraries, that they might once again, like the poets of the past, appeal to the masses if the masses would only read them.

Take “The Youngest Girls In Memphis” for example, which finishes:

… We never expect them
to erupt like angered volcanoes,
their vomit and loose teeth pooling
on our tabletops. This is a surprise
every time; this is the event horizon.

Or “The Factory, An Elegy In Six Parts”, which begins:

The managers are giving silver dollars to our children,
are telling them that if they are good, they can have our jobs
once we have died.

Or “Think Georgia, Gorgeous” (I am drawing attention to some of the ones I liked best):

We take our bearings from the headlights
flashing through the guardrails. Nashville,
and a billboard reads, Good little tits!

Or “Dear Cousin” which finishes:

Morning has broken is a hymnal line that means
two or more things. I realize this as I’m singing it,
the wafer crumbs still stuck inside my mouth.

Some of the poems paint a surrealistic picture, successfully – not so easy for a poet, who risks becoming ridiculous. This is “Particulate Matter IV”:

A man in a field holds a folding chair.
His hair is made of light.
I realize I’m naked. He unfolds the chair and
sits down. When he opens his mouth
horse flies fall out like a cataract.

They form the shape of a word: HEY

Rebecca Lehmann is an academic, and I have to say that for the most part, perhaps surprisingly this does not show in her writing (I mean it does not mar it), but occasionally she cannot help the self-conscious aside like this one which, in my view, spoils what had been up to that point an excellent poem.

Forgive the intrusion of a metaphor; I’ve been away a long time.

And then there are the memories of schooldays which always seem to pepper the conversation of (young) American women. She is very American, and here agonising over them seems only to add authenticity. For instance:

like the grown man who apologized for calling
me a finger-fuck slut when we were both thirteen

And :

The boy who moved to my town from California in sixth grade
made me a pair of earrings out of fishing wire and beads.
I threw them in the school trashcan at the end of the day,
and then years later felt horrible about it.

Is this nature, or is it artifice, I wonder.

And then, oddly, there is a series of references to bruises on her legs. I find this intriguing, and wonder once again if it is nature or artifice.

I had my legs open [...]
I never told anyone the bruise you made

And:

… the bruise
on the leg like an angered owl

And:

The diagonal line of bruises on the back
of my left thigh reveals my humanity.

And:

The bruises on my legs, desire them.

Let me just say that this is a collection that improves with a second reading. (You would never notice those bruises first time round.) Perhaps she no longer shocks, but you begin to pick out the gems among the poems and mark the ones you want to read a third and fourth time. And perhaps add to your own private collection of art trouvée. Like the absolutely original poem entitled “Pasture”: I would need to quote the whole thing. You must buy the book and read it for yourself.





Hermann Hesse quotation

7 06 2012

Incompetent critics (who are aggressive because of their uncertainty, because they have always to judge values they cannot feel in essence but can only investigate theoretically and mechanically from outside) like to reproach poets with vanity and hypersensitivity about criticism, even with enmity toward the intellect in general, until in the end the bewildered reader is no longer able to distinguish between the true poet and the idiotic, long-haired poetaster represented in the newspapers and magazines.” (Hermann Hesse – 1930)





DARK ROAD TO DARJEELING by Deanna Raybourn

25 04 2011

Lady Julia Grey (one of my favourites) is back again, and this time she is in India and the year is 1889. A book seemingly designed for me!

It opens with Juila protesting “I thought there would be pink marble palaces and dusty deserts and strings of camels to ride. Instead there is this,” and her sister Portia reproving her, “For heaven’s sake, Julia, don’t be difficult. Climb onto the floating buffalo and let’s be off.” But the so-called floating buffalo consists of several rather nasty-looking rafts made of inflated buffalo hides which ‘looked incredibly lifelike, as if the buffalo had merely rolled onto their backs for a bit of slumber, but bloated …’Julia, we are Englishwomen. We are not cowed by a little authentic local flavour.” Then their brother Plum joins in the quarrel, and finally Julia, ‘heartily sick of them both,’ says: “No more. Not another word from either of you,” and mounts the raft. “We are all of us above thirty years of age, and there is no call for us to quarrel like spoiled schoolmates. Now, let’s get on with this journey like adults, shall we?” And with that little speech, the raft sank beneath me and I slipped beneath the chilly waters of the river.’

Since the first sentence of the very first book, the opening lines of this series have been stunning. You are hooked at once. And as you see, this one lives up to our expectations, and continues to do so right through to the closing sentence – which I will not give you here!

What has happened is this: Lady Julia and her half-nobleman, half-gipsy husband are nearing the end of a long and idyllic honeymoon on the Mediterranean when her sister Portia and brother Plum catch up with them in Egypt and manage to persuade the reluctant couple of newly-weds to accompany them to India where the unlovable husband of Portia’s close friend Jane Cavendish has died, and Portia – for no particular reason, it seems – believes him to have been murdered. Now Jane is alone and out there in the foothills of the Himalaya, and expecting a baby.

All right, Portia’s woman’s intuition is something Julia is inclined to take fairly seriously, but it is not enough to make her and Brisbane abandon their earlier plans and accompany Portia and Plum to India. Not, that is, until Portia adds that Jane’s late husband’s huge estate and tea-plantation is entailed: it will pass to Jane’s son if she has a son, but if she has a daughter it will pass not to her but to the nearest male heir. Which means that if the husband was murdered then another murder is on the books. They go to India.

I enjoyed this story quite as much as I did the others and found the various Indian (and Anglo-Indian!) characters and its whole depiction of life in Victorian rural India completely convincing and understandable.

I also very much approved of and appreciated the quotations from Rabindranath Tagore which appear at the head of each chapter. Tagore was a wonderful writer (and a Nobel Prize winner) and Deanna Raybourn brings him to the attention of people who may never have heard of him. For any readers of this blog who are unacquainted with his work, let me quote here my own personal favourite lines, from his Gitanjali.

Here is thy footstool and there rest thy feet where live the poorest, and lowliest, and lost.

When I try to bow to thee, my obeisance cannot reach down to the depth where thy feet rest among the poorest, the lowliest, and the lost.

Pride can never approach to where thou walkest in the clothes of the humble among the poorest, the lowliest, and the lost.

My heart can never find its way to where thou keepest company with the companionless among the poorest, the lowliest, and the lost.
* * *

Leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads! Whom dost thou worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors all shut? Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee! …

(Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali X and XI)





PROLE Issue 2

16 12 2010

I didn’t know anything about this new short story and poetry magazine, nothing to make me buy it, so I suppose it must have been the name and the cover image. PROLE – from proletarian? And the photo – surely that must be a brothel? There is already a story there – the man calling, the woman answering, the other girl, listening, amused.

Within, unfortunately, there is no story quite like that. There is, though, one called The Shill, by Keith Laufenberg, which comes very close, the story of a girl like many I have known, a loser with the looks of a femme fatale, and the man whose path crosses hers, once, twice, quite as much a loser as she is and equally lovable in his way. A great story. I wasn’t much impressed by any of the others, though.

That said, however, several of the poems did impress me. Robert Nisbet’s Fat Girl could have been written by Elizabeth Bartlett, a great favourite of mine. How about this line? “The catwalks teem with skinny tarts.” Birthdays, too, by Gill Learner, has that same Elizabeth Bartlett ring. Looking back [yes, believe it!] “One hundred was the worst – all that sidelong speculation: Will she last till then? … How soon before the date can we be sure she’ll make it?” I also liked the two roundels by James Nash, a poem called Peter, by Emma Simon: “What galls me is you said it would be so.” And Peter Branson’s The Statue, a strangely evocative sonnet borrowing the theme from The Winter’s Tale. And some of the Sixteen (rhymed, four-line, pseudo-Roman) Graffiti by Brian Fone: for instance – from Politics:

Martius demands that more troops should be raised;

more legionaries sent to fight in the East.

What matters as long as his statesmanship’s praised

and while they die, he can revel and feast?

Or, from Personalities:

Lascivia’s young bosom swells fully with pride;

as all goes well with her long held plan.

Though not yet old enough to be a bride

she has finally had her twenty-first man.

Well worth the price. (Oh, you can get it here.)








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 190 other followers