TWO WOMEN DANCING by Elizabeth Bartlett (Book Review)

As promised in my post of 27 Dec, here is a slightly fuller look at Elizabeth Bartlett’s Two Women Dancing.

I consider it one of the best books of poetry published in the last fifty years, yet on the first page, in the second poem, we read:

People need contemporary poetry like a hole in the head.

That depends on the poet. They certainly need these poems. We’ll come back to that later though, because the next poem is one of my favourites.
“My Five Gentlemen”

Prostitutes have clients, wives have husbands,
Poets, you will understand, have editors …

She describes the five editors whose hands she has been in, finishing up with:

Five is dead, of course. His failing health
Was a comfort to me, though not to him,
Naturally. His death removed one more market
For battered goods, and proved a welcome release.

Rest in peace, I thought (for I always think kindly
Of the gentlemen who direct me to the pages
I am to sit in). I can only hope to be recycled
And end up more useful than I would appear to be.

She frequently reminds me of Dorothy Nimmo or Sylvia Platt. Consider for example “Guitars as Women”, and “With My Body”:

With your hand, like that, he said …

and “There Is a Desert Here”:

Come, little creatures, walk on me,
Come, little worms, slide on me,
For no man ever will again.
I watched beetles and ladybirds
Long before you gathered birch twigs
To beat me in a field – in fun, of course,
And I will watch them again,
And grow old ungracefully, barefoot
And sluttish in my ways.

And she is always so human. Read “Ian, Dead of Polio” and “Farewell, Gibson Square“. Unforgettable pictures of people she has known and will never forget. Nor now shall we. “Farewell, Gibson Square”, for instance, is dedicated to Dr Susan Heath who, if this poem is anything to go by, you would probably fall in love with but certainly wouldn’t want anywhere near you if you were ill. She eventually left, and now, Elizabeth tells us:

Professional boredom has settled in
Again, and patients go home whole.

Or “Government Health Warning”, or “A Plea for Mercy”:

For all the poor little sods who shoot themselves off
in boarding schools and dormitories, jerking into sleep,
and all the prissy girls who ride their horses bareback
or wet their knickers and seats at noisy pop concerts …

Or “A Straw Mat”:

I am guilty, she said to me. I didn’t know what to say.
We are all guilty, I said, of something, if it’s only living
when turf rests heavy on all the people cut off in their prime,
or buying this old cardigan from Oxfam instead of doing
something real. She said, Like what? I didn’t know.
I saw my tears fall on the leper’s foot. What a nonsense.
Africa is thirsty for blood and yet more blood, and we
wander round the Oxfam shop …

With poems like this around, why would anybody not be reading, not be needing, contemporary poetry?

And “Consumers”, another of my very favourites – but you need to read the whole thing. (In fact, you need to read the whole book.)

Ask me if I ever liked
small talk, chit-chat,
the smell of a new car,
the fat freezers lingering
like overweight virgins
in shadowy garages.
I have to say no.

Ask me if I ever liked
the long silence, full
of thoughtful emptiness,
the bruised smell
of geranium leaves,
the thin edges of poverty
like sides to middle sheets,
thin and anorexic.
I have to say yes.

Standing in Trafalgar Square
I was pleased the skin-heads
ate our iron rations.
Shouting into the dark
I felt at home, the candles
in jam jars, the small group
of word-spinners
sheltering from rain,
not ashes.

Ask me if I ever think
the nuclear winter
will be like a giant freezer
full of damaged goodies.
Lord, Lord, I have to say yes.
After the feast of flesh
and red gravy,
there will be ice cream
for afters, and then,
we shall wish we’d said no.
Lord, Lord, I tried to say no.

Do people need poems like this? I have to say yes.

Elizabeth Bartlett

 

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MEETING THE FAMILY (by Cliff Yates)

He says something
witty
about the budgie.

They smile.
He is smiling so much
that his cheeks ache.

He crosses his legs
and kicks the budgie
into the fire.

She screams.
It is not
a good start

to the evening.
It is not easy
to make conversation

with charred feathers
floating
about the room.

LOST CAUSE by J. L. Simpson (Review)

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I found Lost Cause quite hard to get into – might even have given up had I not agreed to write a review. I’ll come back to why I found the earlier part of the book somewhat off-putting in a moment.

First, let me say that the book is professionally produced in every way. The writing and the editing are both impeccable. Not even one of those peculiar errors we seem to be becoming inured to like the meaningless “I could care less”. No, here the narrator says she “couldn’t care less”. Bingo.

But how to classify this story? It is called a “mystery” – Daisy Dunlop Mystery Book 1. There are several mysteries, but which one is the mystery I really couldn’t say. It is certainly not a thriller, and though it is a crime story, the rather complex crime and the various bit-part criminals are not really what the book is about. Nor is it a romance, a love-story. The protagonist, Daisy Dunlop, is the mother of a teenage son and almost absurdly happily married to her husband Paul. There is no way she would ever be unfaithful to him. Yet she does flirt, often outrageously, with almost every male she meets. Especially the “Irish git” (her words) that her husband has arranged for her to work alongside as a trainee P.I. and heir-hunter. Both the husband and his friend “Solomon” (the Irish git) assume that after a few days she will abandon this ridiculous idea.

Really, the story is about the relationship between Daisy and Solomon. It is this flirting that you remember when you finish the book on another outrageous line from Daisy. A flirtation story, then. But beautifully done.

Which brings me back to my problem with the opening chapters. Daisy’s husband, Paul, and his mate Solomon are both big, hard, rich, clever, arrogant men. Alpha males. And Daisy is the obedient strawberry-blonde. Well, not always obedient. Far from it. But when she disobeys one of them she invariably feels guilty, and frequently lands herself in a load of trouble from which Solomon must ride in on his white charger (actually an Aston Martin) and rescue her.

Me, I like strong female leads. The stronger the better. And yet I liked Daisy more and more as the book went on and she began to find her feet (not easy on those heels) till by the end she was saving Solomon (all right, causing some typical dumb-blonde chaos in doing so) and I had quite made up my mind that I would definitely read Daisy Dunlop Mysteries Book 2 (see below). I also very much liked the gradual focus on homeless people, whom Daisy decides really are “the secret eyes and ears of the world”.

Final verdict? If you are in the mood for a light-hearted crime story featuring an irresistible would-be sleuth, this is the book for you.

And Book 2? Here’s the cover I found. I’ll put a link here when I get round to writing a review of it.

THE CASE OF THE MISSING SERVANT by Tarquin Hall (Review)

Tarquin Hall and The Case of the Missing Servant have been floating around on the edge of my awareness for a couple of years. Somehow, though, it never happened. Then finally, hey presto – what a lovely surprise!

But let’s begin with a typical example of the book – and the author – in action (and modern Delhi in action!) to get a feel of the book, the author and the place. Not to mention the protagonist, one Vish Puri, “India’s most private investigator”.

Here he is off to meet a contact at the Golden Greens Gold course, of which Puri was not a member although he would have liked to be […] Not for the sake of playing (secretly he couldn’t stand the game – the ball was always ending up in those bloody ponds), but for making contacts among India’s new money, the BPO (Business Process Outsourcing)-cum-MNC (Multi-National Corporation) crowd. […] In Delhi, all big deals were now being done on the putting greens. Playing golf had become as vital a skill for an Indian detective as picking a lock. In the past few years, he had had to invest in private lessons, a set of Titleist clubs and appropriate apparel, including Argyll socks.

His chauffeur, who rejoices in the name of Handbrake, needs to ask the way.

Soon after turning off the NOIDA expressway, Handbrake spotted a Vespa moped with a Domino’s box on the back and pulled up next to it at a red light.
‘Brother, where is Galden Geens Galfing?’ he shouted in Hindi to the delivery boy over the sound of a noisy, diesel-belching Bedford truck.
His question was met with an abrupt upward motion of the hand and a questioning squint of the eyes.
‘Galden Geens Galfing, Galden Geens Galfing,’ repeated Handbrake.
The delivery boy’s puzzlement suddenly gave way to comprehension: ‘Aaah! Golden greens Galf Carse!’
Ji!’
‘Sectorrr forty-tooo!’
‘Brother! Where is forty-toooo sectorrr?’
‘Near Tulip High School.’
‘Where is Tulip High School?’
‘Near Om Garden!’
‘Brother, where is Om Garden?’
The delivery boy scowled and shouted in an amalgam of English and Hindi: ‘Past Eros Cinema, sectorrr ninteen! Turn right at traffic light to BPO Phase three! Enter farty-too through backside!’

I don’t usually quote so much, but I love this. Suddenly I miss India and Delhi.

Rinku, the contact Puri is to meet, is a childhood friend who had followed his father into the building business and, during the boom of the past ten years, made a fortune putting up low-cost multi-storey apartment blocks in Gurgaon and Dwarka.
Few industries are as dirty as the Delhi construction business and Rinku had broken every rule and then some. There was hardly a politician in north India he had not done a shady deal with; not a District Collector or senior police-wallah to whom he hadn’t passed a plastic bag full of cash.
At home in Punjabi Bagh where he still lived in his father’s house with his mother, wife and four children, Rinku was the devoted father and larger than life character who gave generously to the community, intervened in disputes and held the biggest Diwali party in the neighbourhood. But he also owned a secret second home, bought in his son’s name, a ten-acre ‘farmhouse’ in Mehrauli. It was here that he entertained politicians and bureaucrats with gori prostitutes.

Oh, yes. And the case, in this book?

A wealthy lawyer in Jaipur stands accused of murdering a young woman who worked as a maid in his family home. That is to say she worked for his wife (a prize bitch) and not for him. Because this lawyer has been crusading against corruption among the police and judiciary he is unpopular, to say the least, in many quarters. It transpires that there is actually no evidence whatever against him (the girl simply disappeared) but this will not save him. Only her reappearance can do that.

Vish Puri is charged with bringing the reappearance about. But how? All they know of her is her first name – Mary – and that, as the lawyer’s wife, Mrs Kasliwal, puts it, she is a “Bihari-type”.

When Puri asks her to elaborate, she tells him ‘So many servants these days are coming from Bihar and other such backward places. Naturally I assumed she was from there, also, being so dark.’
‘She was very dark, is it?’
‘Like kohl, Mr Puri,’ she said with disdain. ‘Like kohl.’

Wonderful. And after reading it you are left with a picture of modern Delhi comparable to the Victorian London conjured up by reading Sherlock Holmes.