Example poetry

Caroline Bracken reviews three new collections

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Same Difference by Ben Wilkinson, Homelands by Eric Ngalle Charles and Sanctuary by Angela Graham are published by Seren Books

Caroline Bracken

I approached Ben Wilkinson’s second collection “Same Difference” with some trepidation, he is a college professor of creative writing and the blurb told me that throughout the collection he “gets into the skin” by the French symbolist poet Paul Verlaine (1844-1896).

If I’m being honest, my reaction was like that gif of Sister Michael from Derry Girls rolling her eyes and muttering Christ under her breath.

How wrong I was. The collection is actually quite entertaining and some of the language would make Sister Michael blush. His poems “after Verlaine” are written in a contemporary voice, for example “Portrait of the Sleeping Artist”:

‘She looks like a deadbeat angel to everyone,
fetal but hopeful, an inch of haloed light

his temple.

And ‘Joie de Vivre’

‘Now you suckers and saps might fall in love with nature
but this confidence trickster does not deceive me.

There are many voices in the collection, including Jackie Kennedy, a tennis champion, doorman, whale, athletic trainer, cage fighter, and Facebook. What’s not to like?

There is humor in ‘We excuses’, ‘Guacamole’ and ‘Rich’ but an undercurrent of seriousness in both language and tone is what really stops and holds the reader:

‘Sometimes I think
I can’t move for my past here;
ghosts parade through me in every park,
each bar. It’s like the musty romance of my life,
and I continue to turn the dog-eared pages. (A new city)

“Trying to live in a house” is the best poem I’ve ever read about a breakup, it starts with: Try to live in a house // with rats in the walls. Try not to listen / for the scuttling in front of the headboard. The poem ends thus: “Try to know that when they are gone,/ they are not”. Try this as the story of us.
Wilkinson’s poems are visually stunning on the page, and its range of form and content makes this collection a must-have. I leave you with the last lines of the poem ‘Coach’

‘There is a lot of

reasons to test the limits
of the human heart,

and this business of ours
as good as any. On your marks.’

Homelands

The first collection ‘Homelands’ by Eric Ngalle Charles is a pleasure to read. It is a love letter to language. The book begins in Cameroon, his hometown, we see a vivid image of childhood:

‘We will crush hibiscus plants,
lubricants for our car wheels,’ (Child eyes)

The poems in this section are filled with Bakweri words, translated below, or sometimes within the poem:

‘Before I was even three months old
old, I ate Matambufood my
mother chewed before putting
in my mouth. (Kitchen)

The most ambitious poem is “If paradise is his father’s land, his father can keep it”, written for the poet’s sister, punctuated with the refrain “Let the rains come in June and not in August”. It works like a prayer-like incantation that holds the poem together as it plots all the things his sister wants to do. The poem is brilliantly executed because the poet is in control and never lets the poem get away from him.

In the second section of the book ‘Displacements’, the poems are everywhere and I mean it in a good way. The reader is never sure from poem to poem where they are and what is going on. It reflects what I imagine to be the experience of being trafficked from home in a world where language and environment are meaningless.

“I wasn’t meant to leave my bones on
the snowy terrain of Vladivostok.
Memories are my hiding place, dreams
of hell and paradise intertwine, from here,
I saw the green fields of my distant home.

The last “Cymru” section talks about Wales where he now lives:

‘Ironic smile, his clear garment
like light reaching a

closed eye. That’s how she welcomed me. (Cymrou)

“Cymru clouds are heavy today.
In Cameroon there were no water points
in summer.’ (South)

Sanctuary

Angela Graham’s collection of poetry “Sanctuary: There Must Be Somewhere” is an interesting concept. In addition to her own poems, it includes poems she wrote in collaboration with Phil Cope, Viviana Fiorentino, Mahyar and Csilla Toldy.

His mentor Glen Wilson also contributed a poem, “Border Crossing, Reynosa to Hidalgo”, a beautiful poem with more questions than answers:

‘There’s hum behind the bevel of the one-way mirror,
I imagine the voices of the judges hidden there’

The collaborative poems all allow the voices of the contributing poets to shine and feel very different from Graham’s. For example, ‘You’ from Mahyar has a final rhyme:

‘When I was drinking shot after shot

When I was reading Rubaiyat

When I read the verses of Khayyam

When the book has been wetted by the droplets of my tears’

Csilla Toldy’s “Sanctum Trilogy” is written in three sections, “Resistance”, “Refuge” and “Resilience”, and its form is more experimental:

‘Forget the borders, tie your tongue
here you are safe – within the walls of this place.
Stay put for now, we’ll decide –
Wait
Wait
Wait
Wait’

Phil Cope offers us a bird’s-eye view of the Welsh landscape:

‘A couple of pilgrims, monogamous
though lonely all year round,
meet here every April,
attracted by the magnetism of this cliff,
driven by inheritance,
reliable in the knowledge of
a ledge, secure on Darren Fawr
to raise two chicks, then leave.

Angela Graham’s wonderful poem “A Heerd tha Sodjer on tha Radio” which won the Scottish Linen Hall Ulster Scots writing competition is included. His other poems work best when they move away from prose and allow the image to be seen, as in “Annunciation, Visitation”.

After the angel left her, what was the girl to do?
I see her get up, go to the window,
look at the quite familiar street.
A cheerful neighbor passes by and she smiles
─ too early to talk. She looks down
in his very familiar hand
resting on the white stone ledge.

And ‘Persian New Year’

“Let me give you gorse,
the elusive, the improbable
drops of solder splash on my hedges
by the scorching sun its exit from winter.
The last word goes to Viviana Fiorentino, from ‘In This Sanctuary’
‘You blue tit, jackdaw or young doe
you, overflow, the boundary breaker
cash, you know it won’t matter
whether you were male or female, your voice
is
singing’

The three collections examined are published by Seren.


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