B–SIDES, BOOTLEGS AND HEARSE STRINGS


Yesterday's Music Today, eds. Mike Ferguson & Rupert Loydell
   (116pp, £11.00, Knives forks and spoons)
Ice Bound
, Nicky Mesch (135pp, £9.00, Knives forks and spoons)
Oranges in January
, Pansy Maurer-Alvarez
   (119pp, £9.00, Knives forks and spoons press)
Ada in the Shells
, Kate Duckney (44pp, £7.00, Knives forks and spoons)
Walking Sequence and other poems
, William Oxley
   (35pp, £6.00, Indigo Dreams)
Purple Notebook of Raquette Lake
, Aaron Tieger
   (20pp, £6.50, Open House Editions)
Anne Frank's Fragments
from Nowhere, Bernard Kops
   (35pp, £6.00, Indigo Dreams)
Aphrodite and the Weatherman
, Julia Gaze
   (27pp, £6.50, Open House Editions)
 

There's a cliche regarding social etiquette to never discuss politics or religion with anyone you genuinely like, the implications being that bad blood is always the outcome, usually minus a few friends. More so, I have always felt that the two main dividers of opinion in life were music and poetry. There is a certain intoxicating; almost dizzy, ticklish feeling looking back at the time you first discovered that band or genre. It is addictive, there is never anyone who seems to understand just how deeply this speaks to you, and you will inevitably encounter purists who will more than happily educate you on what true music/poetry actually is.

This is why the anthology, Yesterday's Music Today
, which merges something way more personal than mere religious belief or which way you lean, politically is such an intriguing concept. With the recent outpouring of shock in the wake of recent deaths, music can, if nothing else be the only thing that truly comforts us in the end. It can be the start of a journey, or utilised as a sudden full stop in the middle of a chorus. Something previously always deemed a continuous beat now a confusing death rattle.

This was a collaboration with the sole purpose of tantalising that part of your brain still yearning to play on bad amps in dimly lit clubs, to travel halfway across the country to hear that
song; and to experience something this collection does well; unity.

It reads like a mix tape; seldom are two poems the same flow or theme, every genre represented with aplomb, and the excitement only builds with each turn of the page. The quintessential 'mix tape' has been printed and certainly, just like all good music, it's more the passion the instrument is played with than the actual precision of getting every chord spot on.

Relive every smooth drop of vintage crooner whimsy, courtesy of Robert Sheppard in 'Angel at the Junk Box' sharing:
 
   Breath betweens the sext brass/
   quakes against the battlements of the tier;

   lute song off the blames. Moaning mini-
   symphonics underwrite maze blazing of cries
   in the mids of my faces..
 
We are offered a pitch perfect encapsulation of blues chord progression on Mike Ferguson's '14 Bar Blues', where your own internal cadence will be reading along in any key you see fit, followed by battle cries against the consumerism of disposable pop fodder, and doses of ska. Tender odes to well-loved vinyl, barely spinning, still clinging to the dead skin and memories of that moment you felt someone truly spoke to you permeate between the liner notes.

Through the reverb and showmanship lies the very backbone of any good music; a well-oiled rhythm section holding it all together, the glue of this collection. Behind every poem there is a joy in feeling the pure volume of other people's passion, whether you count in their time or dismiss the genre, what makes this such a unique experience is knowing that feeling of craving for what once was, recapturing the surge of being born again, baptised in three chords and phlegm, or the slow howl of a distant saxophone. To relive those moments through other people's instruments is uplifting, despite the spat nails and calloused pick fingers liberally matching the nostalgia.

The danger is always in growing tired of an anthology with a theme, in the wrong hands such an idea could come across as bitter, tawdry, or in the worst case way too saccharine. Worries are few and far between, and a poem that can perfectly summarise this book as a whole can be found

'Listening To Bach's B Minor Mass in the kitchen' by Elizabeth Burns, who proclaims:
 
   And I'm wondering, as all those voices fill my kitchen
   with the mass, if this is what he means:
   the sense of time and place dissolving, so what divides us
   from the past and elsewhere, and from each other,
   falls away, and everything's connected and we are all
   drops pf water in this enormous breaking wave.
 
Like any good album, this benefits from repeat returns. Favourites will immediately shoot at you on the first read. However, others may take some time to truly resonate. Amusing, endearing, bittersweet and at it's very core a celebration. You can't recreate the past, you can sit back and reminisce with a collective heartbreak and unabashed joy of music.
 

Nicky Mesch, meanwhile, has made something of a minor miracle in prying bastardisations of Hans Christian Andersen yarns from Walt Disney's bloated blood tinted claws and resuscitated a long hung drawn and quartered classic with her experimental epic piece, Ice Bound. Within the classic fairy tale, The Snow Queen, a frosty canvas is immediately set and in the mind's eye of the reader, a vast world spreads. Amid the antiquated architecture rest solid bricks of predominate gender norms, which Mesch erodes and grinds against with valour.

Within the fabric of Father/Daughter and gender authority, intricate stretching tests the resolve of pride, fear, and coming of age. The brisk landscape and duality of scorched earth surges of passion thaw any concerns over a lack of human resonance to cling and relate to.  This truly is a journey, charged forward by a confident writer with a style as sharp as any tooth, tusk or sword.

Male suitors ('He can't forget'), challengers and paternal measuring sticks of morality crack and heal, such as in 'Men':

   The village pastor
   who lectured me monthly
   from the far end
   of the long corridor

   my uncle the king's brother
   who visited
   once
   to see if
   I look like my mother-

   that night at the castle
   one hundred
   princes and noblemen
   bristled the ballroom

   was it any wonder I ran?

This is a love story, reassembled and repaired from the broken shards of preconceived notions and family ties. Nicky Mesch juggles morality and whimsy with poise, never losing track of the magic and flourish of a fairy tale whilst keeping a surgically skilled finger on the pulse of modern reflections within the story.
 
The poetry of Pansy Maurer-Alvarez will be a much more intimate affair for each reader. Voice, image and scents are liberally scattered amid stanzas, half tastes of familiarity and dejavu, casting unusual and unfamiliar shadows within each line. As twee and cliche as it may sound, there is an immersive sense of wonderment and splendour, though you may have to do the majority of the exploring yourself to actually mine those bones beneath the colourful smoke and sweet scents.

Surreal pictures are painted and displayed on slowly melting frames. There are moments where it genuinely should not work, yet always ripples with adept skill into a continuous personal loop. In regards to fluidity and flow, you really feel part the immersive dripping words as they trickle over one another gently. There is a through line of ambience, but never without the duty to stare at the painting and really absorb it, a vibrant museum of sumptuous interior, calming yet constantly pushing forwards.

In terms of pure page turning, it is obvious there has been significant thought given to where each poem lives in this gallery. Time has been taken to carefully place dedications of wide eyed wonderment and youthful joy of nature and life, maintained behind a glass casing of world weary experience, maturing and in the books strongest moments; questioning.

Joy exudes, even throughout pulpier and easier to spot minefields amid the happy trail (In memory of the unclaimed) the past despairs of history or life are held up to such light that it never feels heavy and distracting from what can always be built out of something that has been destroyed. Rebelliously celebrating love, art, human nature and history without ever seeming to chastise, Oranges in January
offers a living breathing canvas to step into and search for tranquillity.
 

Ada in the shells by Kate Duckney is a jarring stupor of anxiety. Her words don't guide, nor saunter to a general feeling or notion to contemplate once the dust settles; her words collide, with impact, fragments of life and death splinter into breathless panics. There is a somewhat secret guilt with each page, as if we have discovered a very private journal and eagerly read before we are caught snooping.

Paradoxes of well-guarded raw layers slide and spin downward. All that is seen as innocent and natural seems to restrain and click into shackles, broken promises and despair.  One thing this lengthy poem masters is brutal honesty; there is never a sense of an insincere moment, it bleeds in gushes before clotting and scabbing, only to catch another jab and split open again.

Every page is a specifically thought out and well-presented piece on its own, yet it rushes through the anatomy of something much larger and daunting. We may not have been there for the growing pains of birth, trauma and anguish, but we are present at the gasps of hopelessness and search for somewhere to fit within parameters set by powers above young restless stations.
 
   /the game glitter
   he has it in his eyes like some curve-spined child clicking 'death
   by flies' watching the pixelated family fizz to the bone in a foam
   of wings/

If you enjoy the type of journey that was well planned but executed in a frantic gusto of emotion this is a sharp left turn for over forty pages, resulting in an existential brick wall. Within the shell is little in the way or safety. Whiplash pulls you into a birth canal and swirling down a dizzying rabbit hole to either sink or swim.
 
Unfortunately, the previous review also serves to shine a light on just how flaky and dry other collections can be. In his most recent pamphlet, Walking Sequence and other poems,
long standing poet William Oxley brings a well formatted but totally deflating recollection of walks, observing nature and enjoying the weather. 

Although understated and never self-indulgent, these pieces plod along at their own pace, seldom actually saying anything. It really is as simple as that. If you enjoy poetry that celebrates the great outdoors and adheres rigidly to its boundaries, perhaps this is your lucky day. However, it is somewhat missing the adventure on the horizons it so often points to and promptly avoids. By the numbers and ultimately unsatisfying, the collection plods along aimlessly and monotonous.
 
Purple Notebook of Raquette Lake
by Aaron Tieger is another pamphlet, this time an open account of a trip to said lake. Tieger spares no detail regarding his daily routines, juxtaposed with wide pockets of sky and sparse gaps within the actual fabric of this getaway. Tranquil and certainly well written, there is little in the sense of urgency save the odd flash of anecdote regarding the author's perception of the weather.

It is an odd feel. Descriptive, yet lacking any sensory flesh or picturesque mind's eye to hang these memories on, whether intentional or not, by the tenth page you are savvy to the authors, musicians and dietary requirements of a lakeside trip, but not much in the way of what the campfire holds, minus a few stray gratifying embers. Potentially endearing through some respectable writing, its grip is lost through too much smoke wood and not enough roots.
 
Bernard Kops dutifully spits in the eye of Father Time and presents a gleefully youthful collection in his latest release, Anne Frank's Fragments from Nowhere.
It's refreshing to see Judaism celebrated with such energy and simplicity. Without smoke and mirrors, this is a proud shout of pride in working class resolve throughout trying times and savage persecution. At ninety years old, there is no looking back in sorrow at a life void of opportunity and prosperity from Kops. He leaves nothing to interpretation and brings a collection that is as much about the warm embrace of his religion as he does the cold barrel of history and fate's cruel hand.

   I want a bomb, my own private bomb, my shalom bomb.
   I'll test it in the morning, when my son awakes,
   Hot and stretching, smelling beautiful from sleep. Boom! Boom!
 
As with Shalom Bomb
above, there is constant coiling of war and love, memory of poverty and bigotry, yet within these, proud heritage and life affirming childhood games, love and eventual peace of heart.
 
In Aphrodite and the Weatherman
Julia Gaze brings tender and delicate offerings to be carried away with the elements. Predominantly punchy and fragile declarations of love backscatter a landscape of private jokes within jokes, heart on sleeve ponderings of fruitless romantic endeavours and existential keepsakes. It agonises and dances over love, a hybrid of adventure and yearning but never fully chasing that skyline, always keeping one knowing eye on the past, throwing no caution to the unmerciful wind. The collection's moments of rumination also bring in an outsider's perspective to the secrecy and uncertainty surrounding those couples we pass daily, arms welded, basking in the smug glow of love's sun. Moments within 'Why Lovers can't be Understood' deliver bittersweet and infinitely relatable as Gaze's unapologetically naked style leaves little for interpretation.

This is a proud reminder of tumultuous enamour and the ramifications of nothing, focusing on those deeper moments, the flashes of passion we endure and the climates they inspire.

     © Dean Meadowcroft 2016