The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
Nottingham publishers Shoestring Press and Five Leaves produce very different books. Shoestring's list includes a great many Greek and Australian poets while Five Leaves has specialised in Jewish and Yiddish poetry.
Even so it is tempting to identify a kind of shared aesthetic in their lists, combining the provincial and the internationalist, an interest in poetic craft and in plain speaking about important and necessary subjects.
And they both publish poets whose work does not easily fit the current definition of poetry as the new rock'n'roll. If you don't know their books, get hold of these three new titles.
Alexis Lykiard's Getting On (Shoestring Press, £9.99) is a big, strong and clever book, full of bright wit and dexterously crafted poems.
It is partly a collection about travel in the poems Setting Out, Dutch Streets and Uneasy Jet Set, where Lykiard visits Brecht's Berlin graveyard: "This quiet enclave constitutes a democratic space/where artists, profiteers, bourgeois and beggars/might meet as equals, suitably displaced."
It is also a book about the state of contemporary poetry, notably Questions Time, A Festschrift, Revaluation In The Poets' Pub and Weekly Reviewers, in which "irritant horse-flies manifest a dull obsessive spite/and keep on sizzling busily but are best pleased by shite."
But Lykiard is best at writing about mortality - "By seventy, you check the obvious score,/and scan each fulsome Obit with far more/than empathetic headshake" - and the frustrations of age, when "The four am wolf hangs back: these are the small hours,/petty and dull indeed. They mock my mislaid keys/to night's elusive kingdom."
Midsummer Hangover is so good it deserves to be quoted in full: "Wooed by the wood-dove's distant yet insistent coo,/insinuating, somehow soothing too,/one wakes up wondering where one is, and who,/before the muffled thud of a car door/can re-establish context, more or less restore/the consciousness of morning to a head that's sore./Birdsong grows louder, vies with traffic queue,/as I lie still, impatient to wake you."
Joanne Limburg's The Oxygen Man (Five Leaves, £4) is a response to the suicide of the poet's younger brother. It is a lovely series of elegies - "Today, instead of dying,/you could go to work/open up the lab/that has your name on it" - but it is mostly an attempt "to give some form to agony" among the "snot/and shit and tears to use/to reach whatever's there./If anything is."
Limburg is like Isis in Egyptian mythology, searching the world for the remains of her brother Osiris: "She will harrow this town, she will turn him up,/whole or in pieces. Being a sister,/she knows that brothers are born to trouble./Her part is to rescue him ... or failing that,/or even failing that ... take him home, and never mind how small the pieces.'
Adrian Buckner considers a life defined by books in Bed Time Reading (Five Leaves, £3). Re-reading in middle age some of the classics of his youth such as Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Auden and Hardy, the memory of reading a book for the first time in Tess Hangs is brought back by scribbled notes in the margins and turned down pages.
It's a beautiful pamphlet, a study of reading on trains, in cafes and in bed: "Ten minutes ago you dropped The War Against Cliche by your side of the bed,/kissed me and fell asleep instantly./So I turn on my side, wondering about the books that couples keep of themselves,/the bold of early markings, the fading/pages, the confiding quiet of years."
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