Tag Archives: Lindsay Macgregor

Review of Parallax by Sinead Morrissey

21 Feb

sinead-morrissey-parallaxAs part of our project to make available reviews of poets taking part at StAnza 2015, we are obliged to DURA – the Dundee University Review of the Arts – for allowing us to re-post this review from their website. Written by staff and students, DURA supports independent cinema & publishing. DURA promotes diversity and supports local and regional arts. See more reviews of poetry and prose on their website at http://dura-dundee.org.uk.

Parallax (Winner of the 2014 TS Eliot Poetry Prize)

Sinéad Morrissey
(Carcanet, 2013); pbk, £9.95

Parallax is an astronomical term for the apparent displacement of an object caused by a change in the point of observation. In this wide-ranging collection of the same name, short-listed for the 2013 Forward Prize, Morrissey considers from different angles how our position affects what and how we see.

In several poems, Morrissey’s lens is taken from the visual arts. She writes about film, photography, Scandinavian television crime dramas, paintings, even a jigsaw. In “Photographs of Belfast by Alexander Robert Hogg”, she writes

he can barely pass an entry
without assessing
the effect the diagonal

of a porterhouse roof
beside a streetlight
might produce

Her interest, like that of the photographer, coalesces around the power and capacity of art to come at things “slant”, to “fix” moments in time, and in so doing, to impose a particular perspective. In “Fur”, a poem about Holbein’s painting “The Ambassadors” in which he shows the skull at a strange, skewed angle, Morissey writes,

Too obvious a touch

to set the white skull straight. Better
to paint it as something other: driftwood
up-ended by magic from the right-hand side

Perspective has the power to change the perceived nature of material objects and, by extension, to change perceptions of “truth”, ”memory” and “history”.

Nothing about this collection is too obvious. It is both intriguing and surprising in its range, from childbirth to a communist party bric-a-brac sale in Belfast, from the journal of Dorothy Wordsworth to “The Mutoscope” of the Victorian peep-show. In this poem, the rhythm and rhymes evoke the gathering speed of the mutoscope as it brings the static images to life using movement and light:

Only for you do the two mute girls on stage
who falter at first, erratic as static

in the synaptic gap between each image,
imperceptibly jolt to life-
grinning, tap-dancing, morphing into footage,

their arms like immaculate pistons, their legs like knives…
It lasts a minute, their having-been-written onto light.

Imagery, lyricism and energy are never sacrificed by Morrisey for the sake of concept. Technically, this is a most assured collection. Several poems are written in couplets or tercets, and there are sonnets and shape poems, including, “Through the Eye of a Needle” and “Fool’s Gold”, both delicately taut and controlled, for Morrisey’s control has a deftness and lightness of touch about it. In “A Day’s Blindness”, for example, she writes:

He stood up to carry his plate and cup
to the sink and couldn’t see.
He sat back down. The clocks
went on consuming Saturday.

He would have needed practice
at being blind to pretend to be sighted.

Morrisey writes about birth, death, illusion and reality, from the apparently straightforward “truths” of a child’s perspective to the deliberate distortion and manipulation of Soviet Russia, where people were “disappeared” from photographs. A strong thread running through the collection is the artifice of art and, by implication, of humanity, in trying to “fix” a moment or capture a particular “truth”. Deception, whether deliberate or unwitting, is often an element of perception.

Even in the touching sequence of poems about her young daughter, the child in her enthusiastic, energetic garrulousness, is perceived by the worn-out parent as,

like a businessman
on the last train home
after one too many espressos,
selling you his dream.

The concept behind Parallax provides a fascinating underlying unity so that the whole collection becomes much more than the sum of its individual poems. It opens with journal writing and ends with blogging, and in between there are philosophy, politics, humour and pain. Appealing to both the intellect and the emotions, this is a collection I will return to again and again.

Lindsay Macgregor


Sinead Morrissey will be appearing at two events at StAnza 2015 on Sunday 8 March: http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2015/participant.php?participant=718

Review of Carolyn Forché’s Blue Hour

19 Feb

forcheAs part of our project to make available reviews of poets taking part at StAnza 2015, we are obliged to DURA – the Dundee University Review of the Arts – for allowing us to re-post this review from their website. Written by staff and students, DURA supports independent cinema & publishing. DURA promotes diversity and supports local and regional arts. See more reviews of poetry and prose on their website at http://dura-dundee.org.uk

Blue Hour

Carolyn Forché
(Bloodaxe, 2003); pbk £8.75

Carolyn Forché’s single-authored 2003 collection, Blue Hour, is reviewed here in advance of her appearance at the StAnza 2015 International Poetry Festival.  The eleven poems which make up the collection contemplate remembrance, the transition between life and death, and the effects of war. Above all, it seems to me that Forché is concerned to present the fullness of the experience of life – its beauty, suffering, cruelty and its otherliness.

The title of the collection is a translation of the French phrase meaning “dawn”, described beautifully in the poem, “Blue Hour”:

When my son was an infant we woke for his early feeding at l’heure
bleue – cerulean, gentian, hyacinth, delft, jouvence. What were also
the milk hours.

The image of the infant, the shades of blue, the italicisation and fragments of French, the spacing and layout, the dash, the white space, all fuse synesthetically to suggest the strange and beautiful otherness of “the milk hours”. As readers, we are not mere observers – we are transfigured into the fullness of the original experience.  Again, from “Blue Hour”,

My son rows toward me against the wind. For thirty-six years, he rows.
In 1986, he is born in Paris.

Bice the clouds, watchet, indigo, woad.

We lived overlooking the cemetery. It was the summer of the Paris
bombings. I walked him among the graves for what seemed hours but
were clouds drifting across marble.

Here, again, Forché evokes several dimensions of remembrance – images, events, associated colours, and the intersection of all of these in space and time.

Political events interweave personal memory in the fragmentary, partial process of remembering – in “Blue Hour”, from the specifics of the Paris bombings to the shocking generality of, “You see, one can live without having survived.” In “Writing Kept Hidden”, composed in Beirut in winter 1983,

In the barracks, those who had sketched themselves in coal and smoke
became coal and smoke.

And the living remained, linking unknown things to the known: residue,
scapular, matchlight, name on a tongue.

There are also philosophical, aphoristic and spiritual ruminations scattered in amongst the beautiful imagery:

What one of us lives through, each must, so that this, of which we are
part, will know itself. (“Blue Hour”)

And from “Hive”, “we are so made that nothing contents us”. “Nocturne”, like “Blue Hour”, is an elegy, considering the experience of death:

The people of this world are moving into the next, and with them their
hours and the ink of their ability to make thought.

Particles of light have taken from them antiphon, asylum, balefire,

Themes of war and dying continue in the long poem, “On Earth” which takes the form of a fragmentary, abecedarian, a form used in gnostic hymns. From the sections for the letters “s” and “t”,

the sun will turn into a red giant, and then into a white dwarf
the sweet stench of gangrene, a cloud of flies, in its hand a child’s

the temptation of temptation
the three hidden lights beyond the grasp of thought

the tomb into which we escape

the trains. sometimes a silent coupling
the trees: almond, annatto, sweetsop, banana, monkey-bread, bay rum,
sandal bead, breadfruit, yellowsilk, camphor, candle
the trees mortared into flower.

This is a beautiful collection – hopeful, horrific but never gratuitous on the experiences of alienation, otherliness and suffering. I look forward with great anticipation to Carolyn Forché’s reading at StAnza 2015.

Lindsay Macgregor


Carolyn Forché will be taking part in several events at StAnza 2015 on 7th and 8th March: http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2015/participant.php?participant=700

Review of Ian Duhig’s Digressions

15 Feb

digressions-194x300As part of our project to make available reviews of poets taking part at StAnza 2015, we are obliged to DURA – the Dundee University Review of the Arts – for allowing us to re-post this review from their website. Written by staff and students, DURA supports independent cinema & publishing. DURA promotes diversity and supports local and regional arts. See more reviews of poetry and prose on their website at http://dura-dundee.org.uk/

Ian Duhig and Philippa Troutman
(Smokestack Books; 2014) pbk; £7.95

Ian Duhig as been, to use Lawrence Sterne’s own phrase, “Shandying about” in Yorkshire for Digressions, his collaboration with artist-printmaker, Philippa Troutman. In 2013, the tercentenary of Sterne’s birth, they set out from Shandy Hall, Coxwold in North Yorkshire where The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy was written, to celebrate Sterne’s great work through their own poetry and visual images.

The novel is ostensibly Tristram’s narration of his life story but he makes constant explanatory digressions to add context and colour. In similar fashion, Duhig and Troutman follow trails from the novel and along the by-ways around Shandy Hall, allowing themes for their collaboration to arise.

So there are poems and images of meteor strikes much like the one witnessed in Tristram Shandy; the land-art maze near Shandy Hall called City of Troy which reminds them of Sterne’s labyrinthine writing style; and local roadmaker, Blind Jack Metcalf, who built the road from Duhig’s hometown of Leeds to Shandy Hall. This process of connection and digression is described in the poem, “Which Reminds Me”:

Which reminded me of that medieval hunting book,
its raptor hierarchy that gave the merlin to the lady,
which reminded me in turn of Le Roman de Silence,
lost for centuries, anonymous, its narrator unreliable.

While it certainly helps to be familiar with either the novel or Shandy Hall and its environs, the digressive poems about landscape, history, people and traditions largely stand on their own.

In addition, Philippa Troutman’s fifteen beautifully reproduced prints and drawings echo these strong themes and are intrinsic to the book. There are powerful images of the minotaur, a hobbyhorse, Blind Jack Metcalf and other motifs which pick out and intensify the colours and textures of the poems. There’s also a useful prose “Afterforeword” by Duhig which describes the context for and process of the collaboration.

The poems themselves range from free verse to contemporary ballads. The rather ethereal modern-day “psychogeography” of the collection is set out in the early poem, “Lochean Keys”:

The signal box at Coxwold
serves a line that isn’t there,
connecting nothing with nothing,
thin air with thinner air

but its trains of ideas
(the phrase is Locke’s)
take you to – & – &-
past Coxwold signal box.

Several of the poems in Digressions are written in rhyme forms. “The Ballad of the Blind Man’s Road”, featuring Metcalf, explores different “lines” in the landscape as metaphors for life – straight roads, the end of the line, lines of poetry:

 …round Sterne’s home folk thought a man
whose impulse was to straighten
showed the signs by ruling lines
of being ruled by Satan.

So like Sterne’s book, they made a maze
to leave their fiends behind;
but if they found it hard to leave,
it’s harder now to find,

as if a maze outside this maze
held bigger fiends in turn
which tried to keep me from this place
then kept me here to learn.

Duhig is an extremely versatile poet, both in the range of his imagination and in his use of different poetic forms. The final poetic piece in the collection, “Lost Chapter”, opens:

Philip José Farmer would trace these mutant lines
to when the Wold Newton Stone had struck Earth
on the grounds of the real son of imaginary Didius,
who launched Sterne’s writing career as the target
of the pulped History of a Good Warm Watch-Coat,
as the groundbreaking meteorite targeted this Wold
to explode the Ptolemaic model of our solar system…

Digressions, with its prose, poetry and visual images, is a grand celebration of Shandy country.

Lindsay Macgregor

Ian Duhig will be at StAnza on 7th and 8th March http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2015/participant.php?participant=698

Review from DURA of Liz Berry’s Black Country

22 Jan

Black-Country by Liz Berry As part of our project to make available reviews of poets taking part at StAnza 2015, we are obliged to DURA – the Dundee University Review of the Arts – for allowing us to re-post this review from their website. Written by staff and students, DURA supports independent cinema & publishing. DURA promotes diversity and supports local and regional arts. See more reviews of poetry and prose on their website at http://dura-dundee.org.uk/ – This review by Lindsay Macgregor is of Liz Berry’s book, ‘Black Country’.

Black Country (Winner of the Forward Prize “Best Debut Collection 2014″)
Liz Berry
(Chatto & Windus, 2014); pbk, £10.00

Liz Berry opens her debut collection, Black Country, with the jubilant line, “When I became a bird, Lord, nothing could not stop me”, and, indeed, she never stops soaring. Themes range from summers of childhood innocence to sex and marriage, all set against Black Country landscapes, history and characters.

In these dazzling, sensuous, and utterly beguiling poems, Berry reclaims the dialect of her native West Midlands with its bostin fittle (great food), tranklement (bits and bobs) and guttling (chewing). Her use of dialect often connects contemporary concerns with times past in ways subtler than standard English might manage. So, in “Tipton-On-Cut”:

..like Lady Godiva, we’ll trot in on an oss
who’s guttling clover at the edge of the bonk.
We’ll goo straight to the sweet cabbage heart of ‘local’:
shout ‘oiright’ to blokes lugging spuds in their allotments,
yawning in the dark to call centres and factories;
we’ll flirt wi’ Romeos, grooming at Tip’N’Cut,
sunning emselves to creosote fences down the tan shop.

In the dialect poems in particular, there’s an earthiness of language and sound which parallels the down-to-earth lives of previous generations. “Bostin Fittle” opens:

At Nanny’s I ate brains for tea,
mashed with hard-boiled egg,
or trotters, groaty pudding,
faggots minced with kidney and suet.

Dialect words bring an extra dimension, drawing on echoes from standard English. “Jack squalor”, for example, lends an uneasiness to the poem “Birds” which the English equivalent (“swallow”) lacks; “cut” repeatedly brings an extra edge of meaning and feeling which “canal” lacks.

Berry’s collection is a celebration of the Black Country – its language as well as the culture and communities that have forged it. “Homing”, a love poem to a girl’s Black Country dialect, makes this inter-connectedness of dialect and material culture explicit:

bibble, fettle, tay, wum,
vowels ferrous as nails, consonants
you could lick the coal from.
I wanted to swallow them all: the pits,
railways, factories thunking and clanging
the night shift, the red brick
back-to-back you were born in.

Dialect also adds to the folkloric, timeless qualities of Berry’s poems, many of which are at once tender, charming and dark. In “The Sea of Talk”:

Bab, little wench, dow forget this place,
its babble never caught by ink or book
fer on land, school is singin’ its siren song
and oysters clem their lips upon pearls in the muck…

There’s a musicality to the poetry; her deft use of assonance and alliteration and her frequent inclusion of refrains and lists of wild flowers, names of canals, collieries and canal boats, not only add distinctive rhythms but also make connections with Anglo-Saxon antecedents and reveal a West Midlands specificity in her work. In “Sow”, the libidinous pig is deliciously personified in sound as much as image:

an’ when lads howd out opples on soft city palms
I guttle an’ spit, fer I need a mon
wi’ a body like a trough of tumbly slop
to bury me snout in.

Berry has a wild imagination which melds the everyday with the fantastic in a uniquely innocent yet knowingly unnerving manner. Startling themes and titles are a feature of her work -“The Year We Married Birds”, “The Last Lady Ratcatcher” and “Our Lady of the Hairdressers”, for example. And opening lines such as, “Let me tell you about the sex I knew/before sex” (“The Silver Birch”) and “I was a boy every weekday afternoon” (“When I Was a Boy”) are alluring.

This is that rare collection – one which has the capacity to widen the reach of poetry, appealing at once to dyed-in-the-wool poetry lovers as well as new audiences.

Lindsay Macgregor

Liz Berry will read at StAnza at 5.00pm on Friday 6th March 2015. http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2015/event.php?event=704

Poetry Map Poem 48: Ceres

16 Sep


A Tailor baling cloth at Teuchats swore
blind he’d seen a sneak thief near Baltilly with a tup.

The Molecatcher and Ropemaker from Sodom and Gomorrah
told the congregation of an angel over Cassindilly way.

A Saddler from Laddedie gouged tally marks
and secret signs on fabled elms at Edenwood that day.

A Millwright netting butterflies on Magus Muir was sure
he heard diurnal owls hooting at the moon.

The Midwife and a Sick-Nurse, bunking up at Barbarafield, caught
the stench of burning flesh from Struthers Barns.

A Milliner from Kinninmonth told anyone who’d listen
of the sighing of a dying man somewhere west of Bandirran.

A Vintner and the Weavers’ Agent, both at Gathercauld, could not
recall exactly what they saw by Teasses Mill.

A Flaxman from Tarvit Farm would later boast
a thousand fireflies flitting up the Findas road in broad daylight.

The daughter of the slaughterman, guddling in the Ceres Burn,
foretold the fall of Icarus at a milestone near Callange.

Lindsay Macgregor

To view our Map of Scotland in Poems as it grows, see https://stanzapoetry.wordpress.com/2014/07/13/the-map-revealed/ . For more information on this project, and on how to submit a poem, see https://stanzapoetry.wordpress.com/2014/07/04/mapping-scotland-in-poetry/.

All poems on our poetry map of Scotland and on the StAnza Blog are subject to copyright and should not be reproduced otherwise without the poet’s permission.

Mapping Scotland in Poetry

4 Jul
Colin Will as host: photograph by Helena Fornells Nadad

Colin Will as host: photograph by Helena Fornells Nadad

We all know poems about Scotland but can the shape and nature of Scotland be drawn entirely in poetry? StAnza has set itself the challenge to see if this is the case. This year at StAnza 2014 we launched our project for the Year of Homecoming Scotland to map Scotland in Poetry. It began with a great fanfare, and unveiled at the event was our specially designed extremely non-digital map to serve our purpose.

Colin with the map, Lindsay Macgregor with the poem: photo by Helena Fornells Nadal

Colin with the map, Lindsay Macgregor with the poem: photo by Helena Fornells Nadal

The launch was an open event so before the festival we invited people to contact us proposing poems which had a specific Scottish location. We had a fine response from a wide range of people offering to read either one of their own poems, or a poem by a friend, or occasionally an older poem out of copyright, so we were spoiled for choice.

On the day, Colin Will and Andy Jackson delivered a wonderful double act hosting the event with wit and charm, Andy taking care of introductions and Colin in charge of the map pins. Surprise contributions included an appearance by Fife’s Provost, Jim Leishman, resplendent in his chains of office, who read one of his own poems set in Glasgow, and two digital contributions Skyped in from a couple of faces familiar to StAnza regulars, at the end of an internet connection in Ross-shire and Assynt.

Mandy Haggith: photo by Helena Fornells Nadal

Mandy Haggith: photo by Helena Fornells Nadal

Other readers included some of this year’s festival participants, some of the StAnza team, and a host of other poets. Judith Taylor brought the launch to an upbeat conclusion with a poetic tribute to her home town, “Moments in the Great History of Coupar Angus”.

Judith Taylor: photo by Helena Fornells Nadal

Judith Taylor: photo by Helena Fornells Nadal

Others who read include: Nalini Paul, Eveline Pye, Ian Blyth, Peter Jarvis, Angela Topping, Lindsay Macgregor, Lorna Carruth, Diana Lewis, Ellen McAteer, Lyn Moir, Mandy Haggith and Roderick Manson.

And now it’s time to continue the mapping exercise. We invite submissions of poems which have a specific Scottish location, whether named in the poem or not, and we’ll post a selection of these on our Blog and place a pin for each of them on our map. We hope eventually to have a map completely covered in pins from coast to coast, from north to south, east to west, highlands, borders, towns, cities, villages, mountains, lochs and rivers, beaches, firths and islands, rocks and reservoirs. If you’d like to contribute to this project, here are the details.

Please email us a copy of your proposed poem with a note of its location with enough detail on that for us to pin it on the map, and the name of the poet. In your email please confirm either that it is your own poem and you grant us permission to post it on this Blog, or that you have permission from the poet or publisher, or that the poem is out of copyright (copyright lasts until 70 years after the poet’s death, or the date of first publication of the poem, whichever is the later).

And at the end of the project, we’ll publish a full list of the poems submitted and photographs of the full map. At least we hope it will be a full map, but we need your help with that. So please send your poems to info@stanzapoetry.org, preferably pasted into the body of your email, and at this stage, no more than one poem per poet/submission, thanks.

June is bursting out ….

4 Jun

Tanya Shirley

Tanya Shirley

While June is now here, March is still a fond memory. We are sorting through all the photographs and reviews of this year’s festival and a selection of these will appear in an Afterword page on our website soon, together with this year’s lecture by David Constantine. But meantime if you’d like to recapture the flavour of StAnza 2014, three podcasts are now available on our website at http://www.stanzapoetry.org/podcast/ all recorded by our good friend Jennifer Williams from the Scottish Poetry Library, and featuring Tanya Shirley, Brian Turner and US poet Ilyse Kusnetz, recent winner of the US T.S. Eliot Prize, who was in St Andrews for the festival.

Elsewhere, it’s good to see that the Byre Theatre has a busy programme for this month. Full details on their website at http://www.byretheatre.com, but here is a quick summary:

Friday 6th & Saturday 7th: Byre Youth Theatre: Haud yer Wheesht at 7pm. This is a piece that has been devised by the Youth Theatre and includes all members from the nursery group through to the young adults.

Tuesday 10th at 7pm, StAnza’s own Brian Johnstone launches his latest collection, Dry Stone Work. People planning to attend this should rsvp Brian on brian@brianjohnstonepoet.co.uk.

Friday 13th; Flat Caps: Live music by local performers.

Sunday 15th to Tuesday 17th: St Andrews Opera presents Benjamin Britten¹s sparkling comedy, Albert Herring.

Saturday 21st: Elaine C Smith at 7.30pm, Still Standing…..Just

Still in Fife, but over in Freuchie for the next Fife Writes event, Helena Nelson of HappenStance Press will be giving a reading at the Lomond Hills Hotel at 7.30pm on Thursday 26th June with StAnza’s Eleanor Livingstone and Lindsay Macgregor, co-host of Ladybank’s Platform Poetry. It’s a free email but space is limited so if you plan to attend, you should email george@george-sinclair.com.

Moving a bit further away still, Brian Johnstone will have a second launch event in Edinburgh at 7pm on Monday 9th June at St Columba’s by the Castle Church Hall, 14 Johnston Terrace, Edinburgh EH1 2PW.

Later in the month Germaine Greer is coming to Edinburgh on 21st June to mark unveiling of paving stone in Makars Court for Elizabeth Melville, Scotland’s first woman poet in print, as part of a day of events about Scottish women writers. Following the unveiling, which is a free public event, there will be a lunch reception followed by an afternoon session with James Robertson and Meg Bateman, and the day will conclude with a concert in St Giles. Full details are online at http://www.historyfest.co.uk/pages/elizabeth-melville-day.

So whether the sun shines or not, June has plenty to offer.

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