Robbi Nester (ed.), The Liberal Media Made Me Do It! – Poetic Responses to NPR & PBS Stories

Robbi Nester (ed.), The Liberal Media Made Me Do It! – Poetic Responses to NPR & PBS Stories, (Nine Toes Press, 2014), 164pp, $20, ISBN 978-1-929878-72-7 

Reviewed by Neil Fulwood

[Originally published in LP9, June 2016]

The acronyms in this anthology’s subtitle stand for, respectively, National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Service; these are the national syndicators for a cluster of American public radio and TV stations whose programming focuses on news, current affairs, arts and human interest. Nester establishes their appeal in her concise introduction: “Public television becomes a trusted sanctuary from crass commercials, laugh tracks, unfunny comedies rising in volume as they grow more empty in content.” Broadcasting, in other words, that’s free of the dollar-bottom-line death-grip of the big networks; a public voice rather than a corporate one – and an intriguing concept to build an anthology around.

The Liberal Media Made Me Do It! – its winning title complemented by a cover image that comes across like a poster for a cheesy B-movie – is divided into five sections: ‘The News’, ‘Science’, ‘People’, ‘Epiphanies’ and ‘Et Cetera’. The second section sets up a memorable challenge to the old saw about the irreconcilability of science and the arts. Here the logical and investigative qualities of the scientist or researcher spark against the imaginative empathy that is one of the key skills of the successful poet. Nester’s own ‘Exchange’ responds to a story on All Things Considered about marine biologist Denise Herzing’s Wild Dolphin Project:

At this moment there is language,
an exchange and an understanding.
It is not as we imagined, this first contact …

Kris Bigalk takes a Radiolab episode about Ann Druyan’s personal and professional relationship with Carl Sagan and conjures a love poem that could easily have been star-struck or nerdy, but sidesteps the obvious pitfalls and finds the human centre in a steady accretion of imagery and detail:

A recipe of “us” includes ash, glass,
and concrete grammar of Bach, floating
from our bodies like notes from a flute.
Stars mark directions, but don’t control
the currents of bodies, souls or oceans.

The Liberal Media Made Me Do It! hits its stride with the science poems, and it is not until the ‘Epiphanies’ and ‘Et Cetera’ sections that it regains this level of quirky and imaginative engagement with its subject matter. This is not to say that the ‘News’ and ‘People’ offerings are substandard – Michael Colonnese’s ‘Poem After the Nightly Business Report’, M.E. Hope’s ‘Into a Void, a found poem’ and Christina Lovin’s ‘Writing Blindly’ are excellent, while the icy controlled fury of Judy Kronenfeld’s ‘What Happens’, about the offences in the occupied West Bank, is compelling. However, some responses to news stories are overly literal, the material shaping the poem rather than vice versa. This tendency is emphasised by the copious introductory notes. Every poem is prefaced by at least a couple of sentences identifying the programme that inspired it; too many, though, demand that the reader wade through entire chunks of prose, the introduction exhausting more words than the poem itself.

Sources are cited all over again at the end of the anthology, with four pages of web links and Q-codes pointing the reader in the direction of the original broadcasts. This prefaces 13 pages of contributors’ notes. Add in a further section on the history of the Lummox Press (of which Nine Toes are a division) and an exhaustive list of other titles, and almost a third of what otherwise seems like a chunky anthology reveals itself as cluttered with non-poetry content. In light of Nester’s introductory comment that “the anthology filled up faster than I expected”, it’s tempting to wonder how much more material, and of what quality, could have been included if more pages had been given over to poetry.

Still, these are more quibbles than criticisms. The Liberal Media Made Me Do It! gets it right far more consistently than it gets it wrong. It’s to Nester’s credit that she has conceived and sculpted an anthology that is as purely American in its aesthetic as anything I’ve encountered (a British version? Freeview: Poetic Responses to Dave and Notts TV? nah!) and filled it with such a diversity of work. Even the weaker inclusions retain enough in the way of immediacy or heartfelt response to merit their presence.

Of greatest interest is the scattering of formal work, with sonnets and villanelles expanding the “soundbite” nature of a TV news summary into something thoughtful and expressive. Moreover, a higher ratio of pantoums than you might expect from an anthology of contemporary verse – Hal O’Leary’s ‘Blame’ and ‘Contrast’, and Christina Lovin’s ‘The Forest of Her’ are genuine standouts – establishes the form’s requirement for repetition and re-emphasis as the perfect mirror for the blunt headlines, terse encapsulations and stock phrases that news or current affairs broadcasting so often relies on.

The media, by its very definition, is inevitably mediated. Even the less-strictured airspace of public broadcasting isn’t a guarantee of neutrality and/or objectivity. TV and radio don’t so much make sense of the world as package it into a structure that is easy to assimilate. At its most successful The Liberal Media Made Me Do It! instigates a dialogue with the medium designed to tease out the humanity and the emotional truths behind the headlines.

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Douglas Thornton, Woodland Poems

Douglas Thornton, Woodland Poems, (Lulu.com, 2014), 81pp, £5.10. ISBN 1505238471

Reviewed by Kyle Cooper

[Originally published in LP9, June 2016]

Navigation has never been my strong point. I like having a map, a path and a clear day on which to follow both. Woods pose a challenge for me – tracks meander, double back on themselves and disappear down warrens. The experience of being lost, of wandering, can be pleasant. The dappled light forms new effects, and one can come out of the woods seeing things in a different way.

This collection poses a similar problem for me. In it, Douglas Thornton examines Native American myths and folktales, retelling some and inventing others. He creates a colourful world, tactile and mystical. Characters travel through dense forest, using the materials of this world to construct it – Tamosemis, a squaw, uses berries and roots in a ritual to remember her dead husband. The prophet Wapiniwiktha weaves spells using the carcass of a deer. I admire Thornton’s prowess in this – the materiality of the woodland creates the rituals that inhabit the poetry as much as within the poems. Thornton roots the world of the poetry securely within the woodland; the metaphors and similes do not borrow from the environment out of the woods. For instance, Wapiniwiktha’s ritual summons the spirit of a boy which speaks “as silent as the fallen leaves”.

The effect of this is to draw the reader more completely into the world of the poetry. You begin to wander through the poems, deeper and deeper into the text. The language has the same effect. Thornton adopts a register which twists and turns, sentences meandering through the poem with scattered syntax. Personally, I found this a touch hard to penetrate, but perseverance bears fruit. I found myself drawn deeper into Woodland Poems by the language, immersed in the lore of Thornton’s world.

Thornton imagines a pantheon of characters, from the prophet Wapiniwiktha to the squabbling brothers Joskeka and Tawiscare, who struggle to clear foliage from a stream so that it will dry out, a stream that they sate their thirst from in order to carry out this task. Amongst these are sown retellings of stories of real people, such as Scoouwa, a white man who is raised amongst Native Americans, searching for his own identity.

These characters deal with love, war and man’s position in the world. While they vary in topic, they all focus on a central theme; on how “the hearts of men rest / Far from where they sleep” and “Fall to a moment of dissolution”. This is introduced in the first poem, ‘Anectahi’s Chant’, which ends with the tantalising question “What will I become?” This “moment of dissolution” is considered throughout the poems, in which identities appear to be in a continual state of flux. Wapiniwiktha considers that even the “most tangible objects…both the hardest matter, the hardest hearts” are mutable; this later leads to a kind of metamorphosis in which Wapiniwiktha observes the movements of an eagle to such an extent that he feels himself to be one with the bird. Later in the collection, the “captive” Scoouwa, in a retelling of a true story of a white man raised amongst Native Americans, undergoes the mental struggle of finding his identity. He thinks to leave his Native American brother to die, but at the end of the poem returns to feed him.

Perhaps this poem reveals something about Thornton’s mind when writing it; Scoouwa initially says “I am not an Indian, nor am I / A man to wait upon a faith too high / When a better life may be lived”, but eventually he relents, and concludes “I’m no Indian, but I’ll not let die / The man who told me faith was nearby”.  It is possible that Thornton is accepting the cultural differences between himself and his subject matter, and attempting to reconcile those by saying that what he has gained from his studies of Native American culture is greater than the problems that such a study may entail – the “faith” which Scoouwa thinks of is a great enough prize that Thornton is willing to overlook the problems of cultural appropriation of which he might be culpable.

The poetics of this collection are also worthy of praise. Thornton writes with technique and flair, with a tight metre and a well-managed rhyme scheme. Particularly of note is ‘The Indian Ballad of Gitch Naigow’, a fluent and clever sestina which deals with an aging father’s feelings of being a burden to his young daughter. However, I would note that while the technique is strong, it may be somewhat overused – leading, in part, to the density of the language. However, if you persevere with the poems, then this does not become a problem.

This collection is dense and occasionally tangled, but contains a rich cache – the folklore is intricately crafted and relayed, the poems are well-constructed and the fruit that you may discover make the search worthwhile. If you are willing to lose yourself in the poems and wander awhile through this woodland world, the paths that reveal themselves are worth exploring.

Vivien Jones, Short of Breath

Vivien Jones, Short of Breath, (Cultured Llama, 2014), £8.00, 84pp, ISBN 978-0-9926485-5-8

Reviewed by Phoebe Walker

 

[Originally published in LP9, June 2016]

A forensic eye is at work in this collection, Vivien Jones’ second, an acuity that penetrates through the various meditative, idiomatic and nostalgic tones of these poems. Jones’ knack for detail results in poetry with great sensory appeal, from the images of silver salmon boiling in shallow water, of chocolate eaten “slow as ivy”, to the sensation of an elm sucking sap “up my barley sugar ribs”, fingertips “speckled/ with black oak splinters/ sore in skin softened/ by tallow”. Although the poems are grouped into titled sections, there is a sense of disparateness about the collection, as though these poems are curios housed in the same cabinet, rather than a body of holistic work. I think this is reflected in the length of the collection too; at a meaty 84 pages, the reader feels the time that has gone into this writing; the varied seasons and cycles of the poetry it contains.

The peregrinations of these poems take us from Cornwall to Malta via Glasgow, Greenwich, with a few excursions to the remoter reaches of cosmic space, or mythical landscapes where a naiad, “white, wet, naked […] slides/ in and out of vision”. I like the generosity of this vision. Jones leaps from one register to another fairly frequently; some poems are first-person, told with the quasi-clarity of a journal entry, peppered, as you expect, with small voltas:

I’m cooking scones,
twelve minutes in a hot oven.
time enough to hang out the washing,
or wash the dishes, or feed the cat
or phone my son to say hello

[…]

the scones will change from raw dough
to lightweight delight – and me?

or:

My hands make brackets

around this warming mug.
through the rising vapour
I look at the café crowd
and wonder, which
has just left a lover

Elsewhere, Jones’ language is denser, more distant but also more nimble, as when she declares the aim “to understand / the fleam and the rake, the kerf debris/ of the saw”, or imagines how:

sea trout wreathe silver coils,
the greyback salmon persist

Until grey November, spent
of life, dying on grey stones,

gargoyles with undershot jaws.

I like Jones’ writing best in the latter vein, at once raw and stylish, and the section entitled ‘Wood and the Making Process’ is my favourite in the collection. Jones writes trees well (that is a compliment, I promise), capturing their intricacy and solidity with flair, leaves “splayed like/ horrified hands”, a branch snapping “with gunshot bedlam”.

With a few exceptions, all these poems, in the confidence and rightness of their rhythms and phrasing, breathe a quiet assurance that you don’t notice unless it’s missing. ’88 – Two Fat Ladies – a Saga’ is one of the few poems that really misfires, as the bathetic ballad of Jane and Janine,/ 88 – two fat ladies” and their hair salon feels slightly clumsy and strained, possibly because it attempts to incorporate to much dialogue, which I think leaves it unbalanced and a little too blatant. True, it is placed in a section titled ‘Literal’, preceded by the ‘Graffiti Tales’ of Murphy and Shanks, seeking sex in bus shelters, and Bella, “Queen of the Prozzies”, (“I like chips, beans, pie and cheese/ and I am Fat as FUCK”), but ‘Graffti Tales’’s exhilarating (and unexpected) crackle serves to make ‘88’ feel like even more of a damp squib. These kind of frustrations, however, are few and far between.

Broadly, although it’s a wandering, wide-armed collection, these are poems with admirable and individual grit.

Josh Ekroy, Ways to Build a Roadblock

Josh Ekroy, Ways to Build a Roadblock, (Nine Arches Press, 2014), 82pp, £8.99, ISBN 978-0-9927589-0-5

Reviewed by Neil Fulwood

[Originally published in LP9, June 2016]

Ways to Build a Roadblock is well titled. There’s hardly a poem in it that doesn’t demonstrate, with admirable craftsmanship and economy, how poetry can act as a focused and unflinching distillation of its subject and stop the reader in his or her tracks.

At the heart of Ekroy’s debut is a controlled but palpable fury at corrupt politics and pointless war-mongering. In ‘Lord Hutton Reports’, ‘The Trojan Enquiry’ and ‘Orange’, he calls out bullshit by aping the bland language of officialdom and plausible deniability. The first has a touch of knockabout humour, taking the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty as its starting point:

I am satisfied that this is not a case
in which the Crown could have had any knowledge
that a notoriously unstable egg would hurl itself
from the wall it was ill-advised enough to sit on.

‘The Trojan Enquiry’ ups the ante, leaching away some of the humour and replacing the broad whitewash of an official report with the mealy-mouthed question-hedging of a witness appearing before a board of enquiry:

Was there ever a threat of aggression from Troy?

All the pertinent intelligence said there was.

Whose responsibility was the Trojan Horse?

The decision was taken in full Cabinet.

‘Orange’ spoofs the semi-urgent attention-shifting speciousness of government press releases, pointing up their absurdity by casting oranges and lemons as antagonists in some kind of citric sectarianism:

                                   Growers insist on a patrol-base
and lemon security is handled seriously
Downing St issued a black on white statement
which promises that our involvement
will soon be on the ground.

That Ekroy recognises no sacred cows is obvious from the opening poem, which compares the courtship rituals of the Empid fly with Blair visiting Bush at Crawford in 2003. Here’s a poet who not only identifies politics as a grubby business, but also isn’t afraid to get his own hands dirty; the “roadblock” as an act of resistance.

Even when he turns his attention to more rarefied subjects, an earthy and unpretentious aesthetic remains present. Classical music links ‘78rpm’, which ends with its titular slab of vinyl, scratched and unplayable, hurled over a patch of wasteland (“the Vienna Boys’ Choir was stung / into silence in the nettle patch”); ‘Musical Vienna – a Guided Tour’, where the tour in question is of the sewers; and ‘Shostakovich 5’, which manages to simultaneously exult in the power of music and generate the tension of a thriller in ten brilliantly cadenced lines:

Tears like pepper vodka flow for a shy man on the podium who wears his suit
as if to shrug it off and disappear

is a particularly effective turn of phrase, demonstrating Ekroy’s strong and confident technique. Elsewhere, he uses set forms – the pantoum, a scattering of sonnets, a specular poem – with an almost conversational ease. Accessibility is key to his work even at its darkest or most experimental, such as ‘The Restroom’, a textbook example of the via negativa, where fifteen broken and scattered lines avoid the subject of political torture, leaving the reader more unsettled than if it had been tackled head-on. He does exactly that, however, in the very next poem, ‘Medical Advances’, whose opening lines

Feet should be well above head,
bench four by seven,
cloth placed over eyes and brow.

In a controlled manner, water is applied …

leave you in no doubt of what’s happening, nor of the nationality of the perpetrators, nor the colour of the victim’s skin.

‘Roadblock’ doesn’t offer any comfort zones or safe havens. Poem after poem challenges, pushes, provokes. Ekroy is like a boxer, ducking and weaving, never still, coming at you from different directions and with wildly divergent subject matter, from sheep, owls and goldfinches to politics, warfare and paranoia, to memory, surrealism, and propaganda. If there’s anything missing from this astounding first collection, it’s probably because it isn’t terrifying or corrosive enough to merit inclusion.

April Update – LP11, Bookshop schedule, &c.

Magazine

Issue 11 of Lunar Poetry will be published on 1 July. Initial proofs will be sent to contributors on 1 May; final proofs on 1 June.

After that, LP will enter suspended animation until December 2018. Submissions will be closed until late 2018, and any poems already submitted to LP after May 2016 are not under consideration for LP 11 and will not be held over for LP 12. LP 11 is likely to be a bumper edition in any case, and it is fair that those who have waited longest get to feature, and I cannot justify holding on to any of the poems submitted in the last year for any longer than I already have.

Reviews from LP 10 will be going up on this blog over the next week or so, and reviews from LP 11 will go up simultaneously with the print publication.

There may be the odd bit of non-magazine publishing in the intervening period, depending on time and resources, but most of my attention and energy are now going to be taken up by the

Bookshop

The magazine is being officially put into stasis in order to allow me to focus exclusively on the bookshop. As you will recall, we raised a little under £4,000 after Indiegogo fees to open a shop. Once our initial venue and its absurdly small rent fell through, this was not enough to feasibly do so straight off the bat. It will, though, pay for two things: a website, and a van – and what more does anyone need in life?

Here is the schedule for the bookshop:

1 June 2017 – Prototype internet poetry bookshop

A link will be put up on this blog in order for the site to be tested and improvements suggested.

1 August 2017 – Live internet poetry bookshop

The website goes live, selling actual books to actual punters

1 December 2017 (depending on success of online shop) – Mobile poetry bookshop

Mobile bookshop parking in various parts of London and hopefully further afield selling poetry books

Profits from these will go towards getting a bricks’n’mortar shop – I’m not putting a date on this as I currently have no idea how long it will take to get the necessary funds. However, as the process goes on, we should get some idea of how we’re doing and I will be posting updates on this blog on the first Monday of the month from now on. Leave a comment on the blogpost if you want to get in

Contact

There is currently no Lunar Poetry email address – there will be one by 1 May; in the meantime, if you have a question I haven’t so far answered you can leave it as a comment on this blog and I will attempt to answer it in next month’s update.

The Facebook and Twitter pages will remain up, but only as amplifiers of these blog posts. Useful tools that they are, they are also a mess of anger and anxiety and I have quite enough of that to deal with in my day job, thanks.

Finally, Lunar Poetry Podcasts (currently nominated for a British Podcast Award and a Saboteur Award, which continues unaffected by anything said above (and can now be found on iTunes and Soundcloud), is a separate entity from Lunar Poetry – think of them as sister publications. Its full-time focus is producing high-quality pieces of audio infotainment about poetry and ancillary concerns. Don’t ask David Turner or anyone else involved about the magazine or the bookshop, because they won’t be able to tell you anything more than what’s on this page.

Cheery,
Paul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newsletter – August 2016

Hello folks, here’s what’s happening.

Magazine

Lunar Poetry will publish its last issue in its current format in September. It will be a double issue. There will be no issue this month. After that it will become a quarterly publication from December onward. Current subscriptions will still apply to the magazine in the new format. Poets waiting for news on work submitted prior to June 2016 will receive a response this week. Lunar is accepting submissions as usual; if you prefer to write to a brief, the Themes page will be rejigged shortly.

Put simply, producing a decent quality poetry magazine once a month is a full time job. The magazine has got to the point where it more or less pays for itself, but it is a long way away from paying for all the time I currently put into it.

Lunar’s original goals were to be frequent and cheap. Currently it is not particularly cheap and only sporadically frequent. I think such a magazine is possible and would be useful, but the publishers and editors of such a magazine would need to have far larger resources than I do.

Since Lunar cannot meet its original aims, I had considered winding it up. However, since it has begun, I think it has come to fill other roles not currently being supplied by the poetry press. First, it publishes a wider range of poetry than most other magazines, and I am pretty sure that a number of the poems published in Lunar would not be published elsewhere. You may, of course, think that they ought not to have been published anywhere but I would rather publish eclectic and interesting poetry, some of which will certainly be hated by some of the magazine’s readers, than forty copies of the same, perfectly good, poem.

Second, we are still, as far as I know, the only print poetry publication that gives serious coverage to spoken word. I have said many times that I think it is absurd that most poetry publications ignore half of contemporary poetry. Admittedly, it is difficult to do justice to spoken word in print, but hardly impossible – we manage to write about music, theatre, comedy and other artforms which exist primarily as a live experience: there is no reason we cannot do the same with spoken word.

These, I think, are important things which someone ought to be doing, so Lunar may as well carry on doing them. In addition, there are plenty of other things which I think poetry magazines could be doing which they currently are not; moving to quarterly publication will allow Lunar to attempt to do a few more of them.

Podcasts

The podcasts are continuing with a regular schedule – if you missed the recent blogpost on this, you can find out what’s happening here, and by following @Silent_Tongue on Twitter.

Also, I will be in Edinburgh for the festival this month, conducting as many short podcasts as I can. If you have a show (or a floor to sleep on) get in touch.

Reviews

Reviews printed in Issues 9 and 10 will be appearing on the blog over the next month, as will as many reviews from Edinburgh as I can get written.

Bookshop

Our first pop-up shop(s) will be appearing at live poetry events in the first week of September. We are ironing out the details this week, and they will be appearing on the blog very shortly, so keep your eyes peeled.

I think that’s everything for just now.

Cheers,
Paul.

Lunar Poetry Podcasts Update

A quick update to let you in on some good news about the Lunar Poetry Podcast. The Podcast has received some funding from Arts Council England in order to extend its reach and improve its quality. David Turner and his team have already managed to bring you podcasts from Sweden, Turkey, Cuba, Nigeria and all over the UK – with this funding they will be able to get out of London more often and record interviews and performances they would previously have been unable to. They will also be able to set up a dedicated website from which all past and future podcasts will be downloadable.

This all takes a bit of setting up, so things will be a little quiet on the podcast front until the beginning of September, when there will be a new 12 month programme of guest hosts and episodes from around the country.
That said, if you do happen to be in London on Sunday 24th July, you will be able to see a live Lunar Poetry Podcast being recorded as part of the Betsey Trotwood Poetry All-Dayer between 3 and 4pm, featuring readings from LPP regulars.
Keep up with what’s going on in the meantime by following @Silent_Tongue on Twitter.
Also, while I’m here, a quick reminder that the Issue 11 Launch will be at the Peckham Pelican from 7.30pm on Tuesday 2nd August. More details shortly.

Issue 10, July 2016

cover 10.jpg

Poems by Jenny Ellest, Lizzy Palmer, Sarah Taylor-Fergusson, London Undercurrents, Kat Soini, Gboyega Odubanjo, Christos Kallis, James Bell, Ray Diamond, Christopher Williams, Godefroy Dronsart, Marcus Slease, Willie James King, Jessica Wiseman Lawrence, Dennis Tomlinson, Rishi Rohatgi, Stewart Bartlam, Anne Pia, Fiona Sinclair, Susan Jordan, Holly Day, Colin Campbell Robinson, Fran Baillie, Beth McDonough, Nikki Robson, Paul McMenemy and A M Spence.

Reviews of Four Pamphlets from Eyewear, Luna Park by Grevel Lindop, Her Wings of Glass edited by Schneider, Shuttle & Woods, Hooligans by Katriona Naomi,Undisturbed Circles by Bethany W. Pope and Familiars by Linda Rose Parkes.

You can buy it here.