Thursday, 19 March 2015

Review of Map Reading For Beginners in Reach Poetry

Reach Poetry magazine contains a lengthy review by poet Lynn Woollacott of my latest poetry collection, Map Reading For Beginners, which I'm reproducing here.

Map Reading for Beginners is Deborah's second poetry collection and follows Communion, 2011 (Indigo Dreams) and a novel, Dart, 2013 Tamar Books (Indigo Dreams).

I was enchanted by the cover illustration of Map Reading For Beginners.  The image gives us a place to begin, under a blue sky, a river running through hills, deep places with symbolic creatures scuttling around and rooks flying overhead, mystery and surprise mirror imaging the opening poem and title of the collection '... the tunnelling lanes that take you down / to where the stories first began ... '



Cover illustration © Dru Marland 2014

In lyrical contemporary language Deborah's collection takes us on a journey through ghostly land/seascapes, historical stories and poems of a mystical/spiritual nature. For example, 'The Bakestone' in nine couplets and sparse punctuation, Deborah conjures history and mysticism from a simple object.  There are other half-familiar stories, 'Fallen Woman' (1885), whose skirts ballooned and saved her from a suicide attempt when leaping off a bridge, to 'Mr Brunel's Atmospheric Caper' (1848), the railway which ran for eight months.  Other poems drew me in with their intriguing titles, 'William Wyrcestre Dreams Of Brygstowe', for example, a topographer who lived in Deborah's home city of Bristol in 1480 and links in to the book title.

A most beautiful poem is 'The Poet And The Boatman', not surprising the poem came 2nd place in the Chipping Sodbury Poetry Competition, 2012. Here are the beginning stanzas:

Tidal here and salt
the final turn of Teign
before its fretful merging with the sea
creates a harbour in the lee of land,
this curved blood-coloured beach.

Through mist that lifts like linen wraiths
I glimpse the poet stripping off his white
ballooning shirt and britches,
bathing in a manner far from gentlemanly

the water's cold, he'll catch a chill

The story behind the poem is about Keats and his brother's consumption, the emotion comes through, and Deborah later in the poem refers to a boatman (mystical association with carrying the dead across water), and the symbolic colours, blood-coloured beach, linen wraiths, and later in the poem, a red-stained shirt. 

Deborah explains in footnotes on the historical poems to fill the facts. I didn't read them until after I'd read the poems, which made me re-read them, which is always a good thing, and though I understood the poems without footnotes there were moments of clarification.

Shipwrecks and land/seascapes feature: 'Cailpeach', a mysterious white horse at the shore, 'The Wreck of the Nornen' full of imagery, and there are contemporary ghosts, 'The Dream-Catcher' ... 'He's attached a discarded dream-catcher / to his trolley, now it is state-of-the-art; // the same sky above him swabbed of beauty / by an always falling rain that shines / a universe of gum on wet black tarmac', lines that leave an after-glow of images and sounds.

Couplets, triplets, sonnets abound, and occasional techniques such as anaphora, which propels the poem 'Winterset' forward, 'Between dark and dawn, the sleep-smudged sun / between sun and moon, the scavenger flood ... '  Other poems have a subtle rhyme, never forced because beautiful words are appreciated in the collection.

For me the contemporary poem, 'The Seventh Sign', sums up the links: snakes, corvids, coast/water, history, churchyard, love and the number seven. There are so many poems I'd like to have shown you, so please visit Deborah's Indigo Dreams book page and see some examples referred to here and others.

I leave this review with two stanzas from another favourite poem, 'An Approximation': 

... late autumn days
out on the Levels
mistletoed trees in orchards flutter
star-scattered wings

and as countless cacophonous voices fly
I might dream
an approximation of angels 
on Peckham Rye.' 



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