Low – Double Negative

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One of the strongest albums of 2018 – a beautiful/ugly musical evocation of our dislocated times.

The opening ‘vinyl’ static and scratch in Quorum of a stuck-in-a-groove sound signals more than the sibilance of this sentence. It is the noise that will battle the trio’s usual sweet harmonies throughout this pulsating album, the sound augmented by a deepened volume and its insistence on so many tracks. It is a triumph of such a combination, fully realised in the beautiful-ugly track Always Trying to Work it Out where the sweet drone and pulse is perfected into a loop of gorgeous harmony and fading inandout distortion.

In a world thrown totally awry by the politics of madness, there is something metaphorically sustaining in how Low retain their core beauty within the onslaught of the penetrating and perpetrating noise. Such sound is always percolating around and within, an ambience that unsettles until a snatch or layered or even more permanent melodicism asserts itself. Tracks like The Son, The Son is a re-invention of Thus Spoke Zarathustra launching the potted history of man’s inhumanity in A Space Odyssey, followed by the sweetly strummed guitar and peacefulness of Dancing and Fire – these poles of a world in conflict with itself, Mimi Parker in angelic vocal even as the song inevitably gets more heated.

A stunning, significant sound for our times.

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Jackie Moore on Coleridge

This is no doubt a little self-indulgent, but my dear, wise and perceptive friend Jackie Moore has always taken a keen, supportive interest in my poetry.

In October she contributed observations on my poem Happy Birthday STC posted here, and consequently on Coleridge himself which are, as ever, insightful – and I mean about STC – as well as generous about what she reads in my writing. These observations were in the comment section of blog postings, and separated across three entries.

In blog-tidying today, I have amalgamated these and am sharing:

‘I was absorbed into this poem, especially as I recognise the Sonnet to the River Otter. The mood is complex, instantaneously summoning the unsullied joy of the youth, seeing and being surrounded by beauty where the music is enchanting with visions of vitality in those translucent waters. Yet there are shadows of future unhappiness and care; perhaps some autobiographical touches. Yes, indeed, genius rests on the overcoming of the present for the universal, of an individual absorbed into the human situation where sadness probably dominates joy. The boy Coleridge was absorbed watching the river’s leaps; as a man, he numbered cares until he found a way to silence such misery.

I wondered if the lyric on ‘light’ had any connections with the ‘light’ tones and hues of this poem? Numbering its light leaps!

For me, this is when he was at his pantheistic purity, at one spiritually with Nature and happiness and whatever God played its part in this, though many wiser people then me point to his Christian orthodoxy, perhaps later than when this was written, and to his Theological writings and so on – I cling to the idea of this entirely creative spirituality even if it is simply because that’s what I want to believe!

The image of the ‘ducks and drakes’ is ingenious and apt. Things which gave such delight when Coleridge – universally ‘us’ – was young change over time, becoming those threatening and rather sinister elements which are submerged in our minds as we grow older – always disturbing, menacing. In fact this poem may well suggest mutability, how changes are wrought over the passage of time, seldom in an ameliorative sense. This brings to mind Thomas a Kempis’s warning [sic] ‘Transit Gloria Mundi’. All too often as we age, it is the spiritual element which enriches and sustains, as in Mike’s poetry. I think this could be a link with the initial prose poem [here] about colours: unstable, changing, calm and threatening.’

Thank you Jackie.

Poetry Reviewed 2018

Poetry collections I have reviewed in 2018:

New York Hotel – Ian Seed, Shearsman Books

Ways of Looking – David Grubb, smith/doorstop

Box – David H.W. Grubb, Like This Press

White Noise – Rupert Loydell, zimZalla

Swamp Kiss – Colin Herd, The Red Ceilings Press

Subsequent Death – Aaron Kent, zimZalla

“let’s do it” late poems – Jim Burns, The Black Light Engine Room Press

poems for Grenfell Tower, The Onslaught Press

hilda doolittle’s carl jung t-shirt – Charlie Bayliss, erbacce-press

Broken Stories – Reuben Woolley, 20/20 Vision Publishing

Distances – Ian Seed, The Red Ceilings Press

Contextual Studies – Rupert Loydell, Broken Sleep Books

The Unmoving – Maria Stadnicka, Broken Sleep Books

My Converted Father – Sarah Law, Broken Sleep Books

Items – Martin Stannard, The Red Ceilings Press

Exchangeable Bonds – Justin Jamail, Hanging Loose Press

The True Account of Captain Love and the Five Joaquins – John Clegg, The Emma Press

My Life as a Painter – Matthew Sweeney, Bloodaxe Books

some times we are heroes – reuben woolley, corrupt press

Click on a book title to read review. Not that it matters, but poetry collections  published in 2018 are in the significant majority here – a few of the reviews are of older books. There are others I wanted/intended to review, but perhaps another time.


‘some time we are heroes’ by reuben woolley – corrupt press

some time

In most moments throughout this collection of poems, John and Mary are meeting – physically or through memory or in their words – though they are hardly together, separated by differing views/experiences, and by presentation on the page.

They do share similarities. Mary ‘can’t talk to everyone’ and ‘even John/doesn’t say much’. And they have a history together, if not tightly together, and the poems display this visually, as well as darkly in the language that mixes everyday companionship – say through dancing – and the struggle of even this,


Everything seems once, a time before. So there was a time when ‘flowers/were for cutting’ and the now or after is ‘not/time for sharing’.

In the reality of dislocation which, as I have said, the poems visually reflect the distances, the poems also reflect beauty/grace through their lyrical expression,


The poems also convey significant drama, at times of despair and defiance, and this is performed palpably for our reading,


I should say that I make this claim to meaning, or at least to mood and impact, but as a reader I am often as uncertain as Mary and John and the uncertain time and world they occupy – so what I sense is an evocation each time, whether in the here and now or their past as we move constantly between these poles [or concurrent realities].

In this fluidity of time and place and feeling, water plays a thematic role through many poems, and a whale might sing a story or rain cascade its confusion.

As we proceed through the poems there are continual references to a history of experience we as readers can all understand, both in terms of its existence and as a backdrop to damaged lives,


In a later poem Mary writes a love letter, and the fragility/instability of goodness in life, past and present, is beautifully conveyed which I mention because the pervading darkness I paint is real but the ‘light’ of love held ‘like sand’ will be ‘counted’ for reassurance in our lives and as in the poem some time we are heroes.

I count this sand in the penultimate poem casting nets for single voices and I commend to you this stylistically distinctive collection of poems where the universality of human relationships is, among many moving impressions, a haunting as well as affirming exploration.

More details and to purchase here.

Indictment Still Found in ‘A Christmas Carol’

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Ignorance and Want by John Leech for Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

It is 175 years today since the first publication of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, his moral tale exposing Victorian England’s poverty and child poverty in particular, so much a feature of Tory and austerity Britain now, an indictment of political and personal attitudes/behaviour Dickens could not have imagined continuing like this.

Here is a poetic finding from the book’s opening chapter.

Once Upon a Time in Now

In any year of
Christmas and sleet,
paths of life are
not always lit where

snow is more the
intent of rain
and sleet and
pouring of its purpose

to nip
and pelt and
grind to a
bitterer crowding in the

counting the cold
and bleak palpable
brown air and

foggy withal of
mere phantoms
once upon and
in this time.

Stannard’s in Stride

stride review

I am most pleased to have a positive review of my collection Professions by Martin Stannard here today in Stride magazine.

He understands its intended tone with an additional not ‘un-serious’ qualifier that I do like, and this is further expanded on which is how I’d hope other readers would experience and feel about the writing. Thank you to Stride for publishing.

professions cover

Professions can be purchased at The Red Ceilings Press here.