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is Daniel Sluman’s second collection published by Nine Arches Press; sharp and unflinching work exquisitely rendered to convey aspects of mortality in all its bleak beauty.

Daniel is a UK-based poet with whom I first became acquainted participating in his Poetry of Pain course hosted online through the Poetry School. Daniel suffered with bone cancer when he was young and in these poems, he shares flashes of the trauma endured brilliantly, as well as those places and events no one wants to speak of.

In the terrible, there is pain and suffering, blood and release, acceptance and love, narcotics and knowing, and a frank realisation of the body’s fragility and the life it contains.

In ‘1991-2006’ we’re shown a fast-forward of father and son travelling in ‘a pounded blue ford’, ‘the faces from our life passing like boarded-up doors’. In ‘morphine’ ‘it waits for me to twist the lid’ and ‘dream of a wonderful weight on the chest sinking further towards the stalling heart.’ And in ‘angels’ there’s a bitterness, ‘as we reel the rope to knot around their chests’, pull and wait ‘for the snap of feather-bone & rib’.

The vessel in which we travel can be subject to ‘strange weather’ (a concept explored in ‘doppelganger’) threatening its delicate balance, and so I want to leave you with this poem, a poignant reminder the barely bearable is often shared:

 

& this is love

 

as she goes limp & falls into my arms

like an important looking letter

I help her to the bathroom

 

& sit on the other side of the door

tearing nails between my teeth

clutching the phone like a safety rope

 

& this is love    how we live between

the side-effects of glittering pills

the wads of her dead hair snarled

 

in the plug-hole    the morning cigarette

that shakes in her hand before her kiss

once again says whateverhappens    I ring

 

the ambulance when her head smacks

the floor    & in the crazed flutter of her lids

I see a million lives for us    each one perfect

 

Copyright @ Daniel Sluman 2015

is an exceptional collection by Angela Readman published by Nine Arches Press, one I couldn’t put down for the song calling and still hear.

The Book of Tides is Angela’s third collection of poems, described as salt-speckled and sea-tinged, they lure with their rhythmic magic and ability to weave the other worldliness with the normalcy of now. There are mermaids and fishermen, folklore and loss, love and murder, even a beard of bees:

The swarm began to flow uphill, a dark lace over the apple stuck in my throat (‘The Preacher’s Son and the Beard of Bees’)

each and every poem glittering with a visceral, yet incandescent, quality.

Angela’s work leaves indelible images, the titles alone capitulate these – ‘The Museum of Water’, ‘The House that Wanted to be a Boat’, ‘Our Name in Pebbles’, ‘Confession of a Selkie’ – and with sublime lines like:

Sometimes she stared at wolves chasing the window, landlocked clouds circled the house (‘The Book of Tides’)

and:

My fingers dry and uncurl, flakes fall. I leave freckles on the snow (‘The Woman with No Name’)

and:

The horizon is a closed ballroom where days of the week refuse to dance (‘The Woman Who Could Not Say Goodbye’)

these poems are keepsakes, the kind to net and stow in a sturdy, waterproof box.

The detail in Angela’s work is enviable, as the snippets above demonstrate, down to the quote she selected by Leonard Cohen by way of introduction – “If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick everyday.”

The title poem won the Mslexia Poetry Competition in 2013, but I want to leave you with ‘To Catch a Fisherman’, one of several favourites of mine for its sculpted perfection, like the seashell you found as a child whispering wonders:

 

To Catch a Fisherman

 

The Singer grunts another steel shanty.

Mother puts a foot down on fish skins

bucking the light, an ocean in the room.

 

It’s a fine day to catch a fisherman, let

fog spritz a veil over a squirm of tail, shells

cutting patterns in my chest like dough.

 

I can cut a fisherman out of his boat,

if I sit still long enough, dangle the bait of

a song off the rock to a man looking for a story

 

to reel. There’s none who won’t come,

reach out for a myth to writhe in his hands.

I serenade the speck of my house, sad

 

as a woman who can’t dance, wind rinsing

out recollections of sinking in the bath

pretending to be half-anemone, half-girl.

 

The keel of my voice creaks song

of Mother’s bad back, logs aching to be lugged,

a cold foot in bed inching for a warm sole.

 

She catches the lone fisherman in her net,

a sprat of man who sees me strip off my tail,

harpoon licking the hollow in his neck.

 

Together we bundle him back to the house,

Mother’s laugh is a shoal. It slips over us,

a glint of mermaids bringing the silver home.

 

Copyright © Angela Readman 2016

Supported through Crowdfunder and published by Nine Arches Press, Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back is an invaluable addition to disability literature.

Edited by Sandra Alland, Khairani Barokka and Daniel Sluman who themselves have disability, the anthology examines D/deaf and disabled poetics from personal, social and political perspectives, culminating in a beautifully rich collection of voices.

Split into ‘Bodies’, ‘Rules’, ‘Maps’, ‘Dreams’ and ‘Legends’, the experiences of those with physical, mental and emotional challenges are shared through poetry, essays and photos to:

showcase a diversity of opinions and survival strategies for an ableist world.

It’s gritty stuff; confronting perceptions of people who are considered and/or observed to be different. Some work is followed by a short biography offering further insight into its contributors. And there are a plethora of conditions both visible and unseen – deafness, absent limbs, MS, mental illness, autism, rheumatoid arthritis to name a few – stripped bare and laid out in indelible forms.

The idea for the anthology came from a desire to create a UK equivalent to the American anthology Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability. Interestingly, this has recently been achieved here in Australia with Shaping the Fractured Self: Poetry of Chronic Illness and Pain, developed as a companion to Articulations: The Body and Illness in Poetry in the US. This is an expanding field; one we should all make time to explore.

I’ve just finished an open workshop in which poets were asked to explore their own experiences of pain and develop them into poems to share with the group.

Poetry of pain

Hosted through The Poetry School’s online social network CAMPUS, the workshop was facilitated by Daniel Sluman and ran for two weeks comprising assignment, reading, writing time and live chat. Daniel is an amazing poet, whose work often explores the challenge of the body and the pain it can cause, with two collections to his name – his first, Absence has a weight of its own, was published by Nine Arches Press in 2012 and then his latest, the terrible, is also available from Nine Arches Press.

So we were asked to recall the most memorable moments in our lives that have involved pain and note three down. Well once I started, I found it difficult to stop and ended up with over seven on my list! We then had to think about these times in an objective way with a focus on detail and other senses, i.e. not just the sensation of pain, drawing on poems by Matthew Siegel and Sharon Olds as exceptional examples of how pain can be conveyed.

I managed to draft and share three poems, with notes for another five, and poets had to choose one to be work-shopped during the two-hour live chat session. Having this at 4:30am my time (7pm London time), I thought showed commitment to the craft!

It was a really useful exercise and I met some fantastic poets along the way, whom I hope to remain in contact with. Daniel asked if we thought this course could be expanded upon; most definitely, where there’s pain, either physical or emotional, there’s a lot to say and share.

That’s the number of poems I’ve had published, or will have very soon thanks to an online literary journal based in Dublin called The Burning Bush 2, who recently told me they would like to use some of my work in their next issue!

Burning Bush 2 header

So 30…is this good or bad? Or just plain mediocre? I actually think it’s not too bad considering I’ve never had a collection published, and the spread is across a variety of journals, magazines, both in print and online, anthologies, competitions, with even one turned into a short film. And they’ve crossed the Pacific and Atlantic, and back again to cover three continents. It could be higher, but it’s a good solid number to grow and become more me thinks.

And then reading an update by fellow poet Abegail Morley about her forthcoming collection, The Skin Diary, being published by Nine Arches Press next year, has kick-started me again to return to my own collection I’m currently putting together. It will only be pamphlet-size to be sent to a publisher in Australia with a current call out for such work. So we’ll see what happens. In the meantime, I’ll pocket my 30 and raise you

smiley face

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