Tag Archives: Peter Davidson
Poetry Review Catch-up: Burch, Carrick-Varty, Davidson, Marya, Parsons (#ReadIndies)
As Read Indies month continues, I’m catching up on poetry collections I’ve been sent by three independent publishers: the UK’s Carcanet Press, and Alice James Books and Terrapin Press, both based in the USA. Various as these five are in style and technique, nature and family ties are linking themes. From each I’ve chosen one short poem as a representative.
Leave Me a Little Want by Beverly Burch (2022)
Burch’s fourth collection juxtaposes the cosmic and the mundane, marvelling at the behind-the-scenes magic that goes into one human being born but also making poetry of an impatient wait in a long post office queue. We find weather and travel; smell as well as sight and sound; alliteration and internal rhyme. Beset by environmental anxiety and the scale of bad news during the pandemic, she pauses in appreciation of the small and gradual. Often nature teaches these lessons. “Practice slow. Days for a seed to unfurl a shoot, / yawn out true leaves. Stems creep upward like prayers. / Weeks to make a flower, more to shape fruit.” Burch expresses gratitude for what is and what has been: a man carrying an infant outside her kitchen window gives her a pang for the baby days, but when she puts her hunting cat on house arrest she realizes how glad she is that impulsivity is past: “Intensity. More subtle than passion. / Odd to be grateful so much of my life is over.” Each section contains multiple unrhymed sonnets, as well as an “incantation” and/or an exploration of “Ars Poetica”.
With thanks to Terrapin Books for the free e-copy for review.
More Sky by Joe Carrick-Varty (2023)
In this debut collection by an Eric Gregory Award-winning poet, his father’s suicide is ever-present – and not just in poems like “54 Questions for the Man Who Sold a Shotgun to My Father” but in seemingly unrelated pieces that start off being about something else. Everything comes around to the reality of a neglectful, alcoholic father and the sordid flat he inhabited before his death. Carrick-Varty alternates between an intimate “you” address and third-person scenarios, auditioning coping mechanisms. His frame of reference is wide: football, rappers, Buddhist cosmology. Some poems are printed sideways up the page; there are stanzas, paragraphs and columns. The word “suicide” itself is repeated to the point where it loses meaning, becoming just a sibilant collection of syllables (as in “From the Perspective of Coral,” where “suicide” is substituted for sea creatures, or the long culminating poem, “sky doc,” in which every stanza opens with “Once upon a time when suicide was…”) The tone is often bitter, as is to be expected, but there is joy in the deft use of language.
With thanks to Carcanet Press for the free e-copy for review.
Arctic Elegies by Peter Davidson (2022)
Much of the verse in Davidson’s second collection draws on British religious history and liturgy. Some is also in conversation with art, music or other poetry. In all of these cases, I found the Notes at the end of the volume invaluable for understanding the context and inspiration. While most are in stanzas, some employing traditional forms (e.g., “Sonnet for Trinity Sunday”), a few of the poems are in paragraphs and feel more like essays, such as “Secret Theatres of Scotland.” As the title heralds, an elegiac tone runs throughout, with “Arctic Elegy” (taking material from an oratorio he wrote for performance in St Andrew’s Cathedral in 2015) dedicated to the ill-fated Franklin Expedition of 1845–8:
Wonderful is the patience of the snow
And glorious the violence of the cold.
How lovely is the power of the dark pole
To draw the iron and move the compass rose.
As cold as loss as cold as freezing steel
In this same vein, I also appreciated the wry “The Museum of Loss” and the ornate “The Mourning Virtuoso.” There’s a bit of an Auden flavour here, but the niche topics didn’t always hold my attention.
With thanks to Carcanet Press for the free copy for review.
Sugar Work by Katie Marya (2022)
Marya’s debut collection contains frank autobiographical poems about growing up in Atlanta and Las Vegas with a single mother who was a sex worker and an absentee father. As the pages turn, she gets her first period, loses her virginity, marries and divorces. Her childhood persists in photographs, and the details of places, foods and pop culture form the recognizable texture of American suburbia. Social media haunts or taunts: that photo her addict father posts every year on Facebook of him holding her, aged three, on a beach; the Instagram perfection she wishes she could attain. Marya’s phrasing is carnal, unsentimental and in-your-face (viz. “Valentine’s Day: “Do you think love only exists / because death exists? / I do not want to marry you. // But I do want explosions / of white taffeta and a cake / propped up in my mouth // with your hand for a photo. / Skin is a casing and I hook / mine to yours with a needle.”) There is also a feminist determination to see justice for women who are abused and accused.
With thanks to Alyson Sinclair PR for the free e-copy for review.
The Mayapple Forest by Kim Ports Parsons (2022)
Parts of this alliteration-rich debut collection respond to the pandemic’s gifts of time and attention. Gardening and baking, two of the activities that sustained so many people during lockdowns, appear as acts of faith – planting seeds and waiting to see what becomes of them – and acts of remembrance (in “The Poetry of Pie,” she’s a child making peach pie with her mother). There is a fresh awareness of nature, especially birds: starlings, a bluebird nest, the lovely portrait in “Barn Owl.” From the forest floor to the stars, this world is full of wonders. Human stories thread through, too: dancing to soul music, fixing an elderly woman’s hair, the layers of history uncovered during a renovation of her childhood home. Contrasting with her temporary residence in the Midwest is her nostalgia for Baltimore. Parsons reflects on the sudden loss of her father (“A quick death’s a blessing / for the one who dies”) and the still-tender absence of her mother, the book’s dedicatee.
With thanks to Terrapin Books for the free e-copy for review.
Read any good poetry recently?