A couple of years ago, my partner came home from a business trip bearing a small gift for me, which he seemed particularly pleased with as he handed it over. It was a slim volume of poems from Candlestick Press, an anthology titled Ten Poems About Sheep. Sheep?! What on earth kind of a gift was that, I wondered, feigning gratitude. A lovely one, as it turned out. I devoured it in one sitting and, despite two house moves and several book culls since, it’s still up there on my shelves.

So when I was offered two newly published pamphlets from Candlestick Press in exchange for some feedback, I jumped at the chance.

There’s a huge amount to like about the whole Candlestick Press concept. I’m a big fan of the pamphlet or chapbook as an art form in its own right, rather than just as a pre-cursor to a full poetry collection, so I appreciate Candlestsick’s focus on the format. I also love the idea of mini-anthologies organised around themes. They’re such a novel and accessible way to dip a toe into a wide range of poetry  – particularly when they’re as beautifully produced as these are, and when the themes are so wonderfully varied – from nonsense poems, to bedtime poems, to poems about dogs, chickens, puddings and revenge, to poems by lesbian and gay poets and poems about Scotland. And I really like that a proportion of the price of each title goes to charity – various different causes, in keeping with each pamphlet’s theme.

 

The Woods in Winter by John Lewis-Stempel

(Prose by John Lewis-Stempel with two poems by Jackie Kay and Nancy Campbell). As with Ten Poems About Sheep, I fell immediately in love with this little wonder – from Angela Harding’s gorgeous cover artwork to John Lewis-Stempel’s sparsely evocative nature writing, both of which took me right back to the heart of the Northumbrian woods I grew up in.

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photo: Pey Pey Oh

I’ve been reading quite a lot of nature writing recently, but much of it has left me wanting with its strong focus on scientific analysis. What I want is to be transported and The Woods in Winter satisfied that desire in spades. I smelled the land, shivered in the freezing air and felt the eyes of small birds on me. I startled at the sudden flapping of pheasant and winced at a vixen’s scream.

This is about so much more than a walk in the woods. It’s “existence stripped back to the elements,” where we become “just another dark vertical shape among others.” But it’s also “An awkward trespass,” as if, in our modern human world we’ve moved so far away from our own wilderness that we barely recognise it. “The oaks were temple pillars of a lost civilisation”. But if we do, and if we go there deliberately so that we may “find a certain thing,” what might be the consequences? “No one comes looking for you in a wood.”

The Woods in Winter is an obvious candidate for a Christmas gift, but I’m afraid my copy’s going no further than my bookshelf. This is something I’ll read again and again. Reckon I’ll pop it next to Ten Poems About Sheep.

 

Ten Poems about Friendship: Selected and Introduced by Lorraine Mariner

I’m a big fan of Lorraine Mariner’s poetry and so I suspected (correctly, as it turns out) that I’d enjoy her selections in this anthology.

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A poetry anthology can at times be a bit like a box of chocolates (forgive the Forrest Gump analogy). There’ll be a few poems you really love and keep coming back to, a bunch you quite a like and might read once or twice and then, inevitably, some that don’t really grab you at all. But I have to say that I enjoyed every single poem here, on two distinct levels – individually and as a collection.

As a whole, the collection took me on a journey through friendship, warmly reflecting the real-life complexity, highs and lows of human relationships rather than sugar-coating them. Which I think makes it a collection that anyone and everyone can relate to – regardless of gender, age or lifestage. At the same time, it deftly balances work by traditional and contemporary poets, poems of varying length and structure, and poems with contrasting emotional tones – from tenderness, through celebration, appreciation and laugh-out-loud humour.

The stand-out poem for me was Lorraine Mariner’s ‘Inventory’, in which she catalogues her Facebook friendships. The title and the poem’s focus on numbers (“I have 484 friends” / “114 of them I have never met”) seem to say it all, but then, “sometimes I am overwhelmed by the sadness people I hardly know are sharing” suddenly throws up a whole different side of life in the time of social media.

As much as I relished reading Ten Poems about Friendship, I’ll be passing this one on as a gift. Not because I don’t want to keep it, but because I know someone who’ll treasure receiving it. A very good friend of mine (a real one).

 

Shauna Robertson is a member of Town Hall Poets, the Poetry Society Stanza which meets at Trowbridge Town Hall on the second Monday of every month.  Town Hall Poets have been selected as the Trowbridge Chapter for the Candlestick Press Collective and receive complimentary pamphlets to discuss and review in our group.

 

You might also like >> Ginny Saunders writes about new Candlestick Press pamphlets at her blog.  Josephine Corcoran has written some comments here and you can also read feedback from Pey Pey Oh and John Powell.

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