Kevin Saving on

Not Caild Fireweed Fa Nowt by Peter Street (Shoestring)
The Winding Keys by Jan Bradley (Creative Future)
Reverie and Rude Awakenings by Tom Jayston (Creative Future)
A Coat of Blanket Dreams by Mary O'Dwyer (Creative Future)

Saving's Christmas Chapbook Round Up: three Creative Futures and a Shoestring

Three chapbooks from Creative Future (2010)
Jan Bradley, The Winding Keys; Tom Jayston, Reverie And Rude Awakenings; Mary O'Dwyer, A Coat
of Blanket Dreams (all edited and introduced by Alan Morrison)

Creative Future is a registered charity which specialises in bringing the work of artists and writers, whom it describes as 'marginalised', to the attention of a wider audience. By 'marginalised', CF means 'those with mental health problems, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, offenders and ex-offenders, homeless people and substance misusers'.
 
For the critic, CF's policy poses a series of moral dilemmas: first up: the work has to stand (or fall) on its own merits. An act of publishing implies engagement with others. While we have no right to burst into a person's flat, rifle through their drawers, scrutinise their jottings and then publically lambast them for perceived error - that same person publishing a book or placing their pictures in an exhibition signifies the awareness that their work is liable to be judged, perhaps harshly. An experienced novelist/poet/painter will learn (perforce, must learn) to filter through the criticism, taking what is useful, discarding what is not. The process, in itself, constitutes a form of 'graduation'.
 
But what are we to do about (say) a suicidally-depressed writer: can harsh criticism catapult them over some personal tipping point? The answer to this question is 'Yes, it can' - witness the sad ends of Randall Jarrell and others. Should the critic therefore shrug their shoulders and say (with Wittgenstein) 'whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent', well - knowing that it is that silence which is the responce all serious artists - and, probably, most human-beings - crave least? Or should mentally fragile poets receive only fulsome tributes?

Historically, of course, many artists have elected to be 'out there' in the cold, (probably) believing that a typical experience might be the best provider of unusual insight. (Or 'Material'). One potential danger in this is that unceasing, tortured self-scrutiny may not necessarily equate to robust achievement - the American Confessional school being an interesting example of what can happen when self-indulgence leads to solipsism. Rembrandt painted his self-portraits solely because he couldn't afford to pay a sitter: poets, particularly, need to remember that introspection is only useful insofar as it affords insight into the universal, human condition. Individually, we are all weak reeds - to survive, our work needs to engage others.
 
But then, writers will always write, critics critique - and dogs continue to pee up trees. It's what they do.

Jan Bradley, The Winding Keys
Creative Future, 2010
ISBN 978-0-9563307-4-1
 
Jan Bradley's The Winding Keys appears, at least superficially, to have been influenced by the work of Emily Dickinson -except that it includes nine haiku. While the latter have never, quite, appeared to me to work in English, Bradley's intermittent use of rhyme - or half-rhyme - adds another nuance, as in 'Tar Haiku'
 
  Rain freckled with stars,
  Shadows tar - white feathered moon
  Vex Venus and Mars.
 
or 'Dwindle Haiku'
 
  Leaf blades, vein engraved
  Dwindle in the singing wind
  Dance in wistful veils.
 
I'm probably not the best person to appraise these, beyond saying - as they do in the States - 'if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you'll like' (which is by no means as dismissive as it first sounds). The Winding Keys includes one poem to which I keep returning again and again, 'Venus's Villanelle' (which I would like to reproduce here in full):
 
  Mirrored in Venus's looking-glass
  Hurt chambers of the heart
  Black ice, blind corners and tear gas.
 
  I scale the crags of a crumbling crevasse
  Burdened by sorrows, grave from the start
  Mirrored in Venus's looking-glass.
 
  Treble-headed hound at the gates, to pass
  Veiled in vanishing vapours, I dart
  Black ice, blind corners and tear gas.
 
  Remorseful, I wearily trespass
  To the dread path of fate, a distance apart
  Mirrored in Venus's looking-glass.
 
  Retorting by gathering wounds to amass
  I observe from my blockaded rampart
  Black ice, blind corners and tear gas
 
  Unwavering - will not let me pass.
  Blood-inked authors raise a lion's heart
  Yet, mirrored in Venus's looking-glass:
  Black ice, blind corners and tear gas.
 
Intriguing. I came away with the feeling that Bradley doesn't want her verse to be fully comprehensible or to swim perfectly into focus. It is designed to be masticated, certainly; to be capable of yielding strong flavours, but never to be swallowed whole. The rationalist in me is often frustrated by this arrangement ('why don't these poems say more what they mean?') but, occasionally, (as here) I sense - though don't fully grasp - a further dimension. Intriguing...
 

Tom Jayston, Reverie And Rude Awakenings
Creative Future, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-9563307-2-7
 
A more colloquial style informs Tom Jayston's Reverie and Rude Awakenings. This is a man who knows what he wants to say, and is not afraid to be seen setting an agenda. 'Lepidoptera' (an original poem) could, quite easily, be a free-verse translation out of Baudelaire. 'Your Prayer' flirts with Naturalism as an alternative to Theism. 'Sparks' knows that things could be better, but also that they have been infinitesimally worse. 'The Pavement Apostle' speaks for the vagrants who 'reside in the corner of our eyes'. 'The Gardener' rejoices at the notion of uncluttered, satisfying, sustaining work. 'Abacus' contemplates self-extinction. 'The First Time' lays the blame.
 
If there is despair here, then there is also life-affirmation (sometimes both within the same structure). If there are few 'Big Lines' on display, we wind up liking Jayston as someone who is exercised both by transgressiveness, and by the knowledge that this construct lacks coherence in an empirical universe. Like most of us, he longs for absolution; like many of us, he knows it will not come. We can hear him say it best himself (but with undue self-deprecation) in 'Self-pitying Attempt at Humour No 4382':
 
  I am not a poet. I am a cloud of fierce
  Emotion that drifts and veers
  Directionless. The page is my birthplace.
 
  I am not a poet. I pretend to write
  Words of shattering, staggering insight
  And truth. I am my own subject.
 
  I am not a poet. I have nothing to say
  Concerning anything in the world today
  Or at any time. I am not bothered.
 
  I am not a poet. But thank you for deigning
  To hear my vain attempts at feigning
  Literary aptitude. I feel honoured.
 

Mary O'Dwyer, A Coat Of Blanket Dreams
Creative Future, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-9563307-1-0
 
Mary O'Dwyer was brought up in children's homes until late adolescence. Perhaps only someone from that background could have written the affecting title-poem to A Coat of Blanket Dreams.
 
  On the sofa you slept under piles of coats,
  somehow, I kept myself afloat
  in my pool of tears, in my sea of fears.
  I'm alone mother, come out from undercover.
  For the rest of my life it seems
  I will live a life of blanket dreams.
 
O'Dwyer imagines herself into a variety of different objects such as a book, a table, a chair, a hoover and as an (as yet) undeveloped photograph:
 
  Let's go into the dark room.
  Switch off all the lights.
  Dip me in your solution
  Until I come out right.
 
(from 'A Snapshot').
 
She can also visualise herself as a (losing) boxer, a rape victim and a cracked vase. It comes as a relief when (in 'I Told You') she finally goes on the offensive:
 
  I'm not the kind of girl
  You can write about.
  I could do without
  All that flattery;
  Your words are a curse.
  So don't put your change
  Into my silk purse.
 
  I told you
  I'm not a words girl-
  So stop writing.
 
Mary O'Dwyer tries on many different dream-coats in this debut collection, from the anthropomorphic, through the surrealistic, to the epigrammatic and the darkly Plathian. I particularly enjoyed 'Knickerbockerglory' (even though I'm not normally drawn to concrete poetry).
 
Somewhat in contrast to that of her two CF compeers, I detect an element of self-effacement in O'Dwyer's work - which might make it difficult for her to form a recognisable 'style'. This need not necessarily preclude the fermentation of exceptional 'one-offs'. As a qualified psychiatric nurse, she will be aware that she shares her own diagnosis of 'bi-polar affective disorder' with some remarkably creative personalities. Her (unusual) self-effacement - though, probably, a good thing in a nurse - could prove something of a handicap in the 'Go Get 'Em' world of poetry promotion. Somewhere, 'Famous Seamus' has made a comment to the effect that most poets only ever find their distinctive 'voice' when they hear someone else speaking with it (and this was certainly true for him). If, and when, O'Dwyer finds this voice, it will not be through 'eavesdropping' - and I'm confident that it will be a voice with plenty of 'carry'.

Not Caild A Fireweed Faw Nowt
by Peter Street
Illustrated by Kate Houghton
Shoestring Press, 2010
ISBN 978-1-907356-14-8

Wor Botanica! It's not quite clear why lowly willowherbs (Epilobium angustifolium) are given their queer northern argot in this phytogenic phantasy by Peter Street. The premise appears to be that a war council has been convened in the plant world (with mankind as its potential opponent). A dozen varying botanical voices are given their say (including Plantain, Comfrey and Foxglove) and each soliloquy is augmented by a black and white illustration courtesy of the excellent Kate Houghton. All of these graphics are well-observed, some are truly arresting but, unfortunately, their inclusion has upped the production costs for this sixteen-page chapbook, landing it with a daunting £6 price tag. Still, an attractive curio.

Kevin Saving © 2010