An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
edited by Jan Fortune-Wood
Cinnamon Press
Ty Meiron
Glan yr Afon
Blaenau Ffestiniog
LL41 3SU
ISBN 0 9549433 2 5

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This page last updated: 10th December 2007.

When the recently launched Cinnamon Press held a competition to find a poetry collection to publish, they received as the INTRODUCTION states such

a wealth of wonderfully crafted, evocative poetry
that they decided to publish not one collection but four, plus an anthology of the best poems. This is that anthology, and it certainly contains excellent poems that deserve to be published.

It begins with the three prizewinners in the collection competition. First is Bruce Ackerley, whose poems are both poetic and painterly, as in the opening lines of WELSH BORDER LOVE:

	It's where you flowered  that shabby
	farm beneath the Berwyn; a latecomer
	like the hawthorn, bowed but steady.
Bill Greenwell, second in the competition, is a name that will be familiar to many, especially readers of the New Statesman, where he was resident poet. He delights in the flexibility of words and weaves them into patterns of paradox and contradiction. (I note that his forthcoming collection from Cinnamon Press will be called IMPOSSIBLE OBJECTS.) A good example is the third verse of MOON GLIMPSED BY CHANCE:
	It is canny, uncanny,
	a moon full of promises,
	pools, something tussling your hair
	when breezes
	are blown along by songs.
John Tanner, third in the competition, and like many of the contributors writing from or about Wales, seems to have absorbed influences as different as the two Thomases, Dylan and R.S., as in the closing lines of THAT RAINS:

	            I wish
	that the rain that rains on
	Siabod, Capel, my
	    black Glyderau
	    would rain now,
	cloud-weep, stone-gleam
	    and comfort me.
The three prizewinners are good, but it will be apparent that they are all male. Why? Out of the other eighteen contributors to this anthology, only three are male, while fifteen are female. So although women poets are in a large majority overall (71%), not one was selected as a winner.

It could easily have gone the other way. There are some very strong poems here by women poets. They are often more intimate and personal but not in the stereotypical way, as the relationships they write about are more often with sisters, parents, grandparents or children than with lovers. And it is the women poets who take on the really serious issues. Louisa Parker tackles racism and domestic violence with seriousness and irony. In the opening lines of LENT Anne Brooke raises doubts about religion:

	I'm giving up prayer for Lent;
	it doesn't work,
	and I've thought for a while
	it's time to be free of it.
And produces the punchline at the end:
	so I'm giving up prayer for Lent.
	Perhaps next year I'll give up God.
Iris Woodford has a powerful and sad poem about the futility of war, TRAFFIC AT THE FORD, which begins:
	Three old women at the ford
	wash winding sheets clean.

	The clear water runs red
	for a little way over flat stones,
	and the women sing together
	steady as the river, bitter, cold.
An endless task for the women, as an endless line of the battle-dead, both winners and losers, arrive to wrap themselves in the sheets.

There are many more worthwhile poems here, beside the ones I have quoted from. Overall there is skill, strength, feeling and the occasional touch of ironic or morbid humour. It is also true that the shadow of creative writing classes hangs over this anthology. This is not a guess: it is evident in the brief biographies of the poets. Fortunately it is no more than a shadow, just a hint of images that are eye-catching but not totally convincing, or vocabulary rarely encountered outside the dictionary. My advice is: stay away! If you think you can't be a poet without going to creative writing classes, then you can't be a poet. The contributors to PERHAPS have transcended their backgrounds and have shown that they can be, and are, poets.

Cinnamon Press will be publishing collections by the three prizewinners, Bruce Ackerley, Bill Greenwell and John Tanner, and by another of the contributors, Clare Potter, in 2006. This is a venture that deserves to be well supported.

reviewer: Andrew Belsey.