An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
Poetry Monthly Press
39 Cavendish Road
Long Eaton
NG10 4HY
ISBN 1 905126 41 7

Poetry Monthly Press
ISBN 1 905126 85 9

9 Walnut Close
ISBN 978 1 903264 67 6

ISBN 978 1 903264 68 3

NHI review home page
FAQ page
Notes for Publishers

book reviews
other media

Web design by Gerald England
This page last updated: 13th October 2008.

FLYING TO NEVERLAND is a collection of poetry from Wendy Webb. The front page proclaims it to be 'experimentally modern with a romantic flourish' which is somehow offputting, but at the same time a fairly accurate description of the poems! Webb is refreshingly unafraid of experimentation and equally unafraid of engaging with either emotions or issues — whether political or personal. In form her poetry takes in everything from Tectractys to Tryptichs, plenty of haiku and a poem written backwards, while thematically we have everything from the G8 to disabled access on public transport, along with a number of poems about children growing up and adults ageing. This does mean that the collection lacks overall focus.

With many of the poems the reader can identify with the situation or recognise a character or is pulled up to think more about an issue. Many of the poems give well observed snapshots of everyday life, as in BUS STOPPING:

	There was nothing new to write about buses,
	except that peace swept in
	like bus wipers in a torrential downpour,
	like the calm of cars cruising,
	travelling empty.
or capture moments of fear and denial as in DEATH'S MASK:
	How can it be you 
	when I do not recognise your face?
However some of the poems are spoiled for this reviewer by seemingly trying too hard to make a point or to be clever with words. Overall though, it is a collection that is worth reading and Webb may be a writer worth keeping an eye on.

reviewer: Juliet Wilson.

Wendy Webb's name may be the reason why you open this book as she has published copious quantities of poetry to celebrate her Golden Year. Wendy Webb's poetry may be less known abroad, but it deserves wider recognition.

Some readers may look on Webb as proof that women hold their own with men as poets. Thus in her long poem PRELUDE, so-named in tribute to Wordsworth's poem, Webb is preoccupied with her experiences from birth

	by caesarean, in hospital, the youngest of three
	and daddy's favourite
to her meeting with Edward:
	I met a man named Edward, Ed or Ted or
	Teddy Bear.
Webb wittily rewrites Wordsworth's PRELUDE in a revelatory, honest manner that makes her first and foremost a poet, someone whose mind and heart are taken up with poetry more than the heart-breaking experiences of her life would indicate.

Some readers may wonder which is the greater danger — seeking the grief and challenges of the lived life or risking comparison with the great Romantic poet Wordsworth. The tradition of Romantic poetry has to be navigated with care.

The majority of the shorter poems are about a life spent in the shadow of a dysfunctional family. Self, history, and family are all brought together in poems about landscapes, impressions, family, childhood and youthful incidents, courtship, the art of writing etc. The poems are usually very loosely organised free verse, interspersed with the occasional poem in more traditional form. The syntax is mainly of a conversational nature. Abstractions are often rooted in particular lives, for example in MAUD, BREAKING A LEG FOR FAMILY, GEORGIE PORGIE. The poems work through a concreteness of anecdote and figure, and achieve powerful resonances through the particularity, for example, of children playing conkers, fishing in a pond, a flood, sex education, and the father's need for a babysitter for his new girlfriend. Thus, Webb writes of courting days in TRIP OF A LIFETIME:

	They say absence makes the heart . . .
	he fondly scened and wondered alone;
	scribbled passionate prose;
	she splashed paint,
	the smallest room, conveniently.
Happily, the poet has avoided the risk of seeming maudlin or oppressed by using her sense of humour. No one who has led an equally difficult life can fail to empathise with Webb's poem to her mother, MADONNA OF THE LILIES:
	Not a good mother — now late put to sleep —
	by any standards but my own, grown deep
	as night following day following night.
	Yet a face, safer now than failing sight:
	a sight of me in your eyes, where we meet
In another poem you will find here, THE POET'S REWARD, Webb makes a brief mention of her aspirations towards being a poet:
	One day my verse will sing so loud,
	its seashell language written
	as simply beached as child's play:
	with stage or toys or primer.
She adds a footnote to THE POET'S REWARD telling readers that she has drawn on the poetic traditions of Tuthill and Shakespeare:
Inspired by Don Tuthill's poem of the same title; and by Shakespeare, QL Aug 06.
Their meditations have given form and nobility to a poem memorialising her own creativity.

This poet surprises us with what seems suddenly familiar, even as she pursues new forms of difference. She pays attention to familiar cultural currents in the humanities and in popular culture; and so we recognise the world she describes: her poem NIGHTMARE describes bad dreams from a child's perspective:

	My mind ran
	my flesh failed
	feet dragged lead
	I did not look at what held back
	looming me in prism

	trapped in a web
	struggling to be free
Daily life is here in the tumult of relationships and the recollection of belonging to a challenging family. She writes with irony of dormitory life:
	It was late, lights out.
	Spiteful girl stood by
	as duty-bound I delivered a message
	hurled through the doorway like a football.
We also see objects of daily life that will be familiar to many readers: a broken trike, ironed starched laundry, Christmas, the scent of a dog rose, conkers, books. Women form a large part of Webb's poetic subject matter: mother, teacher, sister, spiteful girl, neighbour, friends. Familiar in a different way to readers of modern poetry will be the metaphysical concerns and the sense that religious experience and fear of one's demise can descend on the dullest catalogue of daily life. For example, we see in TRUNK IN THE ATTIC (a fine example of a pantoum), the poet musing on memories of a lost parent:
	Did you know I thought I heard you calling
	in softer tones than memory can tame?
Anyone who grew up in this era, sleep walking, riding a trike, owning a stamp collection, playing conkers, or with a father with a second family, will respond to these poems.

Among the more adventurous treatments of the poetic form with leaps in diction, stylistic register, and theme are poems such as EMPTY BARREL OF COBWEBS, MOTHER TIES, SCHOOL DAYS and ECHOTAIN where the metaphors remain vivid, and lineation and arrangement on the page are formal. Readers will see at a glance that this poet has many different ideas about the layout of poetic words on a page.

A section of thirteen poems before the long poem PRELUDE is a tribute to the author by her friends. The poems are by Malcolm Williams, Beth Buckley, Caroline Gill, Norman Bissett, Margaret Munro Gibson, Sheila Garwood, Juliet Wimhurst and Ronnie Goodyer. For example, in STRIKING GOLD, Caroline Gill, urges us to

	Salute our Pantoum Queen!
	Stars gleam with purest gold:
	lights shine on field of green
	as Norfolk skies unfold.
Margaret Munro Gibson composes a CINQUAIN FOR WENDY:
	She is
	half a hundred
	and the output of her
	Golden Year is her best ever
	as yet.
In APHRODITE SPEAKS Juliet Wimhurst offers:
	I am Love.
	But not necessarily a young lady
	simpering on a shell,
	more like an ocean flooding through you —
	my waves, sand, surf,
	ridding you of surplus,
	scouring you like an emetic.
	to leave you clear as glass.
And Ronnie Goodyer ends the section with a lovely concrete poem: POEM FOR A FRIEND in the shape of a tree.

The collection ends with a review of the long poem PRELUDE called LOOK! SHE HAS COME THROUGH by Norman Bissett, in which he says,

Poetry is her passion, and although the purist might contend that there are times when passion would benefit from tighter editing, all her work is typified by its openness, spontaneity, immediacy, unflinching honesty and zest for ideas and the word. Of all her work this year, this is especially true of PRELUDE. The story that she has to tell is profoundly moving and she tells it straight."
In Webb's PRELUDE (the long poem) she revisits some of the scenes she has explicated in the short verse: the youthful protagonist, the years of personal pain, her formative literary influences. The poem she tells is an honest biographical story that leaves no stone unturned in its efforts to make all clear and understood. Sometimes funny, sometimes painful, it ends with the words
	I was a golden girl once more.
It is a fitting conclusion to this volume celebrating her Golden Year.

reviewer: Patricia Prime.

Wendy Webb is both poet and publisher in this latest offering but don't let that put you off. This is a first-class example of self-publishing.

She says,

TRANSMIGRATION is based on the Bible verse in Ezekiel Can these dry bones live?
Images of death and decay come high on the list of subject matter here but she writes it within the context of a variety of characters: children, widows, old men, fathers, the environment, rivers and floods, historic figures, characters from the bible and pretty much the whole universe. The scope is huge.

Astonishingly she says she wrote this collection in one day.

She often starts a poem with And in imitation of the beginning of chapters in the Bible, as if so much has gone before and this is a mere continuation.


	And children, playing in the dust of a thousand summers,
	threw dry bone sticks to break the world
	with dice and thirty silver pieces,
	in crucible meltdown of the moon.
Her imagery is dazzling and pictures flash through your mind as she flits unrelentingly from one image to another. It demands your full attention but the effort is worthwhile.

	Where the Nile floods then bakes to bricks of clay,
	winnowed without corn
		but pressed to bones and whips
	and cracks of skulls, of pooling blood,
	fleshed to pyramids of a thrusting blade
		within a stone.
Webb says she has learnt to fly free with this new voice
like sailing a long reach, where rhyming words are internalised...
She is certainly flying free. When moving from poem to poem there is such a sense of continuity that I can believe she wrote it in one day. It's as if she is in a dream-state, with certain words repeated throughout the sequence, each time bringing new insight or meaning to the phrases.

She weaves her knowledge of the Bible, history and modern world events, into a stream of incantation on a modern par with THE RUBA'IYAT of Omar Khayyam.


	We have believed the whore of lies for lust,
	to prick at priests and burst their bubbling dome,
	while terrorists have polished infidels
	in backpacks of a prism's smashing glass.
What more can I say after making that statement? This is a great piece of work and I hope she gets much recognition for it beyond being labeled religious.

reviewer: Chrissie Everard.

This is an honest, immediate and at times chaotic set of experiences as we follow through Admission, Anaesthetic, Recovery Room to Discharge — each step worth its full-colour description. Wendy Webb's hospital stay is transformed and we are taken along as honorary patients and observers. The approach is via Mother's Day, when

	daffodils struggle,
	defeated by slurry and hail.
In the small hours
	half-light of a hospital at night
she is still writing, even at OWL-RISE
	I flesh the wool of knees and legs,
	herding to the hillside's late-night fell.
	Flocks of gulls feast tit-bits
	of my pen, where I fold sheets
	upon the ocean moon.
The fears and tedium of the surgical ward are mixed with warm and intimate images in TRANSMIGRATION:
	His kiss, the sonic screwdriver
	—the Doctor by a hospital bed—
	is such a Casanova with those eyes;
	and my sad flesh a rhinoceros.
While there is the stately order of thirty-four sections, these have been written in two weeks, giving intensity .The patient drifts in time— to memories of childbirth — and drifts in space —to Dylan Thomas's boathouse. Back to ordinary life again, in:
	Flesh comfortable as cotton knickers.
This collection is testimony of how art can transform; random, uncomfortable and painful times are paced, presented in sequence and given dignity. Fittingly, proceeds from each copy are being sent to "Poems in the Waiting Room"; and the last poem is optimistically entitled PATH TO FOLLY.

reviewer: Pat Jourdan.