NEW HOPE INTERNATIONAL REVIEW

An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
ERIC RATCLIFFE: GOING FOR GOD
Astrapost
ISBN 0 904838 30 7
3.50

ERIC RATCLIFFE: THE RUFFIAN ON THE STAIR
Astrapost
ISBN 0 904838 32 3
1.50

ERIC RATCLIFFE: ISLANDIA
Astrapost
ISBN 0 904838 34 X
2.50

ERIC RATCLIFFE: BENJAMIN FRANKLIN
Astrapost
ISBN 0 904838 35 8
4

The author is now deceased.
Read a tribute to Eric Ratcliffe.

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ERIC RATCLIFFE: GOING FOR GOD

GOING FOR GOD is the latest in a series of long poems by Eric Ratcliffe that have been published in book form. I admit I didn't expect to enjoy this book I found the title quite offputting and often find that long poems don't hold my interest. The misguided last sentence (of an otherwise interesting introduction) did little to encourage me to read on:

As a sequence, readers are going to find this long poem barbarically irritating...
This kind of description of your own work is surely not to be encouraged!

However I was not put off and in fact was pleasantly surprised by the poem. It is admittedly uneven, sometimes rambling and sometimes obscure. However it is thought provoking and shows a generally excellent understanding of rhythm and the sounds of words. There are also some beautiful passages, such as the following, from page 1:

	You, creator of in-cavern-images
	incised in rockwall, make fine theatre
	in animal masks, for your beliefs,
	in comfort-basic skinfur, wrapped
	for naked warming, in valley leaves,
	enduring caves, in bleak midwinters
	or on-shined by better suns.
This shows the best of this poem an originality in word use creating a vivid picture of ancient peoples and their relationship with the natural world and a developing spirituality.

I felt that the strongest material in this work was to be found towards the beginnning when the human race is still ancient and primitive and we are given arresting images such as:

	... palms, as in sensitive sight, extended
	to energies rotating in stone, leaf textures
	bush and tree sap, creeping vine,
	feeling the moments of blossom
and
	her starlooking face in the old nights
Later stanzas are not quite so notable, though they continue to be thoughtful and thought provoking. It is certainly refreshing to find poetry that is both well written and engages so thoughtfully with intellectual themes. Perhaps the slight breakdown in the poetry reflects the difficulty of modern day connections between science and religion. Whereas ancient peoples perhaps discovered spiritual beliefs through their explorations of the natural world (their early scientific observations), today the two are very much divorced.

For anyone interested in the history of science or religion and the breakdown of our relationship with nature, this is an interesting read that will stimulate thought and discussion.

reviewer: Juliet Wilson.
ERIC RATCLIFFE: THE RUFFIAN ON THE STAIR

Eric Ratcliffe tells us at the start of THE RUFFIAN ON THE STAIR that the poems in his book

are a brief selection from my past work which could be classified as horror or death poetry.
The title is from a poem by the Victorian poet, W. E. Henley, and the book contains thirteen poems. Many of the poems have been previously published in magazines such as Abraxus and Acumen to name just two.

The best of Ratcliffe's poems work a thread exploring both the large and unanswerable questions as well as the familiar and everyday experiences. These are poems that are in turn serious, questioning, thoughtful and acutely aware of death in its many guises. The personal is conspicuous in a few of the poems, namely ELEGY FOR MY UNCLE BURIED AT GIRTON and FOR MARY (lost April 5th, 1988), pinpointing a self-awareness not found in other poems.

Most of the poems point to a capacity as historical observer: these include such poems as FARMER BOROMEE and CORPSE. MI ROGER is a time capsule of observation:

	i still believed
	you were not there
	mi roger
	not you in khaki
	in the long box
	on the rocking cart
	not you returning
	on that day 
	bloody cloth
	torn open
	emptied of
	our summer love
OCCULT HURRICANE presents the Typhon evil which sets out to destroy the earth and all in its path,
	Earth's wild run is hag-blown on its wastes,
	black-angel winds, trolling and patrolling,
	power-bend tree masts and the vegetation;
and NUCLEAR HERITAGE reveals the strength of Ratcliffe's language and imagery. Striking phrases such as "meres of the morning star", pitted longfolded bones", "pinions of steel angels" and "dust to the sad seabirds", reveal a mastery of language, imagery and syntax.

Beyond these handful of poems, Ratcliffe is less introspective and historical as he gathers snippets of information from his surroundings and those stories he has heard or witnessed. Many of the poems dealing with historical events are touched, inevitably with the spectre of personal feelings. Ratcliffe's poems about death and terror are not confined to historical tales of people and places, some record with gentleness and humour the loss of relations and friends. An example is his fine elegy written in memory of his uncle, ELEGY FOR MY UNCLE BURIED AT GIRTON:

	After this midnight, may you recover the straw dawn
	and your own tall pages in fay-edged history books,
	and by the shelves, rayed in the lily-like cone,
	find a companion like a legend looks,
	telling of brides and hunters to be born.
He documents the experience of a magician in MAGICIAN AND MANIFESTATION,
	fixed but alert, he meditated standing,
	rooted in the transept of the structure
	he had founded, closed in the astral dream
	of a magician's moment, ghost nave behind
	and all pews empty.
Elsewhere, the simple love poem comes under Ratcliffe's scrutiny in unsentimental hope as in the poem OLD FRAGRANCE, whose long dead country folk are
	Halting and walking in strange, dead seasons,
	through the weak lights of ghost Octobers,
	surrendered to the final lute,
	they sing from melodies unborn;
Within these poems of death and terror, Ratcliffe brings a broad range of resourcefulness to bear. He conveys a sense of landscape and place not so much lacking human players, as exacting the space or time when the humans are not there.

I was struck not only by Ratcliffe's images, but by the power of his language: hallucinatory, tender, written at his most vulnerable and open moments. The resulting poems are vigorous, daring, and thoroughly original. He brings together pieces from history, nature, and personal experience to assemble a text that is both mysterious and colourful.

reviewer: Patricia Prime.
ERIC RATCLIFFE: ISLANDIA

ISLANDIA is a sequence, the purpose of the format being:

to present the narrative or sequential poem as information in its own right, where it is more factual than poetic, equal in rights in summary information to more detailed prose about the subject.
The introduction also states that the material is not biographical. The islander here embarks on a kind of global affair with visits to Pitcairn Island, Alcatraz and the like. At a stop-off in Britain:
	An Avalon for Arthur, fast borne from stress
	of battle.  Name that apple island Bardsey
	now windswept and for long a landfall treeless,
	a Welsh Iona and no Glastonbury.
	Or name it Otherworld, who knows where queens
	of mourning brought him, sought by faerie means
	to save him from the wounds which were severe,
The pace here is typical. It is even and it is maintained throughout. In some places I found the narrative deviating and unclear, but quite a lot of factual and historical information is presented in a condensed way. There are some notes at the back to help the reader. It is, to me, a little travel book, the verse of which is reminiscent of waves hitting island shores.

reviewer: Doreen King.
ERIC RATCLIFFE: BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

Eric Ratcliffe's work on Benjamin Franklin is described by him in an introductory note as a

biographical and factual narrative poem, with end notes which can be used as needed
The iambic traditionalism of the verse, crammed with petty historical, familial detail doggedly presented in strict linear progression, makes for a jumpy breathlessness of expression:
	Evasion underhand by James named Ben
	as publisher, discharged apprenticeship,
	terms of service quashed, his brother still
	retaining ownership of all throughout,
	with substitution of a new apprentice term
	to be a hidden matter between both.
Eric Ratcliffe runs through a number of Franklin's inventions, for example the lightning rod, harmonica and, here, bifocal lenses:
	Why should he waste his time to disengage
	one pair from nose and eyes to use the other;
	it really was a tiresome move, why bother
	when each combined to save him from the need
	of using two when one would do the deed?
His sojourns in England are described:
	For Benjamin the London magnet held
	him close, more so than his domestic weld,
	the scientific, intellectual scenes
	were links attractive to his fertile mind
	as well as social outings when inclined,
	with Mrs Stevenson, All things impelled
	a longer stay.
As well as his inventions, and many travels to France and England, his political achievements in America and as envoy to France are thoroughly aired. Nonetheless, it is rather hard to see how a stilted verse-version of a famous man's historical bits and pieces can be anything but inferior to a standard, more detailed biography. Still, whether or not one can see the point of such crammed historical versifying, one has to admire Eric Ratcliffe's persistence and dedication in writing well over a thousand lines on such a theme:
	the rift between the colonies and Britain
	was widened with the misdeeds of a faction
	of Boston colonists who showed reaction
	by dumping chests of tea into the sea
	from three East Indian vessels trying to land
	the tea for sale  a British ploy to hand
	more money to this ailing Company.
For Eric Ratcliffe, Benjamin Franklin is quite obviously a hero, and his admiration and respect are clearly shown in this work of devotion, let alone in the concluding line:
	Three hundred years from birth his legend grows.

reviewer: Alan Hardy.