An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
Blinking Eye Publishing
PO Box 549
North Shields
Tyne & Wear
NE30 2WT
ISBN 0 9549036 2 5

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This page last updated: 1st September 2009.

The first thing to attract the attention of the casual book shop browser is the cover of each book. Covers may be carefully designed and well produced, arty, vivid or in your face. Whatever the style and the psychology determining the design, unless the cover captures attention, the casual browser will pass it by.

Sadly the cover of A C Clake's first collection is decidedly naff. Two tones of blue, presumably depicting the fathomless blue of air [a reference to the books title?] fill the front cover and act as a background for the old fashioned fancy font of the title and the author's name — Not a good start. The blurb on the back cover may also put some people off when they discover that this is the winning collection from an annual poetry competition run by publisher, Blinking Eye. With so many publishers running competitions offering to publish a collection of the winner's verse, there is a very real fear that the winner may have got lucky with one or two good poems and not have the depth of work to sustain a full collection. However, in the case of A C Clarke, the old cliché about books and covers certainly applies. I am delighted to report that, for the most part, the high standard of her poetry is sustained throughout.

What Clarke does well is accessibility. By this I don't mean dumbed-down poetry — Clarke writes clearly, her images and themes may be open and simple but they are also memorable. If a poem is well written it doesn't have to make the reader work — I have never believed that the difficulty of a poem necessarily equates to its value.

Here is Clarke succinctly describing the brutality of mountain weather in her poem CALVINISM : A MEDITATION IN THE ARROCHAR ALPS

	wind flailing our skin with hailshot
And here she is with a sustained image, lost wandering the aisles of the 24 HOUR SUPERMARKET
	All night explorers lose their way
	in mango thickets, slide off
	banana   mountains, switch
	from tropical to temperate, cross
	five continents in a blink,
	sate on orchards, potato acres
	that sow themselves again.
Clarke writes effectively about the untamed countryside of Scotland’s moorland: AT RANNOCH STATION
	On this March evening  when
	a low sky gathers its clouds
	and a few lights cluster to a track
	thrust over sodden peat-clods
	a pheasant's cough breaks stillness
	only to knit it closer. I sense
	how miles of scrub and heather
	breathe around us
One of Clarke's most affecting pieces is the SHOCK AND AWE sequence of poems written from different perspectives about the bombing of Hiroshima — These poems also chime with recent events in Iraq and Bush's plan to shock and awe the Saddam regime into submission. Clarke's first piece, SHOCK AND AWE 1, brilliantly summarises this principle of bullying, telling the tale of Chinese sage and warrior Sun Tzu. Tzu is given the task of teaching the Emperor's concubines to march, initially without success
	They tittered
	lolling on their divans.

	Next he summoned the First Concubine.
	She came well powdered. He said nothing,
	hand to his belt. As her torso
	twitched on the palace floor he summoned the rest.
	They  marched.
Occasionally Clarke's ear fails her and she uses some puzzling line breaks or poems lurch into prose as in KNIFING:
	He takes one. Tests for weight. Runs
	his thumb along the cutting edge. A tad
	Harder, he'd spurt red, like the tomatoes
	lined up on his chopping block
I particularly disliked from AFTER BAUDELAIRE, a series of prose poems (surely a prose poem is an oxymoron?) which were strong on prose and short on poetry

I was also less than impressed with Clarke's series of poems based on translations from Paul-Jean Toulet's LES CONTRERIMES. These tangled and whimsical poems are so unlike her usual style that they sit uncomfortably in this collection. Whether Clarke is a good interpreter of Toulet's work is difficult to tell. Translations of foreign language poetry into English always lose something in translation — whether it be nuances of meaning or subtleties of poetic form. At best the translation should be seen as a new poem inspired by the foreign language original. However one may wish to view the Toulet sequence, they are so strikingly different to the surrounding poems that they detract from the overall success of this collection.

Having said all of that, I would hate potential readers of this flawed but excellent first collection to be put off from purchasing this book. Sometimes reviewing collections of poetry can become a frustrating chore, but in the case of BREATHING EACH OTHER IN, it has been a real delight.

reviewer: Patrick B Osada.