book reviews & blurbs

Scott Cumming – A Chapbook About Nothing, pub First Cut Press, December 2021

Cumming’s debut collection is a heady mix of popular culture, depression, drunken violence and dads. There’s a lot of fathering in here, in differing forms, and he perfectly captures the nostalgia, angst and anxiety of modern dad-hood, echoed from his own experiences of childhood. One episode of stealing out-of-date beer brilliantly describes doing his dad a favour since it was “flatter than the tyres of the abandoned car”.

There are teenage kicks aplenty and Cumming writes brilliantly about the excitement and freedom of youth (“just little boys / each playing / at being real”) and in particularly how that excitement is sustained as an adult, largely through music – whether through abandoning yourself to the unfettered joy of playing air guitar or “Losing My Edge on the School Run”. It’s a wild ride through this collection which, rather than title suggests, is not “about nothing” but a little bit of everything.

Scott’s book can be ordered via Amazon, and he can be followed on Twitter @tummidge

Ruth Callaghan do Valle – The fierce belonging of home, pub Pen to Print, October 2021

This poetry collection is heart-full. Full of longing and belonging, loss and love; these poems tug and touch at your heart and cross country boundaries as well as generations. Callaghan do Valle has dedicated this collection to her father and many of these poems are in celebration of his life, and echo the emptiness of his loss. Ultimately it is love that infuses this collection of words – of family, of nature, and of home.

Callaghan do Valle is an astute and sensitive observer of nature, birds in particular, and it is here we find so many wonderful images: “the dark river an unceasing symphony”; the “mexerica tree…hung with a hundred citrus suns”; and “the mountains…a soft dove-grey wash, to be inked in later.” A beautiful collection, one to be savoured.

Ruth’s book can be ordered via Amazon or direct from her website here, she can be followed on Twitter @roofusmctoofus

Michelle Moloney King – Mother Mary’s Doing a Tic-Tuk Live, pub Beir Bua Press, October 2021

Michelle Moloney King is messing with our heads again. In a very good way. She offers us both the blue and the red pill, washed down with a shot of the sacrilegious, the sensual and the surreal. This book is playful and fun; it doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet it also does exactly that – posing serious questions about culture and the act of creation, whilst also acting as a primer on experimental and visual poetry. It’s brilliant, you should buy it.  

Michelle’s book can be ordered direct from Beir Bua Press and she can be followed on Twitter @MoloneyKing

Lydia Unsworth – Some Murmur, pub Beir Bua Press

Unsworth’s latest work is a full-bodied mothership of a collection. Exploring both embodiment and the often disembodied state of motherhood, these poems are a vital and visceral dispatch from the frontline of parenting in a post-Brexit, pandemic-ridden world. Themes of change, transition, crossing boundaries/borders/bodies abound in Some Murmur. The murmured echoes of the unborn to their mother, matter taking shape and form, the muttered moans between parent and child, motherhood as luck, pluck, mutation, constraint and collage. This collection is as varied as it is expansive, innovative in style and subject. Unsworth has gifted the reader with a series of corporeal and hyperreal milk dreams.

Lydia’s book can be ordered direct from Beir Bua Press and she can be followed on Twitter @lydiowanie

Caroline Grand-Clement – The Coward The Liar The Thief, pub Selcouth Station, October 2021

In the The Coward The Liar The Thief, Caroline Grand-Clement has delivered a set of glistering brooding poems. There is passion amongst them; a dark, sensual, sometimes painful passion. There are shadows, a sense of betrayal, reflections of self, identity and longing. Many of these reflections are twisted, gently warped, as if one had come across the trick mirrors of a deserted theme park’s haunted house. Prefacing the three sections of her book, she chooses her quotes with care: from an Icelandic author, a French dancer and a Lebanese-Canadian playwright. They echo her themes of otherness, transformation, and love’s many losses and longings.

Her work is both strange and familiar; innovative in form, introspective and personal, yet touching on topics recognisable and relatable, conjured and crafted in her exciting and inimitable style. These are poems that will stay with you, crawl inside you and need to be read and re-read. As she writes, they are “truths we’d rather forget tattooed upon our skin.” Let these poems seep inside you: “the love confessed / the lies told / the things in between.”

Caroline’s book can be ordered direct from Selcouth Station and she can be followed on Twitter at @octopodeshearts

Liam Bechen-RockefellerEvery Day a Different Daredevil, pub Lupercalia Press, July 2021

Bechen-Rockefeller’s poetry chapbook Every Day A Different Daredevil is an intimate invitation into wonderment. Shock and awe of all that makes us human – and can unmake us in the process. The reader is transported by these poems: they beautifully, and at times, painfully, explore rich themes of identity, sexuality, spirituality, family relationships, class struggle and loss. Yet ultimately, our humanity, in all its sacred profanity, shines through. Liam’s words are full of wonder.

Liam’s book can be ordered direct from Lupercalia Press here and Liam can be followed on Twitter @liamandthebees

James Lilley – The Blue Hour, pub Close To The Bone, January 2022

It would be too simplistic to call James Lilley’s debut poetry collection hard-hitting, because it’s so much more than that. Tackling a range of themes from modern-day masculinity, relationships – as a father, a lover, a fighter and a friend – and the internal fight against depression and addiction, Lilley’s words pack an emotional gut-punch. One that will stay with you long into the Blue Hour itself.

James’ book will be available to pre-order soon. In the meantime he can be followed on Twitter @jameslilley1411

Sascha Engel – Twenty-one Computations, pub Beir Bua Press, Autumn 2021

Engel’s bold and innovative work pushes against the artificial boundaries of poetry and language, inviting the reader to develop a new relationship between machine and mankind. He deploys a number of experimental cut-up techniques, or “computations”, within the found text of old computer manuals. The effect is startling, original, discomfiting at times, yet also strangely hypnotic. Where do we place ourselves within these instructions for computer processing? Who, or what, is being processed? Or indeed, instructed? Engel’s exciting work poses these questions; it is for the reader to decide.

Sascha’s book will be available shortly from Beir Bua Press. He can be followed on Twitter @ThinkContinuum

Chris KelsoBurroughs and Scotland, Dethroning the Ancients: The Commitment of Exile, pub Beatdom Books, 2020

A vivid, visceral and vital read.

Kelso has taken a snapshot in time, blown it up and made it essential. Essential reading for any Burroughs fan, but also for its fascinating background on the state of the literary establishment in the early 1960s. This book may be thoroughly researched and referenced with wonderful nuggety details, yet it reads like a thrill-seeking, pill-popping ride through the Interzone itself.

In documenting William S. Burroughs trip (in all senses of the word) to the 1962 International Writers Conference in Edinburgh, Kelso steers us giddily and greedily through a who’s who of the (mainly) old white men penning fusty tomes in ivory towers versus that degenerate lot, the ‘cosmopolitan elite’ of Burroughs, Trocchi, Ginsberg et al.

Of particular pertinence is the impact his visit had on the Scottish cultural landscape: its ripples reaching into punk rock, Sci-Fi and every bedsit-bound Broken Boy, his work having a notable impact on writers such as Irvine Welsh and Iain Banks.

Also encompassing Burroughs on-off relationship with Scientology, his near-purchase of a remote property in Scotland to “carry out [his] experiments”, Kelso, in his first non-fiction work, has pulled off the feat of not only unearthing a lesser known moment of Burroughs oft-documented life, but one that serves for acolytes and neophytes alike to prostrate themselves at the altar of dirty old Uncle Bill.

Chris’ book can be ordered from Amazon or direct from the publisher. His website is www.chris-kelso.com and he can be followed on Twitter @ChrisKelso5

Laura Besley – The Almost Mothers, pub Dahlia Books, 2020

This is a great and varied collection of flash fictions. Taking motherhood in all its forms (and nonforms) as its inspiration, the stories in here will surprise, delight, and at times, alarm you. It was the latter that I most enjoyed. Besley has a brilliant eye for the weird, strange and slightly off-centre and I particularly enjoyed her speculative fiction stories.

Ranging from tender to brutal to everything in between, this is flash fiction at its best: capturing our vast, disparate, desperate humanity in only a snapshot. Even better, the stories can be read in between feeds, commutes, or in my case, to and from nursery pick up. Yet despite their brevity, many of these fictions will stay with you for some time.

Laura’s book can be bought from Amazon or direct from the publisher. She can be followed on Twitter @laurabesley

Barbara Byar – Some Days Are Better Than Ours, pub Reflex Press, 2019

The beautiful frustration about flash fiction is that it’s short. But therein lies its skill and charm. Little dioramas of drama, conveying a world of emotions, which in most cases in this book (accurately subtitled ‘a collection of tragedies’) is that of sorrow, suffering and longing.

Byar’s word count may be short but, like poetry, the world she creates in these perfectly crafted stories and vignettes is vast and all-consuming in its raw humanity.

I found myself wanting to step inside and inhabit some of these worlds. Porcelain and The Heart of Darkness in particular played like movies in my head, and could be developed further. But the point of flash fiction is that brevity is its strength. You have a snapshot, a glimpse in the rear view mirror, a juddered heartbeat which offers an intense, wildly imagined, beautifully written and ultimately truthful telling of our naked ape existence.

Barbara’s book can be bought from Amazon or direct from the publisher. Her website is at https://barbarabyar.wordpress.com and she can be followed on Twitter @BarbaraByar

All text copyright JP Seabright © 2021-22