Book Reviews by J Dempsey
'Jinx' by Abigail Parry
Abigail Parry’s debut collection introduces Spook, Jack of Hearts, Snake, Goat, Bette Davis and others in a cast of characters fictional, cinematic and historical, threatening and threatened, monstrously attractive, attractively deceptive, ambiguous to a fault. This is a book by a poet whose theme is deception and trickery as an art in itself as well as an endemic part of human life.
Parry’s poetic virtuosity makes her work very rewarding to read aloud as well as on the page. Without conforming to conventional forms she weaves lines in repetitions and refrains so that many of the poems resemble incantations, spells, charms or chants. In ‘Girl to Snake’ an adolescent girl invites “Ropey Joe” to slither upstairs (“thin enough/to slip beneath the door and spill your wicked do-si-do/in curlicues and hoops across the floor”) “There are things I want to know” is her refrain, elaborated from stanza to stanza with “Oh tell me tell me tell me/about absinthe and yahtzee…”; “about lightning and furies…”; “about hellhounds and rubies…” and a catchy, breathless, irregular pattern of internal rhymes, half-rhymes and end-rhymes that binds the whole confection together and is irresistibly addictive when read aloud.
'The Malvern Aviator' by Richard Skinner
Opening “The Malvern Aviator’, Richard Skinner’s new pamphlet, the words ‘not for the faint-hearted’ came into my mind. For this is not an easy read: Richard Skinner’s eclectic gathering of source material and his tangential approach to its significance at first left me wondering whether I was quite up to ‘tackling’ the dense content and inventive structure of his poems.
If the opening poem, ‘The Cloud of Unknowing,’ sets a theme for the next sixteen, it seems to be that we need mysticism in an era without religion, and that we depend on material symbolic structures and signs. The title of the poem comes from the mediaeval book of mysticism which inspired the Protestant sect of the Lollards, who were persecuted in the reign of Richard III. Skinner’s poem describes a belief system as a finely constructed temple, built ‘on the dross of the land’, where ‘when we are slain,/we walk through a door/and enter the jardin.’ And find ourselves alone, with only the images of birds ‘in a wish tree’ and the sound of a bell, that ubiquitous element of religious ritual. The imagery is worthy of the Rubaiyat. The message is existential.