Eight pamphlets

Icumen, Gillian Allnutt (14pp, £4. Literal Fish)

Gillian Allnutt's poems are hard and spare; pared down beyond any reasonable limits, until that becomes their virtue. I love this gritty, granular language that turns over in your mouth like a gobful of pebbles. If I have a criticism it would be that she over-relies on quoted phrases. The final poem, for instance, 'wake', which is dedicated to her father, ends:

   sweet chariot, sweet clarinet, of bone
   where late the sweet bird sang –

Here, I'm quite happy with the three 'sweet's and the gospel song, it's the Shakespeare line that jars, perhaps because she turns a phrase so strongly herself elsewhere, that it seems unnecessary to end on someone else's.

Arrivals & Departures,
Robert Vas Dias (36pp, £6.50. Shearsman)

By contrast, Van Dias's prose poems are quite boring; deliberately so, I think, as they are meditations on the banality of modern life and they do instill a sense of dislocation and despair, drifting over subjects like holidays, gardening, furniture. One of the strongest pieces, 'Numbers', recounts a man taking a numbered ticket to wait for an appointment, drifting off, missing his turn, having to take another ticket and so on. This nightmarish inability to act recurs in other poems. Near the end of the book he takes on the challenge of Mallarme's 'vide papier que la blancheur défend' and appears to turn the challenge into a game of chess. It's an interesting approach, but I'm not sure it's quite enough.

The Folded Moment, Mike Barlow (20pp, no price. Wayleave Press)

The rain-sodden outdoor environments of Mike Barlow's poems come as a welcome change. There is certainly a debt to Heaney in here, and a little dourness at times, but they're carefully observed and he writes well, with some great imagery, like 'Meet me in the brief flame of birch', the opening line of 'October Rendezvous'.

ra-t, Juli Jana (34pp, £6.50. Shearsman)

The twin figures of ratty and Puss-in-Boots lead a chaotic dance through a compressed history of backstreet London in juli Jana's book, full of sing-song rhythms and typographic games. Its mock-academic notes only confuse matters further: they introduce a butterfly that doesn't exist, (the Grey-veined White – is it a slip for Green-veined White? How would we know?) label the Common Blue 'usually brown'. Well, the female is brown, but the male is certainly blue… after a while, you begin to suspect that it might just be badly proof-read. Is 'centuaries' a reference to the plant? Is 'Londiniumn' an attempt at an archaic spelling, or just a mistake? Should I stop worrying and go back to reading the book? Probably.

Patricia Debney (34pp, £6.50. Shearsman)

Patricia Debney's new book also racks its central idea out to and maybe beyond a reasonable limit: this is a voice speaking from inside the womb in scattered, broken phrases, gasping for coherence. There are pages here with only three or four words strung across them and, true to life, is as much about sensation as thought:

   and I push past
   the first feeble skin:

   shed like dust brushed
   away, blown glass
        (from 'five')

'Gestation' is declared to be only the first part of a longer sequence ('Baby'), and it will be interesting to see how this voice is developed. It does draw you in, has a vital, breathy feel.

Badlands of the Real, Peter Dent (32pp, £6. Red Ceilings)
,Peter Dent (12pp, no price. Hole-and-Corner Press)

These are fugitive collections; one comes as an edition of 40, the other has no contact information; neither reaches out to the reader. They sit back in their constricted, cut-up formats and offer few clues. Merryweather
is the more accessible of the two, offering a central (eponymous) character and some hints at a narrative, but the use of text that appears to have come from sources like advertising blurb gives both at times an oddly bland feel; sometimes elegant and surreal, sometimes just annoying.

The Time We Turned, Martyn Crucefix (34pp, £6.50. Shearsman)

Crucefix's pamphlet centres on a cycle of sonnets for the nineteenth-Century Galician poet Rosalía de Castro, but wanders far from its north Spanish heartland, to Oxford, a Cumbrian pub car park and so on. But it is the sonnets that really held me, with their vivid language and their assured handling of quite folky rhythms. I confess I know nothing myself of de Castro beyond the fact that she wrote in her regional dialect, and even this I could have inferred from a poem that invokes the ghost of Franco, 'The tyrant born in Ferrol':

   he'd rather deny the dust between his toes
   since he preferred the idea that refuses to die
   of shaping his country in his own image
   willing even to trample his own language–

This, I think, is the central confrontation in the book: between this blanding of the world and one for whom 'the love of small things must see you through' ('After Rosalía'), or the artist of 'Rock drawings near Touron':

   The clever one who thought to delete time
   the one who saw the running of the deer...

          © Geoff Sawers 2014