Conveying the necessity

The Art of Scratching, Shazea Quraishi, (72pp, 9.95, Bloodaxe)
The Art of Falling, Kim Moore (72pp, 9.99, Seren)
A Fold in the River, Philip Gross, visual work by Valerie Coffin Price
(96pp, 12.99, Seren)

There is a long tradition of employing a poet to say what you so achingly long to say if only you had the words and the courage: so give the object of your desire a copy of Shazea Quraishi's, The Art of Scratching. You might, though, fall into desire for the poet herself and not pass it on, or you might simply - crazily - be pleased to find that such poetry is awakening now in our British lives.

Shazea Quraishi, the book tells me, was born in Pakistan, emigrated to Canada aged ten, lived a while (we are not told for how long) in Madrid and lives now in London. This first full-length book includes her previously published 'The Courtesans Reply' - derived from Indian plays written c.300 BCE - around which the collection spins.

   When he gave me the discreet bite on my lower lip
   I sighed with disappointment
   knowing the mark would fade.

   The coral jewel bite he bestowed on my left breast
   and then the right. Around my throat
   he placed a necklace of gems.

These are the opening stanzas of 'Pradymnadasi / on biting'. I'm no expert on courtesans, but if the relationships here seem in theory one-sided, the poetry (as spoken or written by the women) is of mutual pleasure, of discovery and of wanting more.

One is jolted then, I think, by the everydayness of the poems either side of these.

   I watch my father at the bookcase
   fingering spimes like keys
   and guess at what he's taken down to read:
   Wodehouse? Tennyson? Yeats?
   The standard lamp throws shadows on his face
   and he looks young, though it's been twenty years
   and memories have taken his place.

This is half of a poem titled 'Garden, Night', about dementia, or so I understand it, and the book as a whole reminds me starkly and warmly why poetry is a cultural necessity. Forget what this book gives us - speaks for us - and we're a sad lot, bereft and lost.

Turn to Kim Moore's The Art of Falling and here, too, there is a buzz, a necessity, the lines here move more quickly, they make me curious as to whether she talks faster, is everyday edgier, busier. There is a driven inquistiveness.

   Don't we all have a little Echo in us, our voices stolen,
   only able to repeat what has already been said:
   you made me do it he says and we call back do it, do it.

Would 'able only' be better? See how punctutation or lack of it, holds back or (here) busies a line, rushes it. This poem (four stanzas) is called 'Translation' and here, the opening of  'In That Year' see how she juggles images - again energising:

   And in that year my body was a pillar of smoke
   and even his hands could not hold me.

   And in that year my mind was an empty table
   and he laid his thoughts down like dishes of plenty.

   And in that year my heart was the old monument,
   the folly, and no use could be found for it.

There are five more stanzas. The photograph on the back cover shows her smiling. The poems seem to interpret the smile; uncanny, this. By chance the book partners Shazea Quraishi's in being so very different while also making me call out for both a great thank you!

A Fold in The River in content and format is a Seren special: larger size, thicker paper, the visual and the verbal interlaced and over-printed, as if a catalogue of an exhibition - which perhaps also it is. A review has to be less than representative - no art-work here - and has therefore to fail to do the book justice. Some of the text is prose-like, lines of poetry otherwise take a variety of shapes in a representative way: the curls of rivers, in the shadows of a wood, and so on. A 'Praise Song for the Taff' opens:

                by mistrusting the beauty
   of this hillside,
                             smoother than it should be,
   green as a hospital sheet,

   stretched up tight to his jutting stony chin,

   the laid-out giant,
                                grand old bugger -
   half ogre, half rough-you-up
                                           and make a man of you
   tough uncle.

- and winds in sections through further pages, this time without visual accompaniament. But I shall continue to be pleased to have this book because of the living poetry of the visual; Valerie Coffin Price is for me the poet to match the writings of Shazea Quraishi and Kim Moore. Her work conveys the necessity.

       David Hart 2015