Saturday 30 May 2015

Wayleave poets

I took great delight in reading the Wayleave poets’ pamphlets. Here are brief reviews of their works.
By the Light of Day by Pauline Keith
A collection of tightly-knitted poems referring to Pauline’s childhood and family. The central point is the family slaughter-yard where cows and horses are killed as part of the ordinary process of getting rid of old or sick animals to produce dog and cat food. But for a child it is a mysterious ritual, ruthless and fascinating. A world where blood and carcasses, knives and maggots are all familiar, described with innocent honesty, yet realistically.  There is an intriguing gap between the horror of what is perpetrated in the slaughter-yard and the business-like attitude it is dealt with. A gap cleverly filled with humour, precise description and compassion.

The Folded Moment by Mike Barlow
I wrote about this book before, as I read it when published about a year ago. Re-reading and re-writing about it, I find it cleverer than ever. The poems evoke nature, both animal and vegetable, observing, filtering and conveying it in sounds and stories. The poet is a stone, washed over by cloudy sky and rainstorm, has close encounters with buck and doe, breathes daylight. It’s all so deeply felt, profoundly developed and finally, skilfully shaped to be savoured by the reader. A unique experience.
Crazy Days by Carole Coates
Carole writes about her husband’s illness which caused distress and pain in their lives. A rare case of Creutzfeldt Jacob Disease meant seizures, gaps of memory and childish cravings for sugar. During the cure he became temperamental because of the medication, not himself. And then the slow recovery. The poems are touching, resilient in their attempt to explain, understand, help and testify what is happening in John’s brain. A lucid, compassionate record of difficult times lived bravely.
A Scarlet Thread by Elizabeth Burns
This is a sequence of poems inspired by the paintings of Anne Redpath, a renowned Scottish painter who travelled throughout Europe, especially in the Mediterranean countries. She was an associate of the Royal Scottish Academy and of the Royal Academy and was awarded the O.B.E. in 1955. The title of the sequence by Elizabeth Burns relates to a scarlet thread ‘running through the grey’ of her father’s tweed, a bright colour standing out against ‘quiet’ colours, probably a symbol of her own destiny, and a leitmotif in the poems echoing the paintings. As Redpath herself said, ‘I do with a spot of red or yellow in a harmony of grey, what my father did in his tweed’. The poems describe her work, remind us of her life and evoke her art; they create images from the pictures and refer to them, adding meaning and completing what was painted. They are a biography in verse, giving us an inner perspective.
Moon Garden by Ron Scowcroft
Ron’s poems have always shown me a sense of domestic simplicity. Using an easy simile I can say they are as clear as spring water. They speak of him, of course, of his childhood and of his family. They are sincere, open, rich in words and profoundly inspired by his memories and experiences. My favourite is Colour Blind, because of the contrast of ‘the red dress I loved you in’, so meaningful and intense, with the grey background surrounding it. A blotch of passionate colour in a monotone world, leading to the beautiful and intimate image of the last stanza: ‘you are a colour no-one can see’. They are certainly poems the reader can’t forget.
Monkey Puzzle by William Gilson
William Gilson’s poems are memories of his life in America as a boy and a young man, mixed with his present life in Cumbria where he has been living for twenty years. The past is alive in his recollection as if happening now, vivid and everlasting. In contrast, the present trickles in a desultory manner, unreal, insubstantial, ungraspable, amid the constant fear of missing out. With the first poem we are in a graveyard where he used to play with his brother, where death is falling asleep. The poems unravel as episodes of American life, working on a farm, caddying at a golf club and then the move to rainy Cumbria, getting elderly, cancer, feeling the journey of life will end at some point. The conclusion is a quiet spell just after an escaped danger. Once again the poet is reading and writing, safe at home.
The White Silence by Jane Routh
The famous story of Sir John Franklin and his naval expedition to find the northwest passage in 1845 is cleverly told by Jane Routh in her well crafted poems. She imagines the silence, the whiteness and the cold the crew had to face once caught in ice, and the vain effort to find an easier and faster way to circumnavigate the American continent. It was a waste of time and of human life. Nevertheless Franklin was remembered and depicted as a hero, leaving space for the poet's witty analysis. The freezing hell where the crew met death is impressively described with its trapping stillness and strangling ice. What was rescued from the shipwreck is symbolic of the vainglory of the expedition. They faced the Arctic unprepared and ended dreadfully. Ironically, the passage opened for the first time in 2007 when the ice melted and the oceans met.

Sunday 24 May 2015

A new independent publisher started in Lancaster last December by the name of WayleavePress. Founded by Mike Barlow who is also one of the founders of April poets and first prize winner in the National Poetry Competition 2006.

In the Welcome page of the press website it’s clearly explained that Wayleave is the ‘permission granted to cross or enter territory from which one has previously been excluded.’ which refers to both the founder and the poets published. Mike himself said in an interview with Helena Nelson of Happenstance press, that he self-published a pamphlet that he felt would be rejected by many editors, though he had been widely published in the past. Then he did the same for the poets he admired, as he knew they had a good bunch of poems waiting to be published as well. It’s such a hard time for publishing, especially poetry, therefore it’s very generous of Mr Barlow to allow access to this ‘denied territory’.
Wayleave press can be proud of its poets (well known in Lancaster area and beyond): Elizabeth Burns, Carole Coates, William Gilson, Pauline Keith, Jane Routh and Ron Scowcroft. The pamphlets published have from ten to fifteen poems each, with an intriguing picture by Mike on the cover. The books look elegant, spare and dense.
But how can you be published by Wayleave? I’m afraid unsolicited submissions are not welcome, Mike publishes the poets he knows whose poems he likes and, above all, whose work is coherent and good. His main aim is to get high quality work out so that it can be read and appreciated by the public. And he is having great fun in his new role of editor/publisher.
Mike also keeps a blog (everybody can subscribe to on the website) where he posts insightful reflections on his fellow poets’ work and on publishing which is definitely worth the read. And the pictures on the covers are works of art in themselves.
Watch out Wayleave poets readings in Lancaster and nearby areas for the future.

More about them and their work on my next piece.

Saturday 16 May 2015


All kids adore little, cute, fluffy things, especially if live and warm, and I was no exception. My first beloved pets were a couple of hamsters a friend of mine gave me when I was in primary school. I used to let them out of their cage in a spare room we had at home and play with them, setting routes I expected they would follow. Instead they inevitably hid under pieces of furniture and refused to come out.
They soon got busy and when the male started to attack the female, my friend told me the girl was certainly pregnant. What a unique experience to see the pink little ones one inch long attached to their mum’s breasts, moving blindly around the cage and visibly growing in a few weeks. I had to find several adoptive families before the number grew exponentially. At the end I flooded relatives and friend with couples of hamsters who eventually got busy in turn.

My next experiences were much more demanding as we had some dogs and a cat. The cat was a foundling I met at the seaside while we were on holiday. She was a thin, grey kitten with a sore eye. I cured her, of course, and named her Tea. At the seaside we lived in a big house with a large garden where Tea could wander and hunt lizards and butterflies. At home, in Rome, we lived in an apartment where poor Tea felt trapped and was rather unsettled, jumped here and there, scratched furniture and angrily sharpened her nails on the sofa, clearly showing she was uncomfortable. My parents found a family with a large colony of cats living in the countryside outside Rome and sent Tea there for good.
Then it was the turn of the dogs. The first dog appeared in my family by chance. It was a German shepherd who followed me home on a rainy day. He looked old and weary. My sister and I dried and fed him and asked my parents if we could keep him. It seemed all right at first but then my mum found out he had a dog-tag so she called the council who found his owner. My sister and I were so sad that my parents decided to get a puppy.

It was early spring when we went to see a litter of harlequin Danes. They were superb, chubby, with big pink noses, smelling of bread and milk. We chose a female (as she would be smaller than a male) called Assia, with grey eyes and a black patch covering half her face. When she came home after a few weeks she was already twenty-five inches tall, with slender legs. Unfortunately she had a problem: she struggled to do her business outside (in the balcony or in the park where we took her three times a day), she preferred inside, flooding our floors and leaving smelly presents here and there. It was useless to reward her, or cheer her up in the rare occasions she managed to deliver it outside as she just didn’t get it. Finally my parents gave her back, which was a terrible loss for me and my sister.

Mum and Dad hurried to replace Assia with a boxer my sister named Piki (pronounced Peekee), a black and brown, joyful, extremely lively, strong puppy with a white stripe in the middle of his face and a flat nose. He was such fun, always happy, tremendously cheerful, exuberant and sometimes unstoppable in his outflow of affection. When we came in, or visitors arrived, somebody had to take hold of him or he bumped into people so hard they had to lean against a wall or be knocked down. No problem with his business: even if sick he managed to stagger outside. But there was still an issue.
Whenever he was in the park, he was unwilling to return home. Understandable, but very stressful for us. We adopted a long leash to avoid the problem. But still he needed to run and jump and we had to let him free from time to time. On one of these occasions he refused to come back. After hours in the park my father came home exhausted and gave up. My sister and I in turn went out to look for him, calling him back, but he ran off each time we got near him. The next morning we found him dead along the road next to the park. A car had run him over during the night. It was so heart breaking we decided to stop having dogs.
But one day I saw a beautiful Doberman eating from open bins not far from my house. I asked neighbours and they told me he belonged to a musician who used to leave from time to time for his gigs and abandoned the dog in the street. His name was Dillinger. He was calm, tamed, like an old wise man. Of course I took him home, fed him and with my dad took him to the vet for a check up. The vet said the dog was all right though rather old. His eyes were affected by cataracts. He was an exceptional dog, probably trained. When his owner came to fetch him after several weeks, Dillinger couldn’t help but follow him as every well behaved, faithful dog would do, never looking back. We cried, but knew we couldn’t stop him.

At this point my parents made up their minds to have another dog. One of our friends had just had a litter of black poodles of medium size. We chose a male and named him Ruben. He was a fluffy black ball, quick and smart. He learned all the basic rules in less than two weeks, loved to rescue tennis balls and sticks and never missed one. His beady black eyes were so clever we used to say he could catch everything was going on: a pity he couldn’t speak. What he mostly loved was swimming in open water.. He was so happy that he barked joyfully all the time he swam, which we found incredibly funny but perhaps the people nearby didn’t always agree with us. He followed us everywhere for more than twelve years. He even met two of my children (whom he didn’t like as he was terribly jealous of them) before dying of heart attack in spite of all the cures my parents had tried. It was heart breaking again. He was a member of the family and we missed him so much.

My parents felt they couldn’t commit to another dog, and neither my sister and I did, though our children had different pets. But who knows? I may start again now that my children are leaving home one by one. There might be a gap in time just before having grandchildren.

Sunday 10 May 2015

New pasta recipes, part 2

An Italian friend of mine invited me for dinner and prepared a delicious, simple tomato sauce with white wine. She seasoned some farro (emmer) fettuccine with it but it’s fantastic with every kind of pasta. She also suggested a courgette recipe I tried at home later.

Tomato sauce with white wine
You need: 300 g of farro fettuccine, 4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, 500 g of tomato passata, one small white onion, half a glass of white wine (not sparkling), chilli (optional), four to six leaves of fresh basil, parmigiano and salt.

Lightly simmer the finely cut onion with the oil for about ten minutes, without darkening the oil. Add the wine and simmer for another ten minutes. Add the chilli and the tomato passata with half a tsp of salt. Bring to a boil, adding the basil. Simmer for another 15-20 minutes. Season the fettuccine and sprinkle with parmigiano to serve.

Fusilli with courgette and prawns
You need: 300 g of penne pasta, three courgettes, 200 g of small prawns, half an onion, extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil and salt.
Cut the courgettes into cubes, dice the onion and fry in the oil with the salt. When they are ready add the prawns and continue cooking for five minutes. Season the pasta and add some fresh basil leaves.

Saturday 2 May 2015

New pasta recipes, part 1

I have recently been staying in Italy where I found new recipes, especially pasta recipes. I experimented making them with my mum. They are all very tasty and easy to prepare with an unusual, pleasing aftertaste.
Spaghetti with asparagus and almonds
You need: 300 g of spaghetti, 300 g of asparagus, 50 g of chopped almonds, 30 g of grated pecorino and 30 g of grated parmigiano, a clove of garlic, Extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.
Trim the asparagus stalks and cook them in boiling, salted water. Drain and simmer them gently in three tbsp of oil and crushed garlic. Add the roughly chopped almonds and stir. When the spaghetti is ready, dress with the asparagus and almonds adding some pepper, pecorino and parmigiano.
Penne with cherry tomatoes sauce
You need: 300 g of penne pasta, a small onion, 15 cherry tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, salt and grated pecorino.
Prepare the sauce in a large frying pan by frying thinly sliced onion and quartered, de-seeded tomatoes in 3 tbsp of the oil. Add salt and let it simmer for half an hour, covered. Cook the penne and when it is ready drain and pour it into the frying pan, cooking for a few minutes more while stirring. Serve with grated pecorino.