Saturday, 17 December 2016

Book East - Brilliant Books by Brilliant Women

The Print Museum
There’s a whole other language for the foundling industry of letterpress, and in the heyday of making an imprint on a page, that language informed us in the most transformative and progressive way.  It ran deep, the revolution.  Now, the physical act of making pages has gone, and with it a profoundly human as well as an industrial history.  And passion, print is a quiet passion – and that is what emerges through Heidi Williamson’s collection of poems, The Print Museum published by Bloodaxe Books.
This is a book of love from a deft and disciplined poet at the height of her powers, a worthy winner of the East Anglian Book Awards. Williamson’s beautiful, tender journey through the thins and leads of print is a journey with her father, a retired printer, and the result of her three-year residency at the John Jarrold Printing Museum, in Norwich. It tells history like a string of beads, industrial, personal, familial, universal and human and memory like a glaze, a sieve, a mirror.
The span (another printing term), of Williamson’s writing is deceptive.  We can be in a small space with a crowd of letters but inked through is an entire history, or an idea, which is so simple but so right and so well put, it is perfect.  I can get ridiculously excited about the conjunction of words – boring everyone I know by repeating the brilliant simplicity of Shakespeare’s ‘the hollow crown,’ a complete embodiment of kingship when death and betrayal was easy – but Williamson does this too.  She is questioning, philosophical, existential, gently mischievous, tender, experimental, sensuous, and so, so smart.
‘They say the weight of a full Kindle/is as slight as the weight of a man’s soul,
That the substance of a Tweet/decays in just three hours:/Do words weigh less in cyberspace? (Furniture)…
There are fantastic first lines:
‘He tended that machine like his own sorrow.’
‘My mother had two mouths./ One was for saying./The other was for not saying.’
I can’t recommend this collection more highly.  It will enhance your reading life.

The Print Museum, Heidi Williamson, Bloodaxe Books, 2016

Bird Sisters by Julia Webb is a quest to understand the tangle of family and especially the river of a relationship that runs between siblings.  This is a brave book, a tense, personal evocation of life in a family overshadowed by the rule of a ‘Sun Father’, and his punitive severity blighting the lives of the children – and the shadowy orbit of ‘Moon Mother.’ Webb conjures childhood memories into enchanted, surreal motifs that fuse with the authentic detail of the everyday.  We are carried through the universe, only to land in a snatched sexual encounter outside the chicken abattoir, which twists into a mythical transformation.
To me, as a reader, I found the prose poems, the accounts of things that happened at home, compelling, like The Piano Lesson – (refused by Daddy), Lent and Rain.  This is a world of slights, longings and cruelties, darkness and difficulty, spiky, complex relationships, and acts, however small, of a rebellion and resilience.  There are wonderful images, ‘Her mother darns the window.’  - ‘Like a baby dandled on the knee of the sea.’ And lines that completely twine the natural world, the local, regional, recognizable world into the being of the characters that populate this collection – ‘you send your snaggle fingers down/into Breckland’s thin soil/snare rabbits in the net of your tresses.’ (From the Same Cloth).
This is an intriguing book, myth and miasma, real and sobering, as if the writer is still puzzling it all out.  A great read.

Bird Sisters, Julia Webb, Nine Arches Press, 2016.

Reviews by Belona Greenwood, founder and co-organiser of Words and Women. A former journalist she took an MA in Scriptwriting at the University of East Anglia and writes plays for adults and children, produced and performed both regionally and nationally.  She is co-director of Chalk Circle Theatre Company.  In 2009 she was a winner of the Decibel Penguin Prize for Life Writing, and she has won an Escalator award to write a book of creative non-fiction. She teaches adults and children.  

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