1. Cain, Luke Kennard’s sixth collection, could be described as the poetry collection equivalent of a concept album, and as such it risks disappearing down the rabbit hole of its own conceptualised universe. Does it emerge? Yes and no.

    In the interests of brevity, here’s (most of) the blurb which does an excellent job of summarising the Big Idea:

    “The year is 2016 and Luke Kennard finds himself estranged from his family, his publisher and his faith. With the help of his Community Psychiatric Nurse, who claims to be living embodiment of Cain – the first murderer – the poet changes his name to Father K and searches for answers […].”

    Without this as a guiding hand I would have struggled to fully grasp the book’s project, but armed with it I entered Book I. This part contains funny, diverse poems which contextualise the abject state of the central figure:

    There is a chasm between Luke and Kennard.
    There is a pause like a cat weighing up its chances
    at making a jump before I manage to say ‘Luke’ in Starbucks.

                          ‘Vestigial Stammer’

    Into this self-referential chasm comes Cain, cast as a kind of spirit guide accompanying Kennard through his period of misery.

    Cain is a figure out of time, both caring and cruel. He drags Kennard from his nostalgia for a personal past which doesn’t offer much more consolation than the present and its “unpopular poetry tent”. The increasing references to TV shows, cameras and filming (and their framing and distancing of experience, paralleled in the act of writing the poems themselves) lead into Book II.

    This opens with the verses from Genesis in which God berates Cain for the murder of his brother. Next to this is the break-down of the distribution of letters in the Genesis passage, and Kennard uses this as a constraint to write the 31 anagram poems that follow. Each poem is an episode from avant-garde TV show Cain. Surrounding each anagram poem is a ‘frame’ of small red text (unkind on the eyes). This provides a commentary on the writing and production of each ‘episode’, the register of which throws into relief the pyrotechnic syntax and sounds of the episodes/poems:

               Brunette A.D.D., ol’ mouthwash.
    Adahhhh! Tetchy demon & conventional
    Frenchwoman. Death, wishbone,


    The episode/poems are, by nature of the constraint, fractured and partial. In contrast the commentaries are gleefully excessive in their piling on of information, including definitions of words used in the episode/poems and speculations as to their metaphorical deployment. At times this satirises critical discourse, as in this example from ‘xviii’ and its ‘VESTIGIAL SONNET #13’:

    We are given only one complete sonnet here, which appears to abandon the Shakespearean rhyme scheme half-way through the octet and finishes one line early with a botched couplet (the letter restrictions were never more evident).

    Though the commentaries are constructed from the discursive mode, they deconstruct it at the same time as using it. In this way the anagrams pre-empt potential criticism, heading off discourse at the pass. Where does that leave a reviewer who might be tempted to say, ‘I’m not sure that quite works’? Impressed but a little annoyed!

    Book III returns (for the most part) to lyric and narrative modes to explore self-hood, production and excess, more in the manner of Book I. Kennard appears again and is once more concerned with his own production: “Also, the Waterstones near the Bullring doesn’t stock my books, so fuck them” (‘Interfaith Dialogue’). Despite the quality of these poems, the final part of the collection felt recursive in its concerns, and a little flat after the very particular experience of reading the anagram poems which dominate Cain. On reaching Book III I felt like I’d come out of a cinema into the brightness of a sunny afternoon and was struggling to see clearly. But Book II had already anticipated this concern:

    A heteroclite is an abnormal thing or person. The dictionary gives the following adjectival example: “the book suffers from the heteroclite and ill-fitting nature of its various elements.”


    There are games within games being played here. As a reader you need to decide if this is the kind of fun you like to join in with.

    Katherine Stansfield’s first collection Playing House was published by Seren in 2014. @K_Stansfield

    cain luke kennard

    Cain by Luke Kennard is published by Penned in the Margins, £12.99.

  2. Call for Submissions: Magma 67 on the theme of ‘Bones & Breath’.

    Written by Rob Mackenzie at June 1, 2016 8:11

    Bones & Breath is the name of a book by the Scottish poet Alexander (‘Sandy’) Hutchison, published by Salt. It won the Saltire Award for Best Scottish Poetry Collection, 2014. Sandy died in November 2015. The title poem has the poet as a bird “barely out/ of the nest”: Heart brims and spills.

    Words try eyes and wings; try air.

  3. Jane Bonnyman’s first pamphlet, An Ember from the Fire: Poems on the Life of Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson, is a gothic wonder of a book, an adventurous, swashbuckling exploration of an extraordinary life. The pamphlet opens as the heroine travels from Indianapolis to California (her daughter in tow) to meet up with her first husband who is hoping to cash in on the gold rush. It covers Fanny’s scandalous divorce, her meeting with Robert Louis Stevenson, his death, and her quiet retirement in her own small Eden. The life expounded here is startling and vivid (it is difficult for me to believe that no one has written a collection about this subject this before) and luckily the writing lives up to the challenge, sheathing those good bones in appropriate flesh.

    The first poem, ‘Dawn’ traces Fanny’s journey across America in pursuit of her treasure-hunting husband. A taut, precise poem, it perfectly encapsulates the triumph of hope (in the guise of will) over the conventional stagnation of death. It begins with a description of seemingly-inescapable desolation: Among stagnant pools where dead fish float and coconut leaves drift over rotting flesh like helpless souls, and feverish women lie curled in hammocks chattering to revenants of their lost men Across this landscape, Fanny strides armoured with her purpose. She wills her way through the land of death, like a heroine from one of her future-husband’s books: she buys liquor, hot coffee for her daughter, finds a guide, three mules and a road that leads beyond the cemetery to Panama City ‘Dawn’ is structured in two evenly-divided parts; there are nine lines for death, and nine for forced rebirth. Not a word is wasted. The effect of reading this poem is very much like inhaling the first breathless fifty pages of an adventure novel, when the story first starts to get really good.

  4. Magma 64 Launch on the theme of ‘Risk’

    Written by Wes Brown at March 20, 2016 12:12

    The launch of Magma 64 will take place on the 24th of March, 7pm at The London Review Book Shop. Formed around the theme risk, we were delighted with the huge variety of poems that we received. Risks in every form, size and daring, cunning, moving shape. The challenge we had was weighing every one. To see if the risks paid off, to see if after all, the poem was worth writing.

    The event will feature readings from contributors to the issue and a guest performance from Philip Gross. Tickets are free but booking is essential. Click here to reserve your place.

  5. Poetry Film: Poésie d’Alphaville – Paul Éluard

    Written by Wes Brown at March 10, 2016 15:00

    The rise of Poetry Film much like music videos and Fashion films, breathes contemporary life into work.

    Poesie D’alphaville by Paul Eluard is a timeless expression of love, Mathis Sananes directed with his team of Tara Trangmar (producer) and Eric Gonzalez Garcia (DOP). The short film is narrated by Yohan Agelou to bringtender visuals to this celebrated work. Combining poetry, music and motion picture, the project focuses on bridging three contemporary relationships with an eternally relevant text.

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