Coffee Shop Sessions II: Moving Mountains One by One by Kimberly Ray review

It’s been a while since I discussed a poetry collection on my blog, so when I spotted Kimberly Ray’s Coffee Shop Sessions II on Booktasters I snapped it up. This collection is divided into four chapters or sessions: Love, Travelling, Reflective, and Nature. As you can probably guess, each session consists of poems surrounding that particular topic.

The poems as a whole were very enjoyable. Ray switches up styles throughout the collection – from rhyming poems to longer free verse – so the reader never gets bored. It also highlights her skills as a poet as she moves effortlessly between each style successfully. In particular, I was most impressed with the ‘Nature’ and ‘Reflective’ sessions. The nature poems were very beautiful with a lot of lovely imagery, yet there was also a sense of solemnness lurking beneath the language; this concern for the natural world and global warming lingered alongside the evocative imagery. This gave these poems more depth and relevancy to the current political climate. The ‘Reflection’ section I enjoyed for a different reason. I felt it was the most personal, and I really got to know Ray as a person. The struggles of being a writer, the trials and tribulations that come with writing poetry, were explored and I was particularly fascinated by them. Ray seemed very honest about that aspect, and that made me enjoy the poems more.

The problem I have with Coffee Shop Sessions II is not the content, but the structure. As I mentioned, the collection is split into four chapters. But not all are given the same amount of time. The ‘Love’ session dominates the book; it makse up more than half of the collection which, in turn, means the others are significantly smaller. The ‘Travelling’ session only contains three poems; I enjoyed all three but I would have liked more. By contrast, having so many poems dedicated to love means a lot of them blend into one another. It was hard to separate them after putting the book down. Love and relationships are obviously subjects Ray is interested in exploring, but having one chapter dominate at the expense of the others makes the collection feel off-balance.

Overall, Coffee Shop Sessions II is a decent poetry collection. Ray is obviously a talented poet as seen by her use of different styles and techniques. But the layout of the collection lets it down and doesn’t showcase Ray’s writing as well as it could have. Having a better balance between chapters would help make the collection a lot stronger and help the poems stand out more.

Coffee Shop Sessions II: Moving Mountains One By One is published independently and you can find more information here.

Random Book Quiz Round 6: Poetry

Yes it’s another Saturday, which means another round for the Random Book Quiz. This time we are focusing on poetry. This round is fairly straightforward: I have given you a snippet of a famous poem and the date it was published, all you need to do is work out who the poet is. As always there are 10 questions to have a go at, plus I have left last week’s answers below if you want to see how well you did.

Enjoy and let me know how you get on!

1. ‘For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?’        (1915)

2. ‘Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.’       (1834)

3. ‘Day after day, night after night,
Laura kept watch in vain
In sullen silence of exceeding pain.
She never caught again the goblin cry:
“Come buy, come buy;”—
She never spied the goblin men
Hawking their fruits along the glen:
But when the noon wax’d bright
Her hair grew thin and grey;
She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn
To swift decay and burn
Her fire away.’           (1862)

4. ‘We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.’      (1966)

5. ‘Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.’    (1965)

6. ‘I said
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek’     (1842)

7.  ‘I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:’    (1818)

8. ‘7 April 1852
Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him—
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.’   (1999)

9. ‘But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.’    (1983)

10. ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;’     (1609)

 

Answers for Round 5

  1. Virginia Woolf (The Hours)
  2. AA Milne (Goodbye Christopher Robin)
  3. Hans Christian Andersen (Hans Christian Andersen)
  4. Jane Austen (Becoming Jane)
  5. Mary Shelley (Mary Shelley)
  6. William Shakespeare (Shakespeare in Love)
  7.  Truman Capote (Capote)
  8.  Oscar Wilde (Wilde)
  9.  Beatrix Potter (Miss Potter)
  10.  Zelda & F Scott Fitzgerald (Midnight in Paris)

5 Poems to Read for National Poetry Month

Hi everyone! So most people probably already know this, but April was National Poetry Month in the US and Canada. Despite being from neither of these countries and missing April by two days (blame the Women’s Prize!), I still wanted to join in and recommend some poems that I really enjoy. Hope you do too! A couple of these poems have been mentioned before on my blog but some I’ve not yet had the chance to mention here, which is a shame because these are some of my favourite poems. I will leave links to them so if you fancied reading them you can. Most of them are from Poetry Foundation which is a great website for exploring poems and their writers. But without further ado, I’ll jump into the poems:

Ae Fond Kiss – Robert Burns

Not technically a poem but a song. Off to a good start. However this is my favourite work of Burns, and can be read as a tribute to lost love. It is a sad and poignant piece, but there is so much love and passion that radiates off the page it never becomes maudlin or self-indulgent. Everyone has been in a relationship that has ended or had their heart broken, so ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ is quite a relatable poem, despite being written in 1791. Burns really captures the rawness of those early days. If you haven’t read any Burns then this is a good place to start.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock – T.S Eliot  

Prufrock devastated me when I first read it as an undergraduate, and it still moves me to this day. Eliot nails down the feelings of loneliness and never being good enough, and it really connected with me. His imagery is also stunning, evoking these beautiful and sad segments of a life yet also hinting at underlying themes. In particular I love the phrase: ‘In the room the women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo’. It’s such a wonderful encapsulation of the poem. Eliot’s use of repetition and intertextuality also help to make Prufrock an incredible piece of poetry.

My Last Duchess – Robert Browning 

This is what happens when a  thriller meets poetry. And it’s wonderful. The premise is a Duke is showing a gentleman a portrait of his last wife and begins to talk about what happened to her. Browning’s language is so rich; conveying so many different interpretations that you notice something new each time you read it. The use of rhyming couplets is also brilliantly done; it almost lulls you into a false sense of security with the rhythm before you realise what the Duke is inferring. He is also a really unreliable narrator which works perfectly for this poem. Robert Browning is one of my favourite Victorian poets and ‘My Last Duchess’ is definitely my favourite of his.

Goblin Market – Christina Rossetti 

The longest poem on this list but well worth the effort. Sisters Lizzie and Laura live alone, hearing goblin merchants selling fruits during the night. Laura consumes some of the fruit, despite her sister’s warnings, and slowly begins to deteriorate. It is up to Lizzie to save her. Whilst ‘Goblin Market’ has these magical and fairytale-esque elements, it really is a poem about familial love. The relationship between Lizzie and Laura is wonderfully drawn and is the heart of the poem. It can be read as a feminist critique of Victorian society, capitalism, or an exploration of drug addiction. But I shall leave you to your own interpretations of this brilliant poem.

Medusa – Carol Ann Duffy

‘Medusa’ comes from Duffy’s collection The World’s Wife and I would highly recommend any of the poems featured in it. This poem is told from the perspective of Medusa, and it is implied that she is talking to Perseus. Duffy, in a similar way to Madeline Miller’s Circe, takes a female figure from Greek mythology and gives her a voice. Medusa is quite a sad, lonely figure; unable to look upon anything without it turning to stone. The reader feels sympathy for her. That is, until the last line. It is so ambiguous that it leaves the entire poem up for interpretation which I really enjoyed. You are never quite sure what you have read.

 

And those are my 5! What are some of your favourite poems? Let me know – or if you’ve read any of the ones mentioned above, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Curing my Venom by A. Rinum review

Hi everyone! This is a first for me: my first review of a poetry collection! Poetry is quite a tricky subject for me to write about; whilst I studied it at University and spent many, many hours pouring over literary criticism on the subject, I’ve never given my own opinions about a particular poem or collection. The main reason for this is I worry that I don’t understand or misinterpret it, more so than any other type of literature. But since it is National Poetry Month and the author very kindly sent me a copy of her collection, I thought I would overcome my worries and review Curing my Venom. The collection is split into five parts, each representing a stage of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Rinum focuses primarily on mental health and the challenges that occur with illness, but also mentions more positive aspects like self-acceptance.

Rinum’s language and word choice are excellent. The images she creates are very evocative and poignant; one can picture them so clearly. The repetition of certain images as well helps to emphasise Rinum’s meaning and keeps them at the forefront of the reader’s mind, for example poison is frequently used to represent mental illness. However, one of my favourite poems from the collection ‘What was I?’, uses nature as a way to explore depression and the highs and lows it causes. Sometimes one feels on top of the world and almost invincible and other times sadness seems to be the only thing that ever and will exist. The natural world is used to reflect the ‘world’ of the mind and I think Rinum deals with those two contrasting thoughts beautifully.

Rinum is also very playful with form. Some poems rhyme, others don’t (and admittedly I found some of the rhymes a bit forced and didn’t really work when reread) which helps to keep the reader engaged, as well as the lengths varying greatly. Some are short and sharp whilst others go into more depth. There is even one poem (‘Downside Up’) which is upside down, highlighting the effect mental illness can have on our perspective of the world.

The illustrations by Fatima Munir are also well done. They are highly detailed black and white designs, but they don’t overpower the words and compliment the poems really well. It means the collection is this curious blend of imagery and words which combined create a very striking piece of work.

As you can imagine, Curing my Venom is not the cheeriest collection you may ever read, and most of the happier poems are in the fifth and final section. Some hit a raw nerve with me so I had to skip to a happier one straight after, and whilst it a short read I did have to stretch it out a few days so I didn’t feel overwhelmed. But the language and drawings are very beautiful. A really interesting debut and one for people interested in poetry. Or perhaps those looking to get back into it; I’m certainly curious to read more  after finishing this.

Curing my Venom is published independently and you can find more information here.

Books to read on Burns Night

Hello everyone! So Burns Night is tomorrow on 25th January and before I get stuck into my haggis, neeps and tatties (with perhaps a cheeky bit of whisky sauce) I thought I would make a recommendations post involving Scottish authors. Way back in 2017 I wrote a post about Scottish literature for St. Andrew’s Day and I’ll leave a link for that here. There isn’t an overlap between the two posts so if you would like more recommendations you can head over there; it has a mixture of novels, poetry, and plays so hopefully something for everyone. Here I have novels and poems; I’ve linked the poems if you wished to read them. But without further ado I will head into this year’s selection:

Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

sunset song

This was named Scotland’s favourite book back in 2016 and it is easy to see why. The first part in a trilogy called ‘A Scots’ Quair’, the novel follows our young protagonist Chris Guthrie from a farmer’s daughter through the First World War. Not only do we focus on her life but on the wider community where she lives and the impact the war has on it. Sunset Song, like the rest of the trilogy, looks at a changing Scotland through this small farming community as they struggle to come to terms with the war, later looking at the effects of WW2 and industrialisation. But what makes the novel so impactful for me is Chris. She is a wonderfully written character; strong, clever, and determined, but with this vulnerability, this weakness that makes her human. Her loves for both reading and education, and also the land where she lives, are opposing forces in her life and watching her struggle with them is fascinating. Sunset Song does deal with difficult themes (it certainly can’t be described as cheery) plus some of it is written in Scots dialect, so it won’t be for everyone, but it is certainly worth the time and effort for the beautiful writing and excellent characterisation.

The Trick is to Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway

the trick is to keep breathing

A more modern Scottish classic but no less depressing, The Trick is to Keep Breathing centres around drama teacher Joy Stone. Despite her name, her life is anything but joyful; an anorexic alcoholic who self-harms and suffers from depression, Joy has dealt with a lot in her life. Mental health is obviously a key theme in the novel and I think Galloway manages to address the subject with sensitivity but doesn’t shy away from showing the ignorant attitudes that make sufferers not seek help. Whilst other characters ignore Joy’s problems, Galloway doesn’t. The Trick is to Keep Breathing is a very visceral look not just at mental health but also the way women are expected to act in society and how they are treated. Galloway is being satirical at some points and that helps to emphasise the point she is making, and makes the characters’ dismissal of Joy all the more rage-inducing. This is a good place to start if you’ve never read Galloway before along with her short stories.

The Cone Gatherers by Robin Jenkins

the cone gatherers

Set in 1943, two brothers Neil and Calum are the eponymous cone gatherers that work in the forest of a Scottish country house, run by Lady Runcie-Campbell. Calum is a hunchback, a fact that gamekeeper Duror loathes as he detests anything he describes as ‘misshapen’. Duror’s growing hatred for the brothers, particularly Calum, leads to a heartbreaking climax. This is a gripping, tense novel, one which pulls you in slowly until you realise you can’t tear yourself away. Jenkins also manages to cram massive themes – from nature to sacrifice to prejudice to class – and effortlessly weaves them into the narrative. The characters as well are deftly drawn. The relationship between the two brothers is so tender and thoughtful that you hope that they can escape from this stifling environment; and Duror is one of the most despicable characters I’ve ever read. I found him so revolting and I still shudder when I think of him. The Cone Gatherers is an interesting look at class in Scotland but also just a really good, enthralling story. The final images linger long in the mind after the novel is finished.

‘The Last Supper’ by Liz Lochhead

It was hard trying to decide which of the former Makar’s (National Poet of Scotland) works I should include, but eventually I settled on ‘The Last Supper’ which is linked here. This is probably one of her more famous poems so I’m sure many people have already read it, but I choose to include it because I find it the most evocative and emotional work she’s written. The descriptions of food are so vivid and so perfect for the dissecting with friends of a failing relationship you can almost taste them. The alliteration and word choice is wonderfully done and slowly unpack the layers that Lochhead has woven in.

‘Ae Fond Kiss’ by Robert Burns

I couldn’t not mention Burns on Burns Night could I? Similar to Lochhead, there are many poems I could have picked but I decided to go with ‘Ae Fond Kiss‘ simply because it is my favourite. I find it both heartbreaking and romantic at the same time; there feels like an incredible amount of passion and love bursting through his words. It is incredibly emotive; Burns pouring out his soul for the love that got away (Agnes Maclehose, who left Scotland for Jamaica to reunite with her estranged husband) that it easy to see why it has been recorded numerous times.  Possibly one of my favourite poems/love songs ever and a bittersweet testament to their relationship.

 

And that’s it for Burns Night recommendations! As I said before I hope there is something here for everyone and do let me know in the comments below which Scottish book or writer you like! I’ll be back to reviewing on Monday so until then have a great weekend.