Skip to main content

Review - "Shoals of Starlings" by Andrew Martin


Steve Spence

"Shoals of Starlings" by Andrew Martin, pub. Waterhare Press. 133 pages

Andrew Martin’s debut collection is impressive in every way. These bird-themed poems have a distinct personality: they are minimalist, lyrical and precise, veering between representation and abstraction, filled with beautiful phrases and succinct encapsulations. Yet they are fractured, shattered beings, hinting at symmetry but displaying wounds and vulnerability in a manner which reminds me of John Clare. They are a wonderful blend of the modern and the traditional and as a commentary on the natural world have a descriptive quality which is also questioning, allusive, puzzling and full of unexpected turns. They are also very personal.

To complement the quiet power of the writing, Martin has produced a fractal visual for each poem, beautiful, dynamic images which are full of interesting shapes, colour mixes and a sense of movement, each contained within a square frame. These are wonderful paintings in their own right but the relationship between the words and the artwork, in terms of process, is unusually successful and appropriate. The design of the whole book is impressive too. It is large format, appears rectangular but is in fact square and each poem is placed on the left-hand side with the picture appearing on the right. The relationship between the poem and image is beautifully balanced and this is an artist/writer who clearly knows something of typography and page layout. I’m probably making this sound precious but the whole project is so-well designed that’s it’s a joy to pick up and hold as well as to read. Now to the poems and I’ll include a few short samples here to give the reader a taste:


     Born from snow
     heart riddled with smoke
     haunted by dreams of swans


     Sooty gargoyle
     wings ragged
     as the flames
     that stroked them
     salt whispers
     to the stars
     held in your eyes
     watching the tides
     from the tip
     of a rib
     of a shipwreck
     as the spindrift
     with its faint kisses
     slowly erodes
     your face


     A chandelier
     shivers in the sewer
     in the belly of a whale
     ghosts of skylarks
     crowd its stems
     their phantom songs
     drip in the dark
     tiny fields
     sprout from the splashes
     to the unseen
     abandoned sky

There are over 50 poems and apart from those indicated above there are Jackdaws, Ravens, Gannets, Robins, Wagtails, Owls, Hummingbirds, Wrens, Swans, Jays and Goldcrests to name a few.

These poems are individual gems but they accumulate over the series into a whole that is greater than its parts. It’s been a while since I was so struck by a debut collection but I’m very glad to see this one and I think that Andrew Martin is a voice to look out for.

copyright © Steve Spence, 2020

Popular posts from this blog

Review - High and Lonesome: Three Books: Crozier, Prynne, James

Andrew Duncan High and Lonesome : Three Books: John James, Striking the Pavilion of Zero, J.H. Prynne, High Pink on Chrome ; Andrew Crozier, High Zero (Shearsman, 2021; edited Ian Brinton)  The reason why these three books from 1975-6 and 1978 are being republished together is straightforward. Crozier had named a work High Zero , and when I interviewed him in 2003 he conceded that it referred to High Pink and Striking the Pavilion of Zero , and that he had used lines from those two works as keys to develop the High Zero poems from. Publication together allows one to read across and recover a part of the composition process. High Zero was published in 1978, later than the two poems it is a response to. The founding moment is The English Intelligencer , in which all three of these poets took part. This was an attempt to recapitulate the development of Charles Olson, up to about 1950; he was seen as both the continuator of Pound and as having thought profoundly about geography. T

Essay - Whatever Happened to the Poetry Manifesto?

MARTIN STANNARD WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE POETRY MANIFESTO? Recently I tried writing an essay that had the working title 'Why the Meaning of a Poem is the Last Thing You Should Think About'. I felt like I had something to say. It began like this: I can't help but remember what my old angling tutor used to say: “Be careful when you open a can of worms." Of course, he didn’t say any such thing, and I never had an angling tutor, but writers, and perhaps especially poets, can say anything and get away with it, because . . . Actually, I'm not sure why. I'm not even sure if it's true. If it is, it shouldn’t be. And I'm not sure about that, either. I think it's probably best if we accept a certain degree of uncertainty and subjectivity and other words that suggest everything is open to argument and get on with this. Just because something is open to argument doesn't mean it's wrong. Later (about 3000 words later) I decided I was on to a loser.

Review - "Bright Angel Proof" by Nick Power

Charlie Baylis Bright Angel Proof, Nick Power (£10, erbacce press) In the spring of 2016 a writer from the small Northwestern town of Hoylake, Nick Power, took a trip flying around America on budget airlines, soaking in all its big ticket tourist attractions and gaudy glories. The trip, and Power’s poems about the trip, come together to form Bright Angel Proof , a collection which evokes beat generation myths of a mystical America, but behind the lines Power knows that the beat generation era is done and perhaps was never really there to begin with. Power is too late to join the ranks of Ginsburg, Kerouac et al but at least he suggests that he might have something to say, which is more than most contemporary poets. Power attracts attention as a kind of modern Burt Lancaster, an adventurer of compelling (North) West Coast vibes and easy going company who, like Lana Del Rey, has ‘feathers in his hair...c hurning out novels like Beat poetry on Amphetamines.’ Power’s companion on the