GHOST SIGNS by Sonya Taaffe

A collection of excellent poetry, reviewed over at Strange Horizons.


The sheer precision and emotive effectiveness of the poetry is a thing of wonder. I’m particularly fond, if one may use the word fond when speaking of a poem that caught the breath in my throat, of “Censorship,” a short poem—as so many poems here are short—that tangles Cato Elder and Carthage, war and history and memory:

Your voice repeating itself across a sea that was never ours
the one word I cannot rub away
as easily as a city’s dust between my palms,
my mouth sea-breeze bitter with knowing
none of the names of children we have burned.

Recently arrived review copies

Seven? Seven stars, and one white tree.

Seven? Seven stars, and seven stones, and one white tree.

I confess myself astonished: Oxford University Press appears to have sent me copies of three volumes of poetry: Eleanor Rees’ BLOOD CHILD, Sarah Corbett’s AND SHE WAS, and Mona Arshi’s SMALL HANDS.

From Titan Books, Jim C. Hines’ FABLE: BLOOD OF HEROES and Kieran Shea’s KOKO THE MIGHTY. From Talos Books, Paul Tassi’s THE EXILED EARTHBORN. From Tor Books, Lawrence M. Schoen’s BARSK: THE ELEPHANTS’ GRAVEYARD.

ABOVE THE DREAMLESS DEAD, edited by Chris Duffy

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

This is an anthology of WWI poetry – Brooke, Hardy, Graves, Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg, others – adapted into graphic format by a whole swathe of modern cartoonists. The illustrations are in a variety of styles, some impressionistical and moving, like George Pratt’s, or Danica Novgorodoff’s, and some plain and lacking in feeling. There are notes. The notes are rather on the didactic side. Perhaps this is an anthology intended for younger readers?

It’s an interesting experiment. Perhaps I would feel differently if I actually enjoyed graphic-format works in general. But for me, it did not work: only rarely did the art support the feeling of the poetry, the sense and weight and music of it, rather than distracting from it or working at cross-purposes.

But the poetry of the war works its own images, impressed into the mind: for me no others can compare.


Amal El-Mohtar said such fine things about Najwan Darwish’s Nothing More to Lose that I resolved upon the instant to get a copy.

I don’t normally read poetry collections cover-to-cover. I own a handful only, that I dip into from time to time: Cavafy, Odysseus Elytis, Osip Mandelshtan, Yeats, Heaney, Eliot, Adrienne Rich, Pablo Neruda, some of the ancient poets (I keep meaning to get my hands on some of the twentieth century’s famous women poets’ collections, like St. Vincent Millay and Plath – some day soon!) but not many.

Nothing More to Lose, I read every page. These are gorgeous, glorious poems: the translator has done a brilliant job.

Powerful poems; some funny, some touching, some filled with pain and a kind of elegaic anger – like the last five lines of “Sleeping in Gaza”:

The earth is three nails
and mercy a hammer:
Strike, Lord
Strike with the planes

Are there any more to come?

or the three brief lines that comprise the entirety of “In Praise of the Family”:

There is but a single sentence fit to praise you:
You are the deep quarry
of my nightmares.

Some of his poems are available online, here. Read them. Especially “Jerusalem.”

When I leave you I turn to stone
and when I come back I turn to stone

I name you Medusa
I name you the older sister of Sodom and Gomorrah
you baptismal basin that burned Rome.