I will accept a limited number of poetry books and pamphlets for review from publishers only. I do not accept self-published books for review.  Publishers should get in touch with me at allegropoetry at gmail dot com with details of the book and I will let them know whether or not I have the capacity to review the publication. Reviews will appear on this page.

Sally Long (Editor)


Christopher Southgate, Losing Ithaca, Shoestring Press, £10.00, ISBN 978-1-915553-25-6


Christopher Southgate’s collection, Losing Ithaca, promises the reader an epic journey that treats mythology and loss among other subjects. It does not disappoint. Southgate is able to present a range of themes in sections that interrelate and enter into dialogue.


The collection opens with a section of poems about loss. The first of these, ‘Notes from a ditch near Troy’, interweaves allusions to mythology with an insightful commentary on the way that grief is handled in contemporary Britain:


After such a death we should sit on the ground

Tearing our clothes and throwing dust on our heads.

We put on suits and unaccustomed ties

Ushered about by professionals in practised solemnity.


Southgate manages to capture both the rawness of grief and the inability of society to come to terms with death.


Other poems in the same section deal with loss of various kinds. In ‘London St Pancras International’ personal grief is placed alongside the loss of Ukrainian refugees fleeing war. Another poem ‘Rose-Petals’ deals with a different type of loss:


For my mother’s wedding

my grandmother picked all the petals

off her roses, for friends to scatter on the couple


She threw beauty at her loss.


The closing poem of the section, ‘Year Five’ is one of the highlights of the collection. The speaker recognises that grief is not short lived but persists over the years. The recurrence of feelings of bereavement are compared with losing a foothold during a climb:


What is the reminder of grief like?

Like losing one’s footing on a crag

and being swept down a waterfall.


This simile captures the unbidden and unstoppable nature of these emotions.


The second section of the collection comprises a sequence of poems around the number ‘six’. This device enables Southgate to link disparate topics but does, perhaps, lead to individual poems within it being less strong than others in the collection. However, there are a number of effective poems. In the opening poem, ‘Six Reasons Why I Am In Love With Greta Thunberg’, the speaker drops hints about climate change without mentioning it directly:


Five. My six great nephews and nieces are relying on her

And I love their bright and wondering eyes

And their passionate playful hearts.


It is this ability to allude to issues that is one of the collection’s great strengths.


Another strength is the way that the different sections interlinked with each other

‘Six Reasons Why I Will Never Throw Away My Mother’s Address Book’ picks up on the personal grief of the first section. After reminiscing on his mother’s life the speaker says:


… And wrong, I am certain – all cannot be flux –

the person she was, the hope, the passionate

internal journey, somewhere, surely, persists.


In these few words Southgate expresses the perpetual hope that something of a beloved person survives death. The final poem of the sequence, ‘And On The Sixth Day?’ is a reflection on the biblical creation story. The theme of this poem introduces the third section which is based on biblical stories.


One danger of writing poems based on biblical stories is that so many poems have been written upon them before that it is hard to avoid cliché. One poem that manages a fresh approach extremely well is ‘The Takes At Emmaus’. The speaker is a film director who is working out how the story of the walk to Emmaus could be presented as a film. The poem contrasts the brash confidence of the speaker, ‘here I can do better than the script writer,’ with the intangible nature of his subject, ‘just the unquestioning surface of the wine, / the bread parted – laid out in blessing.


Other highlights of the collection are ‘Swifts’ which employs swifts as a metaphor for love and ‘Eulogy At The Memorial Service For Glacier’ which again alludes to climate change. Both poems have haunting endings, this from ‘Swifts’:


               One day

Swifts will roost and close their wings

Let it not be soon.


The final couplet of ‘Eulogy At The Memorial Service For Glacier’ reads, ‘Your resurrection will await the next ice age – / hard to imagine we shall keep you company then.’ The device of writing eulogy for a glacier takes the reader back to other poems in the collection which speak of grief.


Losing Ithaca is overall a convincing collection which deals with difficult topics with great sensitivity and skill.

Clare Best, Beyond the Gate, Worple Press, £12.00, ISBN 978-1-905208-50-0

Clare Best’s latest collection Beyond the Gate is wide ranging covering diverse themes spanning astute observation of the natural world, family relationships, industrial heritage and grief. The poems encompass a variety of styles including prose poetry, shape and found poetry which is used to good effect.


A striking use of found text is ‘After your procedure’ where Best tackles the difficult subject of abortion. Here she skilfully combines website text with her own commentary on the emotional affects of having and abortion. Text and commentary are presented as a shape poem. The poem has to be viewed on the page to experience the full impact.

Another highlight of the collection is ‘My son’s first leather boots’ where the poet explores the depth of a mother’s love for her child. This is presented as something that is intangible and mysterious:


It’s not scuffed toes, heels worn down

in one particular place …

         …  It’s this: I have to close my door, sit

quietly and alone with love and mystery.


Best delves into the industrial past in ‘salt works’ and ‘Field Notes, Horsmonden furnace pond’. The former poem is based on notes made by Charles St Barbe, a nineteenth century saltern owner. The text is arranged in two columns and this means that the poem can be read down one column then down the other or from left to right across the page. The different readings skilfully produce layers of meaning:


when the sea boils               6 days & 6 nights

tide is admitted                   flowing fast


from high to low                into feeding ponds

thin grey brine                   passing in troughs


in level partitions               of sun & wind

until the last hour              when coal is burned  


In the second poem past and present are interweaved through alternating sections which intersperse descriptions of birds that now live in the habitat of Horsmonden furnace pond with pictures of the same place in the seventeenth century when it was the site of an iron foundry:

drizzle brings swallows

fieldfares chiffchaffs blackcaps

great crested grebes


200 furnace workers

+ miners woodcutters charcoal-burners

luggers of timber and ore to the furnace

pig iron from furnace to forge

three mandarin drakes fly in

cormorants red-legged partridge

a charm of goldfinch


Although Best conjures a vivid impression of the past in other poems she also writes well about the contemporary world as in ‘Browsing at my desk, May 2020’. This is a found poem drawn from the poet’s browsing history:


Prohibited & Restricted Goods / Post Office

subscribe to read La Peste images of boats on sea

Coronavirus: Advice and updates Redirect View

virtual festivals 2020 & 2021 artistssupportpledge – Bing


Greenpeace UK international womens day

Authentication Service Log in to Facebook Love

in the Time of Cholera Jessye Norman – Les Chemins

de l’amour (Poulenc) grief and condolence – Bing


The device of creating a poem from this source has the effect of recreating the fragmented online world that many people inhabited during lockdown.


Many poems in the collection draw on Best’s observation of the natural world. In the opening poem the speaker writes about the experience of spotting a heron in her garden:


From my upstairs window, I saw a heron

perched on the neighbour’s roof, looking rough –

like it hadn’t slept in weeks. Exhausted, like me.


Unfortunately, this poem lacks the numinous quality of many of the others in the collection. The title, ‘A heron in a poem might seem a cliché’ references the fact that there are a large number of well-known poems which refer to herons. Maybe some sense of dialogue with a few of them would have lifted this particular heron poem.


For the most part Beyond the Gate showcases the work of an adroit and engaging poet. 

Ruth O’Callaghan, Where Shadow Falls, Two Rivers Press, £10.99,


Ruth O’Callaghan’s intriguing collection Where Shadow Falls deftly leaves the reader with more questions than answers. The best poems have a dream-like fragility about them where thoughts merge into one another.


The language in many poems is beautiful. The opening poem ‘Portmanteau’ speaks of ‘his breviary of frailties, / wisps of myths and other, darker, signs:’ This early promise is repeated in other poems. In Folie ‘Silence has spread its skirt – a can-can dancer flashing /

intimate possibilities’ and in ‘Acknowledgement’ ‘she fingered each bead caught /

on a string of lies, a threaded promise.’


The tone of the poems changes abruptly in section II. Here O’Callaghan deals with contemporary issues and while this illustrates her range as a poet it is hard for the reader to adjust to more abstract or harsh language. In ‘So’ O’Callaghan includes short quotes from songs in italics. The speaker reminisces about school days talking of ‘sixties sex, hitchin’ ’n fuckin’ in foreign fields that’d fornever be England,’. This style of language occurs elsewhere. In ‘Jonesy’ the speaker says of poetry.


                                  It’s just crap

words thrown down in short lines ’cos

poets can’t make a sentence like you’d find

even in any freebie rag you grab at the station


Even allowing for the fact that O’Callaghan is deliberately creating a discordant voice here these poems work less well than many in her collection.


A highlight of the collection is ‘Cover’. Here O’Callaghan enters into a dialogue, first of all with Maggi Hambling’s ‘Conversation’ which is the cover image for Angela Leighton’s collection, Spills:


Hard to ascribe gender to these conversationalists,

difficult to hear their particular take on Leighton’s Spills:


and then with Spills itself:

                                              a Simon of Cyrene, who hefts

the weight of that cross over harrowed fields, dark

scarring the sky.

Below, a fracture of bone denotes location

where once the worthless were laid;


This is a fascinating approach to the ekphrastic poem. 

Overall, Where Shadow Falls is a collection which is worthy of careful reading and re-reading.

Steve Lang, Tales of Telemachus, RESOURCE Publications, £8.00,

ISBN: 978-1-6667-6563-2

Steve Lang’s collection, Tales of Telemachus, is wide ranging in its subject matter. As expected from its title, Lang writes a number of poems based on mythology. One particularly eye-catching poem is ‘Icarus’ with its striking description:

So detached, my feathers
Dwindle down, twirling,
Lost overblown snowflakes, …

A macabre doll flung,
I plunge, screaming, through them,
Hastening to my fate:

Telemachus also features in ‘Telemachy’ and ‘Athena Mentors Telemachus’. The arresting opening lines of the first of these poems showcase Lang at his best:

There swelled a sense of loss,
Of bereavement,
Like a rising mist,
That slowly betrays
The breath-taking breadth
And depth of the chasm,
Or a rip-tide
Pulling me farther from shore,

In the second poem alliteration is employed effectively: ‘father, found finally,’ and ‘Sweet the shrill song of the swords unsheathed,’. Given the title of the collection, Lang might have profitably included more poems like these.

Although many of the poems have a gentle, lyrical quality Lang does not shy away from difficult subjects as evidenced in a number of poems about El Salvador. One of these stands out above the rest. ‘El Mazote’ which recounts the story of the sole survivor of a massacre:

What can you smell from your tree, Rufina?
Burnt flesh.
Sick sweetness of crushed, overripe mangoes;

 Given the subject of the poem it is appropriate that it ends with an unanswered question; ‘What can you feel in your tree, Rufina?’

Across the collection Lang demonstrates his versatility as a poet. He includes a number of haiku including ‘Madrigal’, Hummingbird and ‘Dragonflies’:

Two dragonflies joined
In coitus in dashing flight
Elation defined

 The collection is prefaced by a well-crafted sonnet ‘Prologue’:

Too coy the haiku- Horatian the ode,
A villanelle reels- a limerick’s too light;
A little lugubrious, for me, the ballad,
Too desperate to soar the elegy’s height.
No, to page and poet, a blessing’s the sonnet-

There is also the concrete shape poem ‘And Breathe …’ which is not quoted here as it needs to be seen and read in its entirety on the page.

If the poems in Tales of Telemachus are anything to go by Lang is a poet who deserves to be widely read.

Julie Sampson, Fivestones, Lapwing, £10.00, ISBN: 978-1-7391642-7-0

Julie Sampson’s collection, Fivestones, interweaves a number of themes: the natural landscape, voices from the past including figures from history, writers or ancestors and also modern technology. Indeed, an interesting feature of the collection is how the poems speak both of the past and of contemporary life simultaneously.

In her writing about the natural landscape Sampson skilfully inverts the human presence within it. People can only be located in relation to the natural world around them. In ‘Lost in Galloway’ the speaker is ‘west of the pink-footed geese’ and ‘east of that red squirrel.’  There are many striking images in the poems. In ‘Only We Were Left’ we see ‘reed-beds with floating icons / of white –’ and in ‘On Such A Day’ on an autumn day ‘cyclamens will ghost the dying garden red.’

 The natural landscape that Sampson speaks so eloquently of is also populated by people from the past. In ‘Roots’ when observing plants growing around Budleigh, the speaker remembers her grandmother who died when she was very young:

‘I recall her forbears from these parts

Their fossil footfall litters the sandstone landscapes of this place.’


Likewise in ‘Mothers Of The Ancient Moor’ the speaker’s ancestors still inhabit the moorland:


Mine were silent.

Reclusive mothers of the ancient moor,

each found a niche inside the shelter of a granite shelf,

a closet cocooned with moss or fern,

there she cosseted, shielded her extended brood.


Fivestones includes a number of poems in memory of other writers. One is ‘Footloose, Fancy Free” which is in memory of Sylvia Plath and details a visit to her grave. Again, Plath has become part of the natural world. She cannot be found in the grave:


Find me instead

in the pallid face

of the paper-white narcissi.


The poem echoes Plath’s own poetry:


we are sheltered by the wise tree –

tasting darkest history and her

a brood of otherworldly wings.

She’s our and their mother.

We look up to her, we are her cherished children.


A sequence of poems, ‘South West’s Sea-Thyme’ is in memory of H.D. writer who lived part of her life in south-west England. This time the poems describe the natural world, ‘Flowers flung it in Devon’s cliff-crevices’ and present through quotations from her poetry:

‘more precious/and a wet road/single on the stem/

you are caught in the drift,’ (Sea Rose)


Despite their concern with voices from the past the poems in Fivestones refer to modern technology as well. ‘You Know If You Look Hard Enough’ urges readers:


Go back to the older times –

just put aside

the techno-clocks,

the selfie sticks,

the twitter-speaks.


In ‘So Many Winter Poems’ a child escapes ‘indoors flashing screens’ yet poetry is also written and appears on the same ‘lit-up screens.’


At times the language of the poems seems over complex and abstract which can distract the reader from fully engaging with them. However, the overall effect of the collection is to present the reader with an enigmatic and haunting experience. Fivestones is an impressive collection of work.

Janet Hatherley, What Rita Tells Me, Dempsey and Windle, £8.50,

ISBN: 978-1-913329-77-8

One test of the quality of a collection of poetry is what lingers in the mind long after the poems have been read. In the case of Janet Hatherley’s What Rita Tells Me this is a strong evocation of people and place. The collection is unusual in being a sequence of poems about the poet’s childhood, growing up in a family where working hard to make ends meet is a daily reality.


There are subtle clues about the family’s circumstances in a number of the poems. In ‘Life without butter’ for instance:

‘Mum builds

a wooden sand pit in the garden, …
She spreads Stork margarine on our toast,’

and in ‘Sidings’

‘Our rent is cheap because Mum will clean the railway carriages for holidaymakers.

Sand hoppers come up through the floorboards — leap onto the sitting room carpet.’


Elsewhere there are critiques of racism. In ‘The Camp at Sumerpur (Rajputana)’ the two local doctors are:


‘able to practice in India but not England.’


In ‘From the horse’s mouth’ the reader catches glimpses of the divisiveness of the selective education system which taught working class girls to know their place:


‘Taught me, as a girl, to touch-type

at fifty words a minute …


Taught me to envy boys Gardening and Bee-keeping …


Taught me to expect to be a typist or a secretary.’

The high points of the collection are those poems which use rhyme or set form. The opening poem ‘Rescue from the sea’ uses rhyme to heighten the drama of an early childhood memory. Other highlights are ‘Ghazal: Through’ and the sestina ‘David, in the box room dark’.  It would have been good to have seen more rhyme and form. In particular some of the prose poems may have benefitted had they been haibun; a form which is well suited to life-writing.


Despite introducing the reader to different people in the poems Hatherley does not often let them speak in their own voices. An exception is the three-year-old neighbour, Lynne, from ‘Leaving 68 Tangier Road’ who threatens ‘If you don’t stop talking posh I’ll smash yer face in.’ There is also the poignant letter written by the speaker’s father in ‘From Dad’s letter, 3rd September 1969’. More voices like these would have added texture and energy to the collection.


All in all though, this is a warm and engaging sequence of poems.

John McKeown, Ill Nature, Mica Press, £10.00, ISBN 9781869848309

John McKeown’s latest collection is an intriguing combination of astute observations of people and the natural world. The poems, at their best, lead the reader to places that are easy to enter in the imagination but which leave more than a hint of the intangible which stays in the mind long after the book has been put down.


A number of poems touch on the subject of relationships. In ‘The Gold Standard’ McKeown writes:


Locked in a vault
         whose combination I’ve lost,
         lie, numbered, the still moist

petals of your smile.


There are glimpses of tenderness combined with the suggestion of longing and loss in this poem which are echoed in ‘Forgotten’ where the speaker evokes a sense of desolation:


                  The gathered

body of you is lifted

from my hands, floated out

into the stream, while I sit

on the bare bank,

fragmented as Ophelia.


But it is when he turns to the natural world that McKeown is at his best. There are stunning images: ‘The swifts, winged shrapnel’ and the opening stanza of ‘Swallows on Klimentská’:


I pass beneath

the swallows’ swift net

of sung flight tight knit

between the roofs


Sometimes, though, the effect is spoilt by attempting to say too much. In the opening line of ‘Continental Drift’ the choice of ‘lugubrious’ distracts the attention and in ‘Buttercups’ the poet would have done well to have the reader contemplating buttercups floating ‘on stems so fine they’re invisible’. But the strongest poems are written with the confidence of the opening poem ‘Coming Down’ with its striking personification of the moon:


The full Moon up all night,

yellow-faced, like a light left on

at a party with all asleep,

hangs in the descent now


This is a collection which repays re-reading.