Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heauen, Steve ElyThe jacket is filled with a photpgrah of a very dark sky, almost black, with darker clouds, out of which, about one third up from the bottom, a shaft of forked lighting is issuing. The title fills nearly the full width of the page, all words in one line, about two inches from the top. The lettering is italic and white. The author's name is in the same white italics, and same size, in the bottom left hand corner. The publisher name is in a small white box bottom right hand corner.

New Walk Editions, 2019   £5.00

The poetry of penitence

Readers familiar with Steve Ely’s dense but syntactically exquisite and knowledge-laden language will be unsurprised by the hallucinogenic power of this pamphlet. Heavy with scripture, it’s an extended, almost unbearably gut-wrenching expression of contrition. The poems, of which there are (uncoincidentally) thirteen, illustrate Ely’s repentance at having drunkenly suggested to his partner, twenty-five years ago, that the pregnancy of their third child should be terminated, only for the child to miscarry, and then his guilt and shame at being secretly relieved:

              Surely perfect love is felt there, which comes
from perfect understanding. Where sinnes unfetter
and leap to meet annihilating grace: a wretch like me,
scum of the sphynxy earth.
    [‘The Feather of Ma’at’]

Ely’s poems occupy a textual space perfect for the subject-matter, laid out on the page like hybrids between poems and prose-poems.

At times, guilt deepens into total despair mixed with metaphysical inquiry — ‘Where do our lives go when they exit from this world? / I leapt from the cliff to find out’.

The conclusion is unforgiving:

                                          cheesy effects,
sentimental narrative balm for the hopeless,
sick and grieving.
                        Let each one hope and believe what he can.

    [‘A Dog Speculates on the Mind of Newton’]

‘Goe, and Doe Thou Likewise’, its title deriving from the parable of the Good Samaritan, wrongfoots the reader as it goes on to portray a hinterland West Riding inferno of diverse horrors and self-condemnation:

                                               The biohazard
sharp bin. Sid Cooke, Tim Bonner, Beverly Allitt
and me. Life without — full term.
           All this is foul smell and blood in a bag.

In exemplary fashion, Ely assists the reader to contextualise these references via generous end-notes.

The final poem, whose title (‘Hæc Nox Est’) loops back to the first, has an epigraph from a tale by Isaac Bashevis Singer about diabolical goings-on. Its strangely beautiful, musical and supra-natural history possesses a Blakean (yet utterly contemporary) quality:

            I stepped from the cliff into ocean’s
up-thrust, and plummeted in the darkness.
Clap-rattling gannets leapt from the crag and circled
their crosses. Auks dropped from their cracks
and exploded. Fulmars squirting vomit. I flapped
like an oily eagle, and fell. 

Matthew Paul