Sandsnarl, Jon StoneThe jacket is tall and mainly white with a swirling wallpaper pattern in yellow. The title is in large black caps that look hand-drawn. Below the title small words (also black) Poems by (in italics) Jon Stone (regular font). Below this (all text is  centred) the illustrator credit in tiny black caps.

Illustrations by Emma Dai’an Wright

The Emma Press 2021    £5.00

A sand toy, intricate and dark-eyed

‘Sandsnarl’ isn’t just poetry — it’s fantasy. Sand has taken over everything and obsessed everyone, like anything we hope will save us: drugs, riches, ideology, religion, art. Jon Stone uses rhyme, alliteration and other delights to make the reading experience itself intoxicating.

‘The Thurl of Sand, Whose Mouth Hovers Eternally Above a Cup of Mead, Orates the Beginnings of the Age of Sand’, explains:

It blurred our plans. It blurred the names on stones.
The border between dream and sand became a spit of sand.


And now we mine the sand beneath the sand.
We shovel sand — we feed it into furnaces of sand.
We pray for sand, and lay the blame on sand.
I call my daughter, Sand. I call my other daughter, Sand.

The characters seem to understand the sand is worthless. ‘The Dysalter of Sand Presses His Lips to Your Ear and Rehearses, or Rather Rasps, His Summer Catalogue’ lists increasingly far-fetched ideas for uses: ‘portion out cautiously over a breakfast encounter’, ‘empty the lot on the tarmac at night, in a lay-by’.

Yet they try to find meaning. In ‘An Argument About Sand’, characters make suggestions, shouted down by the refrain (‘all disquiet; none of the rest of them buy it’) until:

It’s like a rudeness one keeps in one’s sock drawer
but at the same time flashes at the jealous,
attests the cellist.

And all is furore, all commotion,
since that one at least was a close one.

Oh the delight in language in even that little bit! I love the clash of registers. Many readers will be poets and see the sand as metaphor for literature, so it’s particularly pleasing how it sends itself up, both here and more widely — for example in the gloriously overblown titles.

‘Sandsnarl’ ends with just such a title, layered with doubtful meaning-making: ‘The Elderly Astronomer Sits in What Was Once the Churchyard, Reading (so She is Given to Understand) a Long-Lost Novel of George Sand’.  As the police arrive, sand does its elusive thing and ‘runs from her sleeve’.

Ramona Herdman