Tipping Winter into Spring, Martin JohnsThe jacket is white, with a thin grey framing line inside the outer periphery. Then the silhouette of two winter trees fills most of the space. Top right there is a bit of a gap and here is the title, in pink bold lower-case, right-justified over three lines. At the foot of the jacket, just above the grey band are the words 'Poetry by Martin Johns' in the same pink lower case but this time not bold and slightly smaller.

Palewell Press, 2022   £7.50

A glass half full

There is a sort of good-natured optimism about many of the poems in this pamphlet.

This is not to say that all the poems are cheerful. ‘The Final Score’ presents a bleak picture of serious illness as a musical score that ‘demanded to be played’ and ‘Moon God’ seems to lament the poet’s lot:

And I return to another dead page
between me and existence.

But overall the poems of Tipping Winter into Spring are suffused with a gentle appreciation of life’s complexities and an instinct to find the positive note. The pamphlet’s title suggests a thawing, a reminder of the earth’s capacity to renew itself.

In ‘Jet’ a plane disturbs ‘the stillness of a lazy afternoon’ with its roar, but the destruction is only temporary:

Soon the fields, trees and hedgerows recover,
the House Martins resume their flights

The section entitled ‘These Strange Times’ refers, I assume, to the pandemic. Though one might expect a darkening of mood here, there are some heartening upsides. In ‘Beating the Virus’, a papier-maché model of the virus is literally beaten. ‘Going Wild’ contrasts our own lockdown with the sudden freedom afforded to wild animals of ‘cities in slumber’.

The following section, ‘Starting Anew’, reminds us of the good things of life: swallows and dandelions, art and music.

In ‘Blackthorn’ which seems to me the most acutely observed poem of the collection, the poet admires the ‘visceral beauty’ of the sloe. Danger lurks in ‘sharp spikes as long as your thumb’ but of course all is redeemed by a glass of sloe gin on a winter’s night.

I particularly like ‘Standing the test of time’ — an off-beat paean to parents’ feet. Not many people, I bet, can picture these, but in his Mam’s misshapen feet, Martin Johns can see :

the geography of a life equally hard fought.
Moulded by fashion, form over function

‘Good for her’ the poem ends. I, for one, would agree.

David Lukens