Reviewing

May 17, 2021

I have recently had my fortieth review published at The Canberra Times. The book was a challenging and at times disturbing analysis of psychosomatic illnesses, entitled The Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories of Mystery Illness by Suzanne O’Sullivan. You can read the review here.

Writing so many reviews has given me a lot of time to reflect on the process. I see a review as a kind of bridge between the book and reader. The reader can cross over the bridge, and then make the decision as to whether they will jump off the other side, to buy or borrow the book.

Questions such as whether the book is a good example of its genre, and how it fits into an author’s previous publications can be addressed. New authors’ strengths can be celebrated, and what they add to a genre examined. There’s no point reviewing a thriller and complaining about it being action driven, or a horror novel for trading in darkness, for example; that would be a misuse of space.

I will of course point out what I see as faults in a strong book, but if there’s a book I really can’t stand, I won’t review it. People want to be referred to books worth the reading, and have an indication as to why, rather than observe the reviewer’s vocabulary of negative words being taken out for a walk (or flaunt). I don’t want to dwell on something that I find annoying or repellent, either.

The wide variety of books available has taken me to places I wouldn’t necessarily have gone without having the ability to read for review (which entails free books, and being paid something for the effort). Would I have sought out a book about psychosomatic illness before I began reviewing regularly? Possibly not. So a reviewer puts herself over a kind of bridge each time she picks up a new type of book, sometimes checking out surprising views on the way to the book’s end, before going back and asking the reader to accompany her.

I think I’ve flogged the bridge metaphor to death, and must now blow it up in a River Kwai type action. I try and avoid that sort of exhausting overuse of metaphor in reviews. Honestly.

Very happy to see three of my poems published at Eureka Street today, called ‘In the back of this poem’, ‘The eclectus parrot’, and ‘The edge of empty’, which is about extinction due to mega fires caused by climate change. I hope you enjoy them. Here is a picture of the male and female eclectus parrot.

Here’s the second poem that I wrote which has been nominated for the Rhysling Awards, run by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association based in the US. This one was nominated in the Long category, and is from my book Monstrous.

Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

The King of Eyes

His crown has fifty-two spikes,
and each boasts an eye
gouged from conquered realms,
or scooped like a four-minute egg
from every defeated pretender.
The eyes look out at courtiers,
at advisers, open and shameless
as any necessary lie.
Crowns parade around heads,
each decoration a soldier,
so there is always an eye,
or a platoon of eyes
upon you, heavy as an official chain.

We lucky, or unlucky, few
often in His Majesty’s presence
have noted that he arranges
the eyes to a distinct pattern,
blue following modest brown,
and every tenth eye is green.
Opalescent eyes, beflecked,
break the pattern near each ear,
as if to drop colourful rumour
direct into the regal brain.
Some say that it is possible
for each crown-eye to wink,
and that such a wink is deadly
as any guillotine, for the flicker
is only bestowed on those
whose own eyes will soon adorn
the King’s most puissant head.
I can not say if this is true,
as I have yet to see an eye
that still sports a gown of lash.
We walk quietly around
the regal panopticon,
just in case the eyes still see,
and the King might catch the
slightest flicker of disloyalty.

Yesterday I noticed an eye
of a near emerald green
that clearly broke the pattern —
and I recognised the glance
of the King’s courtesan,
who was strangely absent
from her stool near the window,
where she often sat, weaving.
I have clutched her in love,
these six months past,
and could not strangle a shudder
to see such beauty displaced.
If the eyes see, they saw me blanch,
at the elevation of her eye
from our shared soft pillow
to mere metallic display.

I am called to a meeting at eight.
My eye, such an average brown,
may yet be raised to the crown.

PS Cottier

Very happy that two of my poems have been nominated for the Rhysling Awards, which are annual awards for the best speculative poetry published in the previous calendar year. The award is organised by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association, based in the United States. Poems are nominated by members of the SFPA (but you can’t nominate your own poems) and published in The Rhysling Anthology. The editor of this year’s anthology is Alessandro Manzetti. Members vote for their favourite poems in two categories. This week’s poem has been nominated in the short category. I think you can guess that the other poem, which I’ll post next week, is in the long category!

Both poems nominated were published in my book Monstrous, Interactive Press, 2020. You can see all of the nominated poems here. Some of them can be read by clicking on the title. Very happy to see at least one other Australian poet there, Jenny Blackford, and Tim Jones, of New Zealand. Go Southern Hemisphere!

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Mouthing off

She’s a shark, you know, a tiny one,

armed with milk teeth and coins.

She severs fingers, not legs,

hiding in lawnmowers, which she stops,

until an enquiring hand reaches

to unblock the green-clogged blades.

She strikes, starts the engine,

and the dumb machine gets the blame.

No-one sees her, flying off with the digit —

they mistake her sharp chortle for canaries,

the rattle of a hula hoop of surplus teeth

is heard as a cicada’s solo. She shimmies,

perched on a convenient tree,

and tucks into her well-earned, self-saucing snag.

Delightfully light, she flits on,

gathers a few more teeth, threads them,

bites a few puppies, enjoys the way

that the local pitbulls get the flak.

Her original teeth were removed long ago

in a futile attempt to stop her munching

on fingers, toes, and pets like candy.

She moved into kiddies’ teeth;

a penny there, then a dollar or a Euro.

She enjoys endless, free-market chomping,

glueing a new set every Sunday,

formed from that sweet, calcium-rich bandolier.

If a knife misses carrot

and finds flesh, it is surely

our invisible sprite who abbreviates the hand.

Carpenters have felt a sudden

blunting of their grip as ‘a chisel slipped’,

but the wound is surprisingly multi-edged.

A tiny rose of white thorn-petals removed

the formerly useful pointer, or mere pinkie,

if it was only time for a hasty snack.

Just recently, she has diversified,

depositing a few teeth into the ears

of the children who put them under pillows,

investing in her profession’s future.

They dream of fingers. They dream of wings.

PS Cottier

Just had a new poem published at Not Very Quiet, an online journal of women’s poetry. The theme was ‘mask’, which immediately made me think of how useless a mask would be against ghosts. I hope you enjoy the poem, and do look at the rest of the issue, which was edited by Moya Pacey and Sandra Renew.