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This review is taken from PN Review 234, Volume 43 Number 4, March - April 2017.

Cover of and now they range
Alison BrackenburyRefrains
Karl O’Hanlon, and now they range (Guillemot, 2016) £8;
Frank Ormsby, The Parkinson’s Poems (Mariscat, 2016) £6;
Geraldine Clarkson, Dora Incites the Sea-Scribbler to Lament (smith doorstop, 2016) £7.50;
Zeina Hashem Beck, There Was and How Much There Was, smithdoorstop (2016) £7.50;
Mark Pajak, Spitting Distance (smithdoorstop, 2016) £7.50;
Paul Mills, Out of Deep Time (Wayleave, 2016) £5;
Tom Sastry, Complicity (smithdoorstop, 2016) £7.50;
Cathy Galvin, Rough Translation (Melos Press, 2016) £5;
David Gascoyne, Anniversary Epistle to Allen Ginsberg (Enitharmon, 2016) £10; 
Thirty at Thirty: Celebrating Thirty Years of smithdoorstop Pamphlets, ed. Ellen McLeod & Susannah Evans (smithdoorstop, 2016) £5
ONE REFRAIN IN pamphlet publishing is extraordinarily high standards of production. Thanks to Guillemot Press, Karl O’Hanlon’s work takes wing from thick, foam-white pages. O’Hanlon’s poems display energy, wit and learning, as in his terse account of a scribe of the Anglo-Irish school:


                      Of what heats                              
stirred among them and caught
the branches of his script,

running wild through all thought,
the annals are tight-lipped.    


With their ‘complexities of hurried light’ and compelling rhymes, these are cryptic but rewarding poems. Northern Ireland’s conflicts, past and present, are glanced at in refrains rooted in the seventeenth century: ‘and the bold boys sang Traitor Lundy’. These debut poems hold humour in their range: the ‘hobby Vikings at Costa’. There can be no objection to terseness when it is as lovely as O’Hanlon’s couplet ‘The lover and the elegist are one, /The half-hid truth of the hedgerow’s song’.

Frank Ormsby’s preface to his poems about Parkinson’s Disease stresses that he will refrain from ‘the morose, the lachrymose’ to write in an ‘up-beat strain’. His symptoms are confidently dramatised: ‘My left arm is jealous of my right, /the one without a tremor.’ Fear of degeneration, an ‘answering tremor’ in the second arm, runs like a refrain through these poems. Yet so do more hopeful words: ‘repairs’, ‘repaired’.

Even Ormsby’s hallucinations, caused by Parkinson’s, are compassionate. An imagined spider ‘is strangely human and visible all the way’. The poems are often briskly funny: ‘Thank ...
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