Poetry Review: Black Bough Poetry, Deep Time: Volume 1

Black Bough Poetry, founded in 2019 by Matthew M. C. Smith, has reignited the independent poetry scene in the United Kingdom through their publication of high-quality, imagist poetry and their engagement with poets and presses of all backgrounds through their amiable Twitter activity. It has been a genuine pleasure to watch the project develop, and further, to have been offered opportunities to actively participate and have my work published. There are few editors I trust more with my work than Matthew and his team of guest readers. So, when I was invited to read and review their first print release, Deep Time: Volume 1, inspired by the work of Rob Macfarlane, I was more than excited.

However, I feel I ought to begin by making this clear, I had reservations about this specific project when I first saw the submission call. I had not, and have not read Macfarlane’s text, Underland. On the surface, it does not appeal to me in terms of genre. With that being so, what follows is an honest review of a poetry that ‘mines a range of deep spaces, plummeting into mythologies, histories and deep geological time.’

What is immediately apparent, is the range of contributors. Indeed, there are a number of superbly talented writers among the contents listings and some other less familiar names. Seeing poets such as Ryan Norman, Dai Fry, M.S. Evans and Kari Flickinger is enough to whet one’s appetite and helps me to put aside my reservations. The collection is arranged into five chapters, and the texts are carefully arranged by theme. Despite their connections, there is a great deal of variety in terms of writing style that warrants attention.

The opening poem of the collection, Laura Wainwright’s, Poem found on a cave wall, makes creative use of white space and sets the standard for the rest of the collection. This text helps to direct us, below surfaces, into other worlds, ‘unfazed, forging beyond cold… going/ deeper,/ travelling further’. The texts themselves serve as footholds in the readers descent, ‘After the ice age, after the fire,/ five mass extinctions./ I reach to high-five handprints of burnt ochre,/ silhouetted on stone.’ Karen Hodgson Pryce picks up where Wainwright leaves off, and her manipulation of the page in the poem, Drawn, is eye-catching. An expertly crafted text, where the actual written word is equal to the free form, ‘when steel/ meets cloud,/ and whales/ are lost/ in the/ choked sea’. Black Bough have developed their reputation publishing striking, imagist texts, and this would sit neatly alongside anything previously published.

I should also take time out to mention the images printed alongside the poetry, which only heighten the experience for the reader. Beautiful, raw and deceptively rudimentary images that display a primitiveness, that A.A. Parr’s line could be describing, ‘histories revealed themselves/ as red powder on white rock bone.’

The juxtaposition in the opening line of Ankh Spice’s poem, Solstalgia, ‘Half-done sun flares the water, light lancing clear depths’, highlights the craftsmanship of the work on offer throughout. While the texts eschew traditional form and structure, the poems remain poetic and the language in this poem (and throughout) is inventive, surprising and sometimes challenging. This is no criticism. My personal taste has been tested here and I feel more inclined to read beyond the parameters I had created for myself previously. Perhaps this David Bowie quote is apt here, given the subject matter and themes thrown up in this collection, ‘Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being’. If this collection has done anything, it has widened my experiences.  

You can order your copy from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Black-Bough-Poetry-Deep-Time/dp/B08928JBHD

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