Books From The Pantry: Flashes of Insight by Michael Forester reviewed by Kev Milsom

‘We adapt. We improvise. We adjust to the circumstances in which we find ourselves’.

It’s always a complete pleasure to review Michael’s literary releases and his latest publication, ‘Flashes of Insight’ simply adds to the joy for us humble book reviewers, alongside masses of the general public who have delighted in his work for years, and those new readers yet to find the delights of his books. Here, Michael has compiled fifty-two short pieces of writing, aimed to be ‘a gateway to awareness, to mindfulness, to the deeper places inside you’. Each piece carries specific messages and inspiration for the reader; a veritable ‘toolbox’ of support, encouragement and inspiration for everyone to draw from, as we go about our daily lives. 

An early example arrives in Chapter Two, entitled ‘Catching the Butterfly’, where Michael talks about the preparatory process for his writing, immediately after the ritual of consuming buttered wholemeal toast.

‘I could be in church at this moment, or temple, in a synagogue, or a Zendo. All places of ritual, all in some sense sacred spaces, set aside from the humdrum and rush. We release our preoccupation with the superficially important to concentrate upon the moment and what dwells in the moment, outside of time, encompassing timing, outside of activity, wrapping its now-ness around the silence’.

Michael strongly pushes the focus for readers to concentrate on their own energies, in order to promote personal wellbeing. A beautiful example concerning the focus upon our inner happiness is given in Chapter Five – ‘Court Holy Water In A Dry House’

‘It takes so little to create happiness. Yet we spend our lives pursuing it as if it were some quarry that we have to run to ground. We employ dog packs of activity to pursue it, hoping to corner it in some remote, inaccessible location, only to find that it has moved on just moments before our arrival. So we pursue it with the next trinket, the next project, the next holiday, angst-laden in our fear that it will always remain one step ahead and will always evade our pursuit’.

It’s impossible to read through this book without hearing Michael’s personal voice shining through every line; a voice embedded with knowledge, wisdom and empathy. Here lies a voice which has observed the world with wonder and learned much from his life’s unique pathway. Here is a voice which aims to share what he knows, what he has learned and what he hopes for the future. It’s simply a divine book and one to dip into on regular, frequent occasions. If a single paragraph, or chapter, sets the tone to create a positive Tuesday, or an optimistic Friday, then Michael’s efforts are truly rewarded. 

If humanity is to truly progress then this book should be given to schoolchildren at an early age. Hey children! Go out there. Learn. Grow. Be aware. Be kind. 

It’s a divine piece of writing and Michael should be extremely proud of himself for expressing it for the world to read, understand and learn from it.

‘Perhaps we undertake both roles at different times in our lives – the crushed and the crusher – in an endless cycle of destructiveness that ensures the psychological scarring of each new generation, carrying the sins of the fathers onto the children until the 3rd or 4th generation. Until, that is, we see it and make the active decision to break the cycle. Until we choose to build up someone we perceive to be weaker, rather than break them down. Until we choose to encourage rather than discourage. Until we choose to heal rather than hurt, to bind up the wounds of the broken to permit that healing, rather than grinding dirt into their open sores’. 

You can find more of Michael Forester’s work, reviewed and interviewed by Kev Milsom, here on Ink Pantry.

Books From The Pantry: The Greatest Forgiveness of All: Worcestershire Young Writer Competition Anthology 2023

This anthology, organised by Kevin Brooke, Worcestershire Literary Festival Young Writer Ambassador, was created from the entries for the Festival’s Young Writer Competition 2023 which in turn was generously supported by The Story Knights and Worcester Arts Council. Competition entrants were asked to submit stories of up to 300 words on the theme of forgiveness. There were three categories of entrants: Senior Years 1-12, Intermediate Years 7-9 and Junior Years 3-6. The judges were Professor Rod Griffiths, Polly Stretton and Dr. Tony Judge and the winning entries for each category were announced at the festival launch event on 11th June 2023. The anthology comprises 2 entries from the 10-12 category, 6 entries from the 7-9 category and 41 entries from the 3-6 category.

Hidden in the title is the notion that forgiveness is the greatest healer of all. This notion is made more explicit in the stories that make up this anthology. Particularly impressive is the way in which many of them reveal a level of maturity, insight and wisdom which some of us only reach later on in life. I am thinking here of the need we all have to not only forgive others but also, crucially, to forgive ourselves.

The stories cover a wide range of themes: everything from precious objects broken in the home, hurtful relationships at school, our lack of understanding of others, our disrespect for the environment and for each other’s feelings. Jealousy, envy and selfishness are the main culprits and these are explored imaginatively through the medium of the school playground, animals (horses, bears, dinosaurs, cats and mice) and even, in one case, planets in outer space.

In reality, forgiveness is not always the end of the matter. These young writers know that life is not as neat as that. As one writer puts it: ‘Her words of forgiveness didn’t mean it hadn’t happened, it’s just a cut that’s turned into a scar.’ All, however, speak to us in some way of the power of forgiveness and also of the importance of friendship, especially of friendship restored.

The Greatest Forgiveness of All is available here from Black Pear Press.

Neil Leadbeater was born and brought up in Wolverhampton, England. He was educated at Repton and is an English graduate from the University of London. He now resides in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His publications include Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014), Finding the River Horse (Littoral Press, 2017), Punching Cork Stoppers (Original Plus, 2018) River Hoard (Cyberwit.net, Allahabad, India, 2019), Reading Between the Lines (Littoral Press, 2020) and Journeys in Europe (co-authored with Monica Manolachi) (Editura Bifrost , Bucharest, Romania, 2022). His work has been translated into several languages. He is a member of the Federation of Writers Scotland and he is a regular reviewer for several journals including Quill & Parchment (USA), The Halo-Halo Review (USA), Write Out Loud (UK) and The Poet (UK). His many and varied interests embrace most aspects of the arts and, on winter evenings, he enjoys the challenge of getting to grips with ancient, medieval and modern languages.

Poetry Drawer: Birthright Profane: Opal Ball-Dress: Mustang Chalice: Sonnet CCIII: Descending Love by Terry Brinkman

Birthright Profane

Drawn up the limit of ten
Swelling caves in silk hose she often leaves then
Insulting to any lady double-envelops white
Chastise her horse-wimping vain
Unbuttoned her gauntlet with laughter
She flogs no such thing insane
Little poor girl by the rock rafter
Ghost woman’s birthright’s profane
Soft cling aristocrat ever-after

Opal Ball-Dress

Her pal wears an Opal Ball-dress to write
Improper overtures coming from him
Writing with Tortoiseshell Pens
Cracks between shutters brings in light
Frost- bound coachman arrived at midnight
Drawn up the limit of ten
Swelling caves in her silk hose happens often
Insulting to any lady double-envelops white

Mustang Chalice

Ramparts of the horizon yearning strange phenomenon
Peaceful sleepy tenor watchful eye of Arithmetic
Wild horse Red River swollen thundering high
Sheep-Headers sleeping at breeds Sage Palace
Tormenting monstrous rocks and cactus horrify
Thundered past ears laid-back Mustang Chalice
Yearning of her heart, Pine Fringed Pie

Sonnet CCIII

Rocky ramparts Red-Walled with Seasoned Brick
Rolling ridges giant cliffs steely skies lost in the sun
Hair flying down her skeleton
Vague loneliness with the scarlet walking stick
Fragrant sage memories of haunting sweet Arsenic
Expostulated sentimental simpleton
Ramparts of the horizon yearning strange phenomenon
Peaceful sleepy tenor ever watchful eye of Arithmetic
Wild horse Red swollen thundering river high
Sheep-Headers sleeping at breeds Sage Palace
Tormenting monstrous rocks and cactus horrify
Yearning for her heart Pine Fringed Pie
Thundered past ears laid-back Mustang Chalice

Descending Love

Descend that’s love light at your peril
Were bout under the same Sun and Moon?
English watering place by moonlight her voice floating out
Gnawing petticoats twisted into the water
Spring cleaning worst moral pub
Wild ferns howled bay sleeping sky
She hangs like a cat to its claws
She cries true love soul dissolves
Delight in love’s rake
Her young mouth laughs at her gift
Pink articulated lips storm of a kiss
When a poet loves in unassail reason
UN shivered enraptured God’s eyes weep a ton
Love’s time fool an ever fixed mark
Sun or Moon Roses by a bee will sting

Terry Brinkman has been painting for over forty five years; now he paints with words too. Poems in Rue Scribe, Tiny Seed. Winamop, Snapdragon Journal, Poets Choice, Adelaide Magazine, Variant, the Writing Disorder, Ink Pantry, In Parentheses, Ariel Chat, New Ulster, Glove, and in Pamp-le-mousse, North Dakota Quarterly, Barzakh, Urban Arts, Wingless Dreamer, True Chili, LKMNDS and Elevation.

You can find more of Terry’s work here on Ink Pantry

Books from the Pantry: The Arctic Diaries by Melissa Davies reviewed by Neil Leadbeater

Poet and travel writer Melissa Davies lives in the North West of England. After embarking on a short career in cancer care, she spent 18 months in 2018 exploring the mountains of Europe and North Africa by bike and on foot before spending the winter of 2018/19 on Sørvær (South Island), one of only a handful of inhabited islands in the Fleinvær archipelago off the Arctic coast of Norway, a place that is described as having as many islets, reefs and low islands as there are days in the year. When she is not travelling, Davies spends her time working with local communities to create collage poems which have been displayed in National Trust woodlands, high street restaurants and shopping centres. The Arctic Diaries is her debut collection.

In her introduction, Davies tells us that all the stories, myths and events referenced in the book belong to the people she met on the island but have been embellished by her own research or her own imagination. The book therefore sits between fact and fiction with every word written having come from the pen of an outsider. More crucially, her aim is to give some of their stories a sense of permanence and a life of their own before the oral traditions of a windswept archipelago are lost forever. A short, helpful guide to Norsk words is included for the benefit of the reader.

Reading this collection, we can almost taste the tang of seaweed at the back of our throats, smell the brine off the sea and catch the scent of juniper everywhere. Living on such a small remote island, ‘a scatter of barely land’, we have a heightened awareness of the weather and the sea, of ‘tarpaulin / slapping wind thick with bursts of sea spray, / ropes jumping waves like hounds restrained’ and ‘currents tearing islands apart’. One of the strengths of this collection lies in the way in which Davies can conjure up a sense of place with just a few well-chosen words. In ‘The Fisherman’s Wife Collects Books’, for example, the Arctic archipelago becomes ‘this place of moss and juniper, amber skies / melting into pools of kelp and always those coils of blue rope’. Some of her images stay in the mind too, such as this one, from the same poem, where she imagines sending a book through the post to the fisherman’s wife:

                           The cover is thin,
cheap print that feels like slightly more than another page.
It won’t travel well. Waves of damp will swell each leaf
while it waits out weather in her post box over the sound.

The poems in this collection are populated by sea-monsters, fisher folk, lookout men, otters, sheep, sea eagles and curlews. Despite the empty spaces, there is plenty going on: everything from scaling fish to emptying crab pots.

While the inhabitants collect feathers and fish bones, Davies collects stories which are just half-glimpsed at when read between the lines: stories of people disappearing without trace and then just as mysteriously reappearing, imprisonment by a freak tide, a tale of a sunfish pulled from a hat or the sudden discovery of a jawbone found on a beach with all its teeth intact: isolated incidences from insular communities dredged up from the past.

For me, the centrepiece of this collection was ‘Vanishing Act’. It speaks powerfully about the need to preserve something, a way of life, perhaps, before it is gone forever. Here are the opening lines:

How can you know what it is like to lose
your magic? When surviving here was an act
set up by fishermen with no view beyond the sea.
Their rope frays between your fingers
until a single thread holds your whole animal
reason to continue.

In this collection, which is beautifully illustrated by Natasha Emily Lynch, Davies brings us a snapshot of island life in one of the most remote communities in Norway. This is a book where folklore, poetic imagination, dialect and language come together in lines that are as powerful as a storm force wind.

You can find more of Neil Leadbeater’s reviews here on Ink Pantry.

Neil Leadbeater was born and brought up in Wolverhampton, England. He was educated at Repton and is an English graduate from the University of London. He now resides in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His publications include Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014), Finding the River Horse (Littoral Press, 2017), Punching Cork Stoppers (Original Plus, 2018) River Hoard (Cyberwit.net, Allahabad, India, 2019), Reading Between the Lines (Littoral Press, 2020) and Journeys in Europe (co-authored with Monica Manolachi) (Editura Bifrost , Bucharest, Romania, 2022). His work has been translated into several languages. He is a member of the Federation of Writers Scotland and he is a regular reviewer for several journals including Quill & Parchment (USA), The Halo-Halo Review (USA), Write Out Loud (UK) and The Poet (UK). His many and varied interests embrace most aspects of the arts and, on winter evenings, he enjoys the challenge of getting to grips with ancient, medieval and modern languages.

Poetry Drawer: Palimpsest: Modern poetry as a means to unveil truths by Enno de Witt

Palimpsest

Now I know who you are, hidden in discarded old paper
you appeared like a distant echo in the nakedness of my
scattered dreams, in a room rich in dust and gallantries,
where misty light bathes all in a fiery glow, here gods watch
your ecstasy, pain red as blood shimmers in the vaults deep
beneath the ochre chamber, where I am no more than a sigh
escaping your ever so slightly parted lips at the moment of highest
desire, less still: an infant child, unwanted and unseen, a spectator,
a ghost, hands against my ears so that your pleading for mercy becomes
a whisper still sizzling softly in the wind on a warm summer evening.

To dust you have long since perished, my own calloused hands
dug your grave, before winter froze the black ground, and afterwards
in every shade I saw your shadow, pure and untouched by worm
and bacteria, and now you’re back, captured and sold in a slave
market to the highest bidder, used and cast aside, picked up
and treasured like a long-lost jewel, memory of the sparkling
and immeasurably precious treasure of a distant and forgotten
potentate who saw his vast empire buried under desert sand.

Of me only marble fragments remain, fallen over and broken
into a thousand pieces, a prey of the elements for centuries
and reduced to my essence, which reveals itself once I have
come closer to you, closer than ever before, and finally nestling
in the hollow of secrets where death and stasis reign, a sarcophagus
that reveals itself as my final, long foretold and fabled destiny.

Modern poetry as a means to unveil truths

When she passes, the street is a sigh of fragrant flowers
and beauty – cell phones race without leaving a trace
across digital highways with in their wake news of fronts
and images evaporating like essential oils from a glass jar,

but when she passes, the road is a tunnel of desire for
beauty and the intoxicating scent of flowers that as if
springing forth from a fountain engulfs and saturates us
as her image appears on our screens and we lie face down

on the forest floor and inhale the scent of something
primal, which is that from which everything springs
forth, for which we have only vulgar words or

names because it wants to remain hidden behind a veil
of not thinking or knowing, we feel her with all our twenty-
seven senses gently swaying in the liquid in the glass jar.

Enno de Witt is a published Dutch author and poet, an artist and musician, webmaster and editor. For him, writing poetry is a sheer necessity, like breathing, sleeping, drinking and eating. His poetry is founded on the bedrock of the classics, Dutch as well as international, and revolves around the Eternal Questions, often using imagery pertaining to his younger years, growing up on the seashore amongst wild heretics.

Books from the Pantry: Falling and Flying by Jeff Phelps reviewed by Neil Leadbeater

Prize-winning poet, acclaimed novelist, editor and playwright, Jeff Phelps, is the author of two novels Painter Man (2005) and Box of Tricks (2009), both published by Tindal Street Press and the poetry pamphlet Wolverhampton Madonna (2016) published by Offa’s Press. He is a founding member of Bridgnorth Writers’ Group and was recently a ‘poet on loan’ in West Midland libraries. He is married with two grown up children and now lives in Wiltshire. His website is www.jeffphelps.co.uk

Falling and Flying is an impressive first full-length collection of poems. The presentation and running order of the 57 poems contained in this volume is well thought out. The falling poems and the flying poems provide a strong opening followed by a series of poems that cover subjects at ground level and beneath the ground. Further in, there are groupings of poems about the moon, birds, saints and churches, memories from childhood, current affairs, music and art.

The collection opens with two powerful poems titled ‘Cadman’s Leap’ and ‘Cadman’s Wife’ which narrate the tragic early death of an 18th century showman and rope slider from Shrewsbury and the subsequent loss felt by his wife. The second of these poems achieves through rhyme and repetition a sense of sustained lyricism in its poignancy.

In ‘An Avebury Stone’ the distant past struggles to come alive where ‘one frozen circle dancer / [is] waiting for the music to begin’ and in ‘Devizes White Horse’ the animal that may have once ‘cantered across this sweet meadow / of orchids’ is now ‘a stranger to itself’. A preoccupation with the more recent past is evidenced in ‘The Lost Village of Imber’, an uninhabited village that forms part of the British Army’s training grounds on Salisbury Plain where the entire civilian population was evicted in 1943 to provide an exercise area for American troops preparing for the invasion of Europe during the Second World War. To this day, the village remains under the control of the Ministry of Defence.

Staying on the subject of war and the ravages of war, ‘On the Bommy’, Phelps’ concluding stanza makes us think about some of the bigger consequences of history turning a poem about a children’s playground among bombed-out buildings into a more powerful statement about the futility and cost of war:

Damage brings forth damage in its turn.
Each generation pays the next with interest.
We plundered that barren patch with no concern
for that family so cruelly dispossessed.

One of my favourite poems in this collection is titled ‘Waterway’. Its subject matter, an old canal, is only hinted at and not named. The details are sketchy and the location not given. A lot is left up to the imagination and the disconnection between what might have been there then and what is there now is handled well:

Now I haul myself up
expecting water or a towpath
and find only derelict gardens,
no sense of direction.

For all its evasiveness, it is a poem full of atmosphere and mystery.

Other poems range widely in both subject matter and location: a visit to an eye hospital, bicycles outside Oxford station ‘ranks of them waiting, flashing / in the sun like Wordsworth’s daffs’, dowsing with a ‘Y-shaped hazel, alder or goat-willow’, poems in praise of the moon, an ekphrastic poem based on an oil painting by Joseph Wright of Derby and a poem about Cornish saints. Some pieces are light-hearted, such as ‘Gerald the Ginger Cat’ and ‘An Idiot’s Guide to Freedom’ while others are more serious such as ‘I have been a stranger’ and ‘Yes I have wished.’

Several poems make reference to music, in particular, the ‘Psalm for Musicians’ and the ‘Schubert Variations’. This is not surprising given that Phelps’ son is a classically trained musician. The prose poem ‘Schubert Variations’ is a very fine piece of writing.

Here is the opening section:

When I heard the sound of coal tumbling into the cellar under my window I imagined black notes falling from a piano in a cascade of sharps and flats. The streets were full of horses pulling coal carts, heading to the country where there were operas in huge palaces. And that was how I came to run after them, pulling up my borrowed breeches, my spectacles thumbed and greasy.

Even here, attention is paid to form. Each of the six paragraphs begins with the phrase ‘When I heard the sound of…’ It might be a knock on the door, someone’s voice, a piano or the ‘symphony in [his] head’. As a composer, every sound is important to Schubert and it carries with it its own connotations. What is more, all these sounds are already present or hinted at in the first paragraph. Each one of them is expanded upon and explored in its own right in a poetic equivalent of a set of variations on a stated theme.

Stylistically, the collection covers a variety of forms including sonnets, tercets, a prose poem and visual poems. The circular ‘Heartwood’ poem, reminiscent of tree rings, is a dendrochronologist’s dream because the exposed stump of the tree does all the talking. A number of poems follow strict rhyme schemes which are well executed. Helpful footnotes are provided where appropriate.

This is a wide-ranging collection that takes us through a good deal of history while at the same time raising questions about some of the more pressing issues of our own time. Highly recommended.

Books From The Pantry: The Second of August by Peter J Donnelly

Peter J Donnelly lives in York where he works as a hospital secretary. He has a MA in Creative Writing and a degree in English Literature from the University of Wales Lampeter. Thanks are due to the Dreich magazine, Writer’s Egg, Southlight and South Bank, where some of these poems have previously appeared. His poetry has also been published in other magazines and anthologies including One Hand Clapping, Black Nore Review, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Obsessed with Pipework, High Window and The Beach Hut. The 22 won second prize in the Ripon Poetry Festival competition in 2021 and The Second of August was a joint runner up in the Buzzwords open poetry competition in 2020.

Do check out his poetry collection by Alien Buddha Press: The Second of August by Peter J Donnelly

Also this great interview by Wombwell Rainbow.

Peter’s other collection, Solving the Puzzle is published by Alien Buddha Press.

Books From The Pantry: Forest Pathways by Michael Forester reviewed by Kev Milsom

To the beetle, the foxglove towers high, waving in the wind and is impossibly beyond scaling. But, when beetles learn to step out of themselves, they become bigger than they knew was possible. Foxgloves become small. Treetops can be reached if beetles are willing to believe it possible. And, should they be willing, that which was unknown comes into view – if they want to of course, only if they want to.

As an author, Hampshire-based Michael Forester is no stranger to us here at Ink Pantry Publishing. As such, looking back I realise that I’ve included the phrase, ‘I wish I could write like Michael’ in former reviews. Thus, this time around, I’ve pledged to abstain, instead choosing to look both deeply and critically at Michael’s writing to see precisely what makes him ’tick’. The review book in question is Michael’s latest publication, Forest Pathways (Paralight Press, 2023) and, according to the blurb, it comprises ‘essays, metaphorical stories and poetry, inspired by walks of solitude in England’s New Forest and beyond’.

To start, I thought it might be a good idea to explore Michael’s possession of descriptive powers; surely a sign of an adequate writer on any platform? So, let’s skip to Chapter Three to see how he personifies nature, herself, and what specific words he chooses to describe the end of summer, as Nature prepares herself for the colder, autumn and winter months ahead.

So, we come to Anderwood where the tall Scots pines reach up to eternity. We have come to watch the love of my life as once more she begins to prepare herself for her long sleep. We have eyes only for her as she goes about her bedding ritual. A mattress of coarse bracken she has laid upon the earth and now she begins to quilt it with the first dry leaves that tumble down in the early autumn winds.

Certainly passable, I think. But hey, let’s test this further and observe a direct communication between Michael and Nature, concerning why he’s not visited for some time.

But you had more important things to do?’ she enquired. No, I replied…nothing is more important than coming to be with you’. ‘Why then?’ I fell silent again. ‘It’s hard to explain. There’s been a listlessness about me. A drop in my energy. I can’t explain why’. ‘I know what you mean,’ she said, gesturing to the waning colour of late autumn. ‘I was depressed,’ I confessed finally…’I’m still here for you,’ she responded. ‘I’ll always be here for you. You know that, don’t you? Just like you know you always feel better when you come to me’. She was right.’

Well, that’s not bad at all. And yes, we must make a note, in sharpest pencil, that a vivid picture is easily formed from Michael’s earnest, heartfelt words. But, hang on a minute, what does his soul really feel about the coming months, where nature is about to sleep?

Sleep safely, my love. When the snow lies upon your curving uplands, we will walk your leafless lanes and wander only where the woodland creatures sleep within your nurturing arms. 

Okay…well, we’ll concede that this writing is definitely adequate and we’ll also graciously admit that Michael can produce words on a page that elicit the strongest of imaginative, visual treats. A man at the height of his creative arc. Surely, nothing can diminish the light here? In Chapter Five, we hit a wall, just as winter is receding into the beautiful sights, sounds and smells of spring. Sadly, as I read, I feel every word, as if it is empathising with me and how I have felt this year.

It has been a harsh and silent winter…The words that cascade through the Summerlands have not come. I have been unable to write for some time now, perhaps for many months…No poetry; no prose. Every attempt produces jagged, awkward phrases, malformed paragraphs and stanzas that hide in shame from the angry eyes of judgement.

I wince as I read these words, because I feel that the author is writing directly to me. I am also sure that many creative souls, who are privileged enough to read this book, will identify with them also. As an author, Michael has never failed to amaze me at how effortlessly he manages to connect to his readers. Perhaps, some of this lies within his dazzling honesty? Michael is opening his heart and admitting that the creative flow is not always a beauteous waterfall of constant momentum. Sometimes, it slows to a trickle. On other days, it disappears completely, leaving us wondering where it has gone and why. Michael’s words resound so clearly, as he gradually finds renewed hope on the horizon.

There have been times in the silence of the recent weeks when I have wondered if I would ever write again. But now the words are my domain once again and I feel the power pulsing through the conduits of the soul. There is no book yet. There is only the earliest hint of a structure.

Each chapter of this glorious book shines with the wisdom of a man who has walked many different and difficult forest pathways of life. It is (at times) a brutally honest account of how the author feels mentally, emotionally and spiritually; armed with a massive arsenal of finely-chiselled words with which to convey his thoughts and feelings. Luckily for us, the author is a crack shot and hits everything he aims for. I was enchanted by the author’s viewpoint on how he felt that his best work was behind him, these darker beliefs perhaps encouraged by the fact that his books about dragons and dogs had performed admirably in the past, while his more recent wanderings into personal musings and poetry had not achieved the same commercial success. His ability to ‘ride the clutch’ in literary form on human emotions is staggering. One moment, we’re laughing and marvelling at his connection to nature and the simple joys of life. The next, he takes us upon a rougher, winding pathway; one that tests our emotional balances, as the words hit home…hard and true. Interspersed within the deeply personal thoughts are occasional artillery blasts of poetry. Once again, Michael’s aim is spot on, with his words leaving a lasting impression. Yup, he can do poetry too.

Whose skin is not dark,
Who are not gay, not female, bi, nor Trans,
Not refugees,
Nor penniless,
Who suffer no disability,
And have no special needs,
No mental illness,
Who are not homeless,
Sick, nor unemployed,
Who have committed no crime,
Who suffer no persecution for your faith;

Who, having no shrill voice,
Nor advocate,
And, choosing devotion over protest,
Knew only how to work at desk or lathe:

You, too, are loved.

‘You’ – Michael Forester

I read most of this book outside the local café in Stonehouse – usually accompanied by a cooked breakfast and mocha. I freely admit that there were some unplanned pauses to breathe. Sometimes to puff on my vape and once even to buy some cigarettes, as I was completely blown away by some of the emotional pieces that flowed from Michael’s pen. It is also apparent to my creative self that I desperately needed to read this book….right now…for my own inspiration. Often, I needed more mocha, and to check that no-one was nearby, as I wiped away a respectful tear to what my soul had just ingested. I could easily just complete this review by reproducing steady chunks of Forest Pathways, but then that would ruin things for those who also wish to ingest this incredible piece of literature into their minds, hearts and souls. I would urge everyone to do so, especially us struggling writers, seeking to leave the conventional trails and find their unique, creative pathways. 

It has to be said…I wish that I could write like Michael. In truth, after a harsh winter of not believing in myself as a writer, while reading Michael’s book, I have felt the rusty hinges of creative doorways begin to give way. Multiple mochas and unhealthy puffs have given way to new self belief. Blessed inspiration has begun to flow once more. So now, I believe that I can write. How? Michael told me so. You know. Michael Forester. The bloke who writes about the most important aspects of life and truly makes a profound difference to everyone who reads his words.

When we understand we are not apart, we rise above the foxgloves and soar above the trees. We realise how the ground beetles can become kestrels – when we are ready to grow wings, that is, when we are ready.

Forest Pathways by Michael Forester

You can find more of Michael’s & Kev’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Books From The Pantry: Journeys in Europe by Neil Leadbeater & Monica Manolachi reviewed by Kev Milsom

‘Rivers connect people and places. They carry water and nutrients to areas all over the globe…to travel down rivers of this length is to travel through different languages, societies and cultures’.

(Neil Leadbeater & Monica Manolachi)

Here’s an interesting and original idea. Take two prolific writers and poets, both of whom have a passion for the natural beauty of rivers. Let them create evocative literary pieces concerning two of their favourite European rivers, thus engaging a global audience into their emotional ties to aforementioned rivers; also allowing readers to feel as if they are with the authors on their personal journey. Thus, Edinburgh-based writer Neil Leadbeater and Romanian lecturer, Monica Manolachi set out to achieve this ambitious goal and completely triumphed within their creative endeavours.

Let’s begin with Neil; an author, essayist, poet and critic, based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Neil’s emotional connection to the Rhine began over sixty years ago, as he accompanied his parents down the river. According to Neil, ‘it was an idyllic time and one never to be forgotten’. The 765 miles of the Rhine flow through five countries: Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Austria. Neil begins his poetic journey in the Dutch city of Delft.

‘Let’s go to Delft:
Home of Spierinex tapestries,
Italian-glazed earthenware
And Delft Blue China’.

Cool, I’m only four lines in and I’ve learned two things already. The Rhine flows through Delft and I now know more about the Spierinex tapestries than I did before. I also realise that I’ve seen some of these at Warwick Castle. What else about Delft, Neil?

‘Looking at Egbert van der Poel’s paintings,
Hands over ears,
We can almost hear that thunderclap
When tons of gunpowder
Stored in barrels
Exploded into fire’.

Okay, I’m now au fait with the paintings of Egbert van der Poel, especially those that depict the ‘Great Thunderclap’ of 1654, when barrels of gunpowder exploded and destroyed half the city. My ever-curious mind is loving this intake of knowledge.

‘Crossing canals,
in your blue dress and matching heels,
your mind is full of fragile things
authentic and collectable’.
(‘Delft’ by Neil Leadbeater)

My mind is now peaked by who this woman may be. I definitely want to know more. But then, I’m nosey. Neil continues his journey through The Netherlands and beyond. Perhaps we might like to explore the Rhine online to learn more about it? Neil’s poem, ‘The River on-line’ suggests otherwise. 

It’s not the same river.
It can’t escape from your smartphone.
It’s out of its element
with nowhere to run.

You can’t shake hands with it,
let it in.
You can’t dive into it
or go for a swim.

Let’s move on to Germany and see Neil’s feelings on the city of Bonn, with a poem of the same name.

‘A seat of government and a seat of learning’
please be seated.
Zuccalli’s baroque Elector’s palace housing the university. My father and I, standing in front of the yellow façade. Thirty-five windows on the middle floor. The symmetry beautiful, the measurement exact.
When I grow up, I decide that I want to be an architect.

An informative opening, followed by some lines of personal remembrance – a key point captured in the mind of a young boy, relayed now for us to appreciate and ponder. This style of poetry continues for the whole journey; namely some information to tickle the mind, intertwined with personal memories of key locations along the flow of the Rhine – memories that clearly mean a lot for the poet and allow the reader into the river’s importance for him.

Moving our attention across toward Monica, we learn that she is a lecturer in English and Spanish at the University of Bucharest in Romania. As with Neil, Monica’s attraction to the chosen river stems from childhood, when her parents would take her to Sulina, a location at the mouth of the river Danube. We learn that the Danube is the second longest river in Europe, covering 1,770 miles from Germany to the Black Sea and a total of ten countries. Monica’s poetic approach sometimes mirrors Neil’s, yet hers often flows freely into a heavily visual, creative poetic form. If I had to compare, I would say that Neil’s reminds me of beautiful, detailed oil paintings, while Monica’s sometimes flow effortlessly into impressionism, offering a deep visionary, imaginative feel to them. Sometimes, the words of the two poets merge together as one, like…well, like two rivers. Anyway, more of that later, let’s sample Monica’s literary expressions within the poem, ‘Kepler’s Ghost on the Stone Bridge’.  

‘A crater on Mars, another on the Moon,
a street in Regensburg and more in many other cities,
a metro station on U1 of the Vienna U-Bahn, a university in Linz, where I wrote ‘harmonices mundi’,
a space telescope and thousands of habitable zone planets –
Guys, thanks for this growing recognition’.

Okay, astronomy…cool! I’m already fascinated, as Kepler and his laws of planetary motion have been known to me since I was a young boy learning the layout of the heavens above. This poem takes me back to my youth (akin to a young Neil Leadbeater in Bonn, staring up in fascination at the baroque palace). Reading into the rest of the poem, I wasn’t aware of the specific religious persecution that Kepler was always in fear of, as he lived a bit beyond the main years of religious turmoil between Protestant & Catholic Europe, so my brain nods as another piece of information creeps in. Meanwhile, in Hungary, Monica offers a beautiful poetic moment in time.

‘We advance on the water
as the planet rows through the universe.
The river is so dark and you
like a beacon, among the tiny stars,
cannot stop laughing.
(‘One Night in Gyor’ by Monica Manolachi)

The short poem paints an iconic moment in time, leaving the reader/viewer both intrigued and fascinated to know more. That’s me being nosey again, but you must admit that these poets are creating some intriguing visuals with their words. In Budapest, Monica offers another imaginative piece to savour with her poem, ‘Kertmozi’, again to leave the reader delightfully intrigued.

‘Like an open codex
In the middle of a cloister room,
You float on the river of time
Throwing the crowns you receive
To the souls beneath the water’.

Each poem is written in English and then translated into Romanian by Monica. It’s clear that both poets have a way of expressing wide-ranging thoughts onto the page – some informative and clearly etched out skilfully in ‘literary marble’, while other pieces flow with imagination and visual dexterity across the pages of this book. For me, a strong aspect of poetry is for the creator(s) to supply my mind with any excuse to close my eyes and simply be there…on the page with the author(s) as they open up their minds, hearts and souls. This fabulous book achieves precisely this.

You can purchase a copy of Journeys in Europe here or email Neil direct: [email protected]

Books From The Pantry: The Cold Store by Elisabeth Sennitt Clough reviewed by Kev Milsom

How odd the imagination.
It often takes you close
To where the flowers grow,
Splendid and perfumed and failing
On their dehydrated stalks.
Then gives you an ashtray full of dogends.

‘Colitas’ by Elisabeth Sennit Clough

It’s fair to say that the talented poet Elisabeth Sennitt Clough has a passion for the easterly portion of England, known as ‘The Fens’ – or ‘Fenland’ –  covering much of the county of Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, alongside parts of Suffolk and Huntingdonshire. Indeed, her 2019 publication, At, Or Above Sea Level, focused strongly upon this region of marshland, and former marshland, much of which originally consisted of fresh, or salt-water, wetlands. Now, in her recent book, The Cold Store, Elisabeth returns to this area with a collection of imaginative and personal poetry. 

The title of the collection – a real place called The Cold Store; an automated warehouse located at Wisbech, Cambridgeshire; once the largest frozen food warehouse in the UK, until superseded by another in 2018 – is used throughout the poetry as a metaphoric, shapeshifting presence. Elisabeth morphs The Cold Store into different forms across The Fens, allowing her to address memories from her youth, as well as buildings of importance, specific characters and various objects. 

In some ways, the poems remind the reader of the Fens’ landscape; as they can be edgy, dark and mysterious. Yet, the poetry also contains consummate measures of light, with abundant detail and creative imagination, played out via Elisabeth’s choice, adept vocabulary to immortalise the flat landscape and unhindered skies that hold so much personal meaning for her.

Here, beyond the old toll gate
Where the edge-of-town factories
And car showrooms have long faded,
Agriculture becomes the only industry.
Each square of land carries me into the next
And a pink horizon emerges from dark Earth.

‘Fenland Elegy’

The poems are varied and eclectic. While some focus upon descriptive elements to create powerful visual descriptions, others are clearly more personal, focusing upon an individualistic glimpse into the past, such as the poem, Widowed Single Mother, 1970s’, that I could strongly relate to.

After she drops me off at the school gates,
I try to mimic the villagers, call my mother
By the names they give her.

Elisabeth’s mastery of words plays through this entire collection and produces strong, creative visuals within the reader’s mind. 

You can find more of Elisabeth’s work here on Ink Pantry.