This review is taken from Stand 235, 20(3) September - December 2022.

Smokestack Lightning, edited by Andy Croft (Smokestack Books, 2021)

Smokestack Books exists, it says, to champion ‘poets who are unfashionable, radical, left-field’, where ‘left-field’ means ‘left wing’ and/or ‘unconventional’. But ‘left’ may also suggest that which survives (among ruins) as in: ‘Smokestack’s declared aim has always been to keep open a space for what is left of the radical poetic tradition’. The new anthology, the publisher’s 200th book, contains one poem from each of the 199 books published so far. As such, it offers a chance to take stock of ‘left-field’ poetry.

The anthology combines local poets, particularly from the north-east, with international ones. One fifth of the poems are translations, often of well-known poets (Heine, Jara, Ritsos, Mayakovsky, Aragon) with several poems from Latin America, Greece, Palestine, and Russia. Since these are not also given in their original language, the collection might begin to sound monolinguistic, as if seeking to re-code all language into twenty-first century English. The danger of standardisation is lessened by the variations of English language from poets who incorporate Early and Middle English (Bob Beagrie and Steve Ely); or use regional dialect such as Rob Francis’s Black Country (‘Burning Tongues’), Jamaican English (Moqapi Selassie), and Glaswegian (Tom Leonard’s translation of Brecht’s ‘Mother Courage’s Song’). It is apt that the rhyming quatrains of John Gohorry’s ‘On others’ shoes’ should be interlaced with Latin variations on the dictum about walking in another’s shoes. The otherness of others, which is also otherness of language and culture, is not ...
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