We recently asked people to review one, two or all three poems from Mandy Pannett’s poetry collection for a chance to win a signed copy of the book. Three reviewers have emerged joint winners. ‘Best After Frost’ was reviewed by Paul Ward and Krystyna Hollis. E Russell Smith took on ‘Stunted’. Here are the reviews in no particular order.
BEST AFTER FROST
Reviewed by PAUL WARD
Since Mandy Pannett nods towards Shakespeare’s use of the medlar (it is mentioned in four of his plays ) , here is how he describes its essential characteristic in a witty riposte from Rosalind to Touchstone in As You Like It :
You’ll be rotten ere you be half ripe , and that’s the right virtue of the medlar
And that process of decay is most effectively registered in the first three lines of ‘Best After Frost’ . The statement is simple and straightforward enough but it is made using words chosen for the way in which sound echoes / supports meaning : The alliteration of ‘ripens’ and ‘rots’ at once establishes one process as an extension of the other and the softness of the rotting fruit is suggested by a mixture of alliteration and consonance using the soft sounds of m and s – mysterious..medlar..ripens..softens..rots..camembert..progress..mould’ . Beautifully done .
But from there , the poem takes off in some surprising directions , skidding over Shakespeare ( you need to know your references – the poet does nothing to explain here ) and landing on a saucy seaside postcard of the kind typical of the cartoonist Bamforth . What has happened is that the shape of the fruit is being compared to those impossibly large and rounded buttocks so characteristic of Bamforth’s drawings . But for the effect of comic bathos , the comparison is almost worthy of one of the metaphysicals . If you don’t immediately get ‘holes’ , look at a picture of a medlar whilst the cartoon postcard is still in your mind…
In the third verse , ‘slimy , slurpy process’ again works beautifully in terms of sound echoing meaning – but ‘blettir’ , the French verb for that process of decay , suddenly whisks the poet’s imagination away to France – and there are some very adroit bits of morphing here : rainfall…rain and footfall…rain ( in its pitter-patter sound ) suggesting drumming…. And having turned a very sharp corner of thought , there we are in the French revolution ( deftly hinted at by the ‘tumbril wheels’ ) with the decadent aristocracy beginning to steer us back towards medlars in being a ‘ripe and rotten group’ . The near repetition between verse 1 and verse 4 ( ripens / ripe , rots /rotten ) is quite deliberate .
The colour of the flesh of the decaying medlar has already implicitly taken us towards blood ( the inferred guillotine executions ) but in the last verse we get a different colour-association – that of the garnet-stone , which surprisingly , in turn , leads us to medlar jelly , so that the process of decay does not end in mere annihilation but either in what is saved as ‘sweet for Spring’s return’ or in immediate sensual pleasure , juicily evoked in the squelchy sounds of ‘flesh’ and ‘luscious’ .
The poem begins and ends with the fruit itself . In between , the poet’s imagination has taken us , in a mere nine lines or so , on a journey touching on Shakespeare , seaside postcards and the French revolution , all things connected with or developed from the treatment of the subject , though I quibble that Shakespeare – the name only – is a bit unfair on the reader : you either know the references or you don’t .
My other slight quibble is that I wish the very last line ( containing the italicised title ) kicked back a little harder into what has been read earlier . But it is a finely written poem with images that are memorable because they are fresh , original and surprising .
Reviewed by E. Russell Smith
One poet should not attempt to review ("critique?") the poem of another. If it is worthy of its calling, I immediately seize its theme and start to hang a poem of my own on the scaffolding it presents.
In "Stunted", Mandy's scaffolding is masterful. We are presented with a boy in a state of wonder, whose raven life is a mixture of sweets and abuse. We follow his growth into a resourceful and purposeful youth. The directions he has chosen are not to be admired, but to be understood. The engines of his motivation are a rock in his chosen wilderness, a penknife (requirement of every boy) and a fertile imagination. Confinement in a dustbin is artfully contrasted with the freedom we imagine on the moors. His friend and mentor is the Troll, as stunted and as lively as as himself.
This portrait requires only eighteen lines, and it is complete. Would I change anything? Probably some lineation, and elimination of the word "upon" in two places where it seems to serve only to preserve the iambic pentameter — the perfect rhythm for the oral reading which must always be a test of excellence. As usual, Mandy's poem succeeds in all respects.
Best After Frost:
Reviewed by Krystyna Hollis
I found this poem very accessible, radiating sight, smell and touch and historic resonance.
With an intimate gossip the poet shares with us how far the medlar fruit can extend
the senses. I wanted to inspect this fruit, to hold it in my hand, to absorb what the poet clearly feels and offers the reader; just as the freezing fruit releases its flavour.
We are not only invited into lascivious speculations and earthy imagery but also into a historical connection of a time when the dried blood from the French Revolution and the rain of Montmatre mingled.