a-BIRTH-a-DAY by Alan Corkish – Reviewed

Reviewed ByEmma Lee

Emma Lee reviews a-BIRTH-a-DAY by Alan Corkish. As well as her position of Reviews Editor for The Blue Nib. Emma Lee writes regular reviews for The Journal, The High Window Journal, London Grip and Sabotage and ad hoc reviews for other publications. Her collection “Ghosts in the Desert” is available from Indigo Dreams Publishing. A pamphlet “Mimicking a Snowdrop” was published by Thynks Press in 2014 and her full-length collection, “Yellow Torchlight and the Blues” has been published by Original Plus.

a-BIRTH-a-DAY by Alan Corkish

Original Plus

a-BIRTH-a-DAY by Alan Corkish

ISBN 9780995580299, 400pp, £14.95)

After a discussion about writers’ block, Alan Corkish set himself the task of writing a poem a day during 2004, a leap year, hence 366 poems in this collection. This confirmed the writer’s theory that writers’ block is a myth, an excuse used by some to avoid writing. Many were inspired by events on the particular day they were written with the date preceding the poem. Some of the poems are illustrated and each has the relevant zodiac sign for their date in the top corner of the page. An early poem was written during a stormy night, 28th January 2004 “Lear’s Lesson”,

“i learn what Lear learned
  in the shelter of a 
  darkened cave
   and my thoughts
     a lost daughter out there
     somewhere in the 
     un~for~giving night”

There are no further details on the lost daughter. King Lear cast out his own daughter because she wouldn’t acquiesce to his every demand, yet she helped him at his darkest hour. The poet’s dark night may not be as dim as he believes, although it’s not yet time for either father or daughter to forgive. A trip to Dublin provides inspiration at the beginning of February. Dr George Salmon once Provost of Trinity was opposed to admitting women to Trinity College, 9 February 2004 “throwing stones at Salmon”, 

“too many drunken brawlers
   battered beggars and 
   door step sleepers
   huddled by the
   Custom’s House rails

but at Trinity at least
 young girls in purple scarves
  throw stones at Salmon’s 
   sullen squatting statue
    and a passing don walks by
     eyes fixed purposefully
      on sun-chilled snowdrops”

Kudos to the don for not reacting to the girls’ sense of historical injustice. The snowdrops are an apt image: they flower in the most unforgiving weather, symbolic of hope that spring will come. 1st June 2004 “handing over power” in Iraq ends

“and      handing over power
 becomes as meaningless
  as the empty promises
   of american oil-men”

It doesn’t really show or tell readers anything new, even allowing for reading in 2019 a poem written in 2004. 

Recurring themes include support for asylum-seekers, criticism of politicians and people in a position of authority who behave hypocritically, pacifism, grief, climate change, disability (specifically those disabled by the attitudes of others), vanity, cats, and occasional ponderings on the poem a day project. A birthday for erbacce press: “invading like May flower weeds/ that grow where they choose/ and not where they’re told to”. Another poetry poem is 2nd September 2004 “poetry-night”

“but this self-indulgence
this queuing for five minutes of fame
to take their turn on the poetry conveyer belt
and be rewarded with 
fifteen seconds of nonchalant applause
is not what i see poetry as being about

the performance poets who read these words will
surely condemn me       as ‘arrogant’ or   ‘a snob’
but watching their   antics    is one of the reasons
why   i rarely read    my own work at poetry gigs”

I don’t see performance poets as being particularly worried, especially as the first stanza writes them off as not being interested in other poets’ work anyway. Badly managed open-mic nights can feel like this: poets reading their work, flustered over their spot and not paying attention to other poets.

November moves into wishful thinking, 24th November 2004 “route 66”

“I wish I had left the windy city one grey day
  in a cream-coloured Cadillac and driven
  two thousand five hundred miles
   to the sun-licked home”

A tsunami hit Indonesia on 26th December 2004 and “breaking news” covers this with a refrain “one Briton/ is confirmed dead”, reflecting the tone of initial news reports,

“the sea-surge brings sewage floods
heralding more deaths
insignificant bodies lie caught
like over ripe fruit
held aloft
in weeping palms”

Sadly the final toll was higher. The poem isn’t sure whether it’s commenting on the aftermath of the tsunami or on the standard of reporting where UK news outlets would be looking for a UK angle to justify coverage in a list of competing stories.

The challenge a project like this has is attracting a general reader’s interest. It is very interesting to the writer who has confirmed his theory that it’s possible to draft a body of a poem every day for a year to disprove writers’ block. However, can the results keep a reader’s attention? If too many poems explore the same theme or some feel like fillers to meet a target or the poems become too familiar, readers will get bored. Alan Corkish has overcome this challenge by allowing a gap between execution and publication so the poems have been edited (and some individually published). Differing techniques and voices are used too: some use rhyme, some refrains, some are concrete and some set up two opposing voices to explore a theme. This lifts a-BIRTH-a-DAY by Alan Corkish from experiment to collection of poems.

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Learn more about Alan Corkish at his blog here