An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
Fighting Cock Press
45 Middlethorpe Drive
YO24 1NA
ISBN 0 906744 21 0

Fighting Cock Press
ISBN 0 906744 27 X

Visit the website of Fighting Cock Press

NHI review home page
FAQ page
Notes for Publishers

book reviews
other media

Web design by Gerald England
This page last updated: 11th December 2007.

THINNING GRAPES is the reprint of a collection first published in 1992, and, as far as I know, the poems have not been revised or selected. Perhaps Mary Sheepshanks has moved on in the last ten years; she's a talented poet so the chances are, she has. Her work in this collection is always tuneful, imaginative and accessible:

	White horses terrorize the trees
	stampede through grass with gold names flowing
	while wakes of seagulls keen their grief
	to witness Autumn's violent going.
It is this 'predictable' tunefulness that demotes, just a little, the quality of her work. Her themes are often of sorrow, of deeply felt loss, yet the full impact of the poems is often lessened by a tendency to contain each stanza within a prosodic bow from THE FROZEN CONGREGATION:
	Don't listen to the crying in the darkness
	Don't let anybody know that you can hear.
	Close your heart to loneliness and fear.
When Sheepshanks loosens her hold on insistent, neat rhyme, her poetry communicates at a deeper level JUMPING ON SHADOWS:
	An afternoon
	of raucous sun, unruly clouds:
	I watch my children
	playing tig with shadows
	steering bright boats of laughter
	to race their stretched black sails
	across cut grass;
	they chase and try to hold
	a fleeting message down
	with plimsolled feet.
THINNING GRAPES is an attractive collection. I would like, though, to read more recent work to see how much this able poet has developed in the last decade.

reviewer: Michael Bangerter.

An established novelist, Mary Sheepshanks is also well on her way to becoming recognized as a poet. DANCING BLUES TO SKYLARKS nicely produced, flat-spined and with a glossy, illustrated cover is her fourth poetry collection.

While I'm reading it, I get the impression that I have encountered a real and thoroughly nice person. Perhaps it's especially her love of nature that appeals to me, her delight in animals, trees and flowers. The list of birds that Sheepshanks describes or addresses or at least mentions is rather long, for such a slender volume as this, and includes wild geese, goldcrests, a merlin, swallows, skylarks, kingfishers and red kites. The lovely, happy Huldine, prematurely dead, is clearly another bird, but we're not told what species she belonged to. Gandalf the Grey, on the other paw, is obviously a cat whose story has a happy end. Sheepshanks lives in the Yorkshire Dales, a place which provides inspiration for much of her lyrical work.

Apart from these "Yorkshire pieces", Sheepshanks writes with great feeling about human individuals, as well as classical music. She also reveals a knack of writing skilful humorous verse, for example the delightfully gruesome THE SNAILEPHANT, a Heffalump-like creature that thinks

	little girls make quite a tasty lunch.
Form and style are mostly traditional, with many deftly handled assonances and true rhymes. Some visual images work extremely well: the goldcrests have
		mini miners' lamps
	strapped on to tiny heads
and, in a poem set in an Italian valley for a change, cypresses become
	splashed exclamation marks
What may be read as the only religious piece in this collection ends with the prayer
		label me with your address
	that in the end I may return to you.
If there is any weakness here, it may be a certain conventional slant. Perhaps Sheepshanks should be encouraged to experiment with some freer forms occasionally. I also note that she has a tendency to overemphasize her points usually towards the end of a poem, as if she didn't quite trust her readers to notice them otherwise. Also, I feel in duty bound to explain that "meteorite" isn't strictly speaking a synonym for "meteor". A meteorite is a mineral chunk which reaches our planet after the rest of a meteor has been burnt up in the atmosphere. It's the burning bit that we notice in the sky, and label "meteor" or "shooting star".

reviewer: Susanna Roxman.