The Sorcerer’s Arc (2004) Hearing Eye, London,

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This is an exuberant collection, touching, funny and full of personality.

                                                                                                                                                            - Michael Irwin

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…a strong voice, distinctive and unusual.

                                                                                                                                                       - U. A..Fanthorpe

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June English’s versatility, striking imagery and subtlety of thought make her a poet you can learn from. Her subject matter, like Angela Kirby’s, is not unusual—Home Front memories, love and loss in marriage and family—but it is her shifts between sestinas, villanelles, ballads to freer forms, with both strong rhyming, end-stopped lines and elegiac free-flowing enjambment to provide variety of tone, that is so impressive. One minute we have feisty, down to earth Yorkshire dialect,  ‘come nussle close while I twiddle thy twat’, the next harrowing statements of vulnerability or grief.  She frequently cuts sentiment with dry pragmatic comments, or provides startling images such as ‘Bunny girl’: ‘her woman’s eyes startled as a skinned rabbit’s,/ staring out, waiting for the pot to boil,’ or her sister’s yellow dress the colour of Colman’s mustard: ‘it leapt off you like gold coins/from a, spendthrift…’.  Some of the most powerful poems are where she extends a metaphor, or explores the nuances of a single idea with subtle argument such as her criticism of religious platitudes in ‘Latintudes’. Note how the imagery suggests wonder and complexity as well as a need for honesty as we ponder the universe

there’s life beyond the tudes of lat and Long,
unnetted seas where men have pearls for eyes,
where love comes first and all feel they belong
and no one needs to question their cap size.
No carrion crows to double-talk plainsong
or leach the scarlet dawn of clouded whys.

It’s impossible to do justice to Sorcerer’s Arc in this limited space. Buy it.

                                                                                                                                                        - Belinda Cook

                                                                                                                                               North 38   June 2006


Sunflower Equations  (2008) Hearing Eye

June English is a gutsy, erotic, tender poet whose poems, with their wit and pith, ping off the page.

                                                                                                                                                      Patricia McCarthy

                                                                                                                                                    – Editor of Agenda

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Here is a poet who writes with absolute authenticity directly from experience and who knows how to make imagery, humour, irony, rhythm and rhyme tell...  These are potent poems.

                                                                                                                                                       - Myra Schneider

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‘These are deceptive poems. They appear to be artless, ingenuous; they seem to deal with safe family subjects, with cooking, stepmothers, marriage, anniversaries, children. But all of these have their eerie side,
the side that only a truth-teller sees.

And June English is just that: a truth-teller. She is good at finding love where traditionally it isn’t (‘Stepmother’, ‘Conundrum’); she is also brilliant at conveying the weird moments we can recognize but not
describe (‘Blackout’). A characteristic beginning reveals her talent for uneasiness: ‘The undertaker wants Dad’s shoes’. When it comes to that other safe subject, holidays abroad, she gives twenty-one lines of travel-talk before exploding it all with one fierce touch. ‘Silent Spy’ is one of her best, a child’s eye view of courting lovers, who she imagines might shoot her. This is very delicately done, both of the child’s ignorance and the lovers’ experience. ‘A Marriage: 1’ is amazingly brief (twenty short lines); a picture of the couple and their child mostly revealed by a devastating description of him: I see you now / Standing cool and unmoved – …/
Like a bit-part actor in a boring play.

There is a much more harrowing description of intimacy in ‘A Marriage: 3’ – read it, and see for yourself. As with nursery rhymes (and one of these poems is called that), in these poems apparent tenderness lies
alongside alarming cruelty. You should read these poems for their strange insight into human nature, and for their shocking accuracy in revealing it.’

                                                                                                                              – U A Fanthorpe and R V Bailey.

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Weird, tangential, and at times disturbing, Sunflower Equations is an engrossing and provocative collection from June English. Approaching the difficult theme of sexual abuse with articulate honesty, June English draws the reader into a world which is in turns sun-filled and light, bitter and terrifyingly dark: you strip me, fie me, camera poised/ kneel between my quivering knees/ thrust screwdrivers into my womb/skewer the woman from the girl. Her accomplished and confident voice is unwavering and witty, and in poems such as 'Stepmother', Whore Games' and 'Pedestrian Crossing', she juxtaposes visceral authenticity with a lyrical playfulness. This is an original collection; English's assured command of language and imagery, and her unusual approach to complex themes make Sunflower Equations stand out from the crowd. Recommended.

                                                                                                                                      Hearing Eye , London 2008.

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This volume of verse, containing some fifty poems, is the author’s second, following on from The Sorcerer’s Arc, which was published in 2004.  June English came late to the writing of poetry, but the delay seems to have done her nothing but good.  Much of her work derives directly from recollection, and she began with three-quarters of a lifetime of varied experience to draw on: working-class childhood in the north of England, war-time intimations, life-threatening illness, abuse and sexual abuse within marriage, motherhood and step-motherhood.  Each memory seems to be captured mint-fresh, as though scrupulously preserved through the years, the verse being no more than the final consummation of the retrieval.  The voice varies accordingly.  In the early poems the child speaks:


                        It’s summer now, Yvonne and I
                        are playing ‘camps’ in Blackman’s quarry,
                        Snotty Robert’s got a cold.  Mum
                        said, You’d best stay clear of him,
                        but he’s the Daddy in our game.

                        Yvonne, who’s Mum, is belting me,
                        and shouting, Smarten up, or else
                        but Snotty Robert slaps her one
                        and says, it’s bed-time, git to bed
                        so I lay down, pretend to sleep.


Later the failed marriage is displayed through brusque, dry images.  There is a family outing to a remote Canadian beach:


                        I see you now,
                        in your red-check shirt,
                        your lumberjack boots,
                        kicking dried cuttlefish, scuttling crabs,
                        near a swarm of wasps on a squashed apricot.

                        I see you now,
                        fag in hand, skimming stones,
                        when our youngest was stung,
                        when he screamed with pain,
                        when he wet his pants.

                        I see you now,
                        standing cool and unmoved –
                        while I cleaned him up,
                        and we cleared away –
                        like a bit-part actor in a boring play.


A first impression of these verses might be that the sharpness of the description captures the sharpness of the memory; but the writing is also unobtrusively dense.  The monosyllabic brevity is freighted with hints of cruelty, unnaturalness and decay.  As often in these poems, multiple perspectives are simultaneously suggested – in this case the immediacy of the particular incident is located within a wider sense of a souring and smouldering relationship.In contrast to this controlled detachment are the passion and the dissonant half-rhymes of ‘Whore Games’, though the marine images echo the earlier poem:


                        Talk about sex, scandal and locked doors,
                        fishnet tights and bare buttocks,
                        rumpy-pumpy on the ironing  board
                        with you in your Argyle socks.

                        Talk about me playing the fish-wife,
                        screeching for a taste of your cod;
                        talk about settling for whelks,
                        when I find that the cod’s served cold.


A crucial, and refreshing, aspect of such poems, personal as they are, is the total absence of self-pity.  There is no plea for sympathy: the driving force seems to be the desire to capture a past experience as precisely as possible: that’s what it felt like.  In this sense Sunflower Equations might seem to function as a private photograph album.  What makes it something much more is English’s Hardy-like capacity for recording a recollected incident with a sensitivity and exactitude that invite us to participate in it ourselves as it unfolds, rather than to view it from without as a fragment of the poet’s biography.
There is a similar precision, a similar attempt to bring an imagined scene to sensual life, when the subject-matter is something external to the poet, as in the description of a dying man:


                        The sunlight bothered him, frail fingers
                        fiddled with the sheets; she whispered
                        loving words.  He twisted, gasped,
                        battled for breath; the rasping sound
                                      filled her with dread.
Or:
                        There is a certain heft of grey
                        in late September skies
                        that gathers into warning pockets
                        as shadows do on lungs…


More generally, this is a collection full of odd surprises and experiments. Although some of her poems are painful English also relishes a laugh.  She can let her hair down in jaunty, not to say saucy, vein:


                        I’m more the gal for acrobatics,
                        shedding knickers on the sofa.
                        I’d rather dance a wild fandango,
                        arms draped around a Spanish sailor,
                        than foxtrot with a vacuum-cleaner.


She can employ other voices than her own.  The sonnet ‘Old Scores’ features a furious and despairing old man:
                        Damn and blast it, all I do is moan –
                        my windpipes wheeze and every muscle aches,
                        my head blanks when I bend to tie my shoe –
                        those bloody kids, I’ll swing for them, I swear,
                        One each, I said and this is what they do,
                        they’ve stripped the trees, the Russet’s bare.


On occasion English goes off on a cheerfully wilful bender. Out of some Gothic closet in her imagination steps the ‘handsome woman with a wooden leg’ in ‘Higher Nature’:


                        The leg?  Oh yes, the handsome woman claims
                        it’s a miracle, a triumph of Higher Nature,
                        grafted on when she was still a child.
                        Her blood has mingled with the apple’s sap:
                        she sheds her skin in winter to be reborn in spring.


It wouldn’t be difficult to list some reservations.  A few of the poems are too easy-going; there are occasional technical faults.  But in the larger context such cavils hardly seem worthwhile.  June English comes across as a natural poet, that is to say as one whose emotions and recollections seem to find instinctive expression in verse.  Sunflower Equations conveys a sense of easy fecundity: there will be a lot more poems where these came from.  Meanwhile here is a vivid, entertaining and various collection – one to read with pleasure from cover to cover.  
                                                                                                                                                                Michael Irwin

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John Whitworth, in his brief introduction to this book likens the poetry of June English to that of William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Stevie Smith and Philip Larkin. ‘Not all at once’, he writes, to our relief. What poet could contain that motley array? I had never read her work before, but I can’t see anything Blakean about this poet unless he is thinking of the occasional use of gnomic quatrains. She is perhaps like Emily Dickinson in her lighter, more playful moods. There is here and there a colloquial flippancy which reminds me of Larkin, and certainly something of Stevie Smith, and maybe Wendy Cope. The influence of Stevie Smith, or the coincidence of styles, is a certain vulnerability; a casual, seemingly off hand manner of expression and a metrical wobble:

Grandpa wanted fragrant hyacinth
and daffodils - daffodils’ yellow lament.
This war is too much black and white,
-we need life’s beauty, colour, scent.

This could be more polished, but it is, I suppose, deliberately irregular: the second line is a pentameter, the others tetrameters; the first line trochaic,  Sometimes the oddity breaks out in exuberant playfulness, as in this piece called ‘Backside Up’:

I’m a side out, side-in, side-down, ward-up
meet myself turning-re wards-back,
ears in armpits, teeth in nostrils,
eyes in earholes, past my by-sell
tidy-un, patient-im, hardy-fool
boy who never goes to school.

I’m pudent-im1 a noxious-ob,
 a cal-ras, wag-scally, ward-awk yob,
a crack shot with an apult-cat
an obrill, perb-su, board-skate do-kid,
my Mam’s up-fed, me dad’s out fagged,
I’ll him dodge fore-be get I a clout,
too late, found I, dad mine’s no fool,
he’s kicked my side-back off to school.

Aside from the frolicking humour of this, it is an interesting if simplistic linguistic  jigsaw puzzle; by confounding the prefixes and suffixes, she makes us think about  how we glue words together and pull them apart. You this is not her general od-meth. She has produced that rare thing: an art that might survive in a culture of commerce; a poetry stylized but accessible, original and compellingly readable. Almost every poem is a treat and has some curious quirk about it.   There is often a device or mannerism that, structurally, makes a thing memorable, reminding us  that a poem is an intentionally crafted construct a Foursquare fortified house of words. She is fond of interwoven motifs, which are ingeniously employed in varying contexts, which give to the poetry a nuanced and elaborate patterning, while retaining the limpidity of its content.
The themes are varied: there are Christian poems, war poems. familial elegies, dialect poems (there is a piece called ‘Hearts and Flowers’, written in dialect and rife with sexual innuendo; elsewhere she speaks of ‘darting’ her face with foundation). There are an ample variety of forms here too: rhyming quatrains. Petrachan sonnet, sestina, villanelle. These old forms are sustained because they are sustaining in themselves. The sestina is as good as any I’ve read, second only to Dante Gabrielle Rossetti’s heartbreaking ‘Of the Lady Pletra degli Scrovigni’. English, in her poem entitled simply ‘Sestina’, has managed the form with incredible ingenuity - it feels utterly inevitable, which, given the interlocking structures of the form, shows considerable skill and discipline. The poem is too long to quote here, and it needs to be read in entirety. It’s about how a story or a life can be predetermined from its outset, and how the end can eerily contain or return to the beginning - it is a subtle riddle, concentric, circular and therefore eternal, like the serpent with its tail in its mouth. As in the best poetry, the content is in complete harmony with the form. It makes one wonder whether there might not be a paradise of pure form, prefiguring words - an embryonic music that seeks its release in the unparaphrasable collocation of precise verbal sound-structures, and which has Its roots in the pulse of our blood.
 

                                                                                                         - Jim Newcombe  Poetry Nottingham 3 2006

 

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