Reviews

An example of some of the reviews that have appeared in the hard copy issues of the The Seventh Quarry magazine

 

Review by Jessica Newport of AMERICA, AERONWY, AND ME/DYLAN THOMAS TRIBUTE TOUR by Peter Thabit Jones
Co-published by The Seventh Quarry Press, UK and Cross-Cultural Communications, USA, 2019.
PRICE £10.00 STERLING/$15 ISBN 978-0-89304-671-2


Peter Thabit Jones was born in Wales, raised by his maternal grandparents and continues to reside there now. He was a teacher of English Literature, Children’s Literature and Creative Writing at Swansea University before taking an early retirement.

An award-winning poet and author, Peter has penned fourteen books, translated into over twenty languages. In addition to this, his drama pieces have been performed both in the UK and America and 2017 saw the premiere of his chamber opera libretto in Luxembourg. He has won awards including the 2017 Homer: European Medal for Art and Poetry, The Royal Literary Fund Award and an Arts Council of Wales Award to name but a few.

Peter is the Founder and Editor of both this magazine, The Seventh Quarry Poetry Magazine,which publishes worldwide sourced poetry, translations, interviews and articles, and The Seventh Quarry Press which publishes international poetry, prose, and art books.

2008 and 2009 saw him carry out readings and workshops in numerous colleges and universities in Romania as visiting poet. He has also been writer-in-residence in Big Sur, California every summer since 2010. His contributions to American and European festivals and conferences are vast, including the World Affairs Conference Colorado in 2009 for example.

In addition to this he has seen his poem Kilvey Hill form a stained-glass window in a primary school in his home city of Swansea, and has been inducted into Salem State University for his contributions to literature and literary translations.

Peter has a lifelong love for poetry, which he attributes to a childhood teacher that “ignited a desire in me to be a poet”. This desire led him to the work of Dylan Thomas. He wouldn’t have dared to dream at the tender age of thirteen, as he spent his newspaper boy earnings on “all the books, available at the time, by and about                         

Dylan Thomas” that he would embark on a six-week Dylan Thomas Tribute Tour with Dylan’s daughter Aeronwy in 2008. This tour did of course come to fruition and is the foundation for AMERICA, AERONWY, AND ME. In addition to this tour Peter co-authored the Dylan Thomas Walking Tour of Greenwich Village with Aeronwy which is now available in both book and app form, and a guided tour via New York Fun Tours .

AMERICA, AERONWY, AND ME was published in 2019 by The Seventh Quarry Press in the UK and by Cross-Cultural Communications in America. An absorbing piece of prose, it invites the reader to embark upon the tour, which was meticulously organised by publisher and poet Stanley H. Barkan of Cross-Cultural Communications in conjunction with emeritus professor and poet Vince Clemente, with Peter and Aerowyn rather than simply be told about it. This is due in large to the literary style in which it has been composed. A comfortable read, it can easily be devoured in one sitting. It leaves one feeling as though they have been in conversation with an old friend who is eager to share a special time of their life to an audience that is as eager to hear it. I describe it as a conversation between friends because Peter and the other contributors, such as renowned American poet Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Catrin Brace of the Welsh Government in New York, have adopted a writing style that is as relaxing as it is riveting. A perfect combination that leaves one entirely invested in the words.

Adopting a diary entry style, Peter shares beautiful and intimate anecdotes, notably his and Aeronwy’s constant search for “the best cup of tea in America”. This quest runs parallel to their travels across America, a desire that journeys with them to every stop that they come to. The inclusion of details such as these leaves the reader feeling privileged to have gained an insight into the people behind the poetry, we feel we have been trusted with private moments and memories.

There is a strong sense of humility throughout the book. Peter often cites his appreciation for the opportunities that have been presented to himself and Aeronwy, describing them as “very special, indeed a privilege”. Equally, the other contributors share their appreciation for the opportunity to experience the expertise and friendship that Peter and Aeronwy brought with them on this tour. Perhaps the best evaluation of this was given by Paul M. Levitt when he confided that following their departure “I felt a hole in my life that hadn’t been there before, and swore to read more poetry”. I suspect this is a widely shared feeling. Indeed, this feeling travels from the page into the heart of the reader. This book will absolutely leave one hungry to enjoy more poetry, I suspect Peter knew this and this could be at least part of the reason for the poetry supplement that one will find at the close of the book, an added and somewhat unexpected treat.

I must take a moment to speak about friendship. A mutual passion for Dylan Thomas laid the foundation for what became a strong and unwavering friendship between Peter and Aeronwy. This friendship remains apparent throughout the book and serves to bring added enjoyment to the story as their travels unfold. Peter explains that they were “always at ease with each other”. This is a feeling his writing elicits from the reader also, like settling into a comfortable chair. Peter’s writing style invites the reader to become part of this friendship and their adventures. The repetition of their search for the best cup of tea in America builds our friendship with the author because it humanises him, much like the small details that are interwoven in the story such as; learning “how to purchase tickets from the machine with our dollar bills” or settling into new accommodation, even the “walks to Starbucks” that became their morning routine when scheduling would allow. These details ensure the author remains a person for the reader and brings a refreshing normality to the tale.

AMERICA, AERONWY, AND ME details a tour across America, however it remains a beautiful tribute to Wales. It is clear that much like Dylan Thomas himself both Peter and Aeronwy remain loyal to their Welsh roots. It is a read that is as refreshing as their much-craved cups of tea. Peter aimed to “help to return Dylan back to his rightful place as a remarkable craftsman in poetry” whilst Aeronwy hoped “that more people will go back and read his poetry”. After reading this book I hope they both realise that they achieved these aims and I hope they are both aware that an equal interest in Wales and both of their own original works will undoubtedly result also; quite an achievement. 

It is clear that Peter and Aeronwy touched all they met along the way and left a lasting effect, a permanent mark upon their lives if you will. I suspect that the feeling was mutual. Indeed, Peter shares that the “memories will remain with me forever”. Peter and Aeronwy brought Dylan Thomas to a new audience and for those who had already encountered him they not only enriched his poetry through their readings but brought their own powerful poetry forward also, a perfect marrying of the past and the present.

A tale of happiness, this book beautifully presents how the two poets walked the same paths that Dylan’s feet once touched. What began as a tribute to Dylan Thomas became an opportunity to showcase their own talents as poets and
teachers. This book not only recounts the tour that they undertook, it shares private memories, invites the reader into the author’s confidence and teaches one elements of the art of poetry. It is, of course, tinged with sadness due to the passing of Aeronwy the following year. As Peter himself explains; “Aeronwy passed away in July 2009, far too sudden for her beloved family and far too sudden for all those whose lives she touched so magically in the UK, Europe, and America”. This results in a piece that initially appears to be a personal journal become a tribute, not only to the great Dylan Thomas but to his talented daughter also. A pleasure to read, this book will leave the reader inspired and as full of admiration for the dedication and hard work of the author and contributors as Peter and Aeronwy had for Dylan Thomas, the catalyst for the tour that enabled the birth of this captivating read. I cannot recommend this book enough; it will leave one feeling a renewed determination to follow one’s own passions just as Peter and Aeronwy did when they stepped on that first plane to America.

 

Review by Jessica Newport of MORE MISHPOCHEH by Stanley H. Barkan
The Seventh Quarry Press, UK , 2019.
PRICE £10.00 STERLING/$15 ISBN 978-0-89304-671-2

 

Stanley H Barkan is an award-winning poet, translator, editor and small press publisher, in addition tobeing a retired teacher. Originally from Brooklyn, he now resides in Merrick, Long Island with his artist wife Bebe. He has two children who each have families of their own. This amounts to five grandchildren for Barkan. The family live close to one another and shares a strong bond.

     Barkan’s list of accolades is extensive and includes, but is not limited to: The Homer European Medal of Poetry and Art (2016) and The Poets House and the NYC Board of Education Poetry Teacher of the Year Award (1991). In addition to his awards he has been commemorated for his long-standing position within the literary world. An example of this is when this very magazine published a dedicated “Stanley H. Barkan” issue to honour “over 40 years of literary excellence”.

     More Mishpocheh was published by The Seventh Quarry Press in 2018 and features front cover artwork by Barkan’s wife Bebe. Barkan’s poetry is a heartfelt and emotionally charged collection that is testament to his Jewish roots and passion for his family. It is clear as one passes through this collection that Barkan has a deep-running love for his family and religion and he expresses this wonderfully. His work is structured in such a way that the reader can experience different generations in a manner which leaves one inspired, appreciative of his wisdom and in awe of his unfaltering commitment to allow us into his private memories and relationships. His poetry is emotive, relatable, easily pictured and readily accessible to all. This is due largely to the conversational tone that he adopts throughout. A beautiful collection that leaves one pondering long after the book is put down. A must read.

     More Mishpocheh opens with ON MY FATHER’S YAHRTZEIT, 26 May 2008. Immediately the reader is invited into a most private moment; Barkan visiting his father’s grave on an anniversary of his death. The tone of his words as he explains his family tree is chatty, we already feel like old friends, which is a feeling that only grows stronger as we progress through the poetry. A photograph of his father precedes his words which aids ones visuality of the subject matter. Imagery is both strong and prevalent. Indeed, the opening, “like a stone upon a stone, I sit upon the stone bench” employs repetition to ensure the readers attention is held from the outset. Barkan’s chosen language and wise words such as “Nenter
                                                                 

vi vaiter” [Nearer than farther], my mother used to say”, leaves one hungry to learn more and as the poem reaches its climax and Barken reflects on how “nearer than farther I am too, to joining you…kineahora!” the reader has clear evidence of how he has been influenced both by those who have come before him and his unwavering faith. This theme remains strong throughout the collection.

     As one reads more it becomes evident that Barkan is not only sharing treasured memories but paying heartfelt tribute to those that are most important to him. In PASSING THE BATON for Natasha Rose Clarke, we feel his pride as he watches her run “like a gazelle over and across the left inside track” before becoming privy to his reminiscence of his own youth “running the 50-yard dash”. It is ever so heartwarming to witness how Barkan relates generations whilst remaining aware of mortality as he tells us that “with a cane, I make my way uneasily, three legs when once two would more than do”. We are implored to feel no pity or sorrow however, Barkan is simply reminding us of the movements of life. The baton is a metaphor for how he has raised his daughter and she, her own daughter and when he passes on, he “will declare: “I’ve won, I’ve won the race!” This outlook is indicative of Barkan’s poetry as a whole: the reflective moving alongside positivity and gratitude.

     Art and imagery are strong influences. Many of his poems are accompanied by photographs and many employ imagery to drive his words and message forward. An example of this is BIRD MITZVAH for Natasha on her bat mitzvah. This poem encompasses everything: the Jewish faith, family, upcoming generations. It has a photograph of Natasha and family, and it likens members of the Jewish faith to birds. Barkan tells us that the movements of the birds represent “spirits of those who battled and died”. Natasha’s bat mitzvah is not the only event taking place on this day, a “bird mitzvah” is also.

     More Mishpocheh gifts us humour in poems such as MY WIFE SAYS, reflection and gratitude in pieces like ON THE EDGE OF EIGHTY and provokes thought in titles such as UNDIVIDED. It is a collection that is appropriate and important for all ages. Barkan is relatable, funny and caring in his delivery and thus, we feel we are witnessing the reminiscences and interpretations of a friend.

     It is clear when one closes the book that Barkan has shared with us his wisdom, and this will absolutely inspire the reader to apply his considerations to their own existence. To achieve this alongside laughs and tears in equal measure is to create a collection that will leave one feeling not quite the same as when the book was first picked up. An undeniable pleasure to read and a triumph by Barkan. He has gifted the reader as well as his own family with this wonderful poetry collection.