Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Datura: First Review

First extensive review of Scarlet Imprint's Datura from

To be honest, I’ve dodged a serious bullet with Datura. When its editor, Ruby Sara, put out a call for submissions on Scarlet Imprints last year, I almost submitted a handful of poems for inclusion. The thought of an anthology of occult-themed poetic work and essays on the mystical aspects of the creative process struck quite a nerve with me, and I was eager to contribute. Luckily a combination of a busy life at the time and a creative dry spell prevented me from sending Sara anything by the deadline, and after reading through Datura, I’m deeply thankful that the few pieces I was able to conjure up never got sent her way. For even if they were accepted and published in the pages of Datura, the quality of the content is so high my work would have looked like utter shit next to everything else between its covers.

Datura contains the work of 26 poets, that work being a mix of 6 essays and 47 poems. When I picked up Datura, I was really eager to read the essays. Scarlet Imprint has published three other anthologies in the past – Howlings, Devoted, and Diabolical - and their occult essays were absolutely stellar. While I do love poetry, and have a deep fondness for the Pagan and fortean realms, I’ve read enough awful odes to Odin and tree-spirits (and composed quite a few myself, to be fair) that the thought of a book devoted to such poetry might be a risky gamble. I figured that six good essays could make up for some lousy astral-poetics. Thankfully while the essay-work is every bit as good as I hoped it would be, the poetry in Datura manages to keep its nimble-feet from stepping into the bear-trap of twee Pagan cliches.

The book has a mix of pieces by established poets like Penelope Shuttle and posthumous work by Peter Redgrove, and work by new writers like Ariel, whose poem “EGRE-GORE” reads like William Burroughs composing a cut-up at the Renaissance Fair, and I mean that in the best possible way. There are so many evocative fragments and resonant lines strewn through Datura’s pages: “her voice in my ear sounded like a pomegranate seed tastes / Ah, the earth, always turning up like a bad penny / the swift boat that turns around the island is a signal in the fibers of his skin”.

The poetry is very visceral, and while some of it is fairly esoteric and will probably baffle people who don’t have the slightest clue what names like Abraxas and Inanna could mean, most of Datura does come across as an accessible read for someone who cares not a whit about the occult but loves some good poetry.

As for the essays: if the rest of Datura was the literary equivalent of a toppled-over port-a-potty, “The Poetry Of Magic” by Paul Newman alone would have justified the books existence. It’s a wonderful piece that discusses animism and occult currents that sweep through so much of poetic history, discussing Coleridge, Dylan Thomas, Yeats, “Hymn To Pan” by Crowley, the “nightmare collage” of Eliot’s “The Waste Land”, and Ted Hughes. Newman’s piece does what all great pieces of cultural commentary should do: it immediately instills in the reader a burning desire to dive into the depths of work that the commentator casts a light on.....

The rest of the review can be read here:

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