Blossom with Gail (from Devizes)

Phone memory bursting with text messages from Gail Foster the day I did my fundraising milk round in my Spiderman onesie. A keen photographer as well as accomplished local poet, Gail had cycled to the summit of Monument Hill and sat awaiting to capture the moment I returned triumphant.

I confess, I underestimated my ETA massively due to the media attention, Carmela and family arriving, and passers by stopping me to donate. I was also irritable and smelly by that point, but those are occupational hazards at the best of times, doubly so in a onesie in the sweltering August climate. Gail, though, was as dedicated as paparazzi to getting the snap she wanted, got me smiling just to see her there, and it’s the same commitment she shows through her expressions in poetry. Her shiny new book, Blossom is a prime example.

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Images by Gail Foster herself!

Perhaps its very title coveys Gail’s grouping of photography and poetry, natural elements crucial to her snaps, but her books bestow only the written word. We’ve reviewed Gail’s books in the past, never an easy task. Poetry not my bag, usually, so I cannot liken to similar creative outpourings. There’s also the fear that my own penmanship doesn’t compare and will not do justice to her creative writing. Poems are hard, something about bacon. Yet it is down to befriending Gail which has re-sparked an interest in poetry in me, and deflected my juvenile fear of a Ted Hughes book facing me on a school desk. That’s how universally appealing her words are.

While subjects chronologically stream from one poem to another, expect also, sudden changes in Gail’s train of thought. Blossom kicks off with a memorial forward and dark subjects follow, of wintery funerals and melancholic seasons. One may expect this, the platitude of poems often reveals a shadowy side of the poet. But, just a few poems in and though we’re still on the seasonal theme, winter cries a warning to Gail, to keep her knickers on.

Here is precisely why Gail got me into in poetry, a feat I never cared to assume would happen. The wittiness of the absurd, surreal, Pythoneske can crop up, without warning and provide actual laugh-out-loud observations. There’s a feeling of daring in Gail’s words, while acute and proficiently executed, nothing is off limits. Gail projects drollness, jocularity and just about every other emotion of the human psyche, in manner which though reflects poets of yore, breathes a fresh and unique approach to boot.

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In this, her new book Blossom doesn’t necessarily take us anywhere new in comparison to her previous collections, there’s even a pigeon reference, a running subject in Gail’s words, yet an improvement in skill and wordplay is clearly evident. Gail strives to advance and progress in her wordsmanship, dealing words like a croupier deals cards, snappy and expertly.

The introduction enlightens us to Gail’s motivation and reason for writing, “I write poems for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes an occasion demands it, in which case I stare at a sonnet on a screen for three days; at other times a poem might tickle me in my sleep, wake me up laughing.” Blossom then conveniently divides into sections, poems covering Seasons, poetry itself, “Binky Liked to Bitch a Bit,” Politics, Characters, Sorrow, Love and Prose, even local thoughts in a section titled, “a bit of old Devizes.”

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There are verses dedicated to friends, themes of celebrities, naughty royals and both Greta and Trump, odes to patronising old men, nosey neighbours, political sway, Brexit, current affairs and Nigel Farage depicted as a meerkat. As we pass through an era Gail documents them uniquely. There are unapologetic words of the sweary kind, bitterness at times, jollity in others; bugger, it’s tricky to nail this poet down; what does she want from me, trying to review a book so vastly sweeping with subject matter and prose?! I’m giving up, you have to read it yourself. You can bless your Kindle with one, or Gail favours that you nip to Devizes Books for a paperback, and I tend to agree. Devizes Books brilliantly supports local authors.

In this time of lockdown, you might need a good read, so too does the artists need some revenue. The advantage of holding Gail’s poems in your hand is that you can freely pursue them at your own leisure. We did once review a spoken word CD which Gail recorded, I like this approach and unsure if she will do it again.

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Proof it’s in Devizes Books, here’s owner Jo holding a copy!

I could, but don’t, motivate myself to attend local poetry slams and readings, in fear those poets I know, Gail, our own writer Andy, and Ian too, might encourage me to get up. Yeah right, “here’s one I wrote called ermm, ermm, and ermm!” Yet, I do love to hear Gail actually reading her poems herself, it’s a Jackanory thing, to hear the creator express their words is far more effective for a slow reader like me. But you, clever lot, will love Blossom.


© 2017-2020 Devizine (Darren Worrow)
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Angela’s Secret Swindon

My satirical rant, No Surprises Living in Devizes, once popular Sunday reading, now lies dormant. I’ve deliberated writing a conclusion, but that would be the final nail in the coffin I’m not ready to hammer in. The issue; I loved trudging my week, hunting a subject to bombast about the town I live in, and receiving the relative responses, be they positive laughs or death threats.

 
The reason for its gradual demise is simple; there’s finite topics to explore, and while at first the obvious flooded me, as time progressed I struggled. Methods to keep it running when subjects wore thin were many fold; more positive episodes transpired into what we now have, Devizine. The negative I’ve abandoned under the premise life is too short to be whinging, even if some thought it amusing. One of my earliest methods of trapping a good rant when nothing in Devizes sprung to mind though was to take the column to other towns, as a kind of “unwanted roadshow.”

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Chippenham took the brunt of these outings, but one Sunday, when the subject centred on Swindon, I predicted many would assume it’d be the icing on the cake, as it’s a common joke that Swindon has a lot to rant about. However, for this episode I twisted the cliché, determine not to follow sheep and waffle how cultureless and uninspiring our nearest metropolis is, rather share my opinion that while, as any large town does, Swindon has its social issues, it is far from the negative stereotype it’s frequently perceived as.

 
This turned the head of a fellow writer at Index:Wiltshire, Angela Atkinson. Angela was brought up in a Derbyshire mining village and moved to West Swindon in the 1990s. It’s fair to say she has fallen head-over-heels for Swindon, and alongside her proofreading business, AA Editorial Services, scribes a popular local blog called Born Again Swindonian. The original blog entries were the exploration of her new surroundings; a guidebook to the Magic Roundabout or a piece on the West Swindon sculpture trail, and, akin to the direction I took my article the aforementioned week, it now centres around her conviction that Swindon is actually a great place with more than first meets the eye.

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Her argument is convincing and thorough, to the point where she was approached by Gloucestershire publisher, Amberley Books, to pen a title on Swindon in its ‘Secret’ series. This week sees the book “Secret Swindon” released, and its launch is at Swindon Central Library, between 11am and 1pm; July 28th. Angela will be there to sign copies, and it’ll be available in the library shop afterwards.

 
Intrigued to know what “secrets” Angela could uncover to challenge my assumption everything that may be of historical or contemporary interest in the town I’m already fully aware of. That then, some topics did not spring surprise, Angela commences with a brief general history, from it’s namesake “pig hill” origins to the birth of its industrial revolution; the GWR. But it’s the depth Angela goes which is informative, and in the loose, blog-style, she writes which entertains.

 
I thoroughly enjoyed this read, gaining knowledge of many aspects and artistic properties of Swindon I could’ve driven past and only causally pondered their history. From the wonderful mural on the side of the house near Lion Bridge, which I pass, like, but seldom aspire to seek any knowledge of its artist or background, to the thought process of the contemporary architecture which Swindon holds, with all its 1970s futurism; the Meccano-fashioned “Renault” building, or the curvaceous landmark David John Murray tower. All of these popular sites of Swindon are featured and detailed, with fascinating facts you never thought to ask about. And yeah, the Magic Roundabout is covered too!

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There’s quantity and a vast array to subjects, meandering off the concept Swindon has a magic roundabout and that’s about it. One would be forgiven for assuming “Secret Swindon” is going to be a mammoth read and ponder why they’d want to take up so much time reading about Swindon. But while it’s arranged with copious facts, it remains brief enough not to grow tiresome of, and with informal speech style of writing, doesn’t aim to baffle.

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Angela covers art, sculpture, architecture, literature, music, industry, war eras, and many notable Swindonians. In one neat, ephemeral but enlightening package Angela challenges Swindon’s negative stereotype, steps in the ring and knocks it for six in the first round. It’s a perfect natural progression and extension of Born Again Swindonian.

 
It also highlights areas I was totally unware of, agreed I’d heard of Spitfire Way, having worked on South Marston Industrial Estate, but confess I was ignorant as to why it was named thus. So aside the fascinating facts about the more renowned landmarks of Swindon, and people, such as a captivating insight about Edith New, there are some completely new things I learned, awarding the book’s apt title.

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Here is a book which will inform and entertain the proudest Swindonian, the curious history hobbyist, and any mere window-shopper of local history. A perusal for students, or general passing interest, I tick none of the above, but still adored this. I only apologise to Angela for waffling on about my own little column at the beginning of this review, but it was necessary to elucidate my personal relevance to it!

 
If you ever pause while shopping, look around for a brief second, in any town you’ll note something you may not have ever noticed but bears heavy importance to the history of the area; “Secret Swindon” proves Swindon is far from the exception.

 
Secret Swindon’s RRP is £14.99. It can be bought through Amazon and via Amberley Books at https://www.amberley-books.com/secret-swindon.html.
To follow Angela’s blog visit http://swindonian.me/ and for more information about AA Editorial Services go to: https://www.aaedits.co.uk/

 

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