-Reviewed by Ruth Jenkins-
Goblin Fruit is a webzine of fantastical poetry published quarterly. It’s interested in mythic, surreal, and folkloric themes in poetry that uses evocative language and rhythm, in the magical and the forbidden. Rather than being numbered, each issue quietly draws its name and tone from the passing season. This time it is winter- ‘the lean times, the hungry times, when there is more salt and bone to the world than flesh.’ The issue itself is sparse, pared down – nine poems, weaving together, the editor writes, ‘snow, stars, and diamonds,’ ‘fairy tales and shadows, and cold to paint your breath against the night’. This is true, but makes it sound prettier and tidier than it really is. These are also poems of endurance, of loss, of blood, of strange light.
The artwork sets the mood from the outset. A swollen toad-like shape sits on/attacks a slowly melting girl. She feels like a wayfarer, a guide. Come with me, to wolves and skulls and snail-capped figures in muted colours. This feels like a beautiful, self-contained object the way the best print zines are.
We begin with ‘Nightfall on Orkney: A Glosa’ by Neile Graham, and the onset of winter:
‘Don’t be scared of this dark: it’s only
winter tumbling down again like night does,’
This poem shows words, dance, songs, ‘tales mundane of lamp and hearth’ as means of victory against the winter, which is presented essentially as something outside the space of community and home, something to be fought against:
‘But yet they outsang the darkness, outskirled the blustering
wind in the eaves, outspoke the words storm tossed
against the windows, describing in the oldest beats or rhyme,’
This is an evocative piece, made more interesting by the distinction between winter/home being blurred somewhat in the final lines.
‘So within these stone walls listen hard:
is it wind or voices, words of storm or men rumbling deep?
The children tumbled gently into sleep.’
The next poem ‘Strong as Salt’ by Rose Lemberg, builds on this by exploring the relationship between body and winter: the writer’s skin is ‘a cloak of storms’, and heart is ‘slivered salt/ a mirror made of purest salt’, a ‘mottled heart’ that
‘endures between the ribs
of sycamores — stillborn, their faithless limbs
in foliage of frozen salt beneath
the furs of snow’
There’s some arresting imagery here. The poem consists of five parts, and there’s a unity between them, but also a sense of disorientation, of struggling to make sense of whose voice is talking, something which reflects the poet’s own engagement with the idea of voice and silence. The final stanza introduces the idea of parts of the human body being transformed into animals; the heart ‘speaks with tongues of chickadees’.
The relationship between the human body and animals runs through a few of the poems. In the idea of a woman turning into a bear in ‘Callisto at the Corner Coffee Shop’ by Michelle Muenzler, in ‘Snow Melt,’ a chain poem by Mari Ness where
‘needle pricks your skin.
You tuck leaves into a tattered bodice,
wrap yourself warmly in bloodied deerskin.’
This idea of animal’s bodies as clothing, as skin, is continued in ‘Three Bone Masks’, another poem by Rose Lemberg, the title referring to three animal shamans, a walrus, a lemming and a white owl,
‘The lemming gave me
her pelt that makes the needle sing of her in hungry season
grandmother stitched me
with remnants of her skin,’
After this, we have an ambiguous narrator in ‘Snow Bees’ by Jeannine Hall Gailey, a poem I enjoyed but felt lacked the folkloric/fairy tale knowledge to fully get, ‘Diamonds and Toads’ by Christopher W. Clark, ‘Little Songs,’ a Petrarchan sonnet by Leah Bonnet, and, finally, ‘Drawn Like Silk’ by Loreen Heneghan. The issue opened with the onset of winter, and ends with something that feels like the beginning of a strange spring, a falling back to the beginning.
Each stanza of Heneghan’s poem begins ‘when they come’, ‘they’ referring to creatures who might be human, but might not; creatures with ‘eyes painted blue,’ eyes that are not eyes’ and skin ‘not so different from the pale cloth / they wear beneath’. There’s the ambiguity of renewal- of creatures in green coats ‘from that other place / where we remember old truth.’ Also a sense of inevitability- ‘when they come/ we must follow them’ of change, of seasons passing. With its blend of beautiful, magical and unsettling poetry I look forward to seeing what Goblin Fruit Spring 2011 brings.