Message in a Bottle #23

Reviewed by Emma Lee

Message in a Bottle (edited by Fiona Sinclair) is a welcoming, accessible quarterly poetry magazine that favours clarity and attention to detail, with an appreciation of the ordinary, making readers look again at what seems familiar. Contributors include poets from the UK, North America and India.

The opening poems in this issue have a theme of dance unconsciously linking them together. In Shanta Acharya’s “Flamenco”, the dancer’s “Smouldering black eyes hold secrets / buried deep in the earth for centuries. / Her lightning glances dart back and forth, / lips shining like pomegranate seeds.// Soul flowing through her limbs spell dreams -/ of love and creation, betrayal and redemption.” It ends:

She flicks her wrist, spins her skirt, face framed
by strong arms, bascules of a bridge opening,
the finale of a grand pageant sailing in –

A blazing inferno circles her with cries of admiration!
Her feet draw a drum roll, with a gesture of disdain
she tames the fire stamping out the illusion.
Lights dim, darkness descends upon the stage again.

Paul Bavister’s “Amber” explores amber as a jewel and a fossil:

For years she made me fearful – was her
mantis poise beside the tumbling drum
an act for tourists or a mating sign?
Then we met at a wedding in the month of flies.
We were both stuffed in dead relatives’ suits.
She talked so well about the power of amber
how she polished visions of past and future.

I finally felt why my parents moved here.
I danced and years of anger fell away.
The music stopped and she touched me
as we knew we’d passed the test to stay.
Her insectness fell away as we left the hall

Neil Fulwood remembers Guinness’ toucans, comfortably caged, “their bills / chipped like the veneer on a badly-used table / that fetches nothing at auction,” watching TV and failing to recognise adverts. Richard Hughes considers the “End of an empire” in which “A silver silk gown lies / on the floorboards, / like the shed skin of a god. // No one can hear / the odourless gas / seeping under the door.” Angela Topping journeys through snow, echoing Robert Frost but concluding, “One day there will be no promises to keep.” Kate Venables’ “Sold sign outside” is a study in assonance, opening with “Sold sign outside / house cold but not cool / air not moving / talk curled in corners.”

Jyothsna Phanija’s “Speak for Me” explores language:

Our language is of the birds and fairies too
Of the train tickets, rickety tracks and hulky rickets.
Our language springs from the cricket pricks,
From the Korean dances of indigenous faces,
From the bellies that translate bigger bellies.
Our language is equally seductive

It looks at language as a dance between two people, trying to arrive at mutual understanding. The idea of language as dance fits with Message in a Bottle’s aim to include poems that focus on language as a crafted, choreographed movement, encouraging readers to join in rather than sit as spectators on the side-lines. There’s nothing drastic or experimental, but a focus on poems that strike a chord and push readers into looking at their music, the careful choice of words.