Songs for Lesser Gods

Songs for Lesser Gods - Lesley Quayle

Where fiction is concerned, almost the only thing that will make me give up on a book once I've got to the third page is being bored. A good story-teller will always keep me reading happily - often right through the night - till I reach that final page. And then usually I wish there were more.

But when it comes to poetry, I am hard to please. I find most of what is being published in the specialist poetry magazines either mediocre or pretentious rubbish; certainly nothing that would make me either wish to turn the page of that magazine or seek out more by the author of any particular poem.

When I read through a new collection (and this is true whether or not the poet is new to me) I have a pencil in my hand and I award the occasional poem one tick (have another look at it later), two ticks (I like it, definitely want to read it again) or three ticks (I love it, am going to add it to the private collection of favourite poems I have stored away on my PC). If I don't discover a poem worth even one tick among the first half-dozen, I usually give up. (Poets - make sure one of your best poems is among the first that people will read! Hook them!)

Under normal circumstances, well over half the poems in any collection, by no matter how famous a poet, will receive no ticks at all. Notable exceptions have been Dorothy Nimmo's "The Wigbox - New and Selected poems" where every poem got two or three ticks, and Elizabeth Bartlett's "Two Women Dancing", a much larger collection where there was no poem at all which I did not tick. Those two were (yes, were) wild roses blooming all unnoticed in a cultural wasteland.

I think Lesley Quayle is one of the very, very few poets around who may be in their league. At least this little chapbook contains poems which might have been written by either of them, and there is no higher compliment than that. For example, the opening poem "This Child" grabs you within three lines:

This child of ours says he's
always broke
snorts coke smokes dope

The sheer dexterity of the rhythm and the rhyming - when she is working with tight rhyming her craftsmanship is superb - is all you are aware of at first, but then you read it again, more slowly (it's difficult to it read slowly, it moves so fast) and you find that there is deep feeling there, too, a real example of a poet looking at life.

But that is true of most of the poems, whether they are dealing with her family or herself, or the farm she lives and works on. Like the "Songs for Lesser Gods", the lesser gods being "the God of Broken Mouths" (old ewes have broken mouths, it seems), "the God of Thankless Tasks" and "the God of Lambs and Sleepless Nights" - a series of four perfect sonnets. Not the only ones in the book - there is a death cropping up in some of the poems, and the sonnet "After the Funeral Party" is also perfect.

The poem "One Bottle - Six Glasses" is perhaps of all the poems here the one that could most easily have been written by Dorothy Nimmo. Read it - and if you haven't already, read Dorothy, too.

I mentioned the "feeling" displayed - or should that be revealed? - in these poems. There is a poem here called "A Woman who Writes", which is a quotation from Anne Sexton "A woman who writes feels too much". I like feeling in a writer, any writer, not just a poet, and maybe that is why I so often prefer women writers, poets like Emily Bronte, for instance "No coward soul is mine ..." and Emily Dickinson " A face devoid of love or grace, A hateful, hard, successful face ...". If you share my tastes, you will treasure some of these poems.

I have just noticed that this book is unavailable, presumably out of print. Why, when it is so easy to publish a book (ebooks, POD) and so much rubbish is being published evry day, are the very best ignored?