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Poetry pamphlet

by Jeff Phelps on January 9th, 2017

This review of Wolverhampton Madonna  is by Neil Leadbeater on :

Jeff Phelps has been writing and publishing poetry for more than 30 years. He is co-editor of The Poetry of Shropshire (Offa’s Press, 2013) and has had two novels published by Tindal Street Press. He lives in Bridgnorth.

The title of the collection, Wolverhampton Madonna, refers to the painting Madonna and Child by the Austrian artist Marianne Stokes which is currently in Wolverhampton Art Gallery. The painting is reproduced on the front cover of the pamphlet.  In his poem ‘Madonna and Child’, Phelps brings her down to ground level. The poem is provocative because of the way in which he chooses to position her in the context of the 21st century.

At the centre of this collection is the long poem ‘River Passage’. The narrative moves seamlessly from one character to another, rather in the manner of one relay runner passing the baton to another, starting and ending with a schoolteacher but travelling outside the classroom to the schoolyard and then on to the river. Phelps uses mathematical imagery to hold the taut narrative together. Despite its length, it is fast-paced and always holds the reader’s attention. If there is such a thing as a perfect poem, this must surely be it.

His poems are full of wisdom  and they address for the most part the big issues in life. This is a poet who treats his readers on equal terms so that we can readily identify with what he is saying and feel engaged with his words. Beneath the surface his poems run deep. There is a wry sense of humour at work in poems such as ‘Cooking in a Bedsitter’ (a nod to Katherine Whitehorn’s classic Penguin book of the same title) and ‘Note of caution for a son going off to university’. These are counterbalanced by the serious tone of ‘Blackberries’ where Phelps quietly makes the connection between his subject matter in the opening and closing lines, just as he does in ‘Oxygen’ where he compares and contrasts two very different situations to dramatic effect.  The clever wit displayed in ‘Angry Haiku’ rounds off the collection with panache.

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