Leaf by Leaf by James Martin

Leaf by Leaf_cover_PRINT_front

Leaf by Leaf introduces an impressive cast of intriguing characters through skilful wordplay and masterful use of the sonnet.  As in Martin’s earlier work, Short Eternities, the reader is once more treated to a ballet of syllables and rhymes which dance and delight across sixteen lines to choreograph a portrait-poem per page.

Turning the pages of Leaf by Leaf is akin to metaphorically turning the leaves of a photograph album, with each page bringing forth a new portrait to examine, sketched vividly and effortlessly in blank (but never boring) verse.

Martin provides a clue to the leaf motif in the very first poem, Claudia:

 “I shall be your verdant leaf

Untroubled by the breeze”

In the final poem, Father, he wistfully observes that:

“The leaf which once was green and fresh

Is fallen, on its way

To union with the cosmic mesh-

Empathic, sentient, gay.”

In between these bookends each character struts their time upon the sixteen-line stage of their eponymous sonnet, capturing a brief moment in time or perhaps encountering eternity in an hour. They audition for the reader’s attention, employing classical and medieval allusions, biblical references and a range of poetic devices which engage the reader’s imagination and often their sympathy or sense of humour.

Martin pays homage to poetry of the past, including Walt Whitman’s own Leaves of Grass, and sprinkles syllables redolent of music, art and spirituality amongst the vernacular of popular culture. Pathos and humour are created in vignettes of characters perhaps known to the poet in the past, the present or the imagination. While some of these characters entice the reader to explore the dark night of the soul, it is the irrepressible sense of fun which Martin’s poems exude which creates the lasting impressions of these leaves.

Deadly sins colour the palette used to render Barry:

“Such pride I envy, sloth alive

In gluttony of love-

When avarice for truth makes five,

If push must come to shove.”

Shakespearean sparkle springs from Ado:

’Much Ado about nothing!’ you

So brilliantly exclaim;

And yet I reckon bards could do

Far worse than quote your name.”

Martin is a master wordsmith, able to condense eternity into a couplet or expand a fleeting moment into an aeon. Leaf by Leaf is a book to dip into and emerge enlivened, intrigued, amused, bemused or perhaps enjoy the resultant simultaneous synergy!

Reviewed by Christine McGuigan June 2016

Kensington Review

Published by Sid Harta Publishers http://sidharta.com/au/

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