Bee Purple

Everything in this excellent anthology is written slightly off kilter for the new century, and would get totally lost at a poetry slam or some other cutting edge event.

That's good, because these are mostly thought-provoking words to savour in our destructive times. Here is delicate verse that demands you turn off the telly, shut out the rat-race, light candles and relax into your favourite comfy chair (or peaceful bed), and let Mandy Pannet's word pictures whisk you away.

This 44 page anthology contains 29 poems. Topics range from words spoken by Jorvik Man to a twin-voiced poem about William II, Rufus the Red (1087-1100 AD), from Mira, wife of Slabodan Milosevic, to a couple of excellent poems about Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822).

While the whole book contains a litter of modern-day pieces, the first half concentrates more on a close inspection of the Middle Ages, while the latter section travels further back, to ancient Greece.

BEE PURPLE is a rich, beautiful tapestry but it's not an immediate or easy read. You've got to attune a little to the style. Once you've arrived, the writing is full of richness and hope.

These poems are solid and sparse, well constructed, perfectly balanced and technically superb. Mandy Pannett knows the voice of her muse well. Everything is mature and totally confident. It's clear the poet has spent many glorious hours at her craft, drafting it, reading it, honing it, polishing it and making it as near perfect as she possibly can — and loving her work totally. She's made a really exquisite job too.

I was intrigued by the title, BEE PURPLE, so was pleased to discover a descriptive poem about same:

and talking of light, there is purple, bee
purple, a vegetable shade for the bees' eyes only,

I'm not sure how that equates to the anthology — are these poems aimed only at poets? I think not — still, it worked and got my attention sufficiently to find out more.

Mandy Pannett is expert at getting up close and personal in all her poems. Here's a stanza from JORVIK MAN:

Give me the feel of berry and seed,
dry stag horn, wet vegetation,
sharp bright buckle, broken clay
small beads of amber and jet.

YEH-SIEN is the name of the girl from the ancient Chinese version of Cinderella. Despite the nature of story, there is no spare sentiment here at all:

Offshore the tyrant
dribbles his conscripts over the hills,
seeking a foot that will passively fit
a restrictive shoe.

The poems about ancient Greece are, again, technically superb. I felt that while DISGUISED AS A BULL was superb, SUATUTANDA, about a fictional place described by Tacitus, which later began to be shown on maps, was both over-long and certainly surprising:

Plug a hamster
in a socket,
smash a turtle
in its shell.
Peel off his skin,
roast him in lead,
he's oh so diff'rent
when he's dead.

The most unusual poem in the collection is ‘The Irish Giant’. Written in three voices, it's an account of remains found in a peat bog which is then taken to a laboratory for analysis. Here's the opening stanza:

I am an eagle stuffed in a jar,
trout under polythene, bubble mouth hooped
in a perfect O. Am a tiger
rug — flattened, an aubergine embryo, child
garotted in Irish peat, a boy Inca sacrifice
fossiled in vomit, a carcass
kippered in snow —

Several poems in the collection are excellent. Both pieces about Shelley fall into that category. THAT SUMMER is one. Here's a fragment:

In an upstairs room, Jane,
his lover this season, opens
the casement all night to the stars
and plays her guitar.

And this on the theme of Hansel and Gretel from ‘Addressing Eloise’

Where is the tawny gold key at this solstice?
At the edge of the wood we are children
abandoned like droppings.

As you've seen from the examples, there's a huge range of topics and themes. Greatly enjoyable and I have no hesitation in thoroughly recommending this anthology.


Steve Anderson. New Hope International


Mandy Pannett says in her brief introduction to this fine collection that she discovered poetry through song. This becomes abundantly clear when you start reading the poems which are oh-so-easy on the ear while also often being oblique and hinted-at narratives. I love this kind of writing which makes you think as well as allowing you to experience the surface patterns of sound and imagery. It’s a shame that more poets working in the mainstream (for want of a better term) aren’t as attuned to the music of their work.

Some contemporary poets bring in a range of vocabularies and themes in order to suggest breadth and richness. In Mandy Pannett’s case this is all made to seem so natural and unobtrusive that the reader doesn’t feel shut out from the poem even if he/she doesn’t share the same reference points. The title piece, originally published in ‘Terrible Work’ is a good example of a writer using knowledge and information as an aid to writing a poem rather than showing off or being unnecessarily obscurantist. I actually like certain kinds of ‘obscure’ poetry and I think that in the end you’ve got to please yourself before you think about communication.(I’m going to be violently disagreed with on this one) but I also love poems where information feeds and informs the writing. ‘A bit like tickling fish, enticing a thought’ is a lovely first line which sets the scene for a mental meander that brings in references to Greek and Norse mythology, an almost shamanistic use of strange vocabulary and the topic of a bees-eye view which introduces science and takes the topic off neatly in a pantheistic direction. The mix of thought, music and suggestion is very satisfying. Occasionally Mandy Pannett surprises you with a cracking metaphor or simile as in ‘Cut Off From The Everyday World By Water’ where ‘a dead fish floats down the stream like the dregs of/a Ganges blossom/Pale half-moon inflated BY GAS/It quickens, tumbling over the weir, spins like a cross bow arched/in full tension, sinks into foam.’

There’s a dark side to her work as well, as in ‘The Hammer Stone’ which is a ritual incantation, almost a pagan hymn, to a lost child: ‘Bury you deep my un-lived child/bone of my bone. Bind you in ligaments/lock you in stone, no lynx or hyena/ with claws like pain shall defile or dare/dig you up again ...’ The mid-line rhyme is neat and while simple, avoids the rhythmic clunking which might otherwise occur. ‘Mira’s Question’, a projected viewpoint of Slobodan Milosevic’s wife, is also dark, casting the ‘narrator’ as a ‘Lady Macbeth’ with the real power in the land. The natural imagery – stick insects and moles – contributes to a mood which is sinister yet hints at sociological depth, exploring the abyss yet pondering its causes. These poems are multi-dimensional, they work as surface pattern but bear re-reading.

Mandy Pannett’s poems are often made up of tangential thoughts which she nevertheless manages to steer towards a surface cohesion which makes a very satisfying read. In ‘Under the Whitebeam’ which takes as its starting point a like from Hophins, the word ‘caricature’ takes her off on a reverie where ‘my thoughts wander like a map: Black coal/kohl eyes/Thoth the god /whose image like their own/they will discard’ In ‘Not Only a Fish’ she combines dream imagery with exotic location and natural history: the ‘fish’ in question is a coelacanth, the only known still-existing relic from the dinosaur age. There is such optimism and energy in her poems, their form and direction seem powered by curiosity and awareness, never written to a format or ‘dead in the mouth’ at a first reading. This is the first time I’ve seen her poems brought together in quantity and the effect of reading this collection has been stimulating and refreshing.


Steve Spence. ‘Terrible Work’