London Grip Poetry Review – Clare Best

Poetry review – END OF SEASON: Alwyn Marriage is charmed by both content and substance of Clare Best’s beautifully produced chapbook

End of Season / Fine di stagione
Clare Best
Frogmore Press, 2022
ISBN 978-1-8380179-5-8
27 pp      £12.

This little publication is unlike most of the books one is asked to review for London Grip. Of the 18 pages of poems, half are in Italian and it is described, on the back cover, as ‘words & music: song cycle’. The list of contributors at the end of the book includes seven composers or performers, though the book itself does not contain any of the music from the song cycle; and the booklet is stitched rather than produced in more conventional style.

There is, however, nothing wrong with producing a book that does not fit easily into the normal run of poetry collections; and this simple but beautifully produced pamphlet is a delight both to read and also to simply hold and browse through. This includes the highly attractive cover featuring a photographic reproduction of one of the Coast to Coast to Coast books created by Maria Isakova-Bennett, who herself produces hand-stitched poetry publications.

The poems are based on the poet’s relationship with the Cannero Riviera on the northern shore of Lake Maggiore, and is dedicated to one particular family with whom she became good friends: the Gallinotto family. The poems were written over a period of several years, following Best’s first visit there in 1994 and some of them have been published previously in magazines. However, more recently the poems have inspired, first translation into Italian, then graphic design and print, and finally the composition of the song cycle based on them. The inside of the back cover gives details of the world premiere of that song cycle at the Hotel Cannero, Cannero Riviera, in 2022. It is a pity that the limitations of the written word mean one cannot have access to the music, when it is clearly such an important part of the project.

The standard of my Italian is not high enough to judge the quality of the Italian translations, provided by John Taylor and Franca Mancinelli, but the English versions are clean and concise. Most of them focus on the landscape or seasons, though a more personal touch is introduced in the poem, “On the Mulattiera”.

I was unable to find the meaning of ‘montives’, with which the poem “The particularity of winds” begins. However, given the poem’s title and the context, in which a number of different wind names are celebrated, I presume it is the name of a wind; but I was not able to verify this.

Although all the poems are short, they contain some beautiful passages, which display Best’s skill in observation:

Ask him why water flattens
when chestnuts drop their leaves,
how currents turn in the afternoon.

In the opening poem, “Return”, the poet declares that ‘The lake speaks to me / and I must listen’; and the closing poem provides a fitting end to the collection in one of Best’s more lyrical passages:

There's one last chance
to make that passaggiata
along the silver shoreline
towards the hollow trees,
down the path spotted scarlet
with magnolia seed.
			       ["End of Season, Lago Maggiore"]

Poetry apart, the quality of the design is further enhanced by the use of paper created from algae, the sensitive use of text colour and the illustration in blue monochrome of the lake and village, which forms the background to the dedication page.