Amalgam (2021) by Alessio Zanelli.
Reviewed by Allen Ashley.
Prolific poet Alessio Zanelli will be familiar to many of you from the pages of Focus, BFS Horizons, Here Comes Everyone, etc. This new pamphlet collects together pieces from a wide variety of publications and has something of a sunrise to sunset flow. Opener “Kuramathi Dawn” transcends its travelogue feel with its arresting opening line: “The morning comes in shouting like a desert.” If it’s the job of the poet to disrupt or make one reconsider assumptions, that simile certainly does the trick. Equally thought-provoking is Zanelli’s closer “Cosmic Nemesis”, which depicts “a micro black hole” gradually swallowing “all the planets” as well as Sol itself, before proceeding “on its endless path / to where it all began”. Hence: a final sunset. One might quibble with the astrophysics at play here – the orbiting planets would not be neatly lined up like snooker balls – but the poem makes for a memorable if deterministic closer.
In between, there are many strong evocations of voyaging, particularly on the sea. The beautifully titled “Evernauts” cross the globe “constantly a league / ahead of the terminator”. The sea itself is in constant motion in “Seaclock”, its sound gorgeously described as a “wombal gurgle.” The longest piece on offer is “Seafarer” and cleverly conflates intellectual voyaging – “devouring books by London, Verne and Clarke” – along with cutting-edge physics and sub-atomics – “elusive bosons, steadfast fermions, strings”. At base, though, the equation is between the sea voyages of the European Age of Exploration and the potential space journeys of our outward-bound future. I was pleasantly reminded of that old Star Trek episode where Captain Kirk quotes John Masefield’s “Sea Fever” (“And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by”). Zanelli’s poem reaffirms this connection and makes of the reader, the writer and all would-be spacefarers someone who is exploring “Just like Columbus did”; if one can focus on Columbus’s thirst for knowledge and not his cultural legacy.
Historical figures are present also in “Apparitions At 5 Pennine View”: the cast list includes Edgar Allan Poe, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Neil Armstrong, and Jon Lord – the late keyboard player from the band Deep Purple. More contemporary references are made in the closing line of “Kyoto” as Zanelli alliteratively notes, “The timer’s ticking. Treaties. Thunberg. Trump.”
There’s a certain snobbishness in some poetry circles against shaped poetry. In this book, however, Zanelli deploys the technique to good effect. “Sinkhole” begins with an enlarged, centred full stop and expands pyramid-shaped like a chasm opening out beneath one’s feet. “Land And Sea Breeze” is zigzagged like the approaching and receding tide. Most subtle of all, though, is the constriction on line width that the poet imposes on his pandemic reflecting “Quarantined”.
In contrast to that more recent concern, “The Flickering” takes those of us old enough to remember back to the three-day week of the industrial disputes of the 1970s, along with the resultant power cuts – “Quite a usual occurrence in those days”. Mortality is also a concern for the poet as he suggests that “Maybe memories move through me... both ways” (“The Arrow Of Time”), and at the close of the imagistic “Autumn”, finds himself (tongue in cheek) to be left with “Cracked flakes of staling bran. / Dried drops of bottled brine. / Loose scraps of withered brain.”
There are a couple of slight misfires amongst these twenty-four poems – the political pieces “About Colors” and “Haters” feel just a little didactic – and given Zanelli’s track record, one might have wished for more poems with overt genre content. But this trim volume comes with a lovely abstract cover by Andrea Schiavetta... and also comes “Recommended” by yours truly.
Review from BSFA Review 15 - Download your copy here.