Reading Between the Lines
by Neil Leadbeater
56 Poems ~ 85 Pages
Format: 6” x 8 ¼” ~ Perfect Bound
Price: £ 8.50 ($11.75 US)
Publisher: The Littoral Press
ISBN: 978-1-912412-26-6
To Order:

Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

The first thing that struck me about Neil Leadbeater’s latest collection was the im-
age of a puffin gracing its cover. Since my knowledge about these colorful creatures
is minimal at best, I sought one out. Having secured a place on a ledge beside my
orange-beaked friend, I engaged in conversation. He was happy to oblige my curios-
ity about his life and habits. Among other things he averred:

        We puffins are happy, we dance and frolic, lock our beaks so folks think
        we’re arguing, our webbed feet are good for digging tunnels on windblown
        hillsides. We puff our plumes just before intimacy—but all that lovemaking
        usually produces but one well-rounded egg. Puffins stay faithful for a life-
        time to just one mate. We’re world travelers, lovers of all four seasons.
        Even the frigid Atlantic into which we dive receives us like a welcoming
        womb. In winter, we seek solitude and long periods of rest. We respect the
        rhythms of seasonal change and adjust our lives accordingly.

With our interview nearing an end, my friend drew me close, nudged me with his
beak, and whispered,

        The world could learn important things by watching us, but they must first
        learn to read between the lines.

Thus, equipped and fortified by Puffin-Wisdom … Leadbeater has organized his
volume into four sections: I. Midland Ground, II. Reading Between the Lines, III.
Four Musical Interludes, IV. Poems Further Afield.

To those of us unfamiliar with the lay of the land in England, 'Midland Ground'
relates mainly to the English counties of Staffordshire and Shropshire in the area
known as The West Midlands. These environs are familiar to the poet because he
was born and grew up in Wolverhampton which is in Staffordshire. The region
features both manufacturing and farming, each of which find their way into Lead-
beater’s poems. Being far removed from this area of the UK, poses no necessary
barrier to enjoying the poems. (Although, I admit to Googling certain terms which
were unfamiliar to me). Who among us does not remember childhood games at
school? “Miss Swatman Supervising Playground Games,” returned me to lessons
learned about life under the watchful eye of teachers who offered:

        words of encouragement
        as we lined up for
        our first leap in the light.
        Stooping and crouching
        on all fours
        we became each other’s
        vaulting horse.

My Miss Swatman was Mrs. Brown, 2nd grade teacher, who also taught me Bible
verses at church. She was more than a teacher, she let me know that someone
cared. She knew that every kid needs some “leaping” time and that one day each
of us would be leaping into life. Her job was to prepare her kids for that day. In a
mere 18 lines Leadbeater lifts the ordinary into the fresh air of why we are alive.

Throughout the 22 poems in “Midland Ground” the poet chaperons his readers
through the hit songs of the 1960s, (In the Sixties), makes us aware of nature’s
unique symphony (Jukebox Summer), reminds us about the sinking feeling when
a town’s mainstay business shuts down (Unpacking Thompson’s Foundry).

While not averse to rhyme, Leadbeater’s primary form is verse libre. His poems,
generally held to one page, bear witness to mature literary skill. Each word be-
longs, there is no strain in his writing, flow and continuity hallmark each poem.
Moreover, the poet welcomes his readers: Walk with me, this is where I live, may
I share with you some things I have learned?

I noted above the mix of manufacturing and rural influences on Leadbeater’s poet-
ry. Part II. Reading Between the Lines, takes readers into the country. A boat ride
at dusk ushered me into the mysteries of “A Night on the River,” where:

        At first there is the mirror image of alders
        lying at depth in the river
        and then the obfuscation of dusk
        a string of waterfowl
        landing on water.

Another poem describes marsh marigolds, water crowfoot, yellow loosestrife,
water mint and black knapweed. You won’t want to miss out on the rich descrip-
tions afforded by “A River Florilegium.” I felt as if I were experiencing the blaz-
ing colors, the “big-hearted leaves / larger than life / google-eyed as drunkards.”

“Five Bovine Songs,” took me back to my youth working on farms, milking cows,
the aroma of forked hay, the wet noses and dripping saliva of cows.

Leadbeater, like any good craftsman, reaches into his toolbox for the poetic devices
that best serve his purpose. What delight I found in his use of rhyme in “Mrs. Gilhooly,
Dancing." This poem stands out in Part III. Four Musical Interludes, as a linguistic
dessert following a satisfying poetry meal. Moreover, her perspectives on life nour-
ished this reviewer’s heart.

Poems Further Afield, (Part IV), rounds out this superb collection featuring nine
poems, each of which challenge the reader to think, as the section title implies,
further afield. These poems surprise and delight with language dexterity and turns
of thought that exercise both mind and heart.

I return to the point of beginnings, to the wisdom of the puffin, “Reading Between
the Lines”:

        To dive or not to dive
        into the children’s classics
        that is the question: so much
        rests on the thought of sand eels
        to a puffin on the rocks.

Indeed, I felt the puffin’s beak nudging me to dive in, to Neil Leadbeater’s latest
collection … I’m glad I did.


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