11 Apr 2018

Book(let) Review: Ten Poems about Sheds (Instead of a card)

Poems about sheds? What's not to love!

But at the risk of sounding like a complete Philistine, I admit that I've always preferred prose to poems.  I like to get stuck into the narrative and subtleties of a good book and all but a handful of poems leave me either baffled or indifferent. A Romantic, I am not.

So when Candlestick Press asked recently if I would like to review their latest publication 'Ten Poems about Sheds', I was initially reluctant but I took a look anyway.  The title alone is enough to pique the interest of any gardener - don't we all have a bit of a thing about sheds?

Having found my way to their website, I discovered booklets with beautifully illustrated covers on a range of subjects - most, not all, are poetry anthologies.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I opened my copy of 'Ten Poems about Sheds'; probably a few lighthearted, jolly poems. I know I imagined shades of Roald Dahl or Edward Lear. Instead I found a collection of thoughtful, evocative, free verse poems.

Let me quote from the back cover:
"A shed may be just a place to keep the lawnmower, or it may be somewhere to escape to in order to write or paint. Sometimes it's a haven in which to daydream when the house is full of noise and bustle [...] These enchanting poems will lead you quietly into private worlds where you'll find you're entirely at home."
For me, the word 'shed' takes me back to my grandpa's garden where I can still see the black shed where he stored and maintained his tools. I'm not sure I was allowed inside, perhaps just a peek from the doorway to watch him work, but I remember the smells of creosote, linseed oil, wood and earth. Heady stuff for a small girl keen on digging. I thought it a magical curious place.

And that's the power I found in these poems, each one evoked a different memory or train of thought and I found myself lingering over the words.  Isn't that what a card or letter should do?

Because that's the brilliant thing about these booklets - they're designed to be sent instead of a card. While I love to get birthday or christmas cards, I've always regretted the waste; they're usually not something you'd want to keep forever, and I prefer things to have more longevity. No, cards are heartwarming to receive but inevitably - and regrettably - soon recycled.

But this booklet (and others in the range) is something to be savoured; to find a moment, perhaps over morning coffee, to sit and read at leisure - and then to tuck away to read again later. The titles drew me in - 'To the Shipbuilder, his Tabernacle', 'A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford', or simply 'The Shed':

"Step in it's a tardis: vortex of smells
distilled a century - of pre-war
timber, earth-floor, and the gold decay
of sawdust, linseed, two-stroke oil ..."
(The first verse of 'The Shed' by Stuart Henson)

The A5 sized booklets have a quality feel, being printed on smooth, matte, white paper with a heavier card cover.  They're packaged in a cellophane wrap with a sturdy envelope plus a very handy bookmark with space for a personal message.  Each card is £4.95 plus postage, not a huge amount more than the cost of an average greetings card and yet offering so much more.

Although I was asked to review 'Ten Poems about Sheds', I couldn't resist taking a look at a couple of the other booklets.  Having read them, I've been drawn back to re-read them many times.

Ten Poems of Kindness: The back cover explains: "A simple and almost old-fashioned word, kindness is an underestimated virtue in our increasingly hectic and impersonal world. These generous poems remind us that kindness can take many forms and doesn't have to be time-consuming or complicated." The book includes an open letter from the mother of Felix Alexander, the 17 year old boy who took his life in 2016 after years of cyber-bullying. In the letter she exhorts people to "be kind always". The introduction is written by poet Jackie Kay who writes, "Being kind allows you to see the sunlight through the leaves."  I'll happily promote anything that inspires people to be more kind to each other.

In his introduction to Ten Poems about Gardens, Monty Don writes "These are all fine poems, all perfectly practical celebrations of why and how to garden. Read them with soil under your nails and to cultivate all that grows within. Read them and go out and garden the better for it."  There's a fabulous poem about allotments in this selection that made me smile, as well as an ode to the passions that Sissinghurst has seen and another, Vespers, that starts, "I don't wonder where you are any more; you're in the garden ..." That should strike a chord with more than a few folk I know!

But my absolute favourite (so far, hah!) has to be the story of The Wood in Winter; the phrasing is hauntingly beautiful and I love the cover. The author is John Lewis-Stempel, an award winning nature writer. The back cover introduces us: 'He writes about why being in a wood in winter strips us to our essential soul, and how close encounters with the animals who thrive in this hard season remind us of our own deep connection to the earth.'  I particularly enjoyed the narrator's encounter with a fox in the snow: "... the vixen, quite oblivious to the weather, and to me. Even through pelting snow and half-light her fur lustred. She burned alive. The red fox."  Or birds: "Some rooks flew overhead; not the usual ragged, weary flight to roost, but an oaring deep and strong with their wings."  An oaring ... exquisite.

~ Wonderful woodcut illustrations add to the story of The Wood in Winter ~

Without becoming too evangelical, I hope I've inspired a few readers to take a wander over to the Candlestick Press website. They're a small Nottingham based company who print and publish in the UK and it would be a great shame not to be made aware of their titles. I think the booklets make perfect gifts and there's something for everyone - whether it's knitting, bicycles, chickens, clouds, telephones, tea, cricket, cats, dogs, puddings or relatives ... and much more! I'm tempted by a couple of the Christmas volumes; I like the look of 'The Christmas Wren' (also in Welsh) and 'The Gift of the Old One'.

New anthologies coming out this year include poems about Picnics, Rivers and Walking, among others.

Candlestick Press and their range of 'Instead of a Card' poetry pamphlets, can be found here.
Poetry pamphlets are stocked at over 300 UK card and book shops, including some branches of Waterstones, Blackwell's, Amazon and, best of all, probably your local book shop.
They can also be ordered online via the Candlestick website, postage is £1.25 for up to 2 booklets, or £1.65 for 3-4 booklets. Postage is by 1st class Royal Mail for speedy delivery.

My appreciative thanks to Candlestick Press for the review copies.


  1. Great Review and I will most definitely follow up.

    1. Thanks, Sue - I was surprised at how much I took to these booklets but I genuinely feel they're value for money and something to be treasured. And pretty enough to replace a card ...

  2. These look wonderful, and I love the idea of sending a little book of poetry instead of a card. The illustrations are so pretty, and I especially love the block prints of 'The Wood in Winter'. This is the second recommendation for this author I've read in the last two days! Thank you for sharing. I can't wait to explore the range. :)

    1. Hi Valonia, I agree, it would be so much nicer to get a booklet than a card. Now I want to look at all the range - I love the idea of poems about clouds or picnics and would (will!) happily send these out on birthdays, etc. Have fun exploring, you might be some time. :)

  3. How enchanting! I will certainly check this range out, just gorgeous, especially The Wood in Winter!xxx

    1. My thoughts entirely, Dina - it's a beautifully told story. I'm looking forward to reading The Christmas Wren, I think that will be good too! xx

  4. A most enjoyable post, and an excellent review. I've always liked poetry and I recently saw a copy of the garden one which I thought was a great idea. xx

    1. Thank you Flighty; I did wonder if you knew of these pamphlets given your keen interest in reading. I still prefer a good book to poetry but I love the concept of a few thoughtful poems on a birthday or other event. A winning idea for sure! xx

  5. Oh I've read much about the Candlestick pamphlets on a couple of book blogs Caro and have meant to order the odd title for some time. The illustrations look as attractive as the contents. Your reviews has given me the necessary prod so thank you :)

    1. I found myself wanting to read - and have - them all, Anna, initially based on the beautiful covers but the content is great too. Strangely, I hadn't come across them before and am thrilled now to know about them. So pleased to have reminded you of them - yes, let's buy more!


Thank you to everyone who leaves a comment, it helps to know that my scribblings are being read! If you have a question, I'll answer it here or contact me via the 'Contact Me' form at the top.

Comment moderation is on to avoid spam nonsense getting published. No offence to genuine commenters who are very welcome!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...