The temperature of blue

The temperature of blue

Mandy Macdonald

ISBN 978-0-9555347-9-9

Price £8 + £2 p&p

The temperature of blue

Launched Friday 10 January 2020
Better Read Books, Ellon

Aberdeen Launch: Friday 28 February 2020
Blackwell's Bookshop, Aberdeen

From the night-time bustle of London and the dry heat of New South Wales to the cold, wild, and beautiful North Sea coast of Scotland, via Italy, Central America, Cuba, and ancient Greece, The temperature of blue, a new collection of poems by Mandy Macdonald, follows – with some digressions – a trajectory of experiences and impressions from the author's childhood and student years in Australia, through three decades based in England, to her present life in Scotland and the reflections on ageing it inspires. This is Mandy's debut collection.

The cover artwork is by Jillian Bain Christie.

Whether writing about places or people that are important to her, it's clear that a close connection with art, and a musician's ear, inform Macdonald's beautiful and moving poems. Glowing with the gift of colour and light, they shine on the page. An amazingly accomplished debut.

Joy Howard, publisher, Grey Hen Press; latest collection, Foraging (Arachne, 2017)

These are poems of opening doors, their 'pebbly river-bed of syllables' by turns hospitable, intellectually vivacious, and witty. Here are unfamiliar, and sometimes fearsome, places with echoes which are both personal and universal: places where love fulfils or fails. Macdonald's are undoubtedly a musician's lines.

Beth McDonough, editor, Firth; author, Lamping for pickled fish (4Word, 2019)

Mandy Macdonald's The temperature of blue is a triumph and a delight ... a compelling blend of sensual imagery, dry wit, poignant and evocative descriptions of remembered people and places, and elegantly contained feeling.

Susan Castillo Street, Harriet Beecher Stowe Professor of American Studies, King's College London

Mandy Macdonald reads her poem The olive tree speaks to its harvesters, recorded in 2020

Mandy Macdonald

The Author

Writer and musician Mandy Macdonald lives in Aberdeen, trying to make sense of the 21st and other centuries. For much of her life she wrote poetry clandestinely, but finally began letting other people see it after returning to poetry via Jo Bell's 52 poetry project in 2014. Her poems now appear in anthologies from Arachne Press, Grey Hen Press, Luath Press, and others, and in many print and online journals in the UK and further afield, including Causeway/Cabhsair, Coast to Coast to Coast, The Curlew, Marble, and The Poets' Republic.

Mandy writes in the hope that poetry can change the world, even a little. When not writing, she makes music in a number of choirs and in the ensemble Intuitive Music Aberdeen, which often merges music and poetry in its performances.

Jillian Bain Christie

The Cover Artist

Originally from Aberdeen, Jillian Bain Christie is an artist and soprano currently based in Norfolk. A graduate of Glasgow School of Art, she has recently started exhibiting work again after a hiatus while studying music.

Jillian currently works mainly in paper and mixed media collage, often taking inspiration from Nordic landscape, history and music. Recent exhibitions and events have featured multidisciplinary works incorporating installation and set design as well as more traditional 2D works on paper.

Review by Neil MacDonald

Poems should be made of words so condensed that meaning transmutes from prose into something else entirely. Multiple resonances, maybe. Of course, not all poetry achieves (or even intends) this. Some is florid and self-indulgent. But not Mandy Macdonald. Every word earns its place in her tightly-controlled debut collection, The temperature of blue.

There's experimentation and versatility here, sure: the concrete poetry of "& day breaks" or "not really now any more"; the reportage of "San Salvador, 15 December 1990"; the lyricism of "velvet side out". But, perhaps more importantly, there's a keen intelligence and an observational eye, which distils experience down to nuggets of meaning.

"When you get to my age / they will accuse you of wisdom / but you will know you are guilty / only of hoarding experience / in the right boxes," she writes.

And there is the craftsperson's skill of selecting exactly the right words. The back cover talks about her musicality, and that's certainly there. But much more striking to me is the control, the rigour with emotion, the painstaking precision of the exact image.

Just to pick out a few phrases, I loved "a pebbly river bed of syllables", the "small purling waves", and my favourite "Above, the star stream reels / below us, villages are nebulae". There may be a musician's ear in this work, but there's also an almost scientific sensitivity.

Neil MacDonald

Review by Bernie Howley

I have just finished my total and lengthy immersion in Mandy Macdonald's poetry collection The temperature of blue. It was a truly luxurious soak in a fine collection of poems. I loved it. It was absolutely relatable, and I love poetry that is, for me, relatable whether it be through common experience, similar dreams, or shared values. I also enjoyed the built-in musicality and the directness of the writing. If one takes time to examine, thoroughly, the front cover to the collection, one gets a good idea of what is held within. Jillian Bain Christie's cover presents a schematic scene, of motifs, mystery, and surprise. The pink ship is surprising, is it not? The weave of the water, the shadows, the cave entrances – mysterious, no? The motifs – subtle, telling and ever-present? Yet the scene represents a recognisable reality. And there are so many sharp lines inside that cover. My favourite must be, "In the room / an absence is forming / that I will know forever." That is up there with the final lines of one of my all-time favourite poems, Cold by Carol Ann Duffy. So, lovely friends, I would advise you grab a copy – immerse yourselves. Because you're worth it.

Bernie Howley

Mandy Macdonald reads her poem Grimes Graves, with music by Intuitive Music Aberdeen: Haworth Hodgkinson (recorder) and Mandy Macdonald (harpsichord), in a recording made for Clear Poetry in 2017

Review by Isabelle Thompson

"The light forgives nothing" according to the first poem in Mandy Macdonald's pamphlet. Nevertheless – in a collection filled with discussions of war, death, ageing and loss – it's the poet's use of light which brings these topics into the open and offers redemption and beauty as it does so; and it is light which allows Macdonald to speak of darkness.

In "Father's Day", Macdonald uses the interplay of brightness and shade as representations of the speaker's relationship with her father. Her father's bedroom is "chocolate dark" with "summer heat / eating what light there is." Light on the "veranda" outside the bedroom takes on a violent aspect: it becomes a "sword of sunlight" which "slices" and "savages". Radiance and its absence are the vehicles through which Macdonald can conjure an atmosphere of oppression.

Several poems about ailing relationships draw on a similar technique. In "A wedding gift", for instance, "an iron bedstead" becomes an object of bouncing reflections. Light, though never explicitly mentioned, is present in the "shining" "coldness" of the gifted bedstead, the speaker's "tears", and the "blue china rim" of the "sky".

Elsewhere, light is more solacing. "San Salvador, 15 December 1990" is cut through with brightness whose significance shifts as the poem progresses. From the bright flashes of "gunfire", to the "emergency generator" which "lights up the embassy compound like a Christmas tree", it finally settles in the "bright-green buds" of the capers in the speaker's meal. While it might be indicative of danger at the start, by the end of the poem light is a note of hope: "under gunship fire [...] / green flowers to eat."

Poems such as "rippleshimmer" speak of the "sun's watermap", creating a glistening scene in which "wading birds / walk hesitantly". In "Instructions for my funeral", light is equally symbolic of hope. In the face of death, the speaker asks that "music be brilliant" – "let it coruscate, / crackle upwards like fireworks."

The temperature of blue is wide-ranging in its themes and ideas. Tying it together are strands of light illuminating its thoughtful, complex discussions of human experience.

Isabelle Thompson, Sphinx OPOI review


Intuitive Music Aberdeen
Jillian Bain Christie
Better Read Books

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