David Russell

David Russell, born in 1940 and resident in the UK, is a writer of poetry, literary criticism, speculative fiction and romance. Earlier poetry collections include Prickling Counterpoints (1998) and his poems have been published on-line in the International Times. His main speculative works are High Wired On, 2002; Rock Bottom, 2005. In 2013, he published a translation of the Spanish epic La Araucana, (Amazon). David's romances are Self's Blossom, Explorations, Further Explorations, Therapy Rapture, and Darlene, An Ecstatic Rendezvous (all pb Extasy - Devine Destinies). He is also is a singer-songwriter and guitarist, and his main CD albums are Bacteria Shrapnel and Kaleidoscope Concentrate. Many of the tracks can be found on You Tube by searching under 'Dave Russell'. David's pamphlet of surreal environmental poetry An Ever River was published by Palewell Press in April 2018.

Reviews of An Ever River

Review from Peter Geoffrey Paul Thompson, editor of Rubies in the Darkness

I think the phrase "surreal Eco-poetry" is manifestly correct concerning this volume in general. It is also quite unique. Many of the poems are indeed unsettling, and a "tender concern" is evident, as Adam Horovitz suggests. David is greatly concerned about the planet and what humankind does to it regarding unthinking or selfish pollution. I particularly liked Scorpion, which I published in Rubies in the Darkness. It has both an accessible yet enigmatic quality of questioning. I also much liked Eco Thunderstorm, which I suppose is to be expected from a former songwriter. Probably a song, it has an effective repetition of refrain. It also frequently rhymes, which appeals to the traditional poet. I liked the phrase "you can drive any statue wild" and "answer every Devil's prayer" and deals well with the power of nature, perhaps when it is antagonised. I liked the starkness of Cremation, which I too have always believed in. Mid-Life is deeply philosophical, as is Reflections. Two Faced Tanning brought back school memories – also Max Mosley. I felt some comfort and optimism in Disintegration, the opposite perhaps in Clouds. Earthquake is a questioning poem which suggests that humanity may be the cause of such "natural" disasters. With Respect to the Whale is a hard-hitting poem, with a powerful attack on the human race, who must learn many lessons about other species. Our greed, our blindness, our vanity may well lead to our own demise. The last verse is a stark message to the human race. In Transit seems to be deeply surrealistic, and my own favourite artist being Dali, I resonated with its unusual depth, and there are interesting and novel images. Some of the poems are, astrologically speaking, typically Geminian, with a strong play on duality – ie In Transit, Two-Faced Tanning, Connections. The poems are generally obscure on first reading, but one is amply rewarded by further readings. Respitoration is a wish for the ultimate healing via nature’s processes. An Ever River, the title poem and the longest in the collection, appears at the end. It gives us a potted history, in effect, of what the river must have seen. There is an angry, almost righteous potency in many of the poems, which often centre on the ability of nature to transcend even the worst excesses of mankind. I was pleased, on a general note, to see punctuation used perfectly, even in what some might term the more "modernist" poems.

Review from Colin Hambrook, Editor http://disabilityarts.online

As the title of Dave Russell’s collection suggests An Ever River bursts and blisters with references to the elements, nature and humanity’s emotional connection to Ecology. The collection is packed with metaphor, immersed in scientific references at turns offering an indictment of man’s ignorance and greed, contrasted with a deep sadness for the seeming impossibility for the human race to get its act together and actually cooperate to curb its destructive behaviours on each other, on nature and on the environment.

The opening poem With Respect to the Whale pulls no punches. Russell sets the tone of his collection, honouring the carcasses of rare or extinct species set behind glass in the Museum – mirrors of the path trodden by humanity, he says. There is the inevitability of the self-destructive course we are taking, to the point we are rendered 'mere cinder-blistered slime'.

no species that survives will honour you;
in all your seeming strength your final weakness,
cutting your lifelines with your every grab
for further power and satiation.

As a counterpoint there is hope in the form of nature’s resilience within a sensibility that gives more than a nod to the New Physics immersed in Eastern mysticism. It is a poetry of the Apocalypse, a meditation on power and a hymn to the cycles turned since life emerged from 'the primal ooze' and the balance of power that has kept wheels turning. An Ever River flows like the thoughts of a god overlooking the history of life itself - a commentary on the paradoxical nature of the universe and the question that surround its existence and the proof of its unwavering impossibility. And then a spark of Russell will suddenly break through the stream of reflection on the primal soup as in Mid-Life:

So much happened;
so much didn’t –
so nice to remember;
so painful to recall

Or the text will turn from the macrocosm to the microcosm as in In Transit where it is as if God had come to analyse the atoms in a tube train, its carriages and the seats within its carriages. God may have made man in his image, but Russell’s commentary suggests he may have lost a sense of self in the process - although not at the expense of an obscure humour.

But you still like the idea of topness and paperness as something
permanent – Without it, the pretty design will truly go to pot – being
merely liquid.

Russell’s text is dense with imagery; he paints with words, a master of abstraction, teasing remnants of representation from torn ligaments. Alchemist, for example, reads like an instruction: 'Sing, earth-captured starlight...Sing through my blinking tubes and phials.' There is no clear conclusion resulting from the 'small breedings / in clean-forgotten courses' except for the satirical playfulness that pulses rhythmic and cutting.

In conclusion having known David Russell’s work over several decades, it's a delight to see this collection from Palewell Press with a few old favourites. It is the poetry of a keen intelligence with a love for words and the sounds and imagery that can be teased from them.

Review from Paul Dolinsky, author of Collected Poems on Buddhist Themes

A key theme of this collection, is that at least some human activity has become like a natural disaster, which destroys the environment and the living beings in it, as effectively as any natural disaster. The condensed power in these poems, seems to be drawn from the very potency and poignancy of this situation. Hence, the last two stanzas of the opening poem, With Respect To the Whale.

no species that survives will honour you;
in all your seeming strength your final weakness,
cutting your lifelines with your every grab
for further power and satiation.

The time to halt is now; let live and know –
abjure corrupt proliferation, grow
in numbers' confines, species' truest bounds.

Individual poems show nature manifesting in and out of the its various forms - plants, animals humans, and dead things. One poem Underwater Ballet ends with this description of the transition from gills to lungs:

Last bursting thrust,
febrile diffusion;
velvet sense – soft through soaking,
impervious skin in utter life.

Its elements sliding;
gills suckling lungs.

From nature, we draw both our physical substance as human beings, and whatever aesthetics, values, and meaning that we ascribe to our lives. However, several poems describe death as part of nature but also as destroyer of human aspiration. The poem Cremation uses the image of the monolithic tomb to describe the human predicament of human aspiration always ending in death.

The first was built to say
"We stand forever, cleaving heaven and earth."

The last: "We can accept the moment only;
When all’s affirmed, we are as powder."

The ebb and flow from life to non-life includes speculation of what if there was nothing, rather than something. In the title poem, An Ever River, which ends the collection, the poet puts it this way - that life and death anticipate each other. Thus, the scenes and sentiments descried are stark, but not hopeless for the future of the earth and of humans. We'll end this review with Disintegration, a short and powerful poem that describes hope for both humanity and the survival of the earth.

The bottom fell out
and all things gathered,
reverted to their origins,
in skips, on pavements,
fell to casual hands.
But in the pit
of all exhaustion,
at the bottom of grip’s loss
are seeds and roots
of restoration,
which in their throbbing cycles
breathe out on pine and belt.
The bottom stood solid.

Review from Victoria Orr-Ewing, Design Review at Art Gaucin

An Ever River by David Russell, published by Palewell Press. David Russell has the true orphic voice which leaps and sings and lifts you high and drags you into immemorial darkness; though despairing of the way in which we have broken and outraged the world, his love renews and makes the world and us whole...

Review from Alan Morrison, Editor of The Recusant

Dave Russell’s surrealistic Eco-poetry defies easy categorisation–including the one I’ve just given it. In An Ever River, Russell voices environmental concerns, crucially, about all types of environment: natural, artificial, human, urban, mental, emotional. Russell mines language for its synergies and particulars, and its sound-associations - 'for retroaction blends fact/ with pretence, / solid in sense – incense', Mid-Life; marshalling a mineralogical vocabulary but ultimately travelling 'beyond man’s symbols', With Respect to the Whale.

There's an element of misanthropy in leitmotifs of humans as art-making parasites who 'abrade the pencilled rocks', Connections; and abuse nature's finite resources: 'The seething energy-city, ever greedy to accelerate', Earthquake. The savage ergonomics of the underground give passengers 'the most complete awareness of the toil and/ monotony which went into making the tube', In Transit. At times his poetry is oblique, almost cryptic:

The foundations could be called organic,
so people longed to analyse to scrutinize,

trade silver mercury
-- Growth Before Buildings;

You carried your vengeance beyond decease –
slowed down the pyre’s cleansing,
-- Immortality.

Russell uses language as grease for the imagination. Some of his tropes have the enigma of Oriental gnomic utterances:

Go all around; you are a magnet;
the things you seek are tiny, chipped filings,
very little in themselves,
-- Panic;

and the haiku-like:

First there was a God
bounded by no face,
faced by no boundaries,
-- Reflections.

The strange alchemy of ecological, psychiatric and dystopian sci-fi images, Space Capsule Volunteer and symbols calls to mind such diverse writers as R.D. Laing, Joseph MacLeod, Philip K. Dick, John Wyndham, David Gascoyne, J.G. Ballard and Jeremy Reed. There are also naïf frissons and quirky rhymes reminiscent of Stevie Smith:

You're only sure you're sane, ok?
when one like you is put away.
There rooted the bare, threaded nerve,
the stunted limb, enfeebled grasp,
the shake.

"Don’t touch!"
Their errors paralyse them.
He only wanted to make something work,
"Don’t touch! He might be dead",
-- Don’t Touch!.

Or Stevie channelled through D.H. Lawrence:

I touched a scorpion; it struck.
It was my fault; I had been warned –
but for one split second
its beauty-fascination wrenched me
from reason’s ice.

I don’t think anyone could find a scorpion ugly.
They shine too,
-- Scorpion.

Russell's poetry is almost always sublime, very often visceral, disturbing (which is a good thing), and at times profound:

as every block of granite,
basalt, obsidian
melts into a stained-glass window',
-- Respitoration.

Above all, it is energetically imaginative, and imaginatively energising.

Contact Information

Camilla Reeve, Senior Editor


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