John Looker’s first collection of poetry, The Human Hive, published by Bennison Books, has received a number of richly deserved five-star reviews on Amazon, some of which can be read below. The Human Hive, is available at Amazon UK and Amazon.com, as well as:
The Human Hive has also been accepted against stiff competition into The Poetry Library’s collection.
‘Elegant and exquisite’
As an internet poetry blogger, I have had the pleasure to get to know some of John Looker’s poetry online. To encounter his work now, in a real book, is a true delight. The individual poems come together under the one theme of work, enriching and supporting each other in a way that reads like one very moving human story. As a previous reviewer remarked, once you start reading you can’t put it down. Though the title of this collection may suggest humans as drones in a narrow enclosed environment, the poems themselves open out beautifully to a vast world over time and space. They are elegant and exquisite. The long capstone poem, “Night Shift”, is in itself a masterpiece.
Five-star review from Cynthia Jobin on Amazon.
‘Couldn’t put it down’
I have just purchased John Looker’s poetry book, The Human Hive and I really couldn’t put it down. I read from cover to cover in one reading session, ignoring everything and everyone around me. I was captivated. I am a beginner in the world of poetry but all John’s poems are written so cleverly and with sensitivity too. They are by no means simplistic, far from it, but they are very readable, easy to understand and relatable. They evoked gentle knowing smiles from me and a sense of wonder too in the wider subjects less familiar to me. I will be returning to it over and over again and if there are any parents out there who are the constant carers of children and thinking of purchasing this book, go straight to the poem on page 27 called Swan Lake, it’s a stunner.
Five star review from Chris Moran on Amazon. Chris’s first volume of poetry, Dancing in the Rain, is published by Bennison Books.
John Looker’s collection of poems is delightful. I loved all the poems in this book, but a few that stand out include Swan Lake, Frequent Flyers, Hotshot, Caretaker. Highly recommended.
Five-star review from gorgeousgael on Amazon.
‘A wonderful read’
This book with the human work in all its forms as theme took me on a magnificent journey, where every poem turned out to be a surprise in originality. John Looker’s poetry here is about being in a strange land, going through different periods of history, but it mostly is about us, humans, surviving in the hive we call our world. A wonderful read.
Five-star review from Ina on Amazon.
I have been following John (Stevens) Looker’s work for some years now. What attracted him to me at first was his consummate skill with traditional forms of poetry, but eventually his free verse and experiments with mixing free verse and traditional forms in the same poem began to interest me from both the standpoint of the craftsmanship involved and the artistry of the poems themselves.
The Human Hive is Looker’s first volume of poetry, and I am hoping it is not his last. Reading the poems as they have appeared over the years on his wordpress blog Poetry From John Looker, I became accustomed to looking for symbolic meanings in both the construction of his poems and their strong images. Seeing the poems put together in a book is a different experience. Each individual poem invites an exploration of the individual or groups of individuals that are the subject of the poem, but the book as a whole is obviously crafted in order to invite a larger analysis.
What Looker has accomplished is sweeping in both its intent and execution. Using human labor as a theme, he avoids showing the evolution of humanity toward the frenetic pace of the contemporary world, but instead shows the ley lines of relationship of humans over time. The first poem in the book, “Work (A Noun)” sets up this theme:
He stands. He weighs one flint in his hand, frowning,
then swinging his arm high he sends that stone
arching through the air to the trees below,
and it’s spinning still. Changing shape. Becoming
a knife, a pot, the wheel, the printing press,
railways, nuclear fission and the rule of law.
There is the sense in the fourteen lines of the poem that what has evolved is not so much “…the whole man, in skins, squatting,/a ring of small children, thin dogs and beyond…”, but the tools, knives, poetry, wheel, printing press, railways, nuclear fission and the rule of law, that come from our “two hands.”
As the book develops we come to understand that the core of our humanity has not changed over time even though our tools, and the world changed and evolved as the result of our use of those tools has had profound effects on our individual lives.
There are seven groupings of poems in the book: Spinning the World, Martha (a picture of a single day in the life of one woman), the Silk Road, Tribal Loyalties, States of Mind, Ploughman, Master Baker, Night Shift, and Keeping Busy. In many of the poems portraits of individuals are drawn with a sharp eye. In the “Dancer”, Looker writes,
She feels so alive! She wants, she needs, the same
exhilaration daily in her life,
to burst from the chrysalis, break the chain
of the prison door, to give her talents space
to dance on a wider stage in the circle of light.
In others groups pursue aims and interact in the endless dance that is humanity:
We could be with the caravans of Persia, listening
to the roll of the dice and the click of the counters;
in the cool of a durbar;
or sitting with the Moors
in the shady gardens beside the Alhambra —
leaning forward with the others, watching and listening,
the players absorbed in their cerebral strategy … (“A Game of Backgammon”)
Place becomes like time, a kaleidoscope of the human hive where men and women come and go, play, work, love, and become who they are inside the enormous sweep of the human story inside the hive that is time and place and heart and spirit. Time, place, and individuals are specific, but we all exist and live our lives in relationship to other times, other places, other individuals, other groups, the flight of who we are inherent in the endless music coming out of the hive.
The entire volume builds into a long poem, “The Night Shift”, that shows us a single night in a city with all of its individuals pursuing their lives through their work:
There are those for whom the night is not for sleeping.
They’ve left the cave by moonlight. Stalking, fishing,
there is always someone working through ’til dawn.
The Tribe is never closing down.
The poem is as restless as the city that never “closes down,” singing into the city’s light, its underground, its hospitals, its policemen responding to the darker human happenings in the hive of the city, which is part of the larger hive. This is not the world of the ploughman or an individual woman in her kitchen or the hunter in the forest. It is no longer the confined walls of a cave, but it is larger and endlessly alive, although, in the end, still part of the doings of the tribe.
The denouement of the book takes us to the “Caves at Nerja”, “The Stadium at Olympia”, “A Garden of the Ming Dynasty” as come to see the complex layering of humankind and the world through time, space, culture, work, and all the different songs and buzzing in the hive that encompasses the human universe. Looker flies across landscapes and time as if the limitations of the now have been magically eliminated and conjured into a three dimensional tapestry that makes up what for we, as humans, is eternity still unfolding. The Tribe goes on…
This book by Bennison Books is a welcome, welcome addition to contemporary poetry. We should be hearing from Mr. Looker in the future.
Five-star review from Tom Davis on Amazon.