The Alchemy of 42

‘The Alchemy of 42’ by Polly Stretton is dark, speculative, and sometimes bizarre—these are her lenses and through them we view scenes that comfort and distress, thrill and mesmerise.

Written to 42Worcester prompts, there are, fittingly, 42 poems included. What is 42Worcester? It is the only alternative genre spoken word event in Worcestershire. ‘The Alchemy of 42’ is written for fans of gothic, horror, sci-fi and fantasy—described as omni-directional, dark and lyrical, ‘these poems ambush the senses’.

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Beth O’Brien of Madhatter Reviews has written, amongst other comments, ‘Stretton’s Gothic section is crammed with fangs, blood, bats, crescent moons, active shadows and other eerie spectres. The rhyme and rhythm of ‘Haunting’ and ‘Grotesque’ beg to be read aloud, preferably around a fire. But it is the stories these poems hold that were particularly compelling and found myself rooting for the vengeful ghosts.’

‘Part three, Sci-fi, is the first experience of sci-fi poetry I’ve ever had (or can recall). The cyborgs and aliens are described with short and snappy lines, forcing the reader to pick up their pace as we take in the, ‘Dripping, slipping, gripping, stripping, / unremitting teeth’. For all the terrifying descriptions, Stretton’s empathic emphasis is always on the creatures she’s describing, and when a creature breaks its bonds and flees, I found myself reading faster, urging it to get away from the howling mob of humans.’

The full review can be read here.

Sincere thanks to Beth and to Neil Leadbeater in Write Out Loud:

Neil Leadbeater, Write Out Loud, read the full text here.

“When Horace Walpole applied the word ‘Gothic’ to his novel ‘The Castle of Otranto’ in 1764, he set in motion a genre that has been in existence ever since. In Stretton’s opening poem ‘Haunting’ the word ‘Transylvanian’ is the first adjective off the block. Forest glades, a castle, an intruder in a cape and a murder quickly follow suit. We are in gothic territory. In this section, Stretton writes convincingly about childhood fears of silhouettes, Ruysch’s museum of curiosities whose contents are not for the faint-hearted, a poem which takes as its starting point a story by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, and a moth that escapes from the mouth of a bat.

In the horror category, ‘Rising Slowly’ begins with a graphic scene that could be straight out of one of Roald Dahl’s darkest stories for adults…”

An American Review

A wonderful review from Carrie M. Rubin, and she’s reviewed it on, thank you, Carrie: ‘Polly Stretton has penned another terrific collection, this one deliciously dark and haunting with vampires, werewolves, faeries, ghosts, and all sorts of sinister beings. Lines like “He takes his brain out every night and puts it in a bucket” and “a fusty tang, a taint of dung” and “A toxic droplet gleams from a barb, hot in the stinging sun” are what make even a non-poetry reader like me flock to her work. Her vividly descriptive prose alights all the senses. You not only read her words, you hear, feel, taste, and smell them. If you enjoy poetry, be sure to check it out!’

“Celebrating 42Worcester with a collection is a thrill,” Polly said, “I’m planning to collate an anthology of poems from the 42Worcester poets and writers next year and have another of my own collections ‘Growing Places’ scheduled for next March. ‘Growing Places’ is a very different collection from this one, featuring the places that I’ve lived and relationships in those places that contribute to my growth and life-long learning.”

Eminent poet, reviewer and University lecturer, Michael W. Thomas, said, “Here, we share afresh the terrors of Le Fanu’s Maud. There, we witness a sentinel-crone at the junction of this world and the next as she prepares a treat for a spectral trio. A ‘circus of chaos’ offers not the joy of parti-coloured distraction but an insupportable sense of loneliness. Faerie folk ‘suck on columbine, nectar, blood’ as they caper and madden in the corner of our eye. Circe of the many-hued hands delights equally in fragrant herbal beds and the torment of libidinous sailors. More happily, in the dusk of a carpet museum, revenant lovers unite, as they never could in harsh, uncaring life.”

A Review by Dr Charley Barnes

The Alchemy of 42 by Polly Stretton officially arrived in the world yesterday! It’s an excellent poetry collection, that had an wonderful digital launch last night (August 11); one I was lucky enough to be involved in, and I’m thankful to Polly for having me there.
I actually worked with Polly to edit this collection a little – not that it took that much work on my part at all! The work is clever, well constructed, and well considered, as Stretton uses poetry as a means for exploring different genres, such as Horror, Fantasy and more.
The 42 element of the book is Stretton’s tribute to 42Worcester, an alternative spoken word event that she has inherited from previous owners and hosts, and that Stretton now runs. Therefore meaning the book is not only a credit to her, but also a credit to this evening.
Each poem reads as a response to a certain prompt that was given at 42, making them rich and varied. Stretton demonstrates a commendable use of tone and voice, to create layered narratives and chilling perspectives, and to do that through poetry is, I think, something very special.
The Alchemy of 42 is another wonderful release from Stretton (one of several, I hasten to add) and it shows her work as versatile and astutely crafted, as well as being hugely entertaining to read.

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