‘There is that kind of heat / in some hands’, S. Preston Duncan writes in his richly lyric poem ‘You Don’t Steal from the Witch’s Garden’ – and this extraordinary poet could be speaking of his own poetry – which blazes with a rare and precious artistic fire.

In Duncan’s new collection Blood Alluvium (Parlyaree Press), described as ‘a seance in verse’, every poem is charged and pulses with an electric current.

‘Go, find God./ Tell them we are cratered with opioid’, Duncan writes and indeed these are intoxicating and heady poems indeed – alchemical, transformative, time traveling and steely with portent and purpose.

A death doula in Richmond, America, and evidently inspired by the otherworldly and the rich symbols of the arcane and biblical, Duncan’s voice is full of magic and power. His imagery melds the organic and the uncanny (in ‘Harvest’ – there is ‘a trauma/ with human eyes’, hair is ‘demolished haystacks’, a song is ‘written in bird shot’ and ‘a preacher drags something ruined across the sky’.)

Yet equally we have the specificity of concrete details coupled with these allusions, echoes and symbols, making the poems palpable and immersive. Honeyed, glinting evenings, for example, offer us glimpses of eternity, and the placement of stones afford a sense of permanence.

The night opens to a bloom of sunsoft antler,
to a train whistle pulled up from water,
polished and dark and precious
as sap poured over the last golden hour
of stones we have buried around the house
to hold all this in place.

Duncan’s work is, as they said about Seamus Heaney, ‘close to the earth’, that is full of lush, organic, elemental images, connected to the country, the seasons, the stars – yet transcendent too.

Described as ‘a cartography of grief’, Blood Alluvium is deeply elegiac, fusing luminous imagery of loss and longing.

‘Your death would make a great song/ let me help you’, Duncan writes, and as if to prove that, he dazzles with a rush of deeply musical lyricism –

I grieve you along the edges of sleep
I grieve you in tremoring light
In a tarpaulin of blue music
Hanging from the open call of burden and lark
My grief is a star that awakens the tip
Of blackened rope from slouching

He also writes:

There is no secret
Between love and grieving.

But this book is both hallelujah and elegy, mourning and celebration, and as immersive as the rising waters that swell and forbode throughout the book – the waters which represent the passing and taking away of lives and eons – and where ‘summer is counted in inches of flood water’ and

‘The lost time / the water that carries it away’.

Throughout the book, language is dangerous and powerful, and there is an affecting and candid expression of the vulnerability of all things ‘both dog and author’ are ‘broken gods’ and, in a metafiction comment, Duncan says himself ‘no painting is safe’.

Duncan is a visionary poet who brings to mind, with his deeply spiritual perspective and acute understanding of the fate of the earth, W.S Merwin, and there are echoes of T.S Eliot too in the dark incantations of some lines –

The soft door of dying
The place we must rest in idolatry
Upon the milk-wet mouth of color beneath color
Of soil beneath soil
Of stone beneath stone
Of word beneath word
To be spoken again
As a single unspendable sound.

As the collection builds to its climax, It is impossible not to be affected by the inherent emotional truths, transfixing and penetrating imagery and the unremitting and sonorous music that runs throughout.

Some collections impact you emotionally, others leave you in awe at their craft. This collection does both and after reading it I feel, to quote Duncan himself and deploy his heady fusion of the sublime and visceral, as if I am ‘reeking with moonlight’.

A stunning collection with its own unique and redemptive music, written by the writer whose work novelist Tom Robbins described as ‘the feeling of having asked (and received) an autograph from starlight’.

Details on how to purchase Blood Allevium can be discovered by contacting Parlyaree Press here. You can find more information on Duncan’s work at sprestonduncan.com.



Anna Saunders has been described as ‘a poet who surely can do anything’ by The North, ‘a modern myth maker’ by Paul Stephenson. She is the author of Communion, (Wild Conversations Press), Struck, (Pindrop Press), Kissing the She Bear, (Wild Conversations Press), Burne Jones and the Fox, Ghosting for Beginners and Feverfew – described as ‘rich with obsession, sensuousness and potency’ by Ben Ray, and as ‘a beautiful and necessary collection’ by Penny Shuttle. Her new book, The Prohibition of Touch, was published by Indigo Dreams in December 2023.