Reviews

Review – The Kids by Hannah Lowe

One of the hardest things for boys to learn is that a teacher is human. One of the hardest things for a teacher to learn is not to try and tell them.                                              …

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Review – Corrigenda for Costafine Town by Jake Morris-Campbell and Working Out by David Hughes

Writing in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads in 1800, Wordsworth famously advocated poetry written in ‘the real language of men’. A couple of centuries and more on, with all of our debates about the relationship between page and stage, all of our continued discussions about poetic register, all of the critical sniffiness there can sometimes…

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Review – Of Sea by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett, and Thinking With Trees by Jason Allen-Paisant 

What is the language of the invertebrate? What form might the invertebrate provide the poet? Elizabeth-Jane Burnett’s Of Sea traces the light shed by bodies alternatively-structured: A ‘Prickly Cockle’ ‘start[s] light’, the coat of an aphid ‘dusts light’ in ‘Lupin Aphid’, a ‘Murky-legged Legionnaire Fly’ provides a ‘blurt of sun’. A note at the start…

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Review – Like a Tree, Walking by Vahni Capildeo

Vahni Capildeo is an astonishingly prolific and inventive poet, and Like a Tree, Walking, showcases the full range of their imagination. The collection begins with a poem ‘In Praise of Birds’, which captures the spirit of the work as a whole: In praise of high-contrast birds, purple bougainvillea thicketing the golden oriole. In praise of…

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Review – The Voice of Sheila Chandra by Kazim Ali

Kazim Ali’s body of work revitalises how we, as readers, perceive history, narrative, and the lyric. His innovations are captivating, encompassing multiple genres, and swiftly entwining poetry and prose, dramatisation and autobiography. I was especially struck by this a few years ago, when first reading Bright Felon: Autobiography and Cities (2012), an earlier collection that challenges any particular notion or expectation of genre; a collection…

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Review – Brilliant Corners by Nuzhat Bukhari, A Blood Condition by Kayo Chingonyi

How do we reconcile conflicting inheritances? Many poets of colour find themselves caught between two roads: the English lyric, whose focus on internal feeling can imply a disavowal of history, and the real histories from which today’s poets arise; histories bent by the home of the English lyric. The lyric and its most apparently ahistorical…

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Review – Virga by Togara Muzanenhamo

Togara Muzanenhamo’s third collection of poetry, Virga, derives its name from a phenomenon in which precipitation falls from a cloud but evaporates before it reaches the ground. Accordingly, the poems in the collection have a replete and ephemeral quality, depicting fragile terrains of abundant beauty, and the crowning feats of destinies that fluctuate like The…

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Review: Ultimatum Orangutan by Khairani Barokka

Drawing on her childhood in Indonesia and her experience as a disabled artist, Khairani Barokka’s second collection, Ultimatum Orangutan, brims with vitality, wisdom, and courage. Moving effortlessly between the personal and the universal, between hope and despair, the poet questions the spaces and times we live in, the relationship between an individual and society, and…

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Breaking into Song — War of the Beasts and the Animals by Maria Stepanova, translated by Sasha Dugdale

What is a dead song? A silent song? A song unsung, unheard, forgotten? In ‘The Body Returns’, the concluding poem of Maria Stepanova’s powerful, playful, ferociously vital collection, War of the Beasts and the Animals, the narrator invites us to ‘Break the frozen earth, touch the dead song.’ The dead press in through the lines…

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Review – sikfan glaschu by Sean Wai Keung

Sean Wai Keung’s debut collection sikfan glaschu begins with the disclaimer that its poems ‘should not be taken as reviews – nor should the quality of the poems necessarily be seen to reflect on the quality of any food or place which may bear a similar name’. However, this generous sentiment feels a tad ironic…

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Review: New Poetries VIII: An Anthology

How to approach reviewing an anthology? Option 1: Dip in at random. Option 2: Read chronologically. Option 3: Begin with a poet known to you. Here’s me letting you into a not-so-big secret: I blended all three approaches when reading Carcanet’s New Poetries VIII. This handsomely designed anthology functions, on the one hand, as radar…

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Review: Beethoven Variations by Ruth Padel

Many collections published over the last few years have fused poetry and biography, invoking historical, mythical, and religious characters. Poetry, in many ways, is the art of conjuring – be it specific images, emotions and speakers, or whole landscapes and decades-long sagas. These subjects, of course, can be either ‘real’ or fictional: often both; sometimes…

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Review – poems for my fbi agent by Charlotte Geater

If ever I needed a distraction, it’s now. I have never needed poems more than I have this past year, as the isolating effects of the Covid-19 outbreak continue to sink in. It’s almost difficult to read Geater’s debut pamphlet poems for my fbi agent (Bad Betty Press) at this time, such is the dark…

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Review: Magnolia, 木蘭 by Nina Mingya Powles

The poems in Nina Mingya Powles’s debut Magnolia, 木蘭 are stronger for the braiding of repeated threads; longing, colour, pilgrimage, and memory return often to add strength and flexibility to the lines. Even the dual and translated title is a preview of the power behind the binding of two languages on a tongue and in…

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Review: Magnetic Field by Simon Armitage

Simon Armitage first referenced Marsden, West Yorkshire, in his inaugural collection Zoom! (1989). Over 30 years later, with Magnetic Field: The Marsden Poems, we’re taken there once again. The poems are like cardinal directions, pointing back to the landscape and inviting readers to gather in a geographical amphitheatre. As with many poets, the childhood home…

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Round-up of Pamphlets by Simon, Menos, and On

The Poetry Business Competition has a great record of giving us exciting new work. These three winners – ranging from the accessible, witty, and moving poems of Emma Simon, through the powerful tale of a son’s kidney transplant in Hilary Menos’s Human Tissue to the intriguing new voice represented in Nick On’s Zhou – offer…

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Review: Round-up of Pamphlets by Papachristodoulou, Baker, and Birnie

An interesting poetic constellation in this triad of new pamphlets; each has similarities to the others, but there are marked differences too. Elaine Baker’s Winter with Eva (V. Press) and Astra Papachristodoulou’s Stargazing (Guillemot Press) in particular are poles apart in formal and narrative strategies, and many readers may have a distinct preference for one…

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Review: Solar Cruise by Claire Crowther

A poetry of the climate crisis has been growing most noticeably over the last ten years, and it is a poetry of frustration. While individual poems and sequences have done this well elsewhere, Claire Crowther’s new collection, Solar Cruise, is a brilliant complete journal of the anger felt by those of us staring the heat-death…

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Review: Pamphlets Round-Up of Dunn, Evans, and Lewis

Two presses produce introductions for three emerging poets, proving that the pamphlet form is as versatile as ever. The title poem of Roxy Dunn’s Big Sexy Lunch sets the scene for what is to follow: indulgence without guilt. ‘I advise’, Dunn writes, ‘a big sexy lunch / The six course Italian kind / Beginning with…

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Review: ‘My Little Brother: a morning in heaven, at least in green’ by Christel Wiinblad

My Little Brother, the second collection of Danish poet Christel Wiinblad (but the first translated into English, by Marlene Engelund), is a moving account of Wiinblad’s brother’s life, his battle with schizophrenia, and his suicide attempt. It is also the story of her, the big sister – what she witnessed, the clues she missed, those…

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Review: ‘Shine, Darling’ by Ella Frears

Reflections on movement and witness haunt Ella Frears’s debut, Shine, Darling. ‘I Knew Which Direction’, the prologue poem that offers a roadmap for our movement through the collection generally, also introduces the book’s metaphorical patron saint: the moon. The poem begins with its speaker on a shore, drawn to that moon ‘tilted toward the sea’…

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Review: ‘My Darling from the Lions’ by Rachel Long

Rachel Long’s debut collection, My Darling from the Lions, interweaves accessible narrative poems with surrealist ones to explore a mixed-race speaker’s arrival into womanhood. Five nearly identical versions of the poem ‘Open’ occur in the book’s first section. Each features an ‘I’ engaged in the same dialogue with different interlocutors:  This morning he told meI…

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Review: ‘Saffron Jack’ by Rishi Dastidar

Rishi Dastidar’s second collection is a chimera. At once a long narrative poem, a one-man play with modest stage directions, and a DIY manual for How to Set Up and Rule a Nation, the book is also written in the format of a legislative document, with numbered clauses sub-dividing into indented elaborations: 24.2. It was…

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Review: ‘How To Wash A Heart’ by Bhanu Kapil

In How To Wash A Heart, her first UK-published collection, Bhanu Kapil offers a timely and intimate exploration of hospitality, expressed through the story of a fictional relationship between an immigrant guest and a citizen host. Wrapped up in this story are other stories: of the artist trying to create, the body’s inescapably visceral condition,…

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Review: ‘Letters Home’ by Jennifer Wong

‘Home’ is a contentious word. Both personal and political, ‘home’ implies belonging, and not belonging.  In Robert Frost’s ‘Death of the Hired Man’, ‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there, / They have to take you in’. But is that place where we live, where we were born, where our family…

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