Reviews

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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Review: ‘The Air Year’ by Caroline Bird

When was the last time you were asked to do the impossible?  Caroline Bird’s essay ‘The Discipline of Getting Lost: On the Impossibility of Poems’ (in the Nine Arches anthology The Craft) speaks of freeing yourself to write poetry by accepting how impossible it is to put your soul down on paper. Resonant of Ben…

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Review: ‘RENDANG’ by Will Harris

To understand Will Harris’s RENDANG, I keep coming back to the poem ‘The White Jumper’, which appears at the end of the collection’s first section. It’s a poem of fragments, puzzle-pieces which expand to bear meaning on the rest of the poems in subtle, complex ways. The poem opens with a figure ‘running and jumping from…

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Review: ‘Arias’ by Sharon Olds

Arias is a collection that sings both because of death and in spite of it. In this song of herself, Sharon Olds locates the pain that gives rise to song, offering readers the depth of perspective and celebration of life that the end of life can bring. The paperback version of Arias has a satisfying…

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Review: ‘The Craft: A Guide to Making Poetry Happen in the 21st Century’, edited by Rishi Dastidar

24 essays on how poetry happens in the twenty-first century provide rich nourishment for curious readers and aspirational writers alike. Rishi Dastidar wants you to revel in the possibilities thrown-up by poem-making. Recognising that, ‘to write poetry today, you need to be thinking about more than just your technical, prosodic abilities’, The Craft comes with…

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Review: ‘Whip-Hot & Grippy’ by Heather Phillipson

Heather Phillipson’s Whip-Hot & Grippy is a nightmarish, lurid inventory of news cycles, junk food, sex, bodies, and failed communication ‘come to thrash the living daylights out of you’. If 2016 was the year that Heather Phillipson ‘lost [her] sense of humour’ (by her own account), 2019 is the year she has channelled nihilism and…

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Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critic Review: ‘Whereas’ by Layli Long Soldier

Layli Long Soldier’s debut poetry collection, Whereas (Picador) roots through the vocabularies it employs, carefully tracing its linguistic inheritances. Long Soldier is a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, and is keenly aware of the power – and lack thereof – that language can command. Whereas is split into two parts. Part I, ‘These Being…

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Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critic Review: ‘The Caiplie Caves’ by Karen Solie

Time and place are the central nodes of Karen Solie’s The Caiplie Caves (2019), a three-part poetic narrative traversing human life, both historical and modern, through the spatial lens of the geographic region around the titular Caiplie Caves. Solie begins with an invocation of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing: ‘The past is not for living…

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Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critic Review: ‘The Million-Petalled Flower of Being Here’ by Vidyan Ravinthiran

Vidyan Ravinthiran’s second collection – a private sonnet series to his wife, the writer Jenny Holden – is at once a succession of private missives to a private love, and arranged, as a sequence, to portray the sum total of the day to day in a marriage between two writers, a brown person and a…

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Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critic Review: ‘Surge’ by Jay Bernard

It is noteworthy that the first word of the opening poem in Surge (Chatto), Jay Bernard’s searing debut, is remember. Here is a collection against forgetfulness; a refutation of any presumption that the past is the past at all. Set between the pillars of two disasters, the New Cross Fire of 1981, which claimed the…

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Review: ‘Flèche’ by Mary Jean Chan

How do you learn to love when you’re versed in the ways of war? Equal parts sinister Aesop’s Fable, lived experience, and fairy tale with a twist, Flèche invites readers into a labyrinth of longing. There’s an ongoing war across generations, between mother and daughter, in Mary Jean Chan’s debut collection, Flèche. But the battles…

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Review: ‘Reckless Paper Birds’ by John McCullough

To understand the weight of being bodied, All the swollen and tender exchanges That ground me here among the living (‘A Floating Head’) There is a powerful sense of tension between body and soul in John McCullough’s absorbing third collection, Reckless Paper Birds. The human body and brain can be a prison; they are both…

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Review: ‘Handling Stolen Goods’ by Degna Stone

Interrogating the prejudice of race and class, Degna Stone’s spellbinding third pamphlet, Handling Stolen Goods (Peepal Tree Press), reveals a disturbing bond between the body and the world around it, and strives to break this down through bold, determined struggle. Whilst human interactions stand at the heart of Stone’s poems (‘We spend our time having…

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Review: ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ by Richard Osmond

Richard Osmond’s Rock, Paper, Scissors is a collection wherein violence and trauma has disrupted the social fabric to the extent that reality becomes a game of signs. Like the trickster of myths and fables, this collection undermines authority and convention. The three principle signs of this collection are excerpts from Beowulf, Qur’ānic extracts and Osmond’s…

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Review: ‘Girlhood’ by Julia Copus

There is a theory in earth sciences known as the Gaia Hypothesis that propounds that the earth and everything upon it (though, crucially, perhaps not including ‘us’) acts as a synergetic, self-regulating organism. The idea being that the earth acts as its own immune system, but also as its own ‘reset’, so to speak. Dangers…

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