Reviews

Review: ‘The Republic of Motherhood’ by Liz Berry

The Republic of Motherhood (Chatto and Windus) is a pamphlet of poems about motherhood. And it’s by Liz Berry, which means that it is brilliant. The poems in this pamphlet celebrate and sing every aspect of early motherhood, in all of its tendernesses and darker sufferings. One thing I was struck by was a really effective balance…

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Review: ‘The Singing Glacier’ by Helen Mort

The Singing Glacier (Hercules Editions) by Helen Mort is a brief collection, just six poems slotted into the size of a crack. But the heart-shaking imagery produced in response to this precious and precarious landscape cuts right to the core. The book opens with an orchestra of clattering spoons and chattering customers; percussive rain pounding against…

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Review: ‘The House with Only an Attic and a Basement’ by Kathryn Maris

Many of the poems in The House with Only an Attic and a Basement – poems Maris describes as ‘fictions’ – deal with anxieties around the frictions and fissures in communication between men and women, toxic heterosexual encounters, marriage and infidelity and child-rearing. As with Maris’ previous collection God Loves You (2013), the tensions produced…

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Review: ‘Passivity, Electricity, Acclivity’ by Ella Frears

Ella Frears’ Passivity, Electricity, Acclivity is one fragmented but connected lyric essay. Where the lyric essays that are most frequently referenced (Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, and Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely and Citizen) tend to work in small blocks of prose (or prose-poetry), Frears explodes the lyric essay form, producing the familiar blocks of prose,…

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Review: ‘As Slow As Possible’ by Kit Fan

Kit Fan’s multifarious second collection takes its title from an art installation / piece of music for a church organ by John Cage which began its performance in September 2001 and is scheduled to end, believe it or not, in 2640. It takes on average over a year for a note in Cage’s composition to…

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Review: ‘Isn’t Forever’ by Amy Key

Isn’t Forever (Bloodaxe Books) is a moving and sincere song of mourning; a song which gathers impetus not through showiness but via a slow accrual of raw, untheatrical and many-layered sadnesses. In ‘Lousy with unfuckedness, I dream’, Key writes:                                  …

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Review: ‘Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods’ by Tishani Doshi

Evocations of dogs, rain, love letters, mouldy houses, dead girls, adolescent longing, and an understanding of the body’s mortality inform poet-dancer Tishani Doshi’s Girls Are Coming out of the Woods (Bloodaxe Books), an eerie world of both ruin and tenderness. Conferred the Eric Gregory Award for Poetry and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection…

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Review: ‘Assurances’ by J.O. Morgan

Paying particular attention to the undercurrent of waiting, Assurances (Cape Poetry) navigates an assembly of perspectives and voices affected by the Cold War. Through what he’s gleaned from his father’s role in maintaining the R. A. F. Airborne Nuclear Deterrent at that time, J. O. Morgan’s work seeks to illuminate the shared space and connections…

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Review: ‘Emerald’ by Ruth Padel

The irrepressible spirit of green guides Ruth Padel’s new collection Emerald – in terms of inner and outer growth, mysterious stone tablets and the lucent mineral itself, ‘a seam / of dazzle green’. Emerald is a tender and sustained honouring of the author’s mother Hilda, and the particularities of her dying, in 2017. ‘This is…

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Review: ‘Venus as a Bear’ by Vahni Capildeo

My favourite Capildeo moment (that I’ve come across in print) is in a TLS ‘20 questions’ interview from December of last year when in response to ‘Jacques Derrida or Judith Butler?’, the Douglas Caster Cultural Fellow in Poetry at Leeds University came back with ‘Ursula LeGuin. And David Bowie.’ What appeals to me most in…

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Review: ‘Electric Arches’ by Eve Ewing

In a recent reading, Eve Ewing quoted the Black Liberation Army leader Assata Shakur: “Black Revolutionaries do not drop from the moon. We are created by our conditions.” Ewing agreed with Shakur, but then went on to ask: what if they did drop from the moon? This is the premise of the opening poem of…

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Review: ‘Soho’ by Richard Scott

By turns explicit and playful, elegiac and defiant, Richard Scott’s Soho draws on the fiercer traditions of queer poetry without ultimately depending on those who have gone before. The result is a debut not bound by allegiance to some generalised category but liberated by joy and clear execution. Soho is not necessarily inseparable from London’s…

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Review: ‘The Built Environment’ by Emily Hasler

Epigraphs often function as concise statements of intent, subtly staking out the territory and interests of a collection. Emily Hasler’s The Built Environment (Liverpool University Press) begins with a quote from Nan Shepard’s The Living Mountain acknowledging the wonderful tension between what we know and what we cannot know of the natural world, which for Shepard…

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Review: ‘Who Is Mary Sue?’ by Sophie Collins

I admit, I experienced intense feelings of estrangement and disruptedness during my first reading of Who Is Mary Sue? (Faber).  A kind of physical, alienating panic took hold and I struggled with a sense of being constantly dislodged from my usual reading habits and processes. The allusive, allegorical mode is realised through a very quiet approach…

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Review: ‘Pamper Me To Hell & Back’ by Hera Lindsay Bird

The review of Hera Lindsay Bird’s pamphlet Pamper Me To Hell & Back that I’d really like to write, my ideal review, would be a long list of the poems’ flaws and failings, a whole bunch of intellectual and even occasionally personal criticism, and then at the end there’d be a very large, badly lit…

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Review: ‘A Perfect Mirror’ by Sarah Corbett

Exploring themes of location and dislocation, Sarah Corbett’s A Perfect Mirror (Liverpool University Press) finds connections in unlikely spaces, refracting global concerns through local attachments. This short collection finds its genius loci in the landscapes of West Yorkshire and the English Lake District, but its thematic concerns are much broader: seeking to create resonances with both…

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Review: ‘City of Bones: A Testament’ by Kwame Dawes

I read City of Bones (Northwestern University Press), over 200 pages of poems, in one sitting. I was completely held by this heart-full incantation, this uncompromising, philosophical and allusive series of narrative, lyrical and elegiac poems that ventriloquise the ‘multitudes of souls urgently and forcefully singing, shouting, groaning, and dreaming about the African diasporic present and future.’…

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Review: ‘An Ocean of Static’ by J.R. Carpenter

In between the billows of foaming brine, tucked away behind stacks of salt, lurks the pearl of a poetic endeavour completely unlike any other. An Ocean of Static (Penned in the Margins) is the debut collection by digital writer J.R. Carpenter, whose cryptic stream of ever-shifting code spectacularly reinvents the seascape. From the late 15th century…

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Review: ‘The White Book’ by Han Kang (trans. Deborah Smith)

This new book in English from South Korean writer Han Kang may be hard to categorise but it does have a story, which should reassure anyone worried that a text on the colour white (or non-colour white, depending on how you look at it) will be insubstantial. As it turns out, this diary-cum-sketchbook may be…

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Ledbury Emerging Critics: Dzifa Benson reviews ‘Natural Phenomena’ by Meryl Pugh

Meryl Pugh is the award-winning author of two previous pamphlets, Relinquish and The Bridle, but Natural Phenomena (Penned in the Margins), her eagerly anticipated first full poetry collection, opens up new ground in the poet’s oeuvre. In the blurb, Pugh is described as “both futurist and flâneuse.” The future and society’s relationship to consumerism concern…

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Ledbury Emerging Critics: Jennifer Lee Tsai reviews ‘Three Poems’ by Hannah Sullivan

Within the context of contemporary poetry and modern poetic form, how does one begin to describe or characterise ‘free verse’? As an academic, Hannah Sullivan’s critical exploration of this question is evident in her stated research interests. She argues that ‘the prosody of modern poetry is, to a large extent, determined by practices of lexical…

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Review: ‘A Watchful Astronomy’ by Paul Deaton

The title of Paul Deaton’s powerful first full collection, A Watchful Astronomy, might strike the reader initially as something of a tautology – surely all astronomy is about keeping a vigilant eye trained on the night sky? Deaton’s approach is to look down the other end of the telescope at the minutiae of our earthly…

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Ledbury Emerging Critics: Srishti Krishnamoorthy-Cavell reviews ‘Don’t Call Us Dead’ by Danez Smith

Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead (Chatto & Windus) interrogates the present, exhumes histories and dares to imagine a future poised in anger, grace and freedom. It is unapologetic in its scope and tender in its pain. The politics is searing and the language hauntingly beautiful; Smith’s is a craft of lacerating precision. This collection is…

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Ledbury Emerging Critics: Mary Jean Chan reviews ‘Shrines of Upper Austria’ by Phoebe Power

As one of the four Poetry Book Society Spring 2018 Recommendations, Phoebe Power’s debut collection Shrines of Upper Austria (Carcanet Press, 2018) sings with a variety of different notes, ranging from the gruesome details of an Austrian murder case to a moving sequence written in the voice of Power’s Austrian grandmother, Christl, who left for…

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Ledbury Emerging Critics: Jade Cuttle Reviews ‘Asylum’ by Sean Borodale

A landscape of stone has never been so alive as in Sean Borodale’s Asylum (Penguin): freckled with bones that refute their own burial, and feed off ‘the flesh of the shade’ as though trying to grow back their bodies, these poems are brimming with life in unexpected places. The inspiration for this book was mined…

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