Reviews

‘The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx’ by Tara Bergin

It’s perhaps a sad indictment of the way in which history is recorded that many potential readers of this, Bergin’s second collection, might not have heard of the lamentable story of Karl Marx’s youngest daughter Eleanor (1855-1898). The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx seems to step into the breach and breathe new, memorable ways into…

Read More

‘The Book of Tides’ by Angela Readman

The Book of Tides is a triumph of femininity, transformation and transience. Daring and unsettling, Readman’s poems subvert the status quo, blurring the boundaries between myth and reality with a visceral feel that draws you in from the very beginning. These are poems that beg to be read out loud, crammed with short, sharp words…

Read More

‘Fourth Person Singular’ by Nuar Alsadir

To fragment a text is to make it more object-like – gnomic, you could say, in the sense of knowing something that’s beyond both writer and reader, and so capable of being read back (more richly and ambiguously) into the world. For Nuar Alsadir, whose Fourth Person Singular is composed of fragments, sketches, and micro-essays,…

Read More

Review: ‘Proprietary’ by Randall Mann

‘If scent were white // noise,’ suggests the title-piece of Randall Mann’s Proprietary, ‘doughnuts would be that scent.’ One barely has a chance to get one’s lips around the powdery dough of these white-noise doughnuts, this cultural soma, before the speaker informs us that ‘The factory won’t sell at any price. / The building next…

Read More

Review: ‘Seasonal Disturbances’ by Karen McCarthy Woolf

Karen McCarthy Woolf’s 2013 debut collection An Aviary of Small Birds is a book that has stayed with me for a long, long time. The poems revolve around stillbirth of her son, and manage to capture the furthest corners of grief, anger and heartbreak with an exact but also almost unsentimental pitch that continues to…

Read More

Review: ‘Kingdom of Gravity’ by Nick Makoha

Kingdom of Gravity is a powerful debut and deserves a wide readership. Nick Makoha’s reflections on Idi Amin’s brutal rule in Uganda and the equally atrocious civil war that ousted him, which indirectly answer reoccurring atrocities in Syria and the Middle East, are the work of a hugely talented poet, capable of great formal finesse…

Read More

Review: ‘FIELD’ by Harriet Tarlo

The central premise in these 60 pages of spare, open verse is that a single field is important – culturally, historically, environmentally, poetically – and what is exciting about this collection is how Tarlo brings the reader into relationship both with a field and with the concept of field. During a regular train journey, Tarlo…

Read More

Review: ‘All this is implied’ by Will Harris

Will Harris distrusts fixed perspectives. At the same time, his experiments on the boundaries of poetry and prose are underpinned by the sort of phrasing that converts lines into permanent memories. In this debut HappenStance pamphlet, he addresses the ambiguity of identity and inheritance. For Harris, who has an English father and a Chinese Indonesian…

Read More

Review: ‘All Fours’ by Nia Davies

Nia Davies first full collection is ‘salty-lipped,’ kinky and enigmatic. A fusion between the avant-garde and the more accessible lyric, it is a mix of contradictions: open and oblique, filthy and tender, skittish and measured, British and international, serious and, this is what surprised me most, silly. All Fours glitters with knowing and surreal humour…

Read More

Review: ‘Clowning’ by Roxy Dunn

In many of Roxy Dunn’s Clowning poems, we encounter an acutely self-conscious speaker who is struggling to occupy an uncertain space between the safety and familiarity of childhood, and the expectations associated with adulthood that are out of reach. In ‘5AM’ – an aptly liminal time between night and day – the speaker unexpectedly wakes:…

Read More

Review: ‘A Swansea Love Song’ by Stephen Knight

In A Swansea Love Song, Stephen Knight continues his project of seeking to capture on the page, through phonetic spelling, the realities of a spoken Swansea voice, which he began twenty years ago in The Sandfields Baudelaire. The central difference between that pamphlet and this is the step away from dramatic monologue towards a more…

Read More

Review: ‘Scare Stories’ by David Clarke

Causality and chaos. These could be our governing gods at present. They are certainly the governing gods in David Clarke’s Scare Stories – a 25 poem sequence in the third person plural set in ‘possible near futures or versions of the present’. The poems cover horribly recognisable ground: consumerism, refugee crises, despot generals, video-game violence,…

Read More

Review: ‘All the Prayers in the House’ by Miriam Nash

All the Prayers in the House opens with a short and incantatory poem called ‘Vesper’ that shrouds the collection in mystery before it has even really begun. In its broadest sense, it means ‘evening’, but it could also apply to the candlelit evening prayers of the Presbyterian Church. This in itself conjures up the predominant faith…

Read More

Review: ‘Useful Verses’ by Richard Osmond

I’m delighted to be able to begin this book review with the following sentence: Absolutely central to the emotional, conceptual and aesthetic positions of Richard Osmond’s Useful Verses (Picador) is the figure of the mushroom. That might seem hard to believe, but it’s testament to Osmond’s strength as a writer that he’s capable, in the…

Read More

Review: ‘Louder than Hearts’ by Zeina Hashem Beck

In this emotionally charged, overtly political collection, the Lebanese poet Zeina Hashem Beck writes her way through pain and passion, through history and politics, through bombings and journeys and injustice, through personal and political tales of family, parenthood, love, destruction, and loss. Hashem Beck writes with great dignity, verve and directness, never shying from difficult…

Read More

Review: ‘Dragonish’ by Emma Simon

Emma Simon’s debut pamphlet Dragonish (The Emma Press) introduces a poet who is adept at finding the extraordinary in the everyday and the everyday in the extraordinary. Dragonish really whets the appetite for the full debut collection that will no doubt be warmly greeted in a few years. These accessible, entertaining, often moving poems sometimes…

Read More

Review: ‘At Hajj’ by Amaan Hyder

Centred on the Greater Pilgrimage to Mecca – from which At Hajj (Penned in the Margins) derives its title – this collection abounds with interrupted narratives or side-lined stories from seldom heard-of, or listened-to, people. I’ve been busy thinking about the layout of a new collection as I read Amaan Hyder’s fascinating first collection that mingles…

Read More

Review: ‘Ticker-tape’ by Rishi Dastidar

Reading Rishi Dastidar’s Ticker-tape (Nine Arches Press) gives essential insight into what it is to be alive in Britain today. Dastidar’s debut full length collection marries project management and social media, politics with good old fashioned unrequited love, and clearly shows a fresh, original and important voice. Facing the contents page is a flowchart guiding…

Read More

Review: ‘Savage’ by Rebecca Tamás

It’s fitting that the first word in Savage (Clinic) is ‘please’, thus priming the reader for the pamphlet’s themes of vulnerability and need. Indeed, much of Rebecca Tamás’ technique hinges on a kind of self-psychoanalysis, an exploration of the individual’s sacred/profane duality as revealed by ‘love that’s virulent, ugly, nutshell tight, / love that throws out…

Read More

Re: Review: ‘White Hills’ by Chloe Stopa-Hunt

What is it that makes poetry special, different, or unique? What makes a poet important? The answer must lie somewhere beyond form or subject – beyond, that is to say, anything I am able to mention here. The poems in White Hills (Clinic) have been described as ‘weirdly beautiful’, possessed of a ‘strange grandeur’. These…

Read More

Review: ‘Fossil’ by Maya Chowdhry

In Fossil (Peepal Tree Press) Maya Chowdhry brings beauty to eco-politics, taking us on a journey across the globe and beyond, experimenting with scale, time and voice to inquire into and imagine the condition of the non-human world. I found that the emotional power of this collection of thirty free verse poems accumulated as I…

Read More

Review: ‘Alarum’ by Wayne Holloway-Smith

Whilst reviewing Wayne Holloway-Smith’s debut Alarum (Bloodaxe Books), I found myself reading sections aloud to friends in the pub, partly because Alarum is enviably good, but also because I couldn’t quite get my head around it. Hilarious and witty, it’s also terrifically sad, but wears its tragedy so lightly at first it’s hard to notice. ‘Doo-wop’,…

Read More

Review: ‘Home Front’ by Isabel Palmer, Bryony Doran, Jehanne Dubrow & Elyse Fenton

Home Front (Bloodaxe) is a quadrilogy of book-length sequences by four female writers – English mothers and American military wives – whose sons or lovers are enlisted. Each book is a mix of gravitas and (sometimes black) humour often found in true stories, showing the psychological interplay of managing the day to day whilst picturing loved…

Read More

Review: ‘Long Pass’ by Joey Connolly

W.H. Auden said he would always ask two questions of new writing: firstly, “how does it work?” and secondly – “what kind of a guy [or woman or non-cis person] inhabits this poem?” These are questions which cut to the heart of what Joey Connolly does (and does so well) in his first collection, being…

Read More

Review: ‘Complicity’ by Tom Sastry

This promising pamphlet showcases a fresh and original voice exploring the self as proud outsider challenged by family, relationships and the world but refusing to compromise. The poet’s biography tells us ‘he thinks that not belonging is more interesting than belonging’ and this is certainly borne out in the poems. It’s a daring feat indeed…

Read More