Reviews

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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Ledbury Emerging Critics: Maryam Hessavi Reviews ‘Spoils’ by James Brookes

Get Google ready – you’ll need it… James Brookes has published his second collection of poetry, Spoils (Offord Road Books): a geographical and linguistic excavation of historical and present-day England. These are poems which find their land most fervently on a linguistic plane, in a passionate engagement with the language through which the material reality of…

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Review: ‘Rope’ by Khairani Barokka

Khairani Barokka’s first book of poetry, Rope, is published at a time in which the lyric poem is being reexamined and reoriented, the form newly charged with political meaning in the hard light of its hitherto unacknowledged ideologies. 2017 was, and 2018 will be, an intense reworking of our poetics in response to previous failures…

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Ledbury Emerging Critics: Sarala Estruch Reviews ‘Malak’ by Jenny Sadre-Orafai

You don’t have to be a believer in palmistry or divination to enjoy Jenny Sadre-Orafai’s second collection, but openness to alternative ways of seeing and knowing is an advantage. The book is titled after the poet’s late grandmother who was a chirologist and diviner, well respected in her community. In ‘Company’ we are told: ‘Families…

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Ledbury Emerging Critics: Nasser Hussain reviews ‘Calling a Wolf a Wolf’ by Kaveh Akbar

John Ebersole’s late 2017 Tourniquet review of Calling a Wolf a Wolf  is harsh. Even when he’s trying to compliment Akbar’s work, it’s backhanded – as in the opening of his review where we read:   Dumbfoundedly imaginative and self-absorbed, [Akbar’s] poetry engulfs the reader with so much turbulent rhetoric you’re surprised he’s capable of writing…

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Review: ‘Giant’ by Richard Georges

In September 2017, Richard Georges’ Make Us All Islands was shortlisted for the Forward Prize first collection. Georges was due to fly from his home in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) to the prize readings in London. Georges never made it. Georges was unable to attend the Forward Prize readings due to the storms that…

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Review: ‘My Dark Horses’ by Jodie Hollander

For some, childhood innocence erodes slowly with each new experience. The lucky ones get to occupy this safe, uncomplicated realm – at least for a time. The longevity of this illusion often depends on the adults around us. For Jodie Hollander’s protagonist, the illusion is broken at a young age, a recurring sensation that is…

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Review: ‘Landfill’ by John Wedgwood Clarke

We think that once we throw something away it vanishes, and John Wedgwood Clarke’s poems play with that notion and show us how mistaken we are. Reading Landfill, Wedgwood Clarke’s latest collection and the product of a year spent as poet-in-residence at two refuse centres near York and Scarborough, I was struck by something inspiring…

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Review: ‘Brood’ by Rhian Edwards

Rhian Edwards’ eagerly anticipated pamphlet, Brood, is as compact as a bird’s nest, haunting as a folk song, and as brooding as the title suggests. Brood explores the fragilities of the nuclear family and each line bristles with the channelled focus of a magpie. It is short, even for a pamphlet, with only fourteen poems….

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Review: ‘The Mains’ by Patrick Davidson Roberts

The Mains (Vanguard Editions) is a long, dark night of the soul and is not the place for studied scenes of domestic strife or costive little elegies. The reader coming to these poems for the first time might well be thrown by them; their aesthetic is jagged, frantic, and elliptical. One thing to bear in mind is that…

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