Reviews

Review: ‘Hello. Your Promise Has Been Extracted’ by Ahren Warner

Though you might not recognise it, history is here again. They say the European project is coming apart, and I suppose time will tell. In the meantime, the least an artist can do is to try to bear witness. A wave is crashing over this century as it crashed over the last, and while there…

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Review: ‘Bear’ by Chrissy Williams

An enormous bear with piercing yellow eyes fills the cover of Chrissy Williams’ first full-length collection; stare for long enough and its neutral expression seems to shift from challenging to friendly to curious to sad, and back. The bear appears again in the opening poem – ‘Bear of the Artist’ – cementing its symbolic significance…

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Review: ‘This Is Not a Rescue’ by Emily Blewitt

If Jane Austen was a modern Welsh poet, her name would be Emily Blewitt. This Is Not a Rescue (Seren) is an easy mix of dark and light, scooping its inspiration from the years between girlhood to marriage in Wales. These are old-fashioned yet ageless themes and Blewitt draws us in with her keen eye for…

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Review: ‘Joy’ by Sasha Dugdale

Sometimes you read a work that is so clearly deserving of the accolades it’s received that it restores your faith in things. Sasha Dugdale’s ‘Joy’ – the title-piece of this, her fourth collection from Carcanet – is such a work, having won the 2016 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem, and rightly so. A playwright…

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Re: Review: ‘The Emma Press Anthology of the Sea’

Avast! In scale, power and sheer unpredictability, there is nothing like the sea to inspire in both a physical and creative sense. Never homogenous, it is often astonishingly beautiful and offers up a beguiling mix of complexity and change on a micro and macro level – from the dance of exquisite plankton to the erosion…

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Review: ‘The Hill’ by Angela France

Angela France’s The Hill is a book-length sequence of poems celebrating Leckhampton Hill near Cheltenham. In its commitment to explore every aspect of the area, from its history to its landscape to the people who meet there, the collection is an all-encompassing celebration of place, as well as a showcase for the versatility and range…

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Review: ‘Terms and Conditions’ by Tania Hershman

In Stephen Pinker’s book, The Blank State, he took aim at the notion of nurture being all powerful; that we are born in compliance with the environment we inhabit. Pinker argued that the new cognitive sciences showed we are determined by what we inherit. In Tania Hershman’s debut collection: Terms and Conditions (Nine Arches), the…

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Review: ‘Swims’ by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett

Elizabeth-Jane Burnett’s compelling ‘long poem taking many forms’ begins by defining the action ‘To Swim’:   To give up. To disappear. To appear in Vanity Fair before breakfast. To afterwards destroy economy of Greece.   A footnote tells us that the final sentence refers to Christine Lagard, Director of the IMF, describing her morning swim…

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‘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…

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‘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…

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Review: ‘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,…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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:…

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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…

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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,…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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