Reviews

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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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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’,…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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Review: ‘Beginning With Your Last Breath’ by Roy McFarlane

There’s a quality about Roy McFarlane’s Beginning With Your Last Breath (Nine Arches Press) that makes me want to step away from academic language when describing it, and instead focus on the thoughts and feelings that come to mind. That is not to say that there is little here to talk about – McFarlane’s command…

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Review: ‘Santiago’ by Cheryl Follon

Prose poems have been in season for a while now, but Cheryl Follon’s Santiago (Bloodaxe) has the potential to sweep away fatigue. The collection, Follon’s third, is entirely made up of brief prose pieces; the results are engaging and, frequently, very funny. Prose poetry is not without its pitfalls. For the writer, the risk of falling…

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Review: ‘Incarnation’ by Clare Pollard

In this, her fifth collection, Clare Pollard engages with how we navigate our ethical way through the modern world, with its treacherous wonders. The poems in Incarnation (Bloodaxe) explore contemporary crises and question whether it is possible to transmit understanding and compassion effectively to others, particularly the young. Incarnations – of self-hood, motherhood, and ‘other’…

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Review – ‘Landlocked: New and Selected Poems from Zimbabwe’ by John Eppel

Many of the poems in Landlocked  (smith|doorstop) act like an individual’s ‘truth and reconciliation’ commission applied to Zimbabwean people, politics and a natural landscape playing the reluctant stage to violence and bloodshed. The poet’s job in Landlocked is the bring up the bodies to the surface. Landlocked is my first encounter with the poems of the…

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Review: ‘Dora Incites the Sea-Scribbler to Lament’ by Geraldine Clarkson

Dora Incites the Sea-Scribbler to Lament (smith|doorstop) is a vigorous yes, confidently-voiced – at times puzzling, at times transporting – appealingly original. To read it is to enter a world made strange and lush with linguistic variety, audacity and delight. The cover image – of underwater seaweed which I begin to suspect is looking at me…

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Review: ‘Serious Justice’ by Jen Calleja

Jen Calleja’s Serious Justice (Test Centre) is a haunting book, documenting the anxiety and isolation of everyday life through elegant, disarmingly intimate poems. Many of the poems in Serious Justice masquerade as casual observation about a wide variety of ordinary characters living their ordinary lives. At close up, these experiences are often revealed to be…

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Review: ‘The Toll’ by Luke Wright

Luke Wright is at his forceful best in this state-of-the-nation adventure that is far darker than its jaunty rhythms and bell-like rhymes might suggest. The first poem of The Toll (Penned in the Margins), which serves as a kind of epigraph, carries the refrain ‘Oh England, heal my hackneyed heart’, and is one of the…

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Re: Review: ‘You Have A Visitor’ by William Wootten

William Wootten’s You Have a Visitor (Worple) shows an impressive mastery of a range of forms working in the tradition of Auden and Gunn. Sequenced around the seasons, You Have a Visitor begins with ‘Reveille’ in which ‘Day comes up cold,’ and works through ‘Easter Tide’, ‘Of Late June’ and the harvests of autumn, to a charming…

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Review: ‘The Watermark’ by Alice Anderson

I think of myself as pretty much unshockable, but there are, for me, some gasp-worthy moments in this unflinching collection from Alice Anderson. Set in the American South, The Watermark is an apparently confessional book and almost every element of Anderson’s world is refracted through a lens of sex and violence. This is the story…

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Review: ‘Psalmody’ by Maria Apichella

Maria Apichella’s first collection, Psalmody (Eyewear), ends on a note of quiet, confident affirmation:   I can’t play the sax I can’t bang the drum I can’t work the flute I can’t pick the harp but I can respond.   Apichella’s tough, lyrical psalm-poems celebrate the virtue of responsiveness, suggesting the possibility of a deeper,…

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Review: ‘Speak from Here to There’ by Kwame Dawes & John Kinsella

‘We co-exist.’ Speak from Here to There (Peepal Tree Press) begins with this claim, followed by a description:   The York gum bark is stripping itself off, shiny skin underneath exposed to the sun. Late summer – summers that won’t end – and it seems to be a statement, much more than restating a habit, a well-researched…

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Review: ‘The Number Poems’ by Matthew Welton

The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight. John Berger, Ways of Seeing   The Book of Numbers is like an artist’s sketch…

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Review: ‘Moon For Sale’ by Richard Price

Moon for Sale does not pander to, or patronise, its reader and often reading the poems you become aware you are in the presence of a mind working much more quickly and sharply than your own. If, like me, vast swathes of your reading diet consists of fairly orthodox lyrical poetry, then it might serve…

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