Reviews

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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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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