The Problem of Reviewing Poetry

reviewing poetry - notebook

Someone asked me the other day how long it takes to write a review, and it occurred to me that the amount of time and effort spent on reviewing a poetry collection goes far beyond common sense. Fiction is easy in comparison. A novel feeds slowly into your mind in plot form, with characters and subplots, ideas and comparisons already made and constructed in such a way that your subconscious does most of the work behind the scenes. You read, and then you write about what you’ve read. Simple.

Not so with poetry. I find myself taking a deep breath, and setting aside a period of uninterrupted time as I open up a new poetry collection, ready for an adventure as yet entirely unknown. It is better, often, to just delve in and begin to read, without glancing through the carefully crafted quotes on the back, or reading the blurb. Poetry is best taken neat – without any pre-conceptions. I look at the quotes later on, to see if they match up with what I’ve discovered. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Continue reading

Book Review: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Book - Unsheltered by Barbara KingsolverUnsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver is an uncomfortable read at times. It is a book which prises apart the building blocks of modern life – financial security, capitalism, family life – all based around the metaphor of a house that is falling down (both in the present and the past). It is exactly what you’d expect of Barbara Kingsolver, but it is also surprising and ambitious in scope, told through the voices of two characters living in Vineland, with over a century between them.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: Ocean Vuong and Claudia Rankine

Poetry collections by Claudia Rankine and Ocean Vuong

I found both Ocean Vuong’s collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric to be equally intense and unsettling, though written in completely different styles. As part of my MA in Creative Writing, I get to study a variety of poetry collections which don’t seem, on the surface, to have much in common. But through our seminar discussions we often find links and patterns, connections and contrasts that you wouldn’t see unless you spent so much time honing in on the craft of writing, searching for the logic behind the art.

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Seeing, Writing & Responding for madeinroath 2018

madeinroath arts festival logoWhen you move to a new city, you never know what kind of place you’ll end up living in. Nine and a half years ago I spent an exhausting weekend traipsing through the streets of Cardiff, searching for a place to call home. Roath was the last place I looked, and it felt just right – a suburb full of life, but safe too, and welcoming. Little did I know that it was a breeding ground of artistic creation, or that the annual madeinroath arts festival would become one of the highlights of my year.    Continue reading

Book Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Spinning Silver by Naomi NovikSpinning Silver is a beautiful and complex story inspired by the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin. It begins in a very ordinary way, told from the perspective of Miryem, a young Jewish girl whose father is a moneylender. He is so bad at lending money that he never presses for repayment, and consequently the whole family live in poverty. The winters are lasting longer and growing colder, the villagers are fearful of the Staryk who haunt their woods, and Miryem’s mother is becoming sick. One day Miryem decides to go out and demand payment herself, on her father’s behalf, little knowing where this simple act of courage will lead her.   Continue reading

Book Review: The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters

The Turn of Midnight by Minette WaltersThe Turn of Midnight is an epic tale based around the precarious struggle for control in the wake of the Black Death in 1348. It follows on directly from the end of The Last Hours, in which Lady Anne of Develish had quarantined her people to protect them from the disease. It seems that, outside of Develish, very few have survived, and those who are left soon begin to realise that the world around them has changed beyond all recognition.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Plankton Collector by Cath Barton

The Plankton Collector by Cath BartonThe Plankton Collector is told in the comforting voice of a storyteller, rather like a bed time story, and it is short enough to be read in one sitting. The plot is based around the struggles of one small family as they attempt to keep going in the face of intense grief. One by one, each family member is visited by a mysterious figure – the Plankton Collector. He does very little, and says very little, but gradually, over time, his visits begin to help, and their wounds begin to heal…   Continue reading

Cardiff Book Festival – Highlights from 2018

Poet - Rhys Owain WilliamsNow in its third year, the Cardiff Book Festival is not only a great platform for local writers and authors from further afield, but also a catalyst for debate on all sorts of issues. There were plenty of workshops too, aimed at writers perfecting their craft, and this year I ran my own event on the subject of blogging.    Continue reading

Book Review: Tirzah and the Prince of Crows by Deborah Kay Davies

Book - Tirzah and the Prince of CrowsSet in the South Wales Valleys, in the 1970s, Tirzah and the Prince of Crows follows the story of a sixteen-year-old girl as she grows into adulthood. Tirzah has been brought up in a very strict, chapel-going family, but she soon begins to sense a change within herself, and an unsettling desire for freedom.   Continue reading

Poetry Review: Pamper Me to Hell and Back by Hera Lindsay Bird

Pamper Me to Hell and Back by Hera Lindsay BirdPamper Me to Hell and Back is full of confessional, provocative and occasionally explicit poems, written in a conversational style with a bleak outlook on life. This is Hera Lindsay Bird’s second collection, and its sardonic tone reminded me of Sylvia Plath, with an undercurrent of Victoria Wood. Many of the poems are surreal, whilst some feel more like Facebook posts, and others seem designed to be performed as spoken word.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: Blackbird, Bye Bye by Moniza Alvi

Blackbird Bye Bye by Moniza AlviBlackbird, Bye Bye is centred around the theme of birds – the age-old symbol of grief and love. Some of the poems are so abstract that they feel almost entirely like creatures from another universe, while others feel more solid, earthed as they are in the physicality of trees, family, or culture. There is a lightness of touch, so that as a reader you sense a kind of ‘lift off’ from the first page, moving swiftly across oceans and lifetimes towards the final landing point.   Continue reading

Book Review: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

book - my name is lucy bartonA Guest Post written by Mary Le Bon

My Name is Lucy Barton is a beautiful book which tenderly describes the relationship between a young mother and her own mother whom she hasn’t seen for many years. The narrator is in hospital for a period of weeks and her mother arrives unexpectedly and sits at the foot of her bed for five long days, catnapping but steadfastly refusing the offer of a bed. The stilted and very realistic conversation between the two reveals Lucy’s impoverished and, at times, traumatic childhood as they share snippets of memories about people they have known and what has happened to them.   Continue reading

Book Review: Driving Home Both Ways by Dylan Moore

Book - Driving Home Both Ways by Dylan MooreDriving Home Both Ways is a detailed account of the author’s travels over a period of thirteen years, from the moment he set off from Brecon to Cardiff as a teenager. Exploring themes of identity, nationhood and community, he continually refers back to his Welsh roots, recounting trips to destinations across the globe – from the Basque Country to Slovenia, from Mexico to San Francisco… exploring some unique places along the way.   Continue reading

Book Review: Captcha Thief by Rosie Claverton

Book: Captcha Thief by Rosie ClavertonI heard Rosie Claverton speaking about mental health in crime fiction at a recent literary festival, and was intrigued by her protagonist Amy Lane, who suffers from agoraphobia. I ended up reading Captcha Thief, which is actually the third book in this series, but it didn’t matter that I hadn’t read the first two – I was hooked from the very first page.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: Fourth Person Singular by Nuar Alsadir

Poetry Book - Fourth Person Singular by Nuar Alsadir

Fourth Person Singular begins with the intriguing line: “The door to my interior was propped open and a fly buzzed in.” This sets the scene for a poetry collection which experiments with form in unexpected ways, using metaphor and analysis to explore the notion of self-hood and internal thought. I was not surprised to discover that Nuar Alsadir is a psychoanalyst. This innocuous little book is challenging, provocative and beguiling in equal measure, though I am still not quite sure entirely what to make of it.

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From Book Blogger to Published Writer: Looking Forward to Cardiff Book Festival 2018

How to Start a Book BlogI have a particular reason to be looking forward to this year’s Cardiff Book Festival, as I’m running a masterclass – An Introduction to Blogging on Saturday 8th September. I launched this blog back in 2016, and never imagined that it would lead to publication (not only non-fiction but poetry too) as well as the production of a book – How to Start a Book Blog: A Step by Step Guide – which contains all the advice I collected during my initial research, as well as some lessons learned along the way.   Continue reading

Cornish Short Stories: A Collection of Contemporary Cornish Writing

Cornish Short StoriesShort stories can be difficult to contend with – their brevity creates a sense of unease. They can never fully reveal the whole story. Instead, they provide something unique and captivating – a glimpse into a parallel universe where anything can happen, and the best short stories are those which pull you into their world for a few marvellous pages, seducing you into a false sense of security, then abruptly leaving you to your own wistful thoughts, as you mull over what you’ve just read, often wishing for more.   Continue reading

Voices: Varied, Various and Vocal

Sarah James - writer and photographerA Guest Post written by poet and photographer Sarah James, musing on the theme of ‘the writer’s voice’…

If I admit to having, or hearing, several voices, people might diagnose a medical condition. But as a writer in a busy and often cacophonous 21st century western society, hearing voices means something entirely different.

Traditionally, people often talk of experienced writers having found ‘their voice’. Continue reading