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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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

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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Poetry Review: Visiting the Minotaur by Claire Williamson

Visiting the Minotaur - poetry by Claire WilliamsonVisiting the Minotaur plunges you straight into the myth in ‘Swimming with the Bull’, a dramatic encounter across ‘three-and-a-half-thousand years’. This sets the tone for the collection as a whole, exploring the surreal nature of family relationships and crossing the boundaries of time and space, as humans and monsters find their roles reversed. The cover image (a painting by Matthew Grabelsky) is both startling and ordinary – the perfect depiction of what lies between the covers.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: The Hill by Angela France

Poetry Collection - The Hill by Angela FranceIn writing The Hill, Angela France has created a lyrical memorial, breathing life into old ground and resurrecting the characters of Leckhampton Hill over decades. The poems flit between past and present, nature and humanity, centred around the great battle for freedom that took place in 1902, when the local landowner tried to enclose the area, stopping locals from walking the paths they had used for centuries.    Continue reading

Mama Amazonica – Poetry Review & Interview with Pascale Petit

Poetry Book - Mama AmazonicaMama Amazonica is an intoxicating mix of unsettling poems centred around Pascale Petit’s relationship with her mother. Set within the confines of a psychiatric ward, but also within the vast, untamed wilderness of the Amazon rainforest, we encounter the poet’s mother, constrained by mental illness and the physical walls around her. But we also see the sheer unfathomable complexity of the human mind, and its magical, surreal ability to survive trauma.

The following post reveals my own encounter with this remarkable collection, along with insights from Pascale herself, describing her experience of writing the poems, and the inspiration she drew from animals in captivity and in the wild.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: Two Exquisite Pamphlets

Poetry Pamphlets - Brood and Teaching a Bird to SingThese two poetry pamphlets (Teaching a Bird to Sing by Tracey Rhys, and Brood by Rhian Edwards) each have their own unique style. What links them, in my mind, is the exceptional quality of the cover artwork, along with a kind of poetry which is unflinchingly honest and elegant in its portrayal of motherhood, emotion and the complexity of family relationships. The volumes both present us with the imagery of nesting birds – a perfect metaphor for motherhood.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: Slant Light by Sarah Westcott

Book - Slant LightSlant Light is a slim-lined poetry collection which hides a wealth of natural wonder between its covers. Sarah Westcott writes on behalf of nature – giving a voice to the creatures of the wild, and providing a new take on our understanding of the world around us. Her language is fresh, raw and earthy, with a strong ecological message.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: The Mabinogi by Matthew Francis

Poetry Book The MabinogiSpeaking at the Hay Festival last month, Matthew Francis described his first encounter with The Mabinogi (which he read in 1999 when he moved to Wales). “I was both baffled and fascinated by it,” he explained, “It’s extraordinary, and strange in the way it’s constructed, and it also has a strange logic.” He is not a Welsh speaker himself, and this is not a translation – he described it as a “re-imagining” of the myth, in the same way that Shakespeare drew on existing stories for his plays.    Continue reading

A Very Welsh Anthology of Young Welsh Writers

Cheval 10 anthologyA Guest Post written by Thomas Tyrrell

There is a short story called ‘Daffodil Nipples’, two different authors chose the title ‘Welsh Cakes’, and Blodeuwedd (one of the central figures of the Mabinogion) has a poem to herself. The Cheval 10 anthology definitely has a Welsh feel to it, and that’s appropriate for a collection created from pieces submitted for the Terry Hetherington Young Writers Award, (for writers under 30 who live or work in Wales). But there are surprises too: a short story with the familiar title ‘Hiraeth’ turned out to be about an asylum seeker living in Wales, Martina Biavati came all the way from Italy to read her New York-set story ‘Caffe Giallo’, and Katya Johnson’s story about the French painter Cézanne won the second prize for prose.    Continue reading

From Pain to Poetry – Debut Collections by Rebecca Parfitt and Christina Thatcher

Poetry Book - More than you wereIt is often true to say that the most incredible poetry comes from the most painful experiences in life. For centuries poets have been transforming their pain into something beautiful and unique which speaks into the lives of others and helps us to confront our own pain, and two Cardiff poets have recently launched debut collections which do just that. Rebecca Parfitt and Christina Thatcher have both produced poetry collections which strike at the heart of what it means to be human, exploring the most intense and painful of emotions.   Continue reading

Book Review: Too Brave To Dream – newly discovered poems by R.S. Thomas

Too Brave To Dream - Poems by R.S. ThomasThe poet R.S. Thomas passed away in 2000, and two books on modern art were discovered in his library, with previously unseen poems inserted between the pages. Too Brave To Dream: Encounters With Modern Art brings these poems together for the first time, alongside the images themselves. The poems are varied, short and impressionistic, similar in style to the ekphrastic work published during his lifetime. They are surreal, reflecting the appearance of the art he is writing about, but they are also intriguing in their own way.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: And Suddenly You Find Yourself by Natalie Ann Holborow

Poetry book Natalie Ann HolborowNatalie Ann Holborow’s debut poetry collection presents us with a raw, emotional journey of self-analysis, exploring family estrangement, broken relationships and the vulnerability of human experience. Holborow turns life, love and myth into stark reality, with unnerving language and compelling imagery. This is poetry grounded in the physical, from the “silvered, reeking bass” consumed in a restaurant, to “the housefly buzzing, hysterical, / butting its skull to get out”.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: Beginning With Your Last Breath by Roy McFarlane

poetry book Roy McFarlaneBeginning With Your Last Breath is a rich, powerful and moving debut from Roy McFarlane, a poet based in the West Midlands. It is split into five distinct sections, each one exploring a different aspect of the poet’s experience. But the book holds together through the shared themes of identity, family, love and loss, in the context of racial tension and cultural change. The cover image reflects the story of the poems within; it shows a painting by Sonia Boyce – She ain’t holding them up, She’s holding on (Some English Rose), 1986 – the image of the mother figure holding onto her family amidst the struggles of life and racial identity.    Continue reading

Poetry Review – The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America

Book - The Other TigerIt is strange to hear someone reading a poem in another language (a language which you don’t understand at all) and then to hear that same poem read again in your own language. There is a sense of building anticipation, as you hear the emotion behind the words, with particular intonations that seem to stand out… Yet the meaning must come later, inevitably with a sense of both satisfaction and loss, as no translation will ever convey the strength of the original…    Continue reading

Pre-Raphaelite Women: Poetry in Response to Art

La Ghirlandata by Rossetti

La Ghirlandata by Rossetti

I have always been attracted to the work of the Pre-Raphaelites, and intrigued by the lives of the women who modelled for their paintings. Muse by Dawn Marie Kresan is a collection which focuses on these women, particularly on Elizabeth Siddall, who was actually a poet and artist in her own right. Bethany Rivers’ pamphlet Off the wall also takes much of its inspiration from artwork, and contains some poems on similar themes to those explored in Kresan’s book.   Continue reading

Poetry Review: A Whole Day Through From Waking by Jacci Bulman

Jacci Bulman poetry collectionWritten in a bare, modest style, Jacci Bulman’s first poetry collection explores life in all its frailty and vulnerability. The language hooks you in, following the story inside each individual poem. Bulman plays with punctuation and form to reveal a raw, broken humanity. Themes include the uncertainties of youth, the agonising reality of grief and illness, and a celebration of life and hope.    Continue reading