Poetry Review: Hand & Skull by Zoë Brigley

Book - Hand and Skull by Zoe BrigleyHand & Skull is the latest poetry collection from Zoë Brigley, full of poetry which confronts the reader with a fascination in observation, particularly focusing on traumatic experience, veering from intimacy and beauty to violence and abuse. Many of the poems are inspired by the relationship between the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and Georgia O’Keeffe, of whom he took numerous photographs, and who became a well-known artist in her own right.     Continue reading

Diary of a Creative Writing MA Student – The Final Year

MMU Creative Writing Summer School - coping with setbacks as a writerThere’s something inspirational about spending time with other writers, sharing a mutual interest in words and stories, poems and punctuation, and last week I attended the MMU Creative Writing Summer School – the perfect finish to my MA, after two years of study and creativity. I just have one final assignment to complete – a collection of 300 lines of poetry – and that will be it! I thoroughly enjoyed the summer school, and am now feeling re-energised and ready for a final burst of creativity over the summer…    Continue reading

#Unafraid: Mental Health in Words

Christina Thatcher reading her poemsPoetry is not just for ‘arty’ types, it’s for everyone, so it’s good to see scientists and creatives working together. Last week I attended an event organised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, to celebrate their work with Patrick Jones, their current artist in residence. The event also showcased the work of other poets who have written about mental health issues, as well as patients who’ve benefitted from the therapeutic aspects of writing, but its main focus was as a starting point, a bringing together of psychiatrists and poets in the same space, to enable discussion and debate about what more can be done…   Continue reading

Book Review: On Poetry by Glyn Maxwell

On Poetry - a book by Glyn MaxwellOn Poetry is not just another book about poetry, it’s in a whole category of its own. It’s short, and concise, but also full of irony, subtlety and humour. It has a simple structure and purpose, to break poetry down to its basic elements and encourage you to pick them up for yourself, beginning with ‘white’ – a chapter which considers the essential element of white space on the page – the one thing that, Maxwell argues, divides poetry from prose. After reading this chapter, I had to put the book down to process it for a while, and then I read the whole chapter again. It’s that kind of book.   Continue reading

Poems from Cardiff, Snowdonia, Pembrokeshire and The Borders

Poetry from Cardiff, Snowdonia, Pembrokeshire and The Borders

These four slim poetry anthologies are beautifully produced, each containing a selection of poems centred around a specific area of Wales, collated by Seren’s editor, Amy Wack. Many poems are taken from recent collections, but there are also several new poems, and each pamphlet has a distinct feel to it. To begin with, in Poems from Pembrokeshire there is a sense of time standing still in a landscape rooted to the past.

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Poetry Review: Sincerity by Carol Ann Duffy

Poetry Collection - Sincerity by Carol Ann DuffySincerity is Carol Ann Duffy’s final collection as Poet Laureate, and it is extremely varied, flitting between the personal and the political, with very little to hold the poems together except this notion of ‘sincerity’. It is full of poems which are honest and sincere, whether recounting private experience or teasing out the unwanted truths of political events, playing against the idea of ‘fake news’ and revealing the reality beneath the gloss.   Continue reading

Poetry Review: The Healing Next Time by Roy McFarlane

Poetry Collection by Roy McFarlane - The Healing Next TimeLast year I read Claudia Rankine’s powerful collection Citizen: An American Lyric, which tackles the thorny issue of racism in modern America. Roy McFarlane has produced a UK equivalent in his second collection The Healing Next Time, which begins with a narrative sequence covering the years 1999 to 2006, interrogating what it means to live as a black man in Britain, merging the personal and the public in an exploration of family, politics, love and hate.   Continue reading

Poetry Review: Us by Zaffar Kunial

Poetry - Us by Zaffar KunialI heard Zaffar Kunial read his World War One poem ‘Poppy’ on Radio 4 as part of the centenary commemorations last year. It includes a haunting refrain ‘no, this is not enough’ repeated throughout, until, in the end, this phrase becomes the poem itself, a powerful acknowledgement that nothing we can write or say will ever capture the horror of war. This focus on the power of language, contrasted with a sense of inadequacy or uncertainty, runs throughout Kunial’s debut collection, Us.   Continue reading

Three Years of Blogging – Part 2: Poetic Moments

Amanda Rackstraw reading at the Edward Thomas 100 event

It’s three full years since I first launched my brand-new book blog, and I’ve been looking back at all the fantastic books that I’ve reviewed, the fascinating people I’ve met, and the incredible events I’ve been able to attend during that time. In fact, I’ve published a total of 218 posts, including interviews, features and reviews.

I decided early on to include fiction and poetry on my blog, and it was the right decision, reflecting my own interest, and allowing me an excuse to review and post about the books I enjoy, whatever the genre. I’ve heard hundreds of poets perform their work, and had the privilege of reviewing 28 poetry collections, many of which have inspired my own writing.

So, as I celebrate my three-year blogaversary, here are my top three ‘Poetic moments’ from the past three years, along with my top three Poetry Reviews…

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Poetry Review: Cyclone by Robert Peake

Cyclone - poetry collection by Robert PeakePoetry has always drawn analogies between human emotion and the weather. Cyclone by Robert Peake creates a storm of words that circle around the unabating grief of a father for his lost child. The collection begins with subtle hints that all is not well, even within nature itself. ‘The Man with the Kindest Face’ begins a series of poems interspersed throughout the collection which suggest an attempt at human connection that, somehow, never quite works. This man appears to be a shadow of something good just beyond reach, haunting the poet’s world: “He might not have a face at all / or change it like a set of masks”.   Continue reading

A Poet in the Making – Finding Inspiration at Tŷ Newydd

Tŷ Newydd Writing Centre Last week I was invited to the Tŷ Newydd Writing Centre in North Wales as one of 10 writers selected for the 2019 Literature Wales Mentoring Scheme. After several months of ill-health I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to attend, but the week turned out to be beneficial in more ways than one – providing not only inspiration and development for my writing, but also some much-needed rest and relaxation in a gorgeous old house on the Llŷn Peninsula.    Continue reading

Poetry in Three Languages – Irish, Welsh and English

multi-lingual poetry event poster

A Guest Post by Ailbhe Darcy

On Monday 3rd December, two Irish poets, Aifric Mac Aodha and Celia de Fréine, will read at the Flute and Tankard in Cardiff alongside the Welsh poet Llŷr Gwyn Lewis. Poet and academic Ailbhe Darcy explains why she’s organised this multi-lingual event…    Continue reading

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

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

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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