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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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

Hay Festival 2018 – Part 1: Poets, Art, Ambience and the Taste of Words

hay festival 2018I’ve just spent three days immersed in the excitement and inspiration of the Hay Festival, writing about Welsh writers and enjoying the sunshine (with a little mud, lightning and rain thrown in for good measure) so here are some of my poetic highlights from the first few days of Hay 2018…

On Saturday morning I arrived bright and early to get a good parking spot and soak up the atmosphere. It was damp and foggy, but soon brightened up enough for an ice cream (gooseberry crumble flavour – the best I’ve ever tasted!).   Continue reading

Diary of a Creative Writing MA Student – Year 1 of 2

MA Creative WritingI began an MA in Creative Writing in September, studying at Manchester Metropolitan University (part time by distance learning). I chose this particular course because it was possible to fit the work around my paid employment – the seminars are online in the evening (through chatrooms) and you can liaise with tutors via email or phone. It also has a great reputation, with a lot of talented writers teaching on the course, and it’s possible to specialise in a particular area (novel writing, place writing, poetry or writing for children). I chose to specialise in poetry.    Continue reading

Open Space with Philip Gross and Robert Walton

Philip GrossLast Thursday night we were treated to a myriad of images and rhythms from Robert Walton and Philip Gross, two local poets whose work covers a wide range of themes. You can tell that Walton has a musical ear, as each of his poems has a certain rhythm to it, from dancing grandfathers to suspicious canaries and stolen saxophones. Sax-burglar blues, the title poem from his recently published collection, combines word and saxophone in a tremendous burst of sound which brings the instrument to life.   Continue reading

Verve Poetry Festival – Highlights from 2018

Jane Commane launch at Verve Poetry Festival Last year’s Verve Poetry Festival was an incredible weekend of variety and fun, and this year I was determined to come away with some inspiration of my own. The day began with a mammoth climb to the giddy heights of the sixth floor in Birmingham’s narrow Waterstones store (where I attended workshops accompanied to the sound of church bells and pneumatic drills) and ended with readings from a score of different poets amidst bright pink bunting, free cake and an atmosphere of celebration.    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

Collective 2017 – Poetry on Ice

Rhian EdwardsLast week’s freezing temperatures could not prevent a host of poetry enthusiasts from congregating together in Little Man Coffee Company for the second annual Collective event, organised by Christina Thatcher. The poetry was entertaining and captivating in equal measure, beginning with four poets whose collections were published this year…    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

The Cardiff Book Festival – Highlights from 2017

Horatio Clare at Cardiff Book FestivalThe Cardiff Book Festival began last year as a brand-new annual celebration of all things literature in the Welsh capital, and this year’s festival followed in a similar vein, with a slightly stronger Welsh slant to the majority of events. On Friday night I braved the darkening skies, sideways drizzle and end-of-week exhaustion on my walk across town, to emerge inside the bright, grand foyer of the old Angel Hotel, where most of the weekend’s events took place…   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

Artistic Inspiration: An Ekphrastic Writing Group

Ekphrastic Challenge

Ekphrasis is my favourite kind of writing at the moment – it’s a word used to describe the written response (usually in the form of a poem) to a piece of visual art. It provokes so many questions… Does the poem still make sense away from the artwork? Do the writer and artist agree on their interpretation of the piece? Can both poem and artwork interact and create new meanings together?    Continue reading