Poetry Review: Black Cat Bone by John Burnside and Bird-Woman by Em Strang

Books - Black Cat Bone by John Burnside and Bird-Woman by Em StrangI have had John Burnside’s collection Black Cat Bone on loan from the library for nearly a year now, and I keep returning to his long poem ‘The Fair Chase’. There’s something mesmerising about it, not just in the compelling rhythm, but also in a narrative that never seems to end. On the one hand, it is a depiction of hunting that seems violent and bloody. On the other hand, it is a kind of doomed, ongoing quest towards a deeper understanding of the self, which can never be fully realised, reminiscent of both Actaeon and the Ancient Mariner.     Continue reading

Poetry Review: Much With Body by Polly Atkin

Poetry Book - Much with Body by Polly AtkinPolly Atkin’s second poetry collection is a book of unpredictable creatures and their ever-changing habitats, many of which are watery or wild. The opening poem draws you in to a world where ‘Everyone is talking about the moon / The full wolf moon’, ending with the unsettling image of the sky growling and creeping forward ‘ready to take us down’.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: All the Men I Never Married by Kim Moore

Poetry book - All the Men I Never Married by Kim MooreI’d been looking forward to reading Kim Moore’s new collection for a while, having heard her read many of these poems at various literary festivals and events. As I opened the book and began to read, I could hear her voice in my head. These are lyrical poems, designed to be heard as well as read. They are poems that speak with a clear, unapologetic, feminist voice, breaking the taboos of acceptance and denial. Each poem feels larger on the inside than the outside, and several of the poems seem to echo in your mind, long after you’ve read them.    Continue reading

Five Favourite Reads from 2021

Five favourite reads of 20212021 was a busy year (PhD, teaching etc…) so I’ve not been able to spend as much time as I’d like reviewing books. Here are five of the books I’ve enjoyed over the past year, with just a quick summary or comment for each one, rather than a full review…     Continue reading

Poetry Review: 100 Poems to Save the Earth

Book: 100 Poems to Save the EarthHow can poetry ‘save the earth’? The introduction to this anthology explains that the title is intentionally provocative, because ‘our crisis is fundamentally a crisis of perception’. And that is where poetry comes in. It is only when you read the poems that it becomes clear what this might mean. This is not just an anthology of eco-poems. It includes poems that examine humanity as well as nature. Poems that interrogate the very concept of exploitation and inequality. Poems that acknowledge their own ignorance.   Continue reading

Poetry Review: Wild Persistence by Katrina Naomi

Poetry Book - Wild PersistenceWild Persistence is the first book of poetry written by Katrina Naomi since she moved from London to Cornwall, and it is full of poems about change, about decisions and pausing to consider moments in time. I read this collection on my first day of the #SealeyChallenge (reading a book of poetry each day for the month of August) and thoroughly enjoyed it. The book begins with celebration in ‘How to Celebrate a Birthday’, and it sets the tone for the whole collection, urging the reader to pause and contemplate, amid the busy-ness of life. Continue reading

Reading Poetry in August – The Sealey Challenge Days 21 to 31

Poetry books for the Sealey ChallengeI have completed the Sealey Challenge, reading a new poetry book each day for a whole month! Though I spent 3 days on one book (an anthology) and only dipped into some of them, that still means I have read at least part of 29 different poetry books over the last 31 days. And many of them have inspired me to write my own poems, so it has definitely been worthwhile. I’ve read several books that were simply sitting on my shelf un-read, as well as a few new ones ordered specially for the occasion, and some old favourites, plus a couple of poetry magazines. Here are my highlights from the final 11 days…   Continue reading

Reading Poetry in August – The Sealey Challenge Days 11 to 20

Poetry book - Road Trip by Marvin ThompsonI am beginning to realise just how challenging it is to read a whole new poetry book for each day of the month. Even just dipping into a new book takes time, and I’m trying not to rush, as I want to make the most of any inspiration that strikes while I’m reading. I have not stuck to the rules completely, but have still tried to push myself to read more. So here is an overview of all the poetry books I have read over the last ten days, with some of the main highlights…   Continue reading

Reading Poetry in August: The Sealey Challenge Days 1 to 10

Book - Identity Papers by Ian Seed

Identity Papers by Ian Seed

I’d never heard of the Sealey Challenge, but I jumped at the chance to challenge myself to read more poetry, to read a whole poetry book or pamphlet each day through the month of August. I decided not to put too much pressure on myself, and to not worry if I didn’t get to the end of every book. So here’s an overview of the poetic gems I’ve discovered in the first ten days of August, and some of the highlights…   Continue reading

Celebrating Poetry Pamphlets

Poetry pamphletsI have a small collection of poetry pamphlets (called ‘chapbooks’ in the US) that I’ve acquired over the last few years, so I thought I’d select just a few of them as a kind of mini celebration of the versatile and the short – a space where poets often take a few more risks, try out new forms and link their poems in more obvious ways than they could in a full collection. The definition of a pamphlet is debateable, but they are generally much shorter than a full collection, and can often be read in one sitting.   Continue reading

Poetry Review: After Cézanne by Maitreyabandhu

Book - After Cézanne by Maitreyabandhu

Paul Cézanne repeatedly attempted to capture the image of one particular mountain (Mont Sainte-Victoire) in his post-impressionist paintings, and this obsession is echoed in Maitreyabandhu’s most recent poetry collection, After Cézanne. The collection is unusual in focusing entirely on the work of one artist, and reproducing many of the paintings in full colour, so the reader can peruse the original works of art alongside each poem.

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Poetry Review: This Tilting Earth by Jane Lovell

This Tilting Earth by Jane LovellThere is a strong sense of time passing, in This Tilting Earth, a pamphlet of poems by Jane Lovell (the winning entry from last year’s Mslexia pamphlet competition). It begins with ‘Song of the Vogelherd Horse’, an elegy which takes us back to the Ice Age, giving voice to the artefact itself, conjuring up the ghosts of those who ‘smoothed my lissom back’ and ‘buried me in soil’. This introduces the pamphlet’s main theme – an exploration of mankind’s complex relationship with animals over the centuries.   Continue reading

Poetry Review: Vertebrae by Glyn Edwards

Poetry - Vertebrae by Glyn Edwards

Vertebrae is Glyn Edwards’ first collection – a book of poems that stand as a bridge between human and natural landscapes, linking past and present, beginning with the imminent birth of a son in ‘The Land or Body Tide’. This poem balances the emotive experience of seeing the unborn foetus via ultrasound scan, against the push and pull of seismic forces on the surface of the earth. It is shaped as a spine on the page, and it sets out the theme for what follows – a selection of poems that focus on relationship, particularly the challenges of fatherhood, within a natural environment, and emotional events observed from an analytical distance.

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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

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