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

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

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

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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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