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.  

The Sardine Tree by Peter Hughes

This is one of those pamphlets that is also one long poem, inspired by the work of Catalonian artist Joan Miró, who was influenced at various times by Cubism, Fauvism and the Surrealists. extract from The Sardine Tree

'Woman surrounded by a flight of birds in the night' by Joan Miró

‘Woman surrounded by a flight of birds in the night’ by Joan Miró

I read about The Sardine Tree in an academic text, and was intrigued by the way in which Peter Hughes had intermingled his own experiences and those of the artist, sometimes clearly spaced out on each side of the page, while also mirroring the shapes and patterns of Miró’s work.

The more I read, the more fascinated I became in the artist’s life and work. I particularly like the way Hughes incorporates the ordinary, every-day scenes of life alongside the beauty and surrealism of Miró’s titles, titles such as ‘woman surrounded by a flight of birds in the night’.

The Sardine Tree is published by Oystercatcher Press.

Bloodlines by Sarah Wimbush

Poetry pamphlet - Bloodlines by Sarah WimbushThere is an intriguing focus on language and identity in this pamphlet, as Sarah Wimbush explores her own Gypsy/Traveller heritage, using words that, to an outsider, seem beautiful and strange – ‘dukkering’ meaning ‘fortune-telling’, and ‘jib’ meaning ‘language’. I particularly like the title poem, laid out in a spiral shape on the first page, which evokes some of the complexity and weight of ancestral heritage.

Bloodlines was the winner of the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet competition in 2019 and is published by Seren Books.

Brain Fugue by Claire TrévienPoetry Pamphlet - Brain Fugue by Claire Trévien

This pamphlet was recommended to me by another poet, and I love the way that Claire Trévien has linked her poems by a clear theme – the unreliability and unfathomable complexity of the human brain, with poem titles such as ‘Brain as Forest’, ‘Bubbly Brain’, ‘Spider Brain’ and ‘Orchid Brain’. These poems are sometimes brutally honest in their depiction of a brain that doesn’t do what it should. ‘Daytime Drinking Brain’ examines the surreal nature of poetry-writing, in which the most difficult or even traumatic experiences can become something else entirely.

Brain Fugue is published by Verve Poetry Press.

Ling-di-Long by Samantha Wynne Rhydderch

I heard Samantha Wynne Rhydderch read from this pamphlet at an open mic event, and enjoyed her title, which is a Welsh phrase, meaning ‘dilly dally’, and the walking theme. As someone who loves walking, but has been limited with various health issues and dodgy ankles in recent years, I could identify with some of the poems in here, which evoke not just the joys but also the difficulties and problems of walking.

Ling-di-Long is published by Rack Press.

Declaration: I received a free copy of Bloodlines from the publisher.

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