Poetry Reviews

Here are some of the poetry books I have been invited to review. I’ve featured recent requests and I’ll keep adding to the list as I do more (most recent appearing first). If you would like me to review your collection or pamphlet please drop me a message via the Contact button.

Charred by Andreena Leeanne (Team Angelica Publishing, 2020)

Charred by Andreena Leeanne is a collection like no other I have read before. It is a verse-autobiography with the poet’s portrait on the front cover, taking direct ownership of the voice present throughout the poems. With its titular metaphor for resilience and strength through change, this is a personal, and at times disturbingly frank, narrative of a life which has suffered the pain of many burns but survived to tell the story. It is also generous in its advocacy of writing as a way to help the reader express her/his own voice; indeed, the last two pages have blank lines for self-reflection and sharing. Leeanne says “my mind / should be on the national curriculum”, demonstrating the importance of understanding inner thoughts but also the tongue-in-cheek humour that runs gently throughout the poems, despite their subject-matter ranging from childhood trauma to homophobia, and the difficulties of expressing a true identity in the face of family and tradition. ‘Smile through the pain’ is a beautifully crafted poem about wearing braces, but it carries a deeper resonance when read within the wider context of the collection: sex, friendship, family, body image, racism. “Silence” plays like an underscore to ‘Covid-19 in silence’, to highlight the isolation of a pregnant woman shielding. The collection’s careful structure and thematic placing of poems guides the reader through the darker times to reach a place of hope. It is as if the reader has been invited into the pages of a personal journal whose poems read as confessional songs, each carrying its own focus, with repetitions, refrains and rhyming sounds making this as much a collection to hear as view on the page. Therefore, Charred is not a collection to take with a pinch of salt but rather taste its textures, and the natural bittersweetness of each word uttered.

Buy a copy here or order from your local bookshop/library.

This is Virus by Joe Williams

This is Virus by Joe Williams is a conceptual work of poetry which wouldn’t be out of place on the walls of MIMA. In book form it is appealing to the eye, with a striking reverse-out cover, and being entirely composed of blackout poems, using the letter from Prime Minister Boris Johnson to the nation at the beginning of Covid-19. Like all good found poetry, Williams uses the original material to explore the subject-matter in a way that both satirises and creates irony. Blackout is a dialogic form – it invites the reader to enter those shadowy spaces. And indeed these poems strike up a lively conversation about how we all coped, or rather didn’t cope, during lockdown. The concept of ‘living in your home’ being ‘simple’ is an excellent example of how Williams creates witty juxtapositions on the page. And despite the inevitable starkness of the form, this collection is full of heart, being dedicated to the NHS. Clever, challenging and visually striking – experimental poetry at its best.

Buy a copy here or order from your local bookshop/library.

Cheap Fish for Kings by Janet Philo

The intriguingly titled Cheap Fish For Kings by Janet Philo begins with ‘Let’s go!’ – a unifying command which welcomes the reader into this beautifully presented pamphlet published by Black Light Engine Room Press. And, once in, there’s a reluctance to leave. Philo’s skilfully crafted verse weaves through varied subject-matter, from close observations of nature ‘and the gold inside / the blackbird’s eye’, to lamentations of a lost industry: ‘the fire in his eyes flickers and dies.’ All have their heart and soul in the North East landscape. There is an eco-critical thread running through many of the poems but it is expressed with care and subtlety, juxtaposing peaceful moments in nature with glimpses, like the ‘silver balloon’ with its ‘white plastic tail’, of an intrusive synthetic world. Philo’s lightness of touch makes these poems memorable. The closing poem is just as welcoming as the first: ‘Take your place / share the space’, and indeed, despite the seriousness of the themes, there is a warmth and generosity to Cheap Fish for Kings. So don’t read but rather feast on these poems.

Buy a copy here or order from your local bookshop/library.

God the Banana by Tim Ellis

God the Banana is a highly inventive and clever verse-novel told in a skilfully crafted narrative consisting of sonnets. To achieve this alone is no mean feat for a poet, however, with the added strengths of attention to detail in the characterisation and quirky presentation of themes, this collection becomes a very distinctive work. Humour is a powerful driving force throughout, with its irreverent and refreshing approach to subjects many readers might find taboo. God the Banana undoubtedly is laugh-out-loud funny but there is also a poignancy in the way it challenges our perceptions on life.

Buy a copy here or order from your local bookshop/library.

Last Song of the Universe by Dominic JP Nelson-Ashey

Last Song of the Universe is an ambitious collection which explores corporeal themes to an underlying score of the celestial. Experimental and boundary-testing in places, these poems are deftly crafted, showing great skill in handling a variety of forms. This is a collection about coping, with illness and death, where moments of irreverent humour break the taboo and we have permission to laugh at ‘death jokes’. But there are quieter moments, such as in ‘My Mate’s Wife’ where a gentle tone conveys the frailties of life with subtlety and poignancy. This accomplished collection deserves its place amongst the must-read poetry books for 2020.

Buy a copy here or order from your local bookshop/library.

Nothing is Meant to be Broken – Mark Connors

“From the off”, this is a collection that sings a compelling personal narrative. Birds swoop in and out of the poems as a reminder of a life-long love that began in childhood, and, as is so poignantly expressed in ‘A Fairy Tale from Nowhere’, a way of unpacking emotions: “By the time I was seven, / I knew birdsong was more anger than joy.” Carefully placed and structured, Connors demonstrates deftness in handling many poetic forms to make his subject-matter fly. This is powerfully shown in ‘List’ which uses “When” as an anaphora to present the possibilities of what a genuine relationship could be like between two people: “When there’s a hint of tragedy / in each other’s sputum.” ‘Nothing is Meant to be Broken’ is a migration of poems that travel between countries, relationships, open wounds and issues way beyond the edge of the page, but they always find their way back home again.

Buy a copy here or order from your local bookshop/library.

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