Monday, October 20, 2014

"Nasties, nuisances, nincompoops and nutters":
Christopher Reid's Six Bad Poets - review


A farce-in-verse about the japes of a bunch of hapless poetasters might not sound like the most gift-worthy of reads. Yet Christopher Reid's latest volume looks to have been packaged with an eye to the festive market. Or at least a readership bigger than that of your typical slim volume. A hardback with claret endpapers, its dust-jacket features sketches of the eponymous sextet, looking suspiciously like the gaggle of writers manqué in Posy Simmonds's Tamara Drewe. As the poet Alan Jenkins once quipped, where poets used to be mad or bad, now they're mostly just sad. But if Reid proves one thing in his versified tale of a poetry scene gripped by ambition, hubris, lust and stupidity, it's that there's life in the old (and not-so-old) dogs yet.

The leading light in this spoof is the aging Charles Prime. Back prowling the streets of Soho, he is an all-but-forgotten poet, fresh from a decade doing time for crimes undisclosed. "Weather eye tuned to the main chance", in "gingery hacking jacket and tight jeans", he cuts an effete, poverty-stricken and self-infatuated figure; when not trying to bed former lovers, he gatecrashes any event where free booze and nibbles are found: art galleries, poetry readings, even a funeral reception ("but be fair, a man must eat").

Like all of the poem's characters, Prime is as much a hackneyed caricature as he is utterly recognisable, especially to those who have attended a literary gathering or 10. Stereotypes, after all, tend to exist for a reason. The lives of Reid's five other bards gradually coalesce around his, lending the story cohesion, improbable as these chance overlappings can feel. Antonia Candling, one of Prime's exes, is the "doyenne of London poetry", happily editing an anthology of elegies in the wake of her husband's death, and appears as cheerfully mean and tritely middle-class as her friend-cum-rival Bryony Butters, "poet, novelist, and more besides", who never misses an opportunity to brag about her meagre achievements. Between them comes the arrogant Jonathan Wilderness, a young gunslinger who likes to "fly the flag of his own genius as conspicuously as possible", and fancies making his name as Prime's unofficial biographer. Meek Jane Steep, a waitress and poet "still in search of her voice", is the most underdeveloped of Reid's characters, but does act as ill‑advised love interest to the pitiable Derek Dufton, a poet and academic who we first find, in a comic masterstroke, dozing off in one of his own lectures.

The main thing to admire about Six Bad Poets is its readability. Eschewing the formalities of Byron and Pope that are the hallmarks of satirical verse, Reid pitches his lines between poetry and prose, though he is not beyond the occasionally brilliant end rhyme. Take one of Dufton's university colleagues, recalling a student's complaint: "Some second-year wants to blame her depression / on his lectures. I know he can be prolix, // though the term she actually used was 'complete bollocks'." Quite.

As a poet who first appeared as part of the weird-metaphor-toting and mercifully short-lived Martian school, Reid also puts his (now earthier) gift for memorable description to nifty use. Jonathan Wilderness comes in for particular flak, impressed with himself "like a puppy with his first erection", or else looking like "some new-fangled poncy kind of pirate". Doubtless a few paranoid and fresh-faced poseurs will half-suspect themselves the model here, but of course, half the fun is guessing just who Reid might be lampooning. "Does chopping / a person's head off in reality necessarily follow / from the menacing metaphors in some – / fuck, was it a poem?" worries Jane Steep, and while the image may seem naggingly familiar, Reid is also sending up our tendency – whether readers, critics or poets – to conflate art and life, and the grubby business of poets with the alchemical magic of an unforgettable poem. Without giving away the tale's ending, it is telling that the last scene finds the sensational memoirs of a minor talent being "quietly remaindered". Alongside the slapstick, wit and antics, Reid's playful tragicomedy often feels like a lament for all our modern fakery, self-obsession and celebrity-chasing, a situation far from unique to the world of literary affairs.

Entertaining and admirable as it is, then, Six Bad Poets makes for a strange sort of book. If Reid hopes that it will be more than sniggering schadenfreude for poetry insiders (and surely he must), for the intelligent, casual reader the poem too often and too easily confirms their worst suspicions about, as one of Reid's poets puts it, "this whole world of nasties, nuisances, nincompoops and nutters". Poets, agents and publishers (and, perhaps worst of all, a boozy gathering full of them) can be awful, but they are hardly a species apart from those in any profession where there are perennial tussles for power and influence. In a rare and unfortunate moment in which Reid elects to tell rather than show, he bids us to ignore the "minor peccadilloes" of an "author-editor / schmooze-session". Rather, he suggests, we should "seek out, identify and skewer / the world's more pernicious moral murks". Noble enough, you might think. But coming from a former editor, in a satire that persistently picks at the inconsequential wheelings and dealings of the London poetry scene, it is also a bit rich. In spite of these failings, though, Six Bad Poets shows Reid at the height of his mordant comic powers, and remains an ambitious, fun, and engrossing read. In an age beset by the cult of personality, it is also a very welcome one.



Friday, October 17, 2014

Dream Testicles and Memphis Guilt:
a review of books by Mark Strand and Don Share

http://waywiser-press.com/strand2.html http://www.eyewearpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/AI_Share.pdf


Mark Strand, Almost Invisible, Waywiser Press, £8.99, ISBN 9781904130567;
Don Share, Union, Eyewear Publishing, £12.99, ISBN 9781908998101

Mark Strand cuts a persistent figure in post-war American poetry, somewhere between its ageing Buddy Holly and its benign – if somewhat sinister – grandfather. His first books, published in the late 60s, marked him out as a connoisseur of concision, approaching stock themes of absence and negation through a blend of realism and surrealist imagery, and a dark humour that steered feeling clear of sentiment. Since then, his poetry has continued to mine that metaphysical seam, though the early dash and vigour have eased, as if our poet had mellowed with age. All of which wouldn’t be a problem, if the poetry hadn’t also gradually slackened. Almost Invisible, Strand’s thirteenth collection and one that consists entirely of riddling prose poems (the man himself won’t deign to give them that dubious classification, though it’s really the only halfway useful one), is, if nothing else, evidence of the teetering line between good and bad poetry. Every poem’s success hangs in a fine linguistic balancing act: a fact that poets forget at their own peril.

The book opens promisingly enough. ‘A Banker in the Brothel of Blind Women’ is a parable of sorts, telling the tale of a deceived and deceiving suit who poses as a shepherd:
“My dear,” said the banker to the same woman, “I can tell that you are a rich widow looking for a little excitement and are not blind at all.” “This observation suggests,” said the woman, “that you may be a shepherd after all, for what kind of rich widow would find excitement being a whore only to end up with a banker?” “Exactly,” said the banker.

Extending Strand’s time-honoured obsession with selfhood and the social masks we wear, this piece offsets philosophical solemnity with a dry and ready wit. Identity’s hall-of-mirrors is not dissimilarly dissected in ‘Harmony in the Boudoir’, a comic foray into intimacy that sees a man pompously declaring his unknowable “true self” to his partner. That he is brilliantly described doing so while “kicking off his slippers”, only to find his beloved gently mocking his overblown confessions, is a comic masterstroke, not to mention tonally spot on. “Oh you silly man”, taunts his wife: “That you barely exist as you are couldn’t please me more.”

Sadly, most of the rest of Almost Invisible is far from pitch-perfect. So far, in fact, you half suspect its obviously gifted author must be playing tone deaf. Things take a decisive turn for the worst with the tritely mystical ‘The Students of the Ineffable’, thirteen lines of hollow prose that, for me, are more than effable, but since I'm not Paul Batchelor, we’ll keep this above the belt. Which is more than can be said for Strand: ‘Dream Testicles, Vanished Vaginas’, a squib every bit as bad as its title implies, is worse still. Fantasy it may be, but you surely have to suspend more than disbelief to think of genitals as “open, honest, and energetic”. Or, better yet, “forthright and gifted”. The portentous tone may disguise the fact it’s obviously a joke, but either way it’s an exceptionally weak one, and represents a low point in the kind of lazy surrealism that’s been exported and – regrettably – far-too-readily embraced on this side of the Atlantic. A sickly blend of faux naivety and smug knowingness, it’s the tacked-on mock profundity that rankles most; one the reader knows as well as the poet is nothing but an emotional and intellectual cul-de-sac. Or maybe it’s just the thought of “testicles … swinging dreamily among the clouds like little chandeliers” that makes you want to reach for your gun.

That said, Almost Invisible is not without occasional charm. A handful of lapidary gems surface: the desperation and willed detachment evoked by ‘Clear in the September Light’; the haunting dream-world conjured by ‘The Mysterious Arrival of an Unusual Letter’; the misguided wishful-thinking of ‘Once Upon a Cold November Morning’. But much here is no more than bogusly gnomic and flippantly inconsequential stuff; so much so you begin to wish, unkindly, that Strand had more often kept in mind the title of one particular poem: ‘An Event About Which No More Need Be Said’. Applying such wisdom to many of the alternately windy, dull and irritating musings collected here would surely have made Almost Invisible a better book – or, failing that, a shorter one. The poem in question? Something about a mysterious prince showing off his malformed penis in the back of a cab. Taxi!

Don Share is best known on these shores as the editor of Poetry, a US monthly and for many, the English-speaking world’s leading poetry magazine. On the back cover of his first collection, Union, which Eyewear Publishing have cannily republished as an introduction to Share’s work for us Brits, he grins from his author mugshot as if he didn’t receive more poetry-as-electronic-gunk jamming his inbox each day than any other person on the planet, and all credit to him for it. If Union is anything to go by, for Share, life and poetry aspire to be guided by our most generous instincts – or at least should. His often single-stanza, rhythmically dexterous narrative poems delight in the particularities, peculiarities and cultural loam of modern life – childhood is remembered as “condensed milk, the family Bible, / savings passbooks, Nero Wolfe and Mickey Spillane paperbacks” – while also striving to make sense of it, in the context of histories both personal and public. In the same poem, ‘Signals Over Hill’, the speaker reflects how “roots are, themselves, a form of rootlessness”.

It’s an idea that directs much of this earthy, hard-thinking, undeceived yet hopeful book, from poems that tell of personal grief and marital separation such as ‘Sweet Life’, a lament for the “self-love” that promises false happiness in “any place we never lived”, to those that plumb the abject depths of the American Civil War, and the former slave state of Tennessee where Share grew up. “We fought America in ourselves”, declares ‘Dilemma’, echoing the title poem’s fractured blues song: “Memphis was born / from abolished ruins // Memphis forgot / that Memphis is guilt”. Pitched against this is a kind of spiritual faith, a cautious belief in meliorism, and a sense of absolute unity to be had in commune with the natural world. You can forgive the occasionally affected and anachronistic tone of piety in certain pieces, if only for the genuine way Share recognises, and evokes the fact, that pain is always part of our contentment:
So summer’s last leaves blow
banded in the paling sunlight,
and as the weather turns just now
too cool to stay outside,

all our affairs soften
into the collected past,
the honey all gone
from hives closed by winter’s reach

and I reject happiness in order,
precisely in order, to remember it.

Though portentousness may occasionally get the better of it, Union is a big-hearted and reassuringly human collection of poems, and one that’s not without humour. I’d certainly take it over much of the arch clever-clever masquerading as poetry that’s out there just now. Like the portrait of his father-in-law in ‘Spiritual’, the kind of man who “always shook you by the hand / and gave you every drop of wisdom he ever had”, it suggests Share as the sort of poet of which we can sometimes seem in short supply.



this review first appeared in The Poetry Review

Monday, October 13, 2014

"The National Grid plunges us / into darkness...":
PBS Poem of the Week



Poem of the Week on the Poetry Book Society's online bookshop is 'Lights out', from my recent pamphlet of poems, For Real.

Halfway through plates of biryani
and the National Grid plunges us
into darkness ...

Catch it here while you can.


 

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Frances Leviston, and The Red Squirrels at Coole


I’ve always wanted to belong to the city of ideas, and it seems to me that membership of such a city is often incompatible with the other kinds of membership on offer along the way. Choices, or compromises, have to be made, and I find myself more and more inclined to say no to some invitations as a way of saying yes to to something closer to that ideal. I found it liberating to refuse both the Poet Laureate’s invitation to write a poem for the Queen’s Jubilee in 2012, and the Poetry Book Society’s attempt to include me in its Next Generation promotion of emerging poets this year. It’s not that I don’t want to be read, or that I object on principal to the business of actively seeking a readership. The question is one of context—do I feel happy in those groupings, in those lights?


A strange bit of posturing, this. Incisive, even admirable stuff from the poet Frances Leviston on Poetry magazine's editor's blog, and well worth reading in full. Any poet of genuine talent should value their citizenship of "the city of ideas", and strive to take their life and writing seriously without the need for official sanction.

But in being at pains to make us aware of her principled refusals - no laureate commissions or PBS endorsements for her, ta very much - Leviston is only really playing her own little marketing game, pitching herself and her work at a different audience; one that will undoubtedly applaud such a brave eschewal of accolades, even if it comes from a prize-winning and commercially-published poet who, variously approved of in other official ways, can now afford to take such calculated risks.

To put it less cynically: if Leviston were published by a smaller independent press - even, say, by bigger players like Bloodaxe or Seren - and there hadn't been such a fanfare around her first book, and consequent opportunities afforded her and her writing, you have to wonder whether things might just be a little different. The sentiments and values she expresses are admirable, of course - even if keeping one's head firmly up in the firmament of "the city of ideas" does smack worryingly of a writer whose feet seem a long way from the ground. But given the officially-sanctioned accolades and awards she has happily accepted to arrive where she is - Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors, PBS Recommendation for her first book, Forward Prize and T S Eliot Prize shortlistings; all perceivable as compromised groupings under certain lights  - a couple of brave eschewals doesn't look much like the aesthetic high road she seems to imply. Especially when one such accolade that Leviston has chosen to reject - the Next Generation 2014 promotion - is less about individual validation, and much more about committing to an attempt to seriously raise poetry's public profile, without diminishing the cerebral and emotional, perspective-shifting challenges that genuine verse poses.

 
I say all this, incidentally, as someone who enjoyed and admired Public Dream, Leviston's first collection, very much. Her poetry is, I think, the real deal, and more than deserving of the attention and awards it has received. But there seems to be, at best, some forgetful self-delusion at work in this piece, and at worst, a level of contempt for the intelligence of much of her audience, thinly and unconvincingly veiled as whiter-than-white, holier-than-thou artistic purity. Red squirrels indeed.

Monday, October 06, 2014

"A pimped-out souped-up pussy-magnet": Nick Laird's Go Giants - review


Pick up a new poetry collection next time you’re in your local indie bookshop and, chances are, on the dust jacket, you’ll find the usual publisher’s puff. You know the kind of thing: a smart but predictable blurb extolling the brilliance of the poems therein, or else a few quotes from reviews and contemporaries. Should you happen on Nick Laird’s third book of poems, Go Giants, though, you’ll spot something else – a freewheeling paean that (and I say this at the happy risk of furnishing Faber with an endorsement to pin on Laird’s follow-up) is up there with the best hymns to poetry you’ll come across. Making a mockery of those who reckon the living art form ‘a joke; outmoded as the nose flute’ or else ‘a pimped-out souped-up pussy-magnet’, i.e. just the kind of X Factor-type fuckwittery that would put poetry ‘to a phone-in vote’, this title-less prologue conjures a personal reminiscence that stops you in your tracks. Here we find poetry ‘mooching round the back of the loading dock at the meat factory’, a kind of ‘sympathetic magic’ at odds with the machinations of profit and want; a juncture, as Laird fancies it, ‘of the two kinds of real, the act caught in the act’. ‘And if it so happens that you are the flawed compensation for our having just the one go’, our poet concludes, ‘it does for me, or very nearly’.

It’s smart stuff, this subverting of the space where you’d expect to find banal marketing journalese. And not just because the verve and flair of the writing here gets us onside, even before we reach the book’s first poem proper. Ironically enough, it also serves as a précis of what’s to come. Since his lauded first collection, To a Fault (2005), and its swift follow-up On Purpose (2007), Laird’s poetry has combined edgy vernacular, blunt reportage, and an increasingly scientific materialist cast of mind that can border on the grandiose. His aesthetic seems to be one that foregrounds acute contemplation – the act of poetry – as the only means of getting at the world’s real nature; beyond what one poem, ‘Envy’, calls ‘the hot pennies of unhappiness’ inherent to being human, in the hope of finding ‘something like the freedom of the universe’. Extending his engagement with the fault lines between his abiding themes – the personal and political, home and flight, religion and secularity, intimacy and violence – Go Giants documents a struggle, one in which Laird looks to push his poems into unexpected, often playful directions.


‘You’re beeswax and I’m birdshit’, trills the first line of opener ‘Epithalamium’. A serio-comic tribute to marriage and the idea that opposites attract, it also reads as a manifesto – here is poetry as a blurring and transformation of the seemingly irreconcilable into one: ‘and I am Trafalgar, and you’re Waterloo, / and frequently it seems to me that I am you, / and you are me.’ But this isn’t Raymond Chandler’s mock exasperation at the fact that, for writers, everything has to be like something else. It’s more a metaphysical recognition that the poet’s job (if he or she has one) is to uncover the interconnectedness of things. Just as ‘Condolence’ develops a childhood memory of the poet’s mother composing letters by the fire into an image that speaks of wider Troubles-era grief and collapse (brought up in County Tyrone, Laird is a son of Northern Ireland’s fraught political conflicts), the title poem pastes together pop culture phrases, clichés and surreal imperatives into a dislocated commentary on our frenetic modern lives. The two are radically different poems – one a touching familial recollection; the other, a set of disembodied marching orders – but both are attempts to connect with a primal sense of absolute unity. Suspicious of religious faith but, by his own admission, drawn to its trappings, Go Giants finds Laird repeatedly turning to a mix of poetry and scientific hard-thinking in the hope of supplanting the religions – specifically Christianity – he, like most of us, have fallen away from, but are still to find the desired replacement for. ‘To see the gods withdraw, / dethroned, exposed to ridicule, / was our allotted truth’ he writes with resignation in ‘The Effects’; ‘they weren’t dislodged / by other, stronger gods: / they simply came to nothing. / That line of enquiry closed.’ One of the book’s best poems, it ends on an image of a mongrel dog ‘running / masterless’ among a congregation ‘mid-hymn’. Poetry can be like this, it seems to say – playful, life-affirming, eye-opening, and something to which our ‘faces turn, / one-by-one and radiant’.

It is this blend of earnest and buoyant ambition with intelligence, feeling and a genuine sense of fun that makes Laird’s poetry so readable. Even when sound and sense divide to leave the writing more than a little prosaic, Laird packs in enough, and is so questing and entertainingly inquisitive in his frames of reference, you can’t help but forgive it. ‘Progress’, a fragmented bildungsroman of a sequence that closes the book, draws on Galileo, Pope Urban the Eighth, The Smiths, the art of pint-pulling and the persisting sectarianism of the Troubles – a feat in itself. But it is in the quieter lyrics, finding consolation in the comforts of our domestic lives, that his talent really shines. ‘Talking in Kitchens’ is a beautiful vignette to love and companionship, in a world where ‘nobody knows how we feel and it’s fine’. Its final couplet is one of the most moving and echt I’ve read in years, and fully earned: ‘Here it is written down if I forget to say it – / my home is the temple made by your hands.’

As a title, Go Giants straightforwardly reads as a cultural reference to the eponymous American football team, on the US’s East Coast where Laird increasingly spends his time. It also looks like a mischievous dismissal of those Ulster poets – Yeats, Mahon, Heaney – that have exerted influence on his writing from the get-go. But more fully than either of those, it is a clarion call for poetry to up its game; to be more than a trifling art form, but something we can all find solace, excitement, surprise and truth in. He mightn’t always hit the mark, but Laird deserves credit for this ambitious and entertaining book. God willing, it should find a decent audience too.




first published in The Edinburgh Review



Saturday, October 04, 2014

The Write Stuff

THE WRITE STUFF

Award-winning Reds poet Ben is composing more verse about his beloved Liverpool FC


Reds fan and award-winning poet Ben Wilkinson is composing a brand new short collection of verse dedicated to Liverpool Football Club's greatest players.

Guardian book critic Ben, who was featured in the magazine at the start of the season, recently published a book of poems entitled For Real.

Kitted out in the colours of LFC, the collection won the prestigious Poetry Business Competition, judged by University of Liverpool graduate and Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. It was also awarded the 2014 Northern Promise Award by arts organisation New Writing North - providing a grant that has given Ben time to write the new series, called 'Kopite Sonnets' and commemorating legends from Bill Shankly to Kenny Dalglish, through to John Barnes and Steven Gerrard ...


More of this feature, and a new poem, 'King Kenny', in the Official Liverpool FC Monthly Magazine, issue 27, November 2014

 



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Next Generation Poets 2014 In Focus:
#5 Emily Berry's Dear Boy



If one of the most liberating moments in a writer's life comes with the realisation that lyric poetry allows you to make things up, the true revelation occurs when this deliciously sinful inventiveness delivers, somewhat paradoxically, the most eye‑opening and heartrending truths. Dear Boy, Emily Berry's first book of poems, is immediately striking for its sophisticated awareness of such artifice. Opening with a darkly comic account of life as a dramatised and scrutinised performance, the collection presents a host of surreally reimagined everyday scenes in which speakers and characters, by turns emotionally, intellectually and physically compromised, perform accepted, expected and imagined roles. "'Time for another / caffeine fix methinks!'" proclaims one, half intent on reinventing herself, before confiding that "I am not allowed coffee / because of my nerves, but the biographer doesn't / know this". Much of Dear Boy reads as an attempt to map the gaps between who we think we are, how we present ourselves, and who we end up appearing to be.

Whether drawing on ostensibly personal material or delving into the depths of her imagination, Berry's big theme is relationships. Patients are found at the mercy of deranged doctors; a confused mother faces a "perpendicular daughter" she is utterly at odds with; a teenage girl allows her boyfriend to squeeze her into ever tighter corsets; and in the haunting "The House by the Railroad", a child trapped in a nightmarish fairytale searches for a parent held perpetually out of reach. Such searing, often painful subject matter makes for a curious mix of deadpan comedy and irony. The book's title poem, a playful missive that showcases a good deal of Berry's tonal repertoire, achieves a strangely convincing balance between intimacy and solipsistic extravagance, veering from dismissive jokiness ("I'm not sure if you were there or not. / Did you want to be?") to heartfelt emotion: "I tangled your legs in mine. We were a knot in the grain of the world." Not dissimilarly, "The Way You Do at the End of Plays" frames the tussle between life's everyday froth and those near-indescribable feelings given voice through art in the faintly tragic meeting of two estranged lovers. This ability to make the unspoken precisely and vividly apparent is one of Berry's most striking gifts. Though you find yourself wondering if, at times, telling it quite so slant merely serves to further mask some painful, unavoidable truths.

Little is held back, however, in the other letter poems that thread through the collection, charting the anguish, confusion and yearning of a long-distance love affair. These grammatically freewheeling, staccato outpourings, combining persuasive candour with foreboding undercurrents, exhibit Berry's more confessional side, recalling John Berryman, Sylvia Plath and, at times, Sharon Olds. "Letter to Husband" in particular drips with the achingly Plath-like image of a "dark mouth hovering over me", ending on the "desperate / undeviating wish" that the beloved "please come". Elsewhere, sorrow and desire may be tempered and kept in check by life's distractions and a willed lightheartedness, but in bittersweet fashion, the poems find such feelings always return. Even if, as "Love Bird" uncovers, love takes "many shapes"; and even if, as "The Old Fuel" conjures in the perfectly judged metaphor of an "old spaghetti machine", "cranking out oodles of love" can be hard work. Dramatic, honest, unstable and beautiful, what unites these poems is Berry's understanding that absence is to love as wind is to fire: it may extinguish the small, but it kindles the great.

From its most sentimentally intoxicated to its more socially engaged poems, a crucial aspect of Dear Boy's knowing aesthetic is the precise and telling detail. "Plans for a Future Romance" invests a kind of cinematic significance in specific memories of a blue scarf and "text messages about snooker and sleep"; in "The Tea-party Cats", a group of improbably suave yet absurd poseurs preen whiskers that "nicely referenced their bowties". "Nothing Sets My Heart Aflame", a witty lament for the ennui and anxiety that consumer capitalism engenders, even finds the poet musing whether "perhaps there was something missing in your life and it was a mid-century lampshade". For all the archness and cleverness, however, such images betray a serious and incessantly inquiring mind that seeks out epiphanies almost anywhere, analysing feelings, objects and the behaviour of others to the point of paralysing uncertainty. "Does nothing more / detain us", asks the procrastinating speaker of "Preparations for the Journey", "Have we forgotten / nothing?" In a world where you wake to "a bad new government" with "austerity breakfast", harbouring a love-hate relationship with the city you "fell for", it can be easy to imagine the only alternative to the reflective life, as "Devil Music" suggests, is to deny a fundamental part of the self: "I worked. I silenced myself / devotedly until my devil soul twisted / and bucked, and was still."

Yet, despite such moments of feverish bleakness, Dear Boy never seems too dejected or wearying, recognising our need to connect, feel and love, however painful the consequences. If anything, its memorable imagery and range of registers, coupled with a formal restlessness that encompasses everything from loose quatrains to tumbling prose poems, make it an unusually animated and refreshing read. Like the skilled ballet dancers in "Thirty-two Fouettés", this noteworthy debut sees Emily Berry making bravura turns again and again, in poems of polished phrase, seductive technique, and, in spite of the smoke and mirrors, genuine feeling.



first published in The Guardian, Saturday 23 March 2012 


You can find out more about Emily Berry and her work here.