Vietnamese-born writer Ngan Nguyen’s lines (from How Do We Talk About Knives) speaks to some of the underlying and important questions about identity and acceptance explored in these two very different short collections. Published by two vibrant independent Scottish publishers, the quality of the content and the uncompromising editorial and aesthetic standards shine a real beam of light in these difficult times for print collections, times that are in truth never easy anyway for small poetry presses. Bravo to both Red Squirrel and Matecznik for bucking the problematic trend….
A title like ‘The brain of the rat in stereotaxic space’ makes a bold opening gambit. The reviewer is aware the poet has had a past career in toymaking and is soon alert to the intricate care inherent in the constructing of these poems; a planning, an almost archaeologically labelled or museum-catalogued craft. These impressively, formally varied poems is precision-assembled, and there is something in each—be they sonnets, sets of sestets, runes, guitar chords, or even a tightly metrical poem where only one of its 33 lines and title does not end on the name ‘Rosemarie’— which tells of meticulous planning, exacting execution and a mesmerising, unrelentingly creative mind….
Lori & Joe, shortlisted for the 2023 Goldsmith Prize for innovative and experimental novels, is inspired by Amy Arnold’s own walks over the fells and being attentive to her landscape, to her movement, and to her thoughts. The novel is a beautiful representation of the mind’s meandering quality, jumping through a person’s history without warning….
This is the poet’s first collection, Perthshire-based Picton Smith and it comes with considerable verse credentials, already having been long-listed in the National Poetry Competition, commended in the Hippocrates Prize, and placed second in the Neil Gunn Writing Competition; she also holds a PhD in Contemporary Scottish Poetry. When The Whooper Swans Came demonstrates what a pamphlet can achieve. This is a taut beauty, flensed of flab, an example of less being more, with the promise of a great deal yet to come.
Safiya Kamaria Kinshasa’s debut collection of poetry starts with a quotation from Richard Ligon in 1657, ‘For what can poor people do, that are without Letters and Numbers, which is the soul of all business that is acted by Mortals, upon the Globe of this Word.’ Kinshasa asks, how does one speak outside of what is conventionally recognised as words? Might there be alternative languages? How might one recover from ‘the void of first-hand narratives from enslaved people (particularly women)’ something that will make sense to present lives?
Kandace Siobhan Walker is a writer, artist and filmmaker with exceptional creative dexterity. In 2019 Walker won The Guardian’s 4th Estate BAME short story prize. In 2021 she was a recipient of the Eric Gregory Award, winner of The White Review Poet’s Prize, and in 2022, published her debut double pamphlet, Kaleido, in 2022.
Do not be misled by preconceived ideas evoked by the quiet artwork on the cover of this, Walker’s first full collection, Cowboy. Poems shift, build and gather, some driving home their conceit, others ebbing away into the ether. This is not simple in terms of content or of theme either….
This is Jane Clarke’s third poetry collection. Her previous work has been nominated for several poetry prizes, including being shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize, awarded for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry evoking the spirit of a place. The latest collection certainly does that….
With two novels, four poetry pamphlets and an Eric Gregory Award already under her belt, the stunning quality of Susannah Dickey’s debut poetry collection should come as no surprise. ISDAL starts as a scalpel-sharp critique of the true crime genre and ends unravelling tangled notions of grief, empathy, exploitation and our near-pathological need to narrativize death (and life)….
To prefix the title of your debut Forward Prize nominated poetry collection ‘Bad’ may seem, at first, to be a brave choice. But Bad Diaspora Poems is clearly a title that encourages you to think about nuance – something which feels all the more important in a week in which Suella Braverman is having her ‘rivers of blood’ moment at the Tory party conference. ‘Diaspora’ – online definition ‘the dispersion or spread of a people from their original homeland’ – is a loaded term, so it is no wonder Momtaza Mehri wants us to think about the value judgements we might attach to it, just as she questions the ability of poetry to respond to such a topic. What does it mean to write ‘diaspora poetry’?
Those of us who have had the misfortune of hosting, or attending, a “get to know the neighbours” party will be familiar with the scene: the obligatory dance and drink to get into the mood; the awkward and out of place guests; the eagerly offered nibbles. Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party invites us into the living room of Beverly and Laurence and sets us up for a night of drinking, music and, of course, meeting the neighbours….