I read Summerwater in January 2021, on the eve of Brexit, and the shock has yet to wear off. Sarah Moss has six novels to her name and this, her most recent, poetically portends the dangers of casual prejudice. Set in a cabin park in the Highlands, a day of dreadful summer rain stretches out the solstice for the holiday makers.
Maaza Mengiste’s second novel, The Shadow King, was shortlisted for the Booker prize in 2020 and bears all the hallmarks of the accolade. ‘Beautiful and devastating’ is Marlon James’ endorsement. What he means, we can assume, is that the writing is beautiful but its content devastating; the prose is vibrantly lyrical but the subject matter roams the darkest corners of conflict, something hard to reconcile with the word beautiful.
Adam is the true story of Adam Kashmiry, a young transgender man born in Alexandria, Egypt, who sought asylum in Glasgow to live safely as his authentic self. Adam has existed in various forms, including a Fringe production with only two actors. The version streaming on iPlayer, directed by Cora Bissett and Louise Lockwood, has been adapted from a stage play to a “theatrical on-screen drama”. Over the course of an hour, we watch Adam’s agonising search for a resolution to the trap in which he has been placed: no gender clinic will help him transition until he has been granted asylum, but he will not be granted asylum unless he can “prove” he is a trans man. Warm, uncompromising, funny, heart-breaking and above all human, Adam is an emotional tour-de-force.
For me, writing poetry demands different parts of my resources, whether it is my feelings, my energy, my brain, my ego, my sense of self, or my sense of audience. But I’m probably at my happiest when I’m writing a poem. The process is what excites me the most, and when I’m done, it feels quite removed from me. I’m not reluctant to send it out, which I think some poets are – they fear rejection. I think having been an actress helps. Nobody likes rejection, but it’s not going to kill me. I’m quite pragmatic; I see it as just another part of the process.
Ezra Pound suggested that poets ‘go in fear of abstractions’, and his advice continues to hold much weight. Like any principle of course, not only will excellent exceptions keep occurring, but it deserves to be held to account. Pound would have expected no less. In her second full collection Tripping Over Clouds, Lucy Burnett does exactly that, and ‘underpinning this is a re-imagining of abstraction as a prior state of possibility and potential from which the world and ourselves are constantly re-emerging – as abstraction to, not from.’
Face to face conversation has been a rarity this past year, and sadly my time spent getting to know author and poet Oliver K. Langmead was no exception. He agrees, ‘I feel as if I’m spending half my life in Zoom meetings, or typing away in a Word document – staring at the same screen Read More
A poet dazzling enough to be commemorated with a minor planet and a ship in her honour, Marina Tsvetaeva is a crown jewel in Russian literature. Christopher Whyte’s translation of her early poems from 1913 to 1915 does an admirable job of bringing her legacy into the twenty-first century.
Shining through the darkness of our contemporary moment comes Living Weapon, a compositional tour de force that sings to our anxieties of the present. Covering everything from the pandemic to technology and black lives matter, this slim collection belongs to the increasingly popular form of civic poetry.
The pandemic has taken a lot from everyone over this past year but my conversation with Tishani Doshi is one of those rare examples where a world in isolation and an increase of online connectivity turn into blessings. Tishani Doshi greets me from what seems like an oasis. I call online from my flat in Dundee to her, by the sea in India, Tamil Nadu – my morning, her afternoon. I speak to her just days after her appearance at StAnza poetry festival.
The Wreck of the Fathership is the seventh poetry collection from W.N. Herbert. Herbert was Dundee’s inaugural Makar from 2013-2018. This collection has its roots firmly in Dundee, but calls upon themes, techniques and artists the world over, and overflows with hidden meanings and metaphysics. Herbert’s Fathership is an outpouring of emotion, especially of grief that threatens to drown the reader but steered by such poetic genius that no such disaster occurs. The turbulent contents are handled tightly, deftly.