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….
On opening, Philip Gross’s book immediately engages with its fragmented poetry layout. ‘Nocturne: The Information’ gifts the reader stanzas which are chopped up, seemingly disjointed on the page. Structure supports content, the corrugated stanzas echoing the front cover’s Blade Runner-esque landscape of blinking lights:
In her second full-length poetry collection, Claire Askew searches for security and self-assurance within a heavily patriarchal world where institutional power reigns over individuals. Here is fiery free verse that captures beautifully the uneven forces of female empowerment and misogyny. The resolution to this tension is searched for through deftly poetic explorations of dysfunctional relationships, exploitation of the natural world, and interpretations of Salem witch trials.
Our conversation has covered a variety of topics and his interest in life is both present and contagious. It is quite clear André is a man with a thirst for knowledge, which brings me to ask him why use poetry as your main vehicle to navigate such terrain? He answers succinctly, ‘I have an axe to grind.’ That is followed by his infectious laughter. He elaborates by referring to the Chilean poet, Nicanor Parra whom André tells me once said, ‘a poet should be a thorn in society’s side’. This resonated with him in his teens.
If ever a book wears its scholarly research as a jolly cloak, then it is The Voyage of St Brendan. When A.B. Jackson reaches the final page of his post-collection notes, he quotes George Mackay Brown’s play The Voyage of St Brandon: ‘Imagine, say, a couple of country children on a roadside on a spring day. Tell the story of the voyage as if it was for their ears only.’ Jackson finishes his book, responding to that urging with ‘ It is advice I have kept in mind for my own version’.
There’s an old adage that our pupils teach us far more than they are taught. The former teacher in me doesn’t quarrel with that, and nor, apparently, does Hannah Lowe. Drawn from her own ten years’ teaching in ‘an inner-city London sixth form’, the book erupts with classroom vibrancy, without confining itself to in-school tales.
Some reckon that to be competition-fit a poem requires an arresting title. With a back catalogue encompassing collection titles as extraordinary as Trembling Hearts in the Bodies of Dogs, People Who Like Meatballs and The Magnitude of My Sublime Existence, Selima Hill brims with relevant expertise. The contents list in this, her latest collection, is a poem in itself.
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.
The collection opens with two long poems; ‘Spolia’ and ‘War of the Beasts and the Animals’. Similar in form, they are both chaotic and deeply layered. In both poems, Stepanova sifts through language, culture and identity in an attempt to make sense of them all. She reaches no conclusions, but something fascinating is revealed in the attempt. In her poetry, Russia is a country torn apart and remade line by line, a patchwork of truth, myth and dogma stitched together with shreds of memory.