Far-reaching in his enquiry, Michael Symmons Roberts in Ransom, his eighth published collection of poetry, addresses some fundamental issues about human nature – who and what guides us, and in turn keeps us in thrall. Some poems have a more traditional meditative rendering while others tend more toward the performative, riffing off contemporary themes about living in the city. Yet, all are united by the ubiquitous theme of ransom. Jeanette Winterson has monikered Roberts as a religious poet for the secular age. Reading through the sequences in this collection, I can see why for it understands ransom as levied on us by how we live now, the creeds we might follow, our education, to say nothing about the cultural and ethical legacies of the past.
Victoria Kennefick’s latest collection, Eat Or We Both Starve, is a considered and powerful meditation on what it means to hunger and, subsequently, to consume. Kennefick weaves historical figures, literary references and personal memories into her work in a painstaking attempt to examine hunger in its myriad forms – be it physical, sexual, relational or spiritual. At times, the poems are so interconnected in theme that the entire collection feels concentrated into one sharp burst of writing. Yet it is clear that Kennefick’s process has been refined and reoriented, as many of the poems contain a wisdom and strength – the voice of an embodied womanhood.
Joelle Taylor’s T S Eliot Prize nominated C+nto & Othered Poems is her third collection of poetry, following Songs my Enemy Taught Me (2017)… C+nto shares some similarities to Songs in its unflinching attention to the body and its enemies but this new collection returns to her roots both artistic (Taylor was a playwright before she found recognition as a poet) and personal. As in Songs, these are poems of resistance, this time set to the beat of the 90s gay bar jukebox. They remember these places as sanctuary and lament their passing in a time when queer community seems made and unmade on twitter threads rather than dancefloors.
In Jack Underwood’s timely second poetry collection, A Year in the New Life, shortlisted for the 2021 T.S. Eliot prize, he considers his place in the world having become a father. Underwood exposes his innermost deliberations and fears, placing them within a world that is becoming increasingly alien for all of us.
Kevin Young’s accomplished collection of poems, Stones, moves with deliberate pace, an anodyne for those who have lost someone they will always love. The language is delicate and gentle—yet provocative in word and manner. In his review for The New York Times, David Orr describes Stones as a book about how families absorb and repurpose loss. Stones embraces grief by examining the root likeness of our ancestry—the way we grow into and out from our inheritance.
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.
In response to an old Blues song performed by Geeshie Wiley, Peter Riley has brought together established poets of varying styles. Notwithstanding a spelling error, a misdate and some distracting formatting, Riley and his troop have created a muddy-watered pool for the reader to lounge in.
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.
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.
Citadel is Martha Sprackland’s first full collection, following two previous pamphlets (Glass as Broken Glass in 2017 and Milk Tooth in 2018) and a raft of poetry editing credentials. The slim volume carries fifty poems and has a density to the reading. This stems from the complex premise packed into the work: a historical reimagining Read More