‘I do not take photos/I give them/as I always give/in love’, the protagonist of Christine Sloan Stoddard’s poetry/photography collection Heaven is a Photograph declares, a characteristically bold admission of vulnerability. These lines, taken from the poem ‘Unrequited Pixels’, evoke an overarching theme of the collection: the emotional intensity of the protagonist’s relationship with photography. Charting the protagonist’s journey, from a childhood as the daughter of a photographer to becoming a photographer herself, Stoddard’s brief and beautiful collection explores the power of both photography and photographer – through a deft and deeply meta combination of verse and photography itself.
by Alex Valente
Content warning: suicide
On the evening of Friday, 18th October 2019, I attended Massy Books launch of Kai Cheng Thom’s latest book I Hope We Choose Love – A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End of the World, a collection of non-fiction and short poetic pieces that together form a net of radical hope-building for a time – and it has been a long time, as rightly noted in the introduction – when all hope seems lost. I follow Kai Cheng’s work online already, but I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the event. I’m glad to say I’m still not entirely sure what happened.
by Ewa Giera
Content warning: xenophobia, discrimination
The Day of the Duck, by Helen Stratford and Lawrence Bradby, takes form of neither a scripted play, nor a novel: intertwined with visual diagrams, elements of script and a simple, character-driven narrative, the book is a unique experience as opposed to a traditional novel. The story revolves around a Muscovy duck, the last of its species in a town heavily based on Ely in Cambridgeshire, whose goal is to discover why its brethren have all disappeared. The book is framed as a noir detective-style plot – the Muscovy duck takes on the role of the detective and asks all the uncomfortable questions to people whose names it’s not concerned with, which serves the aim of having the characters translate as everymen.
On a recent trip to Mexico, I decided to take with me three books by authors of Latin American heritage, including two of Mexican background, and one Cuban. All were women. Aside from eating the most delicious chimichangas, learning about the ancient Mayan ruins, and climbing up the Ixmoja part of the Nohoch Mul, I spent a lot of my time reading these authors by the sea with a strawberry daiquiri. Within just one week I had nearly consumed them all and discovered a new love of Latin American writing.
It was too beautiful to last. The fragile truce established between Labour’s dueling factions after the party’s unexpectedly strong 2017 general election performance disintegrated just in time for this year’s local election campaign.
Despite everything, Labour still made gains, indicating that its simple anti-austerity message continues to have the capacity to cut through the interference generated by chronic internal feuding. But the result was hardly good enough to foster a new outbreak of peace.
If you’ve seen Rosie Wilby on stage, or come across some of her recent articles, you may be aware of her exploration of monogamy and non-monogamy in relationships. This complex issue is the focus of her new book: Is Monogamy Dead? A provocative title in itself, as a book that is part memoir and part research, it succeeds in its aims to both entertain and critique traditional relationship models. As a stand-up comic, Wilby has appeared at many festivals from Glastonbury to Edinburgh, and there are many stories in the book that have me laughing out loud. Yet, as with the best comedic work, it succeeds in not only being humorous but is also delivered with real poignancy.
Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus, the classic novel by Mary Shelley that stands at the pinnacle of the gothic tradition and looks forward to the new genre of science fiction, was first published 200 years ago this month. Shelley’s visceral tale of the terrible consequences that follow the failure of brilliant young scientist Victor Frankenstein to take responsibility for the strange new life he creates, is both of its time and utterly contemporary.
It can be read as a high Romantic fantasy set against a background of electric storms, shimmering Alpine peaks, Rhineland forests and Arctic wastelands, and as a subtle meditation on themes of knowledge and responsibility that resonate with today’s hopes and fears for the possibilities opened by artificial intelligence (AI) and synthetic biology.
Inspired by my experience of Being a Man Festival, I attended an evening in appreciation of poet and educator, Jacob Sam-La Rose. The night consisted of speeches and moving poetry in tribute to his teachings. The energy was reminiscent of the Burn After Reading nights, and despite this occasion being a one-off, it captured what I love about live literature events. Often, it can seem that poetry is such a niche medium, that outsiders can struggle to find their place. However, these spaces provide a place where people can share both pain and joy, and connect with others through words. Sam-La Rose is mostly known for the incredible work he does with young people. He has tremendous influence on poetry today, and on the opportunities that many young people have to be exposed to, and enveloped by, this art form. It comes as no surprise then to read on the back cover of Breaking Silence, that his work ‘is grounded in a belief that poetry can be a powerful force within a community’.
It felt right to return to the well-thumbed pages of my copy of Sam-La Rose’s debut book-length collection from Bloodaxe, one of the most reputable poetry publishers in the UK. Breaking Silence was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, but many feel it has not had the recognition it deserves. Linking with themes from Being a Man Festival, the collection explores issues of manhood and masculinity, and how these intersect with race and dual heritage, as well as broader issues of identity.
by Eli Lambe
Almost exactly one year ago, I attended a conference at UEA on ‘hybrid writing’, organised by Seam Editions. The last presentation before lunch absolutely captured the theme of the conference. Anna Metcalfe presented ‘I hope to Show’, or the Last Thing out of Pandora’s Box, a creative-critical reflection on academic writing, optimism and Hesiod. Last Tuesday, in an unassuming brown padded envelope, my advance copy of A Hope on The Wall arrived. I keep describing it to myself as “a beautiful little book” and it truly is; Francesca Romano has done an amazing job of making a deceptively minimalist-looking home for a complex and engaging read. I can see it conveniently sitting inside my notebook, ready for me to dive into whenever doubt sets in.
From the first line in the acknowledgements section – “This book is built on a lifetime of resentment” – Shy Radicals by Hamja Ahsan illustrates a special kind of humour, that may have an element of truth, but also puts something serious in a light-hearted way. The book as a whole, has many of these gems, showing the distinct style of Ahsan’s writing that can deliver brutal honesty in a way that makes the reader laugh out loud.
Likewise, Shy Radicals deals with a world that is part-truth, part-fiction: Aspergistan is ‘the homeland of oppressed Shy, Introvert and Autistic Spectrum peoples’ and a comical nod to the psychologically atypical natures of most shy people. Perhaps Aspergistan’s location within the now-divided Indian subcontinent is an acknowledgement that the Western world is representative of the loudness and extrovert dominance that shy people have to fight against. This fight referred to here, is against “the Extrovert-Supremacist world camp”. This alignment with the Eastern world is also seen in the use of the Eastern Lunar models for the new calendar proposed in the chapter on culture.
by Hannah Rose
Your new book, Illegal, tells the story of your arrest and deportation from Ecuador and your consequent return over the Colombian border with the help of corrupt police. There’s also a love story which runs through it. Crime and love both sell books – was this thematic mix deliberate?
My original intent was to focus on borders and revolution but almost every person who read a draft, especially early on, wanted to know more about the love story. So I kept adding more with each new edit. We’ve all been in love so that shared experience makes it relatable and easier to digest. That common basis is a great launch pad to touch on everything else, too.
by Eli Lambe
Dave Eggers’ The Circle, both the book and the recent feature-length adaptation, is a dystopia formed around a Facebook/Apple/Google/Amazon-esque corporation, one which hosts and shares almost every aspect of its users lives. The novel does a remarkable job of capturing the subtle ways in which this model is marketed to us, how this format of data-as-product is often shrouded in apparently progressive buzzwords – community, accountability, transparency, participation – whilst the company which operates under this model does so under the same values as every other corporate entity.
There is a veneer of progressivity and respectability that companies adopt in order to retain and gain customers – like Facebook making it easier to harass trans people, or implementing guidelines that protect white men but not black children, and at the same time, for one month of the year, patchily providing a rainbow “pride” react to the users who liked lgbt@facebook. Perhaps not as extreme as Eggers writes in The Circle, but eerily close enough: “Anytime you wanted to see anything, use anything, comment on anything or buy anything, it was one button, one account, everything tied together and trackable and simple, all of it operable via mobile or laptop, tablet or retinal.”
by Toby Gill
When Theresa May announced her snap election, I was travelling across Japan. At the time I was spending a lot of time on a variety of very slow trains (the famous bullet trains were somewhat beyond our budget). This gave me a lot of down-time to ponder my electoral choices, and consider which way I should vote. It also gave me a lot of time to read the latest tome of modern history I had picked up: Martin Pugh’s State and Society; a social and political history of Britain since 1870. It is not a politicised book; it markets itself as a rigorous work of academic history, designed to introduce new undergraduates to the period – a task it performs superbly.
However, this is a politicised book review.
The cover of Better Watch Your Mouth displays a set of lips and teeth pulling the kind of expression you would make after being told such a thing. It suggests an unapologetic rejection of censorship, which is later reflected in the poem ‘Ugh, Men’ with the statement ‘we will not censor ourselves (x3)’.
This is a collection that mixes everyday language with profound metaphor, and beautiful imagery with emotive stories. It begins with the telling of others’ stories and gradually becomes more personal, yet in a way that is also relatable, as time skips back and forth like the mind floating back to memories, some singed with pain and others with nostalgia.
by Eli Lambe
Rich with reference and metaphor, Ali Smith’s Autumn is a triumph. Published incredibly quickly following the chaos of the EU Referendum in June 2016, it fully captures the feelings of isolation, division, and distrust that seems to have characterised the 12 months since. The atmosphere of unreality is masterfully tied together with dream-sequence, ekphrasis, and lies. The principal character, Elisabeth sums it up concisely as an eight year old in 1993: “It’s about history, and being neighbours.”
by Eli Lambe
The Power is a profoundly affecting read. In it, Naomi Alderman envisions a switching of roles and of power dynamics, deftly parodying and reflecting back the ways in which we justify, enforce and understand gender roles.
It asks the question: “What if women were stronger than men; What if men had to be afraid of women?” and follows its core characters – Roxy, the daughter of a British crime boss; Tunde, a Nigerian journalist; Allie, an American foster kid who escapes an abusive household; and Margot, an American Mayor trying to balance her city in the wake of this sudden shift, and protect her daughters Jocelyn and Maddie – as the world progresses towards “Cataclysm.”
CW: mentions harassment, domestic violence
When I first saw Tony Walsh, aka longfella, it was as a feature act at the Genesis Poetry Slam in Whitechapel. I remember being struck by a line about how growing breasts being something that labels some people ‘women’. This was a revelation to me, and yet something that I could identify with as a cis-gender woman reflecting on adolescence; it felt profound that a man could understand this experience in a way that made me feel understood in a way I hadn’t yet articulated myself.
When I later read what I assumed to be these same lines in Sex & Love & Rock&Roll, they didn’t strike me in quite the same way, as they offered something different. In ‘Start All the Clocks’, Walsh repeats ‘tell me how it feels’, as he asks of the readers
‘…tell me how it feels when you start to grow breasts
When Mother Nature writes ‘woman’ across a girl’s chest.’
It is in these lines that mean that Walsh is not solely a poet to hear on stage, but also one to read on the page, where you have the time to reflect and think.
by Eli Lambe
Hopkinson’s writing is enchanting. Her words wrap around you and inhabit you, they turn your skin to bark, the wind into a goddess, your body lifts and falls with the lines of beautifully crafted prose. To read her work is to be transformed, transported, transcended. Her first novel, Brown Girl in the Ring (1998), explored community, magic, and family in a Toronto “hollowed out” by white-flight and financial catastrophe.
Her second, Midnight Robber (2000), used language — particularly dialect — and mythology to imagine, from a Caribbean perspective, “what stories we’d tell ourselves about our technology – what our paradigms for it might be” and to bring together ideas of storytelling, colonialism and trauma. Since then, she has published several other novels and collections, all of which are thoughtful, accessible and fundamentally affecting, the most recent of which is the subject of this review.
I was given this book shortly after its publication in 2013 by mi abuelito, Juan Antonio Masoliver Ródenas, whose work is featured in the anthology of short stories, memoirs and poems. Currently living in Spain, it felt like a good time to read the whole book. The collection showcases twelve contemporary writers, in both Spanish and English translation, and definitely has a modern, experimental feel to it. The use of first person throughout blends the line between truth and fiction, and despite often feeling personal, there is always a sense of the political throughout.
by Laura Potts
On Saturday March 11th, I attended the launch of a fascinating new book from Theory and Practice publishing: ‘The Alternative to Capitalism’ by Adam Buick and John Crump. Many of us feel hostile towards capitalist structures. Being properly informed is vital to structuring our opposition effectively. I can heartily recommend this book as an addition to the education of anyone interested in the possibility of bringing capitalism down. Its content is manageable, it is inclusive not alienating, and most importantly it inspires hope in an alternative society.
by Zoe Harding
Content warning: Strong language, sexual assault, Nazi imagery, hazardous levels of idiocy. The following is the author’s opinion.
So this is happening. Now, like most people, I’m obviously not in favour of censorship. Or state-sanctioned drone strikes firing missiles entirely filled with out-of-date shrimp, for that matter. I believe everyone has the right to say whatever the hell they like, and everyone else has the right to punch them in the face if that speech advocates fucking genocide. Hello again, assorted term-searching wank sandwiches.
But sometimes, sometimes, I find myself out back filling a hollowed-out Hellfire with 2014’s prawns, because sometimes the story is a respected author picking a fight with a bookshop she’s apparently never been to because they don’t stock books by some random orange fascist cunt in a different country, and that, somehow, is ‘censorship.’
Rowena Knight has been making waves both in terms of poetry on the page (including Magma, Cadaverine and The Rialto) and on the stage, being a regular at poetry nights across London, as well as a team member of She Grrrowls. Self-identifying ‘Feminist Killjoy’, the collection deals with becoming a woman and growing up as an immigrant from New Zealand as a teenager.
by Gwen Taylor
How on Earth do I put these feelings into words? I’m sitting here just after finishing Love is Love and I have been utterly floored. 2016 has been an awful year all around, a year where hatred and intolerance appear to have won, and love has been firmly pushed into a corner. One of the most horrific events of the year took place in June at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. One person took the lives of 49 others who were celebrating their individuality and love in what had always been regarded as a safe space.
Love is Love is an anthology of responses to the shooting published by IDW Publishing and supported by DCComics to raise money for Equality Florida. It contains 144 pages of beautiful stories designed to celebrate love following a tragic event. Each piece is 1-2 pages long and all are incredibly powerful; the sheer number of contributors demonstrates how this horrific event was felt by everyone.
A book filled with moths, whiskey and full moons; reading Zelda Chappel’s debut collection The Girl in the Dog-Tooth Coat, published with Bare Fiction (2015), forces you to be in the moment with each and every piece. With each turn of the page comes a fresh clarity and precision, yet still connected like water – at times a stream, and at others, a rushing waterfall. It explores grief, and through its dark and sombre tones, there is a glimmer of hope: that this is a tale of survival.
Kate Tempest is well known for her work within the world of poetry and music, yet her latest venture sees her trying her hand at prose, using her original modern mythologies weaved into a different form. Although the points of move from character to character, Becky stands out to be the central character.
The first chapter made me think of the question uttered by both Shakespeare and Brecht about the role of art, suggesting to possibility for it to be both a mirror and hammer, when it comes to most peoples’ realities. Yet, at times it felt like the outlook was too cynical, too similar to the thoughts in the heads in this generation where we so often feel powerless to make change. It was almost too real, holding a truth too close to the bone.
I picked this book up on my travels from a Silent Meditation Retreat in Ubud, Bali. Reading a good book is like meditation for those of us whose minds won’t shut up. It’s something I know I should do more, especially as an English Literature graduate and as a writer. But in the age of social media, I find myself clicking on different articles deep into the night instead. That said, a good writer will keep you hooked enough to pull you away from such distractions.
I had read John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars, which rightfully brought him to critical acclaim (as well as a film deal). An Abundance of Katherines was first published ten years ago, but is seeing a revival now that Green is a bestselling author. I felt excited to start reading it, and I enjoyed it so much that I made sure I had a copy waiting for me when I returned home, in between jetting off to Spain, where I’m now living.
I have seen Emily Harrison share her work countless times at Burn After Reading events, and at my own night, She Grrrowls. She never fails to amaze me in the way she is able to articulate herself, speaking out about mental health issues – amongst other subjects – interwoven with links to gender and class. When I read lines about imaging someone loves you ‘when you simply asked/during a routine blood test, ‘Emily, how are you doing today?’ I sort of imagine she’s what I would be like if I were an extrovert.
The first couple of poems are familiar to me, and it’s hard not to picture Harrison on stage delivering these words, because as much as it’s incredible to be able to read the pieces, seeing them live is an important part of the way the text works, as it tends to be with Burning Eye Books – the go-to publisher for writers who refuse to remain on one side of the page/stage divide.
by Linda Russo
I wrote To Think of her Writing Awash in Light as a way to investigate aspects of literary women’s lives that tend to be overlooked. The questions that interested me – how do lived spaces (domestic, urban, or natural spaces or environments) effect women’s relationships to their materials and ideas and language? How do women navigate these spaces and their various prescriptions for what women should or can do? – suggested a geographic inquiry, one that required leaving my desk and books behind to wander about and write in various environments, literal and imaginary.
In 2013 I was amongst around twenty poets long-listed for the first Young Poet Laureate for London prize. I remember meeting Warsan Shire that day; she seemed quiet, perhaps nervous, yet confident and bold. We performed one piece to a panel of judges, and I was either before or after Shire. Although she prefers writing to performing her work, I remember being blown away by not only the words, but the delivery of her poem Ugly. I remember that I had already heard lines quoted by Kayo Chingonyi from a workshop he was leading for students at the school where I work. It was no surprise when Shire was shortlisted, much less when she won.
To have the power to write poetry that sticks in the mind is certainly a gift that Shire bestows in much of her work. I have since had the pleasure of seeing Shire again at the launch of the first Podium Poets anthology, by Spread the Word, and attended workshops lead by her on an Arvon retreat. As an aspiring poet, she is an inspiration to many as a writer and as a human being.
On 9th and 10th October, the Royal Festival Hall played host to the premier of ‘The Hollow of the Hand’ – a collaboration between musician PJ Harvey and photographer-filmographer Seamus Murphy. It was essentially a book launch, but it will also be a project that includes a film to be released next year. It’s a relatively new breed of art, with politics at its heart, where reportage and art combine to create a particular type of documentary where the genre is combined with artistic photography/videography, poetry, and music.
The project saw Harvey and Murphy travel to Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Washington DC. Murphy stated that they went to these countries without any agenda, without a particular message they wished to convey. It appeared Murphy enjoyed going down the road less travelled, and cited a chicken coop in Kosovo as an example of the kinds of places he liked to visit, and was glad Harvey felt the same way.
The words “democracy” and “Asia” aren’t always known for going together. But with the proliferation of the Internet and social media, Asia appears to be learning a few lessons from other developing nations when it comes to democratic reform. The Arab Spring, the online democratic movement which eventually culminated in protests in Tunisia and Egypt, is surely a recent example that could be learned from.
The Internet has certainly had a liberating effect on this region, previously known for being conservative in terms of political expression and dissent. The Japanese political sphere, for example, is usually not renowned for being politically active or outspoken. But that’s slowly starting to change.
by Emily Critchley
My situation as both a writer and a feminist involves my trying to think carefully about how interior/private and exterior/public ‘realms’ constantly mutually inform one another.
Though I am sceptical about the explicit social/political power of poetry, I believe the thinking done by and through it, and other art forms, may have implicit and incremental social effects; as Leslie Scalapino put it: ‘poetry is society’s secret interior’.
This article reviews three books by writers who occupy both the page and the stage. My first experience of all three of these women was as poets on the stage, yet reading them was entirely different and allows time to mull over the words in a way you can’t necessarily with live performance.