‘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.