After slowly reading and becoming enthralled by Ted Hughes’ collection Crow, I feel better equipped for my long journey into the world of poetry. Although I’m not entirely sure how to go about writing reviews of poetry books, I’d like to at least chronicle the collections I’m reading in the hope that it might serve as an interesting (although in no way authoritative) guide for other people out there who might want to read more poetry.
So, without further ado, here are three poetry collections I’ve read and really enjoyed recently:
Stranger, Baby – Emily Berry
I went to my nearest bookshop a couple of weeks ago and came home with a nice little bundle of poetry books that caught my eye, including this one. I’d heard a lot of hype and love for this collection on other blogs and on Booktube (I’d recommend Jen Campbell’s review, because unlike me she really knows her poetry stuff!). I sat down just to flick through my new acquisitions and ended up reading Stranger, Baby from cover to cover, which serves as an indication of just how compelling and absorbing this collection is.
Imagine trying to pick up a piece of the sea and show it to a person
I tried to do that
All that year I visited a man in a room
I polished my feelings
Broadly speaking, Stranger, Baby is about grief and the acceptance of a childhood loss. It is full of beautiful and vivid imagery of the sea and of fire, which hold the variety of forms together into a cohesive whole. There are poems in the form of a script, complete with stage directions, dialogue between ‘Me One’ and ‘Me Two’, and contributions from a classical tragic chorus. There are long and thin poems, poems set out as if the words have been scattered across the page, poems split into columns. Each has a reason for doing so, and the overall effect is of movement and change without the collection becoming fragmented. There are also poems inspired by visual art, for example the artwork ‘Drunken Bellarmine’ by Renee So. It was really interesting to look up these pieces of work so that I could see the inspiration alongside the words.
Overall, I really enjoyed Stranger, Baby, all the more so because I was sucked into it and found it accessible as well as thought-provoking. I’m definitely going to return to it again soon.
Citizen: An American Lyric – Claudia Rankine
This hugely powerful book is a mixture of prose poetry and images that explores racism, primarily in the United States. It is a hard-hitting read that gives you example after example after example of the racist slurs and stereotypes and marginalisation that black people have to struggle against every single day. Extensive use of the second person makes the situations presented even more immediate and painfully direct. The poems are masterfully written and the structure and spacing of the book allows for breathing space to absorb the text, while the impactful and thought-provoking images both complement and contrast with the context of the surrounding poems.
Some of the poems in the final section of the book are scripts for videos that Rankine has made with her husband John Lucas. They are well worth a watch – you can find them on Claudia Rankine’s website if you click on ‘Situations’.
Hold up, did you just hear, did you just say, did you just see, did you just do that? Then the voice in your head silently tells you to take your foot off your throat because just getting along shouldn’t be an ambition.
Citizen is an incredibly important book; it is a damning portrait of society that everyone needs to read.
Let Them Eat Chaos – Kate Tempest
Let Them Eat Chaos is another book that I read from cover to cover in a whirl of powerful images. It is hugely engaging and sweeps you along with its irrepressible rhythm. It was written for live performance and has also been released as an album (here’s an extract).
It is one long poem, centred on a single London street. It spotlights seven individuals in turn, awake in their flats at 4:18am and reflecting on their lives while a storm gathers in the distance, unnoticed. The poem presents a bleak view of our society, of our alienation and isolation, of our wilful ignorance of approaching dangers. It presents you with this and makes you despair for the future, but then turns around and becomes a rousing cry for action.
Of all these people in all these houses,
only these seven are awake.
They shiver in the middle of the night
counting their sheepish mistakes.
Let Them Eat Chaos is incredibly relevant to these tempestuous times and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves feeling powerless in the face of current events.
So that’s it so far! I hope to keep reading poetry regularly and writing about it on here. I’d love some more recommendations, so please feel free to make suggestions in the comments below! 🙂