The challenge for anyone writing war poetry today is how to avoid sounding like a tribute act doing the Greatest Hits of 1914-1918 with smart bombs and modern line breaks. In his powerful new verse drama Pink Mist, Owen Sheers succeeds in this magnificently.
The poem tells the story of three school friends from Bristol who join the army and fight in Afghanistan. Much of it focuses on what happens after they return – one of them a double amputee, one mentally ill and the third killed by a roadside bomb. Continue reading
Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch has already established herself as one of the finest contemporary virtuosos of the dramatic monologue. Although there’s an element of this in every poem (the “I” of a poem is never entirely the “I” of the poet, even in the rawest confessional verse), something happens when a poem goes out of its way to use a voice that can’t belong to the person with their name on the cover, and in Wynne-Rhydderch’s poems that something is often magical. Continue reading
The opening lines of Ahren Warner’s new collection, Pretty, give a good idea of what follows: “Between the apocrypha / of Einstein defining madness // as the same thing done over, / expecting, in effect, causation to acquiesce // and Freud, in Das Unbehagen in der Kultur…”.
Several elements of Warner’s trademark style are evident here: the precise use of a rich vocabulary (“apocrypha”, “causation”, “acquiesce”); foreign words and phrases; unapologetic high-cultural references; great writing. Continue reading
Fiona Sampson’s haunting new collection, Coleshill, pulls off the difficult trick of evoking a real geographical place while at the same time transforming it into something magical and other.
The village of Coleshill lies at the intersection of three counties. These are profoundly liminal poems, obsessed by the boundaries between spaces and states of being. Over half the poems in the book are either explicitly set at night / twilight or else feature dreams or ghosts. Many of the remainder emphasize haze, blurring, shifting and floating. Reality often seems at risk of dissolving or being subsumed by internal forces. Continue reading
I’ve long been convinced that Deryn Rees-Jones is one of the most original and skilled poets writing today. By chance I settled down with her latest collection, Burying the Wren, in the same week I picked up Fiona Moore‘s The Only Reason for Time (on the strength of John Field’s review on the excellent Poor Rude Lines). Both books are in part responses to the premature death of a partner, and although it would be grossly reductive to say that they are therefore “about” bereavement, it’s nonetheless interesting to look at them side by side. Continue reading