Emma Hammond, Waves on a Boring Beach (zimzalla, 2017)
Brexit, Trump, Jo Cox and other horrors of the past year filtered through the Walthamstow mall in East London. Lots of things in these poems. Slanted images. Complex. Familiar things juxtaposed with something more philosophical. Rich Tea biscuits, Chupa Chups, haunted dreams of the eighties. Also made me have to look up the response to a joke setup that I'm mad I didn't already know the answer to ("What do you call a cat in a chemists?"). Made me laugh aloud on the train.
Roy McFarlane, Beginning With Your Last Breath (Nine Arches, 2016)
Direct, immediate, emotional – a lot of autobiographical subject matter here, including his own adoption, and growing up black in Wolverhampton and the Black Country. Really moving moments, lots of jazz in the background, plus poems about intimacy and relationships. I read with Roy in an event about WW1 in February, and could hear his strong melodic reading voice shining through the poems here too.
SJ Fowler, The Guide to Being Bear Aware (Shearsman, 2017)
Oh my goodness – Steve is writing narrative poems! When did this happen?! These poems feel quite different to other work of his I've read. Lots of bears and other animals (some awesome bear poems). Lots of epigraphs from lots of interesting international poets introduce many of the pieces. Not social anxiety, exactly, but maybe more a social frustration? Like a frustration at what we are all doing, because – what are we all doing? Enough obliqueness to keep us on our toes. Really interesting to see him moving in this direction.
Ko Un, First Person Sorrowful (Bloodaxe, 2012)
This Selected launched at the Aldeburgh Festival the year before I first went to it, but I must have picked a copy up the year afterwards. Picked it up and never read it. Ach. I horrified to say I didn't know Ko Un at all before reading this, despite him being the foremost living writer in Korea (go – google him if you don't know him either – he is great!). The poems are a mixture of social activism, sorrow, humour and a sort of cheerful nihilism, an awareness of just how little a dent one life makes in the world of the planet and the greater colder universe beyond it – and yet, even knowing that, there's an ability to shift into delighting at the wagging tail of a poodle, or feeling joy at the smallest blade of grass. There's also a healthy relish of boozing. Something about survival here and, if it's about faith at all, a faith in nature rather than in human bullshit.
Rebecca Tamás, Savage (Clinic, 2017)
A new pamphlet from Rebecca Tamás, full of sex and sexuality, and women, and strong women, and an absence of witches, and an absence of passivity. Hexes and blood and power. A wonderful dry humour too, often. Of woman, of strength. Glorious stuff here.
Laura Wetherington, A Map Predetermined and Chance (Fence Books, 2014)
Picked this up after hearing her read at Xing the Line last year, where I thought she had an interesting mix of lightness and complexity. These poems seem to be working against the idea of narration, and it feels like they're dealing with ideas like infinity and time passing, in the context of sex, birth, death and all that other stuff in the middle. Meaning is often just out of reach – it feels like that's what the poems are actually enacting. There's a sequence to end on that juxtaposes D-Day landings with a school trip / school environment. The school bits have a box drawn around them. It's so simple, but really effective in how it binds or limits those poems, by contrast to the war imagery on the other side which emanates more powerfully across the white page. Thought-provoking. There's also a delightful poem near the start which is a joke about penises presented in musical notation, called 'There is nothing funny about a penis'.
Tom Jenks, Marjorie  (Zshboo Press, 2017)
Oh god I love Tom. He makes me laugh so much. And think! He has very elegant ideas about structure and constraint and this is no exception. This is a book of tweets by Marjorie, a "mansplaining fauxbot tweeting daily". This book collects the first hundred tweeted statements, carefully typset, each one ending with the name Marjorie. (eg: JELLYFISH MOSTLY JUST WANT TO BE TREATED AS INDIVIDUALS MARJORIE) Mansplaining does cover a lot of them, but after a while it's as if the simple addition of the name 'Marjorie' at the end, with its vaguely seventies air, turns any statement into an act of mansplaining, as if naming her is an act of reduction in itself. In many cases, if you read a piece without the Marjorie on the end, you get the same feeling as when someone took Garfield out of the Garfield cartoons, leaving Jon to have a traumatic existential crisis by himself. The twitter account is an oulipian joy, and I love the idea of a "faux" bot, but there's also something fascinating about reading them all in one go like this. Poor Marjorie. Poor not-Marjorie. And more fun to be made of mansplaining as a general rule, please and thank you.
Okay – that's me for now. More next week! Oh – and if you want to see some other people doing a NaPoReMo in the meantime, but who are sharing actual poems on a daily basis, try Jacqueline Saphra and Jo Bell.