Jul 01, 2022
Poukahangatus by Tayi Tibble; Rookie by Caroline Bird; One Language by Anastasia Taylor-Lind; Sonnets for Albert by Anthony Joseph; High Desert by André Naffis-Sahely
Poukahangatus by Tayi Tibble (Penguin, £10.99) Continue reading...
In Vampires Versus Werewolves, the poet remembers schooldays of “brown boys running round topless during PE”; when white girls take them home, it is “to see if parents would bare their teeth”. The role reversal is typical of the fairytales of youth in the Aotearoan/New Zealand poet’s debut collection. Tibble writes wittily of the hunger games of adolescence, with needy boys crying wolf (those beasts again) while “in reverse you cry sheep and / nobody believes your bleating”. Identities are assumed and discarded (“there is a dark-skinned darkness in me / I wear her like a little black dress”), and form a central focus of the autofictional long poem Shame. “Tell me, am I navigating correctly?” Tibble asks in Identity Politics. Her worries are misplaced: however lost their youthful personas, these wise poems know exactly where they are heading.
Jan 07, 2022
Refractive Africa by Will Alexander; The Vulture by Gerard Woodward; Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke; Litanies by Naush Sabah; and Pilgrim Bell by Kaveh Akbar
Refractive Africa by Will Alexander (Granta, £10.99)
This visionary act of “transpersonal witness” to a continent is an Afromodernist epic in the tradition of Kamau Brathwaite’s The Arrivants. It is first of all an act of repossession, as in the opening section’s dialogue with Nigerian novelist Amos Tutuola and closing homage to the Madagascan Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo, often considered Africa’s first modern poet. At the heart of the book is a 50-page poem, The Congo, on that country as a site of colonial pillage, “vertiginous with derangement”. An incantation against “Eurocentric stultification”, Refractive Africa embraces an aesthetic of sprawl and overreach, summoning free-flowing visions of grandeur and desolation. Alexander, an American, is the author of more than 30 books, and his introduction to a British readership is overdue.
The Vulture by Gerard Woodward (Picador, £10.99) Continue reading...
We begin with the discovery of a dead vulture at the foot of a cliff; slicing open its belly reveals “nothing in there / but the usual unspeakable things”. Any expectations of dark secrets laid bare in the poems that follow are tempered by a mood of ubiquitous quirkiness. Describing a piano stool, Woodward writes of its “black wood, as though the piano had calved”, a comparison that could be on day release from Craig Raine’s A Martian Sends a Postcard Home. He prefers his imagery poised and metaphysical: “scholarly, they held / seminars, conferences”, he says of some frogs. More memorable are the narratives of buildings and family histories in the book’s second half, such as Chinoiserie and Paraffin. These poems are at their best when they “come up against something solid”.
Jul 09, 2021
Thinking With Trees by Jason Allen-Paisant; The Craft of Poetry by Lucy Newlyn; Brilliant Corners by Nuzhat Bukhari; Forty Names by Parwana Fayyaz; and Auguries of a Minor God by Nidhi Zak/Aria Eipe
“Who wanders lonely / as a cloud / with three golden retrievers?” wonders Jason Allen-Paisant, retreading Wordsworth. The answer, where he is concerned, is “Not me no not me / I could never understand this poetry”. In Thinking With Trees (Carcanet, £10.99), the Caribbean-born poet meditates on the Romantic inheritance while inserting himself, often uncomfortably, in the suburban pastoral spaces of dog walkers in Leeds. Nature must be internalised to become poetic currency (“All I can handle is the landscape within me / not secrecy / spread out on a canvas”), and the framing of the landscape is driven by tensions between present-day experience and cultural memory. Walking out into an English autumn, Allen-Paisant enters “a world / unpossessed and full”. The poet scrupulously decouples nature from any sense of private ownership, opening himself up to more generous, alternative worldviews. This is a bold and impressive debut. Continue reading...