Jay from our Birmingham branch shares with you five collections that have changed his perspective and made him a huge lover and advocate of poetry.
Poetry rarely makes a good first impression, especially if that first impression took place in a classroom. Unfortunately, like most first impressions, your initial dislike for poetry has probably stuck and it will take a miracle to change your opinion. I'm the head of the poetry section in our shop in Birmingham now, but a few years ago, I hated poetry. I was under the impression that poetry just wasn't for me. It was too stuffy, too strict, and it was far above my comprehension. I'd never be able to get it. Obviously this has changed and every month or so, I'd like to share with you five collections that have changed my perspective and have made me a huge lover and advocate for poetry.
Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood
Surreal yet grounded in reality, disturbing yet funny—it's hard to describe this book in words that don't contradict one another. I find Lockwood's style incredibly addictive as the sound and rhythm of her prose is magnificently powerful. The one poem from this collection you may have already heard about is 'Rape Joke', which became a viral sensation, and, while it is probably the best in the collection I'd also highly recommend the poem 'List of Cross-Dressing Soldiers'. This is about her brother's painful struggle with PTSD, it's immensely moving and I urge you to read it. Crass, absurd and an absolute delight to consume, I highly recommend this collection.
Portraits by Elaine Feinstein
I'm always intrigued when writers talk about other authors and their books; the love and enthusiasm is palpable and perfectly infectious. Feinstein's prose is easily absorbed too, so it's not as though she's hurling multi-syllable words at you for the sake of it; if she can say it simply, she does and I find this endearing. She covers Akhmatova, Raymond Chandler, Siegfried Sassoon but my favourite poem is 'Dickens Considers Fagin'. The flow of the writing is jagged and conversational, zigzagging off the tongue, and it doesn't hurt that it features one of my favourite authors with one of my favourite of his creations. If you're a fan of classical literature, 'Portraits' is for you.
The Way The Crocodile Taught Me by Katrina Naomi
Naomi's second collection deals with her own fraught childhood, which included violence, death and severe isolation. Yet as you can probably tell from the bizarre cover, it's not a collection that leaves you emotionally bludgeoned. In fact there's a lot of light in these poems. A lot of love, wry smiles and dark humour, so that we as readers never lose hope. Naomi captures the pains and ecstasies of childhood and growing up immaculately here, without ever giving way under sentimentality or bleakness. My favourite poem is probably 'Another Planet', simply because I find the experience of reading it overwhelmingly beautiful and acutely painful.
Room of Thieves by Angela Cleland
If you can't already tell, I enjoy the dark and the bizarre, so it is probably no surprise to you that I love this collection. Each poem is unique; there is no blending here, and I feel that's one of the reasons it works so well. It offers a variety of forms, topics, and tones so, if you're not quite sure what you're looking for with poetry, you can of work out what you like and what connects with you. My favourite poem is probably 'At The Science Museum', which features a six toed cat skeleton. It's weird, funny and a bit creepy and overall, fantastic.
Bear by Chrissy Williams
“Everyone could use a bear sometimes”. So very true. In here you'll find silly, giggly poems such as 'Bedroom Filled With Foam' and 'Where Have You Put The Wine?', as well as poems that give your heart a nudge such as 'Bear of the Artist' and 'The Invisible Bear'. It's very human this collection (which is very strange considering it revolves around and is literally called 'Bear'), and I think it will connect with a lot of people. It works on your emotions and will speak to you regardless of how confident you are with poetry.