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SPAM DEEP CUTS 2021


SPAM Press DEEP CUTS 2021


【SPAM Press presents: 

Deep Cuts 2021】


Feast your eyes on this year's selection of SPAM Deep Cuts! Each year we ask our SPAM Zine, Press and Plaza contributors to select a few choice titles to highlight the excellent work done in poetry over the last year. This year the SPAM community has returned a true banquet our biggest ever poetry list! From sonnets to long poems, notes app jottings to concrete experiments, spontaneous PDFs and printouts to long-awaited releases, this extensive list is our collectively authored love letter to the worlds of small press and independent publishing that have sustained us throughout this year.


We've had a busy 2021 working from our home on ~ the internet ~, dropping a full-length poetry book, releasing a new pamphlet series and concrete bundle, publishing two issues of our online poetry zine, adding new poetry essays, reviews and experiments to the Plaza and uploading new episodes of our podcasts URL Sonata and Lunch Club. We also celebrated our fifth birthday! We are now very old in the online hyperspace we call our home, but still so new to the melty, bonding, glitchy and revolutionary thing which we know as poetry, the little naked worm we want to hear everything about.


Our 2018, 2019 and 2020 Deep Cuts are available should you wish to slide down further into the past menus (and surprise desserts) our contributors have put together for you in recent years! 🍜🍰

 

Kat Addis, Space Parsley (the87press)

These joyful responses to Petrarch do translation as intimacy, rather than fidelity to the source text. They give us a transhistorical Petrarch for the 21st century who prefers parsley to basil. From Helicon to Costa Head, these poems commune with a woodlouse, upset the bourgeoisie, deflate Jeff Koon’s ‘distorted vanity’, make ‘cookbooks in Rome’, visit Sweden and Shetland to see the ‘crescent moon/its forked slab of a tongue’. In an appendix, there is a commonplace book telling us ‘garnish’ used to mean: ‘To furnish (a place) with means of defence; to garrison; to supply with men, arms, and provisions’. Addis reminds us with Space Parsley, the word ‘garnish’ is thankfully now less defensive, less hostile, less warmongering.

— Michael Black


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Adonis, Songs of Mihyar the Damascene (Penguin)

The Syrian poet Adonis has been writing poetry since the 1950s but I was only made aware of his work through this translation of poems published on Penguin Classics this year. And throughout this awful year I returned to these poems again and again, charmed by their strength and solidity, their capacity to breathe life through disaster. His words strike the tremors of the world’s terror into a singular clarity. My knowledge of Arabic language poetry being poor, I have few referents for this work, but at times it reminds me a little of Celan or Brecht: how well sharpened the knife is, a lyric address of an I facing toward the world and singing to it, trembling at the slow turning of the horizon. As the poem ‘Psalm’ from The Enchanter of Dust opens ‘I carry my abyss and walk’.

— Ed Luker


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Alex Aldred, Faces Adjacent (Ghost City Press)

This tiny boi makes me smile. It’s so tiny. Within such a short space of time, Alex Aldred hooks us into his surreal chaotic waste land. This is 50% warmth and 50% pure, feral drama. It sets you up for laughs with a whimsical, storyteller-round-a-campfire-type tone, then hits you with realities that are actually quite sad, shivering, unsettled. It’s really hard to know where Aldred is going next at any point. One moment he’s spinning a yarn about a bunch of scarecrows on a bank heist, the next moment he’s furiously drawing a pentagram on the floor. When it’s over I don’t really know what to do with myself, other than wish it was longer.

— Alex George


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Clarissa Álvarez & Petero Kalulé (petals), Marsh-River-Raft-Feather (Guillemot Press)

Bubbles, shuddering, streaming, drift, telekenisis, agglomeration and echo. This scintillating piece of ‘river-reading’ by Clarissa Álvarez and Petero Kalulé (petals) is a collaborative work of elemental and sonic essaying. Álvarez’s talents as a poet and storyteller weave around Kalulé’s as a composer, poet and multi-instrumentalist to form something ‘co radiant, co mingling’ (check out those gold endpapers!) with resounding, blissy polytonality. With long lines, intricate rhythms, variable typefaces and text alignments, the poetry of Marsh-River-Raft-Feather is a scoring of generous ecological tendency. Environmental concepts such as relation are enacted in the veers and folds of collaboration between the poets but also the many more-than-human vibrations of the book itself, in ‘earth’s tender small oscillations’. An exercise in un-making, in gesture, flight, patterning and diaphony, this is a work of the intimate, the transitive and the complex art of en-marshment.

— Maria Sledmere


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And False Fire Pamphlets

Following gorgeous handmade pamphlets from Aaron Kent and Tom Snarsky last year, Kyle Lovell's Birmingham-based And False Fire published two of my favourites in 2021: the editor’s own In the Debt of Love, slant lyrics and ‘communal bursts of distress’ on style, light, foxes, and ‘the guts of heaven’, and Gloria Dawson's hurricane/orison, a moving, intimate eleven-part sequence which swerves through forms of opposition and supplication in the permanent crisis of the present. Both of these pamphlets make me think about how we can better look after each other and organise ourselves in a time of really horrible isolation and pain, committing to ‘love it daily’ while working against what kills us slowly (Gloria, ‘III’), ‘Trashed plus playful!’ (Kyle, ‘Polished Coteries’). These are reparative, disobedient poems that’ve kept me going when I’ve been feeling out of it or struggling to find the point and pleasure of my own writing. And both pamphlets read as remarkable affirmations of the friendship, poetry, community and worldbuilding of Callie Gardner, whose presence is felt fiercely through their beams of fire and water.

— Dom Hale


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Al Anderson, Tenderloin (b l u s h)

Grossness announces itself on the first lines of Tenderloin — 'on this bad old earth, eco-fascist / brewing hops in a shitbrown bathtub / this is the kind of landscape we're working with, sis' — and doesn't let up for the rest of Al Anderson's twisted and meaty pamphlet. These are faggy lyrics of desire and humiliation tacked on unstable and shifting flesh; they get off on everything that is impeded or artificed, 'so unsure which parts of myself are meat / which parts language, which to blame'. The poems engage with the Baroques of visuality and folding imagery (it is, technically, a collection born out of responses to film), but they are aware that there is a more proximate Baroque at the seat of every personality, a form that is to be dug out with a knife and held before one's eyes like a misshapen pearl. This pamphlet could have come from nowhere other than a biting onanism which Anderson like Genet or Dennis Cooper appears to have perfected, and makes the writing irresistible: 'wake up ejaculating / you say, o wow, as if I was there'.

— Mau Baiocco


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Mau Baiocco, January (on knowledge & education) (Rat Press)

One staple, seven sheets of A4, and a single colour image of legendary ceramics sculptor Gillian Lowndes’s Collage with Tomato Root for the cover: these are all the materials an ode ‘hooked up to nowhere’ with ‘a loosening grip on our | subversions’ needs to realise itself. Right from the start Mau tells us about Lowndes’s confessed ‘impatience with clay’, and I salute this frustration with the medium as echoed in the dash of their breathy, barely punctuated lines, the poem spinning like a dynamo through personal and social history. It’s about how we learn and unlearn (self-)defences, how ‘lyric means whatever the fuck we need’, how to give our lives to each other vigilant under the disgusting shadow of the MOD. That a poem with so much attentive speed and air and possibility emerged from one of the shittest months of a shit year is a defiant miracle: ‘I’m writing this so I hope you can | hear yourself in the night’. We’ll get the fuckers in the end.

— Dom Hale


~


Tom Betteridge, Mudchute (Veer2)

Plotting the sticky, intricate and surprising object-language of infancy and growth, loss and experience, MUDCHUTE holds its fingers out for more. It’s in the plural ‘yous’, in the beautiful ‘also’, thumbing ‘images of trains across pink felt’, the infrascapes of more-than-human hunger, bubbling from under the poem to say hi, to *bark*. Full of rich observation, from ‘a wanton squirrel’ to ‘mother-of-pearl’, MUDCHUTE sifts through the ‘fluff-mass’ and ‘grain’ of lyric cognition, looking for angles, positions, points of contact. There is the delicacy and precision of Maggie O’Sullivan, the exuberant word vomit, the special ‘curls’ of short lines and their ‘string / abrasion’. This pamphlet teaches you to ‘eat child get filthied regurgitate keep on’: the poethics of ongoingness in being receptive, digesting in form, the lacework of dream’s ‘residual heat’ in the day’s abstractions, the way to keep going through trauma, separation, many comings of age in technicolour speech. Read this pamphlet and feel very tender towards the strange ‘gooseys’ which offer their screeching heuristic,’ ghosting’, learning how always to learn, and weep.

— Maria Sledmere


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Luke Bradford, Zoolalia (Penteract Press)

These poems burst from the page like the tiger in Nael's masterpiece. Which is no mean feat given that they were written under a strict constraint: each describes an animal using only the letters in its Latin name. There's a peculiar tangy flavour unique to the collection, or perhaps to the constraint itself. The reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) is 'an arresting, regent genie in russet and argentine' and the wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) 'a pious, studious medievalist at a secluded ivied outpost'. Despite the constraint, there's a sense that each poem says precisely what it means: some stretch beyond 10 lines, while the entirety of the entry for lion is 'antelope threat'. Yes. YES!

— Robin Boothroyd


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Elizabeth-Jane Burnett, Of Sea (Penned in the Margins)

Another bestiary, this time only constrained by subject: marine fauna. In a perfect fusion of the lyrical and the concrete, Burnett sheds light on the overlooked and the misunderstood: the invertebrate, the mollusc, the crab. The multilingual poems are always reaching towards music and one, 'Song of the Sea', is written on a stave, melody and all. Hearing the poet sing it at the book's launch was spine-tingling even over Zoom. 'Surf Clam', a hilarious rewrite of the lyrics to 'Stand By Your Man', is easily my poem of the year. All together now: ‘STAND BY YOUR CLAM / GIVE HIM TWO VALVES TO CLING TO / & SOMETHING WARM TO COME TO / WHEN SANDS ARE COLD & LONELY / STAND BY YOUR CLAM’.

— Robin Boothroyd


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Imogen Cassels, Chesapeake (Distance No Object)

Chesapeake Bay is the ground zero of settler colonialism in the USA. From its headlands and spits, you can catch a glimpse of 'the past / location of all harm'. And it’s from here that Cassels searches 'for an anti-part / of voice. What can the poet see and say of use when

the philosophy of language is embarrassment,

at what we have and what

we do with it.


The residue is 'displacement' and 'non-sequitur', a 'long term of false starts'. Seasons are symptoms in the 'long finance of no-time', scabs to pick at like 'my love for you / a healing I therefore unpick'. Actually, 'every thing is a symptom': recession, toothache, pastoral, sea birds, insomnia, pilewort. Chesapeake is a beautiful pamphlet—two staples, twelve pages and six poems. Wide open margins surround verse that tastes like 'full bitter marmalade' and slants with 'a will towards more life'.

— Fintan Calpin


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Hannah Copely, Speculum (Broken Sleep)

Copley’s collection gathers fragments of historical records, voices, memories and medical reports about the female body as scientific object. These poems are ‘a new archive’ as ‘unfinished and ‘found’ as the lives and deaths of the women in them’. These women include those who were enslaved and used to develop the speculum, midwives, and women caught up in the complications of miscarriage, abortion and childbirth. The poems are by turns haunting, fascinating and disturbing, as well as occasionally quite funny (‘we’d mislabelled the labias’). The pamphlet is both enjoyable and an education. — Saskia McCracken


~


Tom Crompton, Sken Cycles (Tom's printer)

Tom Crompton’s Sken Cycles were hand-printed in three beautiful booklets this March, each inside cover reproducing Bewick’s magpie engraving from A History of British Birds. Bill Griffiths’ 1976 book Cycles is one of the sequence’s lodestars alongside Maggie O’Sullivan, who the ace first section addresses as the poet earwigs on an ‘amateur stone / chat’ to help him figure out ‘the compo / -sitional map of spring’. ‘Sken’ is a northern English dialect word of obscure origin meaning ‘to squint or stare’, and Tom’s poems are keenly alert, keeping an eye and an ear out and bird-wits about them while opening up to muddy forms of relation where ‘all our shite is shared’. Although the wings of HMP Wymott are never too far away, the sequence’s projective ‘solidargot’ trills, messes and jolts from page to page to sound a way through the thicket, ‘stinky[ing] the form’ and ragging a beak on ‘what manipulates and fucks us’. It’s as good as it gets. A class act.

— William Shimmers


~


Tom Crompton, Alex Marsh & Dom Hale (ed.), Ludd Gang (Poet's Hardship Fund)

In her workshop handouts at The Poetry Project, Bernadette Mayer wrote: ‘work your ass off to change the language and don’t ever get famous’. As Callie Gardner reminds us, in turn: ‘look for this in the poets you love, bravery & generosity gathered in the face of scarcity’. I find this, too, in all the zines I love and more than most Ludd Gang gathers up our collective capacity to spit joy at the unmoving, smirking musculature of austerity. Like Callie’s beloved Zarf, Ludd Gang concretises another social relation in print and distro. With all money going to the Poet’s Hardship Fund, Ludd Gang insists that we hold more in common than the language. That said, the poetry itself is too much to reckon with here. From crate-digging reprints of anarchist poets Bill Griffiths, Dave Cunliffe, and Tina Morris to fresh cuts from the likes of Paige Murphy, Mira Mattar, and Peter Manson, Ludd Gang delivers relentlessly and bi-monthly. Don’t sleep on it.

— Fred Carter


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Ellen Dillon, Morsel May Sleep (Sublunary Editions)

This book is about 'teaching and it’s frequently absent twin, learning'. But it feels less like that noun 'book' and more like the working out of something, an ongoing process. To illustrate certain English grammar points Stephane Mallarmé created classroom translation exercises for students. Ellen describes these constructed proverbs as 'dispatches from an alien dialect'. For Ellen these proverbs become occasions for meditations on pedagogy and the music of catachresis and malapropisms and misspeaking. Morsel May Sleep is radiant ('sometimes the buzzing is a fly when we haven’t even died… sometimes the stillness is thinking happening') and practical ('bladder comfort is an undersung key to good learning'). It contains ‘Remakes’, ‘Versions’, ‘Melt Song’ and an ‘Author’s Note’, each of them a separate stomach, grass and cud moving between them - this is not a book, it is a ruminant. The first part of each ‘Remake’ is a poemlet from these exercises, and the end of the page is thoughts around said poemlet. Ellen was going to translate all hundred lessons but ran out of steam and began to make ‘Versions’ of that initial section ‘Remake’. The noun lessons became the separate poem ‘Melt Song’. Recursions and endless startings out and over and obstructions and toilet breaks are occasions for learning not their impediment. People say things like 'learn the basics'. Ellen reminds us that it’s more than OK to need reminding and that sometimes we’ll forget everything and start all over.

— Rob Kiely


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Ian Dreiblatt, forget thee (Ugly Duckling Presse)

Time travelling between Ancient Egypt, the televisual archives of the mid-twentieth century and contemporary Brooklyn, where happily ‘the subway is becoming a pokéworks’ and you can get ‘yolkadelic’ sandwiches, forget thee is a way of saying ‘hey world’, of paying attention. To slow down long enough, waving, to say ‘hey world you’re wide and you’re hot and you’ve fed me / a lot’, where apostrophe lets us touch the infinite’ in spite of itself, blushing between interior and exterior thought. With its tender thee, this book concerns nourishment in all forms, and worries about the ‘echo chambers’ from which we can’t hear the cries of others, even if we hear them crying on the train all the time. With its historical longview, ‘unraveling / seasons’ and mediations of catastrophes past and present, forget thee offers a lamenting poethics of worlds and how we make and unmake them in language: ‘after all the forgetting that language requires / utopianism’s yelp page will be hearing from me’.

— Maria Sledmere


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Kirsty Dunlop & Maria Sledmere, Soft Friction (Mermaid Motel)

Who is the speaker of the dream, I ask Holly Pester who asks Maurice Blanchot who asks Maria who asks Kirsty. A few years ago at a conference Holly described a module she ran about writing and dreaming, and she said something vaguely like 'dreams feel very private but they’re not at all, they're not yours and they're not you, we must become collective dreamers and that's how we become writers'. That’s not word for word. Soft Friction is the haptic dancing maths of the dream-form, that afterglow of a disaster which categorizes our phase-shifts. 'Jet lag forever between dimensions'. Sometimes our words get all jumbled together, it’s difficult to tell whose mouth its coming from. 'So I said, Kirsty said, let’s share our dreams. And I said, Maria said, I’ve already started'. If you find any pathological lesions in this book, they are each secretly a manual on collectivization.

— Rob Kiely


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SJ Fowler, Sticker Poems (Trickhouse Press)

This is literary mischief. In this collection of poems made out of stickers, SJ Fowler proposes a new, radical way of communicating through a childlike lens that we can all enjoy. There’s a deep sincerity to the way every little dog or hippo or whatever is pressed into the page. There’s such a uniquely fun, sinister atmosphere to every page, and with that a sadness that the page has to be turned. One of the most creative, forward-thinking, and downright bizarre things you’ll ever get sucked into.

— Alex George


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Joey Frances, let's do it (ground game)

In Joey Frances’ gorgeous pamphlet, we are witness to a small miracle as the poems/essay/asides bloom & unravel into a striking communal imperative that is ‘for the reading group / (for everyone)’. This imperative is simple: let’s do it. Amid the anxieties of failure & being ‘self-siloed by the drive to productivity’, there exists the dream that we can do the ‘real & necessary work’ of fighting landlords & reading unrecognisable potentials into existence through the sheer labour of being a community. As Frances reminds us ‘there is time in my day for everything / all the preparatory work in the field / street as field, workplace as field, / growing work / it always grows’. These ‘quaint imaginings’ of garden utopians filled with friends are ‘only for all of us and only / in what beauty it already is / in languishing potential’. So, my friends & loves & enemies, what are we waiting for? Let’s do it. — Kyle Lovell


~


Kay Gabriel, Kissing Other People or The House of Fame (Rosa Press)

New York-based but vocally Canadian poet Kay Gabriel has strange dreams about public health: “like walking the aisles of a grocery store spritzing the shelves with a spray bottle and covering them in chili powder especially the bottles of corn oil.” Elsewhere, she dreams about friends, “Cam shows up late after an evening out, is forced to speed-clean a kitchen over a rare recording of Bernadette Mayer playing Sibelius.” There’s a few sex dreams too, “Charming in leather accoutrements they ask if I want to dream-suck their dream-dick and I say yes.” As if the relationship between ideation and social reality wasn’t pesky enough, Gabriel displays all the contradictions and paratactical kerfuffle of contemporary poetics as residing somewhere between fantasy and nightmare. I can’t remember a single dream I’ve had since reading Gabriel’s book, but that’s okay because hers are probably sillier, hornier, more utopian, the works. “[D]reaming is a social, not a private, act,” Gabriel states, which itself is worth the price of admission.

— Sam Weselowki


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Renee Gladman and Nisha Ramayya, feather the balance (Juf)

Lines you first hear through zoomwaves and lean towards, scribbling and tilting – did Nisha just say ‘snoticles meet in footnotes’? – and cite in proliferating sticky chats about slime with friends too close and too far. Lines you trace below blobs and drips and whorls in Renee Gladman’s watercolour drawings, at first seeming an afterthought under 'the aromal fluid' carrying each other’s thinking until you are reminded lines are also (each other’s) dashes, overlaps, tangents where ‘words and obstructions change colour, scatter, get drunk’. This dream-PDF spilling Gladman’s drawings into Ramayya’s poetry dropped in May, published by Juf, a Madrid-based poetry project curated by Beatriz Ortega Botas and Leticia Ybarra. The work is caught up in citation, circling… and silliness, ‘unfolding jellyrolls, / flux stars with wet noses’, soft pink smudge, yellow-flicker, a blue ‘try where you expect a cloud’. Lines looping might keep forever, almost.

— Katy Lewis Hood


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Jane Goldman, SEKXPHRASTIKS (Dostoyevsky Wannabe)

Jane Goldman is a ‘cunning wee cunt’ and SEKXPHRASTIKS is fizzy-porous poetry as champagne :: pour us, pour nous :: in love with art and art in love poetry poets art poets. At a whopping 248 pages and spanning over ten years of work, Goldman’s book is nothing like a first slim volume, it has the feel of a selected poems. And what a selection. Beautifully arranged into discrete but linked parts, it enfolds universal play, poets’ theatre, bodily and poetic spasms, liberated intimacies of sex, and all the while fierce with politics and poly-tics. According to her bio, Goldman likes anything a word can do, and she can do anything with words as far as I’m concerned. And after these ‘delicious flickers were re[a]d’ and my senses were fully open to art I walked into the striking day, and passing James Morrow, The Home Entertainment Specialist, I espied a painting in their back room by Caroline McNairn, or Ca, as Goldman calls her late friend—a key inspiration and elegiac subject of the book. Art and poetry are everywhere it seems. I said once before that I love poetry but prefer sex, SEKXPHRASTIKS is a ‘tremble tremble’ conjugation of the pair.

— nicky melville


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James Goodwin, Fleshed out For All The Corners of the Slip (the87press)

Listening to James read from this book at the big 87 launch at Cafe Oto back in November was particularly striking, the whole room arrested and silent apart from the poet, breath and measure right in the centre, under the single spotlight. These poems are symphonic: all the textures essential to the whole, but at times one is left unsure where it’s at, and then SLAM you are right in the sharpness of the mo(ve)ment: ‘even then | what happens to || our straining | to feel’, as ‘still dark wash gushed us, spinning us black’, has it. It is all too easy, because of this work’s acknowledgment of its inheritances (with epigraphs from Will Alexander, Aimé Césaire, D. S. Marriott, Fred Moten, and Nathaniel Mackey), to feel that one knows where this work is coming from simply because you know what it’s in dialogue with. But I find that something of a ruse, because really there is no poetry quite like this, the poet so committed to the tread and tracts of his thinking (you know the construction of this work was deeply meditative). And what I find most fascinating about this work is less what it might be about and more what it might be slipping toward: ‘iris under a | deep rift’.

— Ed Luker


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Derek Gromadzki, Horology (Shearsman)

Derek Gromadzki’s first book, Pilgrimage Suites (published by Parlor Press in 2016), feels maybe like Thomas James’s Letters to a Stranger a first book of baffling sublimity, sent into the arc of time so that it will inevitably earn its deserved cult following even if it takes years to be properly recognized. Horology, Derek’s second book, is a meditation on that very arc of duration itself, a product of time (ha) spent researching clockmaking science in Japan as an NEA/JUSFC fellow (including visiting Seiko’s facilities, talking with theoretical physicists, and a continued conversation with poet Gozo Yoshimasu, whose work Derek has translated). The result is a sequence like nothing I read this year, and I just continue to be in awe of the music Derek’s books make.

— Tom Snarsky


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Dom Hale, Civilian Lyrics (Veer2)

In 'Children of the Working Class', John Wieners —incarcerated in Taunton State Hospital — writes: ‘I feel I shall/have to be punished for writing this’. At the secret best poem award, held in the Blackpool Winter Gardens, Dom Hale was wreathed in garlands for 'On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry', and presented with a crystal egg for 'Sod It'. We were told that future studies would throw darkness on our home-talk, but these poems happen simultaneously. Audience to the rhetorical art of collapse, we are folded into feral stalling. Exchange and substitution gets countered with a permanent syntax of dismay. And then we’re on one, tacky and ecstatic, trembling in the weather pattern of a book. Grainy as UHT milk, these poems go down like the wine of lysis, stripping the corporate patina from our mouths. It’s a vision of paradise, and it tastes like free lunch; the cup, bush and stone shift right a little, the scales fall out the telescope. ‘The tall morning is rattling, elegantly poised/between the merely living and the merely dead’. Then you’re back in the room, necking benzos in the department of song. Someone did a shit in the Pennine Suite. When will you lot cotton on?

— Scott Reddy


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Danny Hayward, At Close Range (pxxtry.com)

If Danny’s previous books tended towards long range forms (I/II’s excursion through the undead puppet show of mayoral election season London or Pragmatic Sanction’s labyrinthine prose satire of the belly and conveyor belts of the beast), this is his poetry at its most zoomed in, raw, brutal yet vulnerable. The epigraph to these fugues and ringtones reads ‘anything to remain beautiful must stay blind’: both beholder and beheld can’t keep any sort of grip on beauty because seeing and speaking the truth of things under the steel toecap of state violence is desperate, lacerating work. ‘Anyone can harden’, and ignorance however wilful or salaried is bliss. Sometimes the poems scorch their way out of the automated voicemails of bureaucratic murder, speculating ‘how language is itself a kind of abuse’; at others ‘what counts now is to be still, / and observant’, holding our nerve though enclosed by cruelty at all speeds and scales. The book peaks with ‘No drama’, a stunning farewell to poetry and the futures the billionaires, multinationals and government ministers have robbed from us which nevertheless passionately wagers poetry and what passes for ‘our lives’ against all losses, against all missing answers, from a phone thrown to the bottom of a pond. And though nothing may wash up on the bank or shore, the poem says to us devastatingly: ‘our beliefs are entirely unharmed, I won’t tell you where they are’.

— Dom Hale


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Jay Hulme, The Backwater Sermons (Canterbury Press)

Not this website’s usual vibe, and not really mine either. Hulme has a background in competitive spoken-word and in poetry for children; there’s moments of heavy-handed alliteration (especially on the letter ‘b’?), and a few pen portraits of marginalised people where I wanted more depth and complicity. But, hey, this is the book I needed this year, and I want to make a case for its radicalism in a venue that might not otherwise register it. Hulme converted to Christianity just before the pandemic, and mourned the enforced closure of the churches that brought him to faith as much as he recognised its necessity and learned to see God elsewhere, an affective balancing act which too few Christians have managed to hold and certainly don’t express with this book’s gentle patience. It’s also fully of easy, holy trans joy and beneath its plain-talking finds new, resonantly uncanny ways to describe the experience of religious ritual. Even if you’re not the type (like me) to call it evangelism, or want that from it, it’s worth seeing what this does.

— Jack Belloli


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James Knight (ed.), The Mouth of a Lion: Apocalyptic visual poetry (Steel Incisors)

Bringing together eclectic and eccentric work from around the world, The Mouth Of A Lion is a devilishly unguided tour through the weird and wicked world of visual poetry. The poems in here are inventive, chaotic, colourful, stark. The work is playful but it doesn’t mess around. It would be an understatement to say there’s a range of styles on display the poems in this book forget style entirely, often even forgetting words, to build their own worlds from felt tips, glitches and glue. It’s anarchic and unruly, with new systems of symbols flowing off of every page. This anthology is essentially a bomb, and it’s been planted at the heart of poetic convention.

— Dan Power


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Sarah Lasoye, Fovea/Ages Ago (Hajar Press)

The best writing advice of all time comes from Gwendolyn Brooks: 'Think of your efforts to be convincing and entertaining when you are gossiping. You use gesture, touch, tone variation, facial expression. Try persuading your wordage SOMEHOW! to do all the things your body does when forwarding a piece of gossip'. Sarah Lasoye’s reading at the87 Press back in August was just like this, the whole room hanging on her every word. The poems in Fovea, Ages Ago are mostly about the terror and bewilderment of childhood, ‘guilt-flavoured shame’ as she calls it in the introduction. Poise is an achievement, but beneath the composure there’s a steady pulse of danger. As she implies in ‘Birthday’, in poems sometimes you have to eat the knife as well as the cake. She writes elsewhere, ‘I found I could be fed by a tool for feeding’. I want to know what happens next.

— Luke Roberts


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Tom Leonard, passing through (The Common Breath)

Tom Leonard’s passing through, a book of uncollected and previously unpublished work, brings together about seventy pages of poems and more than one hundred pages of reviews and essays. What can I say? It’s as indispensable as Outside the Narrative and Definite Articles. It includes the important longer satire ‘The Cesspit and the Sweetie Shop’, and luminous shorter works scratched out in the dark. ‘I thought my book was a place for my spirit to be’, writes Leonard, and so it is, fierce and gentle and funny. The prose includes his great essay about Beckett and W.S. Graham, and a wonderful note on the Willie Gallacher Memorial Library, which somehow manages to just let the books there speak, like a little socialist choir all singing slightly different tunes but in the same key. Brian Hamill, the editor of the common breath books, died soon after the book was published, but his care and commitment is evident in the design and layout. The book is full of life in every sense.

— Luke Roberts


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Katy Lewis Hood, Bugbear (Veer2)

Plexiglass insect house, office, predecorated residence, humane rodent trap, ‘padded wall-/ paper’, an ‘anchorite cell’, a lunar lamp-shade; and skin, and the ‘hot burrow’ sleeve that houses skin, and the skin that, shedding, in turn houses clothes-moth larvae: Katy Lewis Hood’s astonishing Bugbear is a pamphlet of terrifying cumulative pressure whose interiors multiply, constrain and compact, collapsing their tenants into each other’s life cycles. But Bugbear is also an intimacy-seeking work of ambling, traversals, ‘passage-/ways’ (the mouse is a heroic intruder) and the ‘crosscut’; a gyroscopic exploration of the dynamics of ‘you and not-you housed’, whose relation by turns congeals, churns and twists, unfurling through both material and psychological space, from the dense annexed locales of the ‘phasmid cycle’ and shiftwork, through a diffuse, anxiety-intensifying outside contained only sonically by a (Dave Holland?) ‘conference of the birds’, into a cosmic ‘unfull circle’/helix of ‘stretched time’, and on and on. Animated by a ‘vibrational noise of distress’ beyond their grasp, these poems often hurt to read. Also: breath-takingly sheer linebreaks, and bugs in close-up – ‘erinaceous spines of chucky pigs’

— Tom Betteridge


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Kyle Lovell, Maria Sledmere & Mau Baiocco, Sonnets for Hooch (Fathomsun Press, Mermaid Motel, Rat Press)

The hooch poets are here: I reinvent them as a barbershop quartet, delirious in striped blazers of the same acid pink and yellow hues as their sonnets. Read on for lessons in lemon: what is a sonnet, hooch? This playful project has a psychedelic zing to it, bubbling in and around a poetics of beverage, desire & weird methodologies, with 'hooch' as the mysterious reagent of such co-authored catalysis. Each 'season' of sonnets is in fizzing conversation with the others as this pamphlet series makes a fondue of form, mooches about in poetry's smoking area, art students talking about the hooch cure or how 'Deleuze / says When you drink, what you want is to reach / the last drink'. The last thing you want to do is reach the last hooch sonnet. Now when can we expect sestinas for kombucha?

— Rhiannon Auriol


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Alex Marsh, Two in the Wave (Distance No Object)

Accounts and indexes offer one way to think the social life of poems. In Two In the Wave, Alex says what is here is what I think. For those who want it, there’s a socio-spatial argument, and it unfurls like the arc of a journey. We begin in swamptown, where the river leaves the road, before the path gets swallowed up by infrastructure. Money is the means of imposing the same speed on a given space. All land is public-private and no one knows their rights. However, for Alex, long song isn’t argument, and social life dents the horizon. Between the cemetery and the place for van-hire, in the sun or modern moonlight, the jointaces of socialism are under construction. Stood outside the corrugated laboratory, someone asks: what’s that tune you’re humming? We tell them: ‘here is always somewhere else mid-bonfire / all that’s precarious co-exists'.

— Tom Crompton


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Lila Matsumoto, Two Twin Pipes Sprout Water (Prototype)

As the late great Callie Gardner notes on the back of this book, an important and often overlooked point about Lila’s work is that it’s really, really funny. People think surrealism is an easy effect to achieve in poetry ('irrational obscurity' as Forrest-Thomson had it) but it’s not easy at all to do well. There’s this anecdotal cadence to Lila’s work that keeps you locked into parsing each line like it’s conversation or some relatively noise-free form of communication, but then there’s all this weird imagery sprouting in semi-focus, which in one way all seems very fleshy and floral but at the same time always seems to be skirting around some grand metaphysical conceit. A certain space that Lila’s work suspends you in, where conceptual and figurative imagery seem to slide in and out of each other, without hitting you over the head with erudition, works in combination with sound and image: gently hallucinogenic.

— Greg Thomas


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Mira Mattar, Affiliation (Sad Press)

The trio of books by Mira Mattar that have appeared over the past year – Yes, I am a Destroyer (Ma Bibliothèque, 2020), Affiliation (Sad Press, 2021) and The Bow (the87press, 2021) – dramatically transform the parameters of radical and political poetry today: it is the most important work that I can think of facing the necrotic ends of empire and its combined and overlapping catastrophes. Affiliation follows parallel logics of accretion and disintegration in Amman and London, ‘the lavender sky exposing / the lie of geography / at the periphery's core’: as details — streets, smells, questions, evenings, sounds — gather their speaker becomes thin and evanescent, ‘a blade: for my whole body to be a decision / instead of an option, a weapon, an uncrossable / edge'. These are breathing, weaving poems of recalcitrant eros addressed to the bitterest ironies of displacement and occupation. They attempt to reconstruct coordinates of memory, desire and militancy that cannot be captured, cannot be dissolved any further. The result is that all that remains (and all that remains is a lot) sparks like a primaeval atom, a rediscovered force of necessity: ‘say Palestine, you must’.

— Mau Baiocco


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nicky melville, Decade of Cu ts (Blue Diode)

nicky melville’s eagerly awaited book of selected poems, Decade of Cu ts, will keep us sharply alert to the reverberating effects from the last decade of austerity and the persistence of cuts in the decade just beginning, for Melville cutsdown crap, deceitful language with cool erasure, caps lock, spooky rhythms, ABBA, universal basic income, and the Wizard of Oz. It’s a wonderfully edited selection of personal and political poems, letting us feel the interweaving of both. Melville’s poetry has also always lent itself, I feel, to impromptu performance in specific places: Tesco, the Bank of Scotland branch, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Tory party conference, the James Bond movie premiere. Get the book and you will also learn what Yoga with Adriene has to do with coronavirus.

— Michael Black


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Lola Olufemi, Experiments in Imagining Otherwise (Hajar Press)

This is completely provisional not just insofar as it contains statements which might be contingent, or can be picked up and dropped as the reader sees fit, but in the sense that expeditions need provisions. Most of the food groups are covered short stories, listicles, notes, theories, invitations, ventings, jokes, meditations, antidotes, laments. It will dispense with any of those modes at the drop of a hat and pick up another more suitable one. I love the litany of 'I want's and all the algebraic placeholder X’s which striate the text. The way it gestures at how language itself is used to limit imaginaries, while admonishing the 'left' to not just demand 'new narratives' since 'we deal in the material,' the material which might be crystals or fossils or money or neurons and their correlates. The way the whole thing holds space open in which the text’s stated aims are attempted or invite an accomplice to fill in. Lola’s writing crackles kindness and oozes fury. Above all, it is direct. Just listen: 'repeat after me: the matter of how we should live will never be finished. i am going to be vulnerable here and say we have to be prepared to LOSE […]. so the numbers fell from the sky and announced a defeat, so what? […] why don’t we make our own theory of value?' 'We’re losing more and more of our best thinkers to the university'. Everybody needs to read this book.

— Rob Kiely


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Nell Osborne, The Canine Redeemer has Entered the Bungalow (just not)

This pamphlet ferments the brownfield between performance, ritual and event. It’s like that bit in the hills around Bolton: a broken patch of black and white tiling busted by scrub. The ground I’m on about once belonged to the floor in the big house of an old country estate, owned by the Lancashire factory owner and colonialist Lord Leverhulme. ‘a tiled dancefloor on a square of land / too sandy for toil and vegetables’ (Osborne). One night the place got torched by the radical feminist Edith Rigby, and you could see the fire from all the mill-towns below. It was material and gestural: ‘here are some intolerable grievances for women’ (Rigby). Nell’s vernacular has a negative florescence, writihing out from the damp spots of everyday place: ‘Gloom teems with grey insects rotating their / Fishy-little flanks in milk’. Bondage goes inside out, spooked by its own symbol. Animal whispers in a floating garden. Blench!

— Tom Crompton


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Maggie O’Sullivan, Courtship of Lapwings (if p then q)

One of Blake’s Gnomic Verses isabout lapwings, and it goes like this: ‘O LAPWING! thou fliest around the heath, / Nor seest the net that is spread beneath. / Why dost thou not fly among the corn fields? / They cannot spread nets where a harvest yields’. I love thinking about Blake trying to reason with the lapwing in neat rhymes, while it carries on flying about not giving one. Time and again Maggie’s poetry courts us into feeling the immeasurable generativity to be found in fucking off the cornfield and taking to the heath, where the ‘lost’, the ‘left’, the ‘unwell’, and the ‘difficult’ are waiting for us. By insisting that ‘lapwing is a substance’, Maggie’s poetry shows us that below and above Blake’s netted line of questioning is a material history of weltering and wankered flight, given in argot and sound.

— Tom Crompton


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Kat Payne-Ware, The Live Album (Broken Sleep Books)

The Live Album is soft to the touch, with covers the texture of skin. Clever, compassionate, and laced with a humour that sticks to you, Kat Payne Ware’s collection is an incisive exploration of pigs, pork, and the meat processing industry which turns the former into raw material for the latter. Payne Ware finds surprising and formally inventive ways to voice cuts of pork (on the Album’s A-side) and industrial meat processing methods (on the B-side). This type of poetry feels urgent, paying close, unsettling attention to dehumanising practices designed to be naturalised, and parodying our culture’s distorting investments of status and character into meat. From 'fat running arrhythmic desire lines through the hearty text' of a belly cut to cheek that clamours 'tell me I am worthy', fragments of The Live Album have bounced around my head over months. I guess this is being haunted, generatively, by a book.

— Fiona Glen


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Holly Pester, Comic Timing (Granta)

‘Imagine how wonderful it is to speak as wreckage. / The timing is incredible’. Holly Pester’s Comic Timing offers a kaleidoscope of registers, images, feelings and things that happen, or do not happen. Language is speaking itself at different paces and theatricalities. This is a book with Acts! Characters! Secretaries, shipbuilding and McDonalds. Through it you will learn a lot about England. Full of pathos and ancient bog butter, dreaming, work, suffering and song, it voices various bodily experiences of class and gender, of locatedness and displacement. Whether it’s Hannah Weiner in her sink or ‘Sex with Lodgers’, Pester reimagines the domestic, the familial and the workaday through surrealist kitsch, gore and weirdness, highlighting the materiality of words and where they go — the exhausting, but exhilarating work of holding them, holding the room. There is something so utterly entrancing about her poems that you forget objects existed before she wrote about them. Every time I get into a sleeping bag I think of Holly Pester’s sleeping bag poem. It’s a good place to go.

— Maria Sledmere


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Ronnie Angel Pope, iPhone Notes 2021 (If a Leaf Falls Press)

Poets like Ronnie Angel Pope use the iPhone Notes App like everybody else:

Ideology n sensation

But what about the middle brow?

Towards sentences and pleasure

Service work.

Redistribution and desire.

Strip lights neon dead flies.

Half-baked ideas, diaristic entries, wish lists, attractive words and phrases, early drafts of poems probably written while on the train at such an angle to ensure that no one, absolutely no one, sees what you’re doing:

Scale. Work the other points into a discussion of scale.

Obfuscation.

What it takes for it’s starting point

Finish notes for trace

Temporality

Abstraction

Processing

Poems belong in stapled-together chapbooks, but Pope restores language to its rightful place in the Notes App, where your grocery list and million-dollar idea compete:

Heinz soup

Soap

Wash up

Hoover

Mirrors

List of people I’ll write a book from the perspective of (but in the present day) one day

Elegantly designed by Ollie Tong and printed by Sam Riviere, Pope’s iPhone Notes 2021 represents a poetics of everyday life that secretly grapples with the key instrument of its construction. Pope writes for people who find themselves '[r]eading Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism whilst comfort-watching The Good Life', or who, like the rest of us, look at their phones between poems.

— Sam Weselowski


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Pratyusha and Alicia Pirmohamed, Second Memory (Guillemot Press)

This collaborative prose poetry pamphlet is haunted by ghosts of ancestors, lost language, the trauma of British colonialism and Partition, whilst seeking a kind and loving unfurling of cultural memory. It loops, clears pathways, retraces steps, building outwards in ripples. Bodies are sites of memory, of lineage, ‘lime green ghosts’. This writing is highly intertextual, building community in conversation not only with ancestral ghosts but with thinkers past and present. The result is a delicious palimpsest with strata that are geographically, temporally, and intertextually wide-ranging.

— Saskia McCracken


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Frances Presley, Black Fens Viral (The Literary Pocket Book)

To read Black Fens Viral is to read a tetra-tetra-flexagon, not a pamphlet. A rectangle of paper, you have to fold it, then prise it open with your fingertips along the spine to get at the next page. And repeat. And repeat. Try it any other way, and the poem will remain locked inside. Published by Steven Hitchins’s innovative press, The Literary Pocket Book, Presley’s small poem is a deft experiment in versioning and variation. As the pages clasp and unclasp, so too the lines, or perhaps better to say the breaths, of the poem: ‘black fens rasp in my throat asp in my / oats rasp in my throat attack fens rasp’. In endless variation, the images loop back, degrade, mutate, reassociate and break free. Within this spiralling chant, the fen, the mere, the body, and much else fuse into a single, utterly exhilarating artefact of many parts.

— Dylan Williams


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Imogen Reid, Text(ile) (Timglaset)

There’s this amazing borderland that is opened up when the rhythm of the written line is brought to a process of visual or physical mark-making, whether that’s using a typewriter or needle and thread. This collection of grid-based visual artworks from Imogen Reid occupies the auratic space which all those practices share (I don’t think it really matters if they’re called poems or not—the point is they convey the atmospherics of the written page.) I think the pages have been rotated and overprinted with grids of typewritten letters or diacritics but I’m not too interested in unpicking the specifics of how it’s all made. There’s a dense and living visuality here that also seems to demand or imbibe some sort of sounding process (contra Kraus, the grid here is not about the 'will to silence'). I’d like to see this stuff as screen-prints, on a matt surface to match the fricative optics.

— Greg Thomas


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Luke Roberts, Glacial Decoys (Free Poetry)

Luke’s been on one for the last couple of years, for the last couple of lifetimes, testing out what lyric nowadays can do in an inventively breathless run of pamphlets and chapbooks including Pocket Song, Headphones, Rosa, and Inhalers. But recently he’s also experimented with the serial prose poem. Building on the slippery vignettes of Landscaping Under Duress comes Glacial Decoys, a prose work in 72 sections which presents a poet’s history of the student movement and 2011 riots, the ‘slow violence of austerity’ and the ‘weird catastrophe’ of the last decade. Of course, this isn’t some kind of dry textbook. The poem feints into allegories, parables, gossip, jokes, and cunning sleights of hand, refusing to pull many punches, and naming its enemies and idols in a Hazlitt-informed translation of New Narrative writing. Beginning with My Walk with David (Grundy), there are meditations on grief and mourning, Ray Exworth’s sheds, Sean Bonney’s vitriol, Lorine Niedecker’s acts of domestic sabotage, and the weather in Gramsci’s Letters from Prison. There’s the claim that ‘Poetry is the same as utopia: just as reckless and ample, just as wrecked and deflated’. Traps and diversions lie in wait, but maybe Touchstone was right when he said, ‘the truest poetry is the most feigning’. Like many of the poems I love the most, these decoys show us where we are, how we got here, and what’s at stake.

— Dom Hale


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Gizem Okulu, Now Voyager (Veer2)

‘Is the universe a thing / that falls at full speed’ asks the poet. Speed, falling and falling apart are three forces that spin the thread of this rewarding text. The title poem is delicately inflected with fields of language – the language of cosmonauts and moon landings, of regimes and empire, of collapse, failure, and the open space in between. Okulu riffs upon the fragmentation of the shared future we never had. The ghosts of future past. All played out upon the face of a language at risk of collapse and co-option. But it is a language which is quicksilver in its ability to slip away from surveillance. We are called upon:

Under the swaying sky

let us seep through

the enemies at work

— Dylan Williams


~


Ziddy Ibn Sharam, Acharnement (Distance No Object)

Fred Moten talks about being sent by someone or something as a process of exteriorization. You or it send me, and I am transported out of myself. In Acharnement, Ziddy Ibn Sharam sends for us, the general reader: that clean-spectre of assimilation, cooked up by funding bodies to haunt the collective head. We go uss-side aram-se. Petrol ki-saat. In his essay 'Unsatisfied', Homi Babha says that 'to vernacularize is to ‘dialectize’…to be on the border, in between'. In Lancs dialect, the slang is a strip of land running between fields where we can linger, sling and writhe. Offering a taste of the bilious green and red and black stuff festering amidst the feuilletons, we are invited to fuck it off and call it on, split and recombine. Let poetry water the orchard/and watch the sun come through the periphery.

— Tom Crompton


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Kashif Sharma-Patel, relief I willed it (Gong Farm)

Every so often it’s good to be reminded that the pamphlet is the greatest medium for poetry. We like staples, not spines. This one is forty pages long and when I close it I’m pretty sure the words all move around. At the beginning there’s a goldfinch gnawing and cawing, in the middle there’s ‘minor epics for a city’, towards the end there’s ‘incongruous gender sheen’. Kashif works by weakening form, softening the edges to allow for maximum combinations. The diction runs from ‘pure bookishness’ symploce! telluride! metathetical! to the real speech we all understand: ‘bed nah read too much wired init’. Like Tom Crompton keeps reminding anyone who’s paying attention, what we’re trying to get at is slang truth. Kashif writes ‘we tried to find a language for our / weirdness and inconsistency’ and all I could do was pull it up over and over and read it again.

— Luke Roberts


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Daniel Sluman, Single Window (Nine Arches Press)

Daniel Sluman’s third collection Single Window is one of the most honest and powerful portrayals of illness and disability that I’ve ever read. Separated into four distinct seasonal parts, the sequence of poems is a temporal snapshot of a year Sluman and his wife spent confined to their living room due to illness. Images are placed alongside text to create a sensorial imagining that entangles and complicates notions of intimacy, sex, and relationships between bodyminds that do not conform to normative standards. Bodies are made anew in poems that acknowledge the porousness of skin, where identity is dissolved and reconstructed via touch, and where the seasons shift and morph outside the ‘single window’ of the couple’s confinement. A beautiful evocation of desire that is exploratory, celebratory, and challenges ableist assumptions of sex and intimacy.

— Jane Hartshorn


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Caterina Stamou, Visual Poems (Self-Published)

When the Athens-based poet and curator Caterina Stamou began publishing from a series of visual poems ‘written’ during lockdown in A) Glimpse) Of), I was startled by how deeply I felt the impact of brightly-coloured and almost ludic lines completely absent of language. Without a word, a letter, without semantic sense, without sound, and almost without time, the pieces never left me doubting they were poetry and their very voicelessness appeared like the most critical mark I could feel from a life being lived in confinement. In this pamphlet, Stamou collects those early poems along with others, varying the strategies used to explore the possibilities of poetry that communicates in lineated color, punctuated scrawl, scribbled beats. It is absolutely joyous, while somehow keeping its solidarity with an experience of the last two years, playful in its exploration of constriction. I can’t help but wonder how Stamou would read this work, if asked, and how the poems could be translated into an aural plane that breaks from the page. In that sense, the pamphlet reads under the sign of transformative uncertainty.

— Jeremy Allan Hawkins


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Ernst Toller (translated by Mathilda Cullen), Vormorgen: The Collected Poems (The Operating System)

It is a rare experience to encounter ‘an artifact against forgetting’ like that of Vormorgen, which brings together nearly every poem by Ernst Toller for the first time in nearly a century. A soldier, playwright, anarchist revolutionary, political prisoner, and President of the Bavarian Soviet Republic for six days, this dual language collection presents a ‘forgotten history of a nearly forgotten poet’. Written across the ‘dead yard’ of history between world wars, Vormorgen is a biting memorial for comrades & country alike as ‘our spring / is no longer Hölderlin’s spring’ & the divine is now found in the ‘holy proleblood’ of martyred comrades. Toller writes with love to the sparrows nesting in his prison cell block, while harmonising with the countless dead who scream at empty factories. All of this is translated by Mathilda Cullen, who has rendered neologisms from the German with striking innovation and stays attentive to Toller’s belief in the radical potential of communality in the language.

— Kyle Lovell


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Various, VOLUME (FOR JHP) (Byron Wing Vitamin Team)

In one of Alice Notley’s poems, she remembers a moment right before Ted’s death: while placing new books by Joanne Kyger, Anselm Hollo, and Joe Ceravolo by his bedside shelf, he says to her — or himself — 'I have a generation'. I’ve come to believe that this is one of the greatest gifts a poet can have, and VOLUME is definitive in marking out Prynne’s influence both among his generation and those that have followed. VOLUME is also a great sampler of contemporary British (and some non British) avant-garde poetry, a landscape of Prynnian abstraction, on the one hand, and matter in both its living and inert states, on the other hand.

— Jennifer Soong


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Nadia de Vries, I Failed to Swoon (Dostoyevsky Wannabe)

These poems could step on me, romantic as viruses. Written in an icy-cool deadpan which demonstrates a deference to wit and a refusal to submit, I Failed to Swoon is a collection of bruising confrontation: 'are consequences afraid of me?' / 'is the beach ready for my body?' Populated nefariously by ambivalent vampires, genital clowns, Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy, sk8r exes, dungeoned lovers & perverse quests, Nadia de Vries’ poetry is the magic sword in a fantasy movie, sharpened at the whetstone of the tragicomic everyday. 'If my house caught on fire / and I could only save one thing, / I'd save the fire’. I swooned.

— Rhiannon Auriol


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Jackie Wang, Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us from the Void (Nightboat)

Arriving in the middle of a brutal winter lockdown, Jackie Wang’s hotly anticipated debut collection set blood, fire and sunbeams to my days and nights. Structured around a matho- and mythopoetics of the oneiric, Wang’s poems skirt the shimmering edge of diary entry, confession, radical temporality and Fibonacci sequence with the promise of a great unlocking that is always to come. Accompanied by striking illustrations by Kalan Sherrard, the book itself explores trauma in the multitude, more-than-human companionship, sex, desire, death and survival. I first saw Jackie perform at Arika: A Means Without End in 2019, offering a collaborative ‘multi-media harp and spoken word tribute to the incalculable’, and reading her book is to slip into the mode of the puzzle, the inflorescence of being, the pressurised and the emergent. Dreams are not just poetics but also ethics: a form of register, telling; a mode of rehearsal and performance; a space of possibility, suspension, waiting and break. The book works through carceral logics, climate crisis, contradiction, ye olde MS DOS of post-internet (un)consciousness, epiphany and apocalypse. ‘Can a book parry catastrophe? Let another temporality be my home!’

— Maria Sledmere


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Sam Weselowski, Other Than North (Gong Farm)

Other Than North is a propulsive digression through logistics, de-industrialisation, the unfortunate rise of 'condo power' and the vanished power of the poet, snowblinded by the precipitates of capital and yammering on about 'Emotional labour poets / with the loaded gun and sweet dreams of you'. Like a lot of the best poetry today it is even a bit annoying, which means it is also totally relatable. What is mostly happening, though, is documentary, attention fixed on the 'Buttery linoleum, petroleum petticoat' — Canada as a myriad of petro-extractive textures to swaddle resentment in, a 'rusty / grain elevator, a grey / dildo in the grassy rain of a burnt out / barnyard'. Where its interlocutors — and I'm thinking of Glenn Gould's famous ambient documentary The Idea of North — were transfixed by aesthetics of decay and nostalgia over the lost 'sublime' of settlement and its metaphors of emptiness and isolation, Other Than North is crowded in with slushy detritus, a 'commodity cream'. Weselowski extrudes out its antagonisms: 'you know / the company / that hates you / hates you'. Sam does more than amble through this very particular hell though, but you'd have to go somewhere else to find that, namely his head-over-heel LOVE POEMS <3 from Distance No Object, also released this year.

— Mau Baiocco


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John Wilkinson, Wood Circle (The Last Books)

These are the poems I’ve wanted Wilkinson to write for ages, which bring his peerless craft and commitments to a new degree of focus. A lyric cycle emerging from his daily walks to a local beauty spot, but finding itself about the settler-colonial and ecological devastations which made that spot possible and the ongoing violence of the migration crisis which it is destined to exclude. Wilkinson carefully walks the limits of what a poet in his position can say about all this, of what is morally at stake in calling all of this 'representation': ‘Will you listen to us now / our lips are sewn, will you see us now / we stand blind in front of you?’ Wilkinson’s customary density of image and thought is broken up here by what he takes to be more direct and expressive ‘impromptus’, but in fact these breaks and gasps of register spill out powerfully across the whole sequence until it feels like it’s breathing its politics.

— Jack Belloli


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Alexa Winik, Close River (Magma Poetry)

What can you hear in the river? Tying together echoes of folklore with encounters with grief experienced on its multiple levels — personal, anticipatory, historical — the poems in Close River conjure porous encounters and moments of listening where we find ‘the mind leaking into mythos’. Yet Winik goes further than being attuned to the myriad ways loss can be felt; what begins to take shape on these pages is the re-peopling of desolation with unexpected companions, both human and more-than-human. The poems become unlikely vessels, built not to contain grief but to journey accompanied into its unending expanse. There is so much to learn from the work Winik performs in her lines, their dubitative torsions and metamorphoses. It is a singular and beautiful accomplishment, its waters returning more to you the closer you get to them.

— Mau Baiocco


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Chariot Wish, A New Heaven And A New Earth (Wonder)

When you open A New Heaven And A New Earth, just past the pink endpapers and the title page, you come to an opening poem ('In The Nest Of Spiders') whose first line is 'there is a soul'. Chariot’s poems in this beautiful chapbook from Wonder Press are mired exultations, songs which never forget our souls’ enmeshments, our shared material conditions ('all fantasy withers / under the weight / of reality actually', from a poem called 'Earth Will Break Your Heart')—but also these poems are songs, which somehow find a way to revel in the common web of our fallen world (continuing the previous quote: 'actually / the eternal soul isn’t / wretched and it is / the greatest joy / to be in the space / of totality -').

— Tom Snarsky


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Steven Zultanski, Relief (Make Now Books)

Steve is a modern-day Robert Browning. Remember that part in 'Porphyria’s Lover' when the dramatic speaker takes from his lover’s hair 'one long yellow string' and winds it around her neck, rather nonchalantly, strangling her? Relief, which follows Steve’s criminal masterpiece Bribery and its quieter sequel Honestly, permutates according to dirty little secrets—quite literally. A timely book that oscillates between bodily anxiety (e.g. Covid-19, WebMD holes) and bodily fascination (e.g. Dr. Pimple Popper), Relief depicts our scalps and toenails as the site of filth and fixation, ritual and memory, cuteness and disgust, a negotiable boundary where the body can strangely nourish disease and health. Yet Relief is also more tender than the poet’s previous 'confessional' works, asking what kinds of care matter when a culture of deathlessness finally confronts its own mortality.

— Jennifer Soong


 

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