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Review Roundup: The Top Poetry of Recent Times

School of Instructions Ishion Hutchinson

Ishion Hutchinson’s book, “School of Instructions” (published by Faber for £12.99)

This powerful piece of literature captures the memories, sorrow, and loss of West Indian soldiers who fought for the British during World War I. The author skillfully intertwines the horrors of war and imperialism using unique language and impactful rhythms, creating a tapestry of suffering, bravery, and perseverance. The book also follows the life of Godspeed, a Jamaican schoolboy in the 1990s, and subtly shows how colonialism was perpetuated through language, with English culture forced onto young minds with a violent undertone. The author’s words paint a vivid picture, describing the brutality of war and the cultural indoctrination that took place. This collection serves as a tribute to those who perished without recognition, bringing their stories to life through the timeless medium of poetry.

The Wrong Person to Ask by Marjorie Lotfi

The Wrong Person to Ask by Marjorie Lotfi (Bloodaxe, £10.99)

Lotfi’s first collection is filled with vivid images and explores her experiences growing up in Iran during the revolution, her teenage years in America, and her current life in Scotland. She writes with sensitivity about the displacement and disconnection that can result from moving between different countries. Her poignant language repeatedly reflects on the loss of family intimacy and identity caused by political turmoil and violence. She mourns these losses and separations throughout the book, but also presents the potential for a diverse and expansive sense of belonging: “And what truly defines home, if not the constant choice to remain?”

Housebreak Shareen K Murayama Bad Betty,

“Housebreak” written by Shareen K Murayama is available for purchase at Bad Betty for £10.

This book encompasses a multitude of sorrows, both personal and intimate, as well as political and societal. The poet delves into the loss of her mother, first to dementia and then to death, with a unique blend of dark humor and sharp clarity: “Despite my intentions to avoid writing another poem about my deceased mother, she inevitably appears. In a care home, clutching careless bags of food or a spam musubi. A reverse offering of comfort.” The book also tackles the trauma caused by hate crimes against Asian-Americans during the pandemic: “You tried to shrink yourself in the pocket of your seat on your way to work this morning…horrible people should just stay in Asia.” Yet, amidst all the pain and discrimination, it remains strong and pulsing with vitality: “I hold onto the belief in folktales, like my grandmother’s tale. Anyone could be saved or devoured. Their tongues cut out.”

Cowboy by Kandace Siobhan Walker

Cowboy by Kandace Siobhan Walker (Cheerio, £11)

This first publication is uproarious, touching and strikingly innovative. Covering a range of subjects such as love, gentrification, neurodiversity, gender, queerness, death, life in the digital age, low-paying jobs and capitalist exploitation, these poems paint a vivid picture of the struggles and realities of modern millennial life: “Communism became trendy again, Instagram was appealing. / Students were protesting. Sad boys were a novelty, / sad girls were aspirational.” Walker’s greatest strengths lie in her uniquely strange imagery (“The essence of religion at night is wherever you / touch me; I am completely dolphins. I am molten”) and the biting, painfully dark humor of her poetic voice. “What a lovely day to miscarry! … / There’s the start of you. I bleed / through my pajamas – there’s the end.” Cowboy introduces a significant and thrilling new voice to the world of British poetry.

Bhanu Kapil Incubation

A Place for Creatures by Bhanu Kapil, Incubation (Prototype, £12)

This piece of writing combines poetry and prose from the author who won the TS Eliot prize. It is exciting and risky, much like the journey of the main character Laloo, a cyborg traveler who embodies both feminine and maternal qualities, as well as being an immigrant and a settler. Laloo hitchhikes through the mesmerizing but hostile American landscape, contemplating her complicated past in England and India, and her fractured relationship with herself. She seeks transformation or escape through her travels: “I didn’t want to go home … A dangerous beauty: to go and keep going.” In these expansive and innovative poems that explore global shifts and radical abnormalities, Kapil’s vivid imagery ties the narrative together: “At the highway exit, the hitchhiker is emaciated, wearing a red T-shirt illuminated by the red tail lights … Cars rushing by in a frenzy of rubies and diamonds.”

Source: theguardian.com