I had the honour of introducing Lydia Towsey's first full-length poetry collection, The Venus Papers (Burning Eye Books, 2015), at the launch event as part of Everybody's Reading Festival. The following review is the text of my introduction.
Lydia Towsey's new book, The Venus Papers, exemplifies one of my favourite forms of contemporary poetry: that is, the poetry which manages simultaneously to be both performative and musical, on the one hand, and beautiful, intellectually stimulating and poignant page poetry, on the other. Not many poets manage to sustain this balancing act - but who do succeed in fusing performativity with written lyricism in their work.
Lydia's collection is at once diverse and coherent in its fusing of such musical, performative and lyrical elements. There are various narrative strands which run throughout the book (which makes me glad I read it, for once, cover to cover, not as I'd usually read a poetry book, by dipping into separate poems). These themes include mother-daughter relationships and matrilinearity in general; Hungarian and Welsh heritages; the politics of immigration, filtered through the powerful allegory of Venus turning up in modern-day Britain; travel poems, vivid recreations of South Africa, America, Europe and so on; and, of course, the overwhelming significance of a good cup of tea.
I particularly enjoyed the ways in which Lydia's poems deal with politics: the politics of immigration, of dictatorship, of gender. In poems like "Incanto," "Venus Votes," "Things People Say About Venus in the Tabloids," and "Hungary," to name just a few, Lydia tackles deeply important political subjects, but in ways which are original, poetic, fascinating - defamiliarising what the media inures us to, what TV and newspapers ideologically obscure, often by rendering all too familiar, everyday, banal. Lydia's poetry does the opposite: making the horrific, the tragic, the unjustifiable seem themselves again.
About the reviewer
Jonathan Taylor's books include the novels Melissa (Salt, 2015), and Entertaining Strangers (Salt, 2012). His poetry collection is Musicolepsy (Shoestring, 2013). He is Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. See www.jonathanptaylor.co.uk.