Saturday 16 May 2020

Review by Matt Nunn of "Alcoholic Betty" by Elisabeth Horan

It would be easy to say that Elisabeth Horan is just another reincarnation of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, and there’s truth in such a claim, but that would be doing this bold, new American poet an injustice, for she is more than just a carbon copy rising to say pale cover versions from the graves of the greats who have gone before her. She is influenced, yes, but she, as all the best poets do, has taken her inheritance and twisted, mangled and sculptured it into a definite new voice, her own. One that once encountered shan’t be easily forgotten.

Alcoholic Betty is an unflinching, yes another  hoary old cliché from the book of reviewing tropes, journey through a thick blackened world of miscellaneous liquids both spilled and imbibed, addiction and collapsing mental health, a long dark night of the soul replayed on a daily, grinding loop over many years.

At times it does feel your faculties and senses are wading through a thickening soup of terror, and if it ever feels tough, keep going, think how Horan herself must have felt living out these nightmares for real, and also head to the end, where glimmers of light and hope will bathe you, both in humane relief that Horan has made it through not unscathed presumably, but certainly unbroken, but also that she survived to write these poems, these hymns covered in every sickly liquid imaginable that by being here represent a hope and victory, not just for the act of writing, but for living through it all.

From what passes on these pages, and to quote the title of probably my favourite poem in the collection - though to be fair there are many candidates - it may be a stretch for the poet herself to be penning a poem entitled “I love Elisabeth Horan Volume 3” any time soon; still, after reading this book it may well be a poem I myself may scribble. It is certainly a sentiment I feel after this emotional and linguistic tour-de-force.

About the reviewer
Matt Nunn is the author of 5 poetry collections, the latest of which is St. Judes College reject (RedSox Press). He works as a freelance writing tutor, writing coach, editor and writer and teaches Creative Writing at Solihull College and has performed his work on TV, radio and a million different venues, to audiences big and small, enthusiastic and indifferent, for over 25 years. He’s still amazed at how he gets away with it all.

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