Monday 5 July 2021

Review by Vic Pickup of "Ugly Bird" by Lauren Hollingsworth-Smith

There are no ‘fillers’ in Ugly Bird – each poem exists as its own chapter, singing in a different voice, to a new tune. Together, this pamphlet is filled with wit, gorgeous imagery and stark honesty that’s raw, personal, universal.

Hollingsworth-Smith tackles a myriad of issues in this collection. In ‘Cappuccinos,’ she addresses the difficulties faced by a family attempting to deal with a suicide attempt:

          We don’t talk about the night I howled
          like someone had shoved a skewer through my earhole.
          Or about how Mum, unable to escape my crying,
          made me a cup of tea and threw it at the wall.

Using just the right measure of shock-invoking lines to impact the reader, in amongst the refrain: ‘We don’t talk about,’ she follows in the third stanza with:

          ... the packets of paracetamols, about how my sister
          slapped me and stuck her fingers down my throat.
          How I buckled like a breaking wave, retching

This is powerful writing, and one of many serious subjects addressed in the pamphlet. Vulnerability and female empowerment are her themes in ‘It’s Okay to Break’:

         So break down, fall apart, crumble.
         Let the shoots push through.
         Let the wolf leap out. 

In a similar vein, the poet gives her support to the underdog in ‘Ruben’s Grin’ with a brilliantly observed depiction of a school outcast, and how he finds escapism by sharing a world of his own creation. Hollingsworth-Smith handles subjects with carefully judged sensitivity and boldness, judging the impact upon a reader perfectly. Following a beautiful poem about ‘Painting People,’ she skips to ‘Meritocracy’ – a belter of a poem about the disturbing privileges afforded to those undeserving. Everything here matters.

That said, what I love most about this collection is how the poet weaves such poems together with others more sensitive, subtle and humorous, but all still profound in their own way. ‘Dunnock’ is an excellent example, with the discovery of the bird’s polyamorous nature making a mockery of the Victorian priests, who referred to the Dunnock as a model for working-class behaviour ‘because of its dull, quiet and conservative nature’: ‘He winks, that Jack the Lad, chirps out a friendly fuck you – / I am the dunnock and I like to screw.’

This poet even had me genuinely contemplating the world through the eyes of a toilet in ‘I’ve seen it all.’ (Trust me, you will too.)  

At such a young age, it’s remarkable that this poet can see the world with such introspection and empathy – and has the skill to express herself to great effect. Hollingsworth-Smith is clearly a bright star in the next generation of poets.

About the reviewer
Vic Pickup is a previous winner of the Café Writers and Cupid’s Arrow Competitions, and shortlisted for the National Poetry Day #speakyourtruth prize on YouTube. Lost & Found is Vic’s debut pamphlet, published by Hedgehog Poetry Press and featuring Pushcart-nominated poem ‘Social Distancing.’ @vicpickup /

You can read a review of Lost & Found on Everybody's Reviewing here.

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