Friday 25 March 2022

Review by Cathi Rae of "Cliff Notes" by Kathryn O'Driscoll

In a spirit of full and frank disclosure, I have on occasions competed against this poet in various slam poetry competitions and she has completely annihilated me. Hardly surprising given that she is the UK Slam Champion 2021/2022 and represented England at the World Cup of Slam 2021.

She is an extremely well-regarded slam and spoken word poet. This collection is her first (and I am quite confident, not her last) page poetry collection. She has made the sometimes-difficult transition from performance-based work to the page with absolute assurance and skill whilst still retaining her own strong, unique, and important voice.

This is not an easy collection. The introduction contains two pages of potential content trigger warnings, and much of the subject matter challenges the reader, but it is a challenge that will make the reader a better person.

Her poems include pieces on serious mental ill-health, suicidal thoughts, bereavement, poverty, and loss, but this is not a diatribe or obvious polemic; her work is nuanced, painfully honest, well observed and quite simply beautiful.

And yes, of course, her work is angry - there is much to be angry about a system where mental health care is a postcode lottery and where people struggling to live with chronic health conditions are condemned to state-sanctioned poverty. But she never writes anything that doesn’t use language adroitly to express these ideas and personal experiences in anything less than stunning poetry.

The collection ends with “Peony-Bruised,” a short poem which seems to suggest that there is hope and beauty after all:

           This city is a bruise I keep pressing upon
           so I dip myself under and ask the petals
           to tell me their first memories.
           they say.

           And then, how we grew.

About the reviewer
Cathi Rae is a poet/spoken word artist/slam poet and community educator. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Leicester and is currently funded by M4C to work on her PhD, creating collaborative poems with marginalised individuals.

Wednesday 16 March 2022

Review by Jon Wilkins of "Clark Gable and His Plastic Duck" by Philip Tew

It’s what we all need to know, Clark Gable. Plastic duck. What on earth? So in the true story-telling tradition of show not tell, I will show. Clark Gable. Plastic Duck.

It is your task to discover their relevance. Task? That makes it sound an onerous assignment. Reading this novel is far from that. It is an undiluted pleasure. It is one of those rare reads, one that you can honestly not put down. The end of each chapter tempts you into reading the next and so on until you have forgotten what day it is and where you are.

I get added pleasure from Philip Tew's books as we taught together in Leicester, way back in 1979. I hadn’t seen him since, until we met at an Everybody’s Reading event in 2018, at De Montfort University. Pre-Covid. Weren’t they the times!

Tew writes of a time I can remember, and so many of his allusions ring true to me, as I am sure they will ring true to any Leicester resident from those Thatcherite days of the 1970s through to the 1990s.

His novel takes us into an alternate world where Thatcher lost the Falklands and Alan Clark became Prime Minister. For those who remember his philandering ways, is that a stretch too far or a parallel to a shaggy-haired oaf that we all currently endure? Thatcher is rehabilitated as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the greatest irony is when the pariah Enoch Powell becomes Home Secretary.

Where would we be today if things had turned out like that? Is that what we deserve? Considering what we have now, would it be such a bad thing? You decide as Britain descends into a world of darkness, further hypocrisy, and our hero Bill Pugh doesn’t know who to trust and who to turn to. His world as broken as the society he finds himself in.

As Phil Tew writes: “Rebellion follows. And a new privatized security service full of thugs and villains. For me, Clark’s political broadcast ties my narrative together. Suddenly, the rebellion and riots all make full sense, especially after the Falklands (Malvinas) defeat. The narrative started to reflect very different priorities.”

This novel shows without telling. Readers will not need to be told; they will see the nuances of the narrative as a challenge and an invitation into Tew’s dark world. Fantasy or Dystopia? Alternate reality or too close to truth? Who is the hero: Clark Gable or the Duck or is it Bill Pugh?

You will decide because I won’t be telling you.

About the reviewer
Jonathan Wilkins is a Creative Writing PhD Student at Aberystwyth University, Wales, reading mostly Golden Age Crime fiction. His website is here

Tuesday 15 March 2022

Review by Jon Wilkins of "A Triptych of Birds & A Few Loose Feathers" by Pratibha Castle

What joy it must be
To have companions such as these
Flitting in and
Out of her life
Birds of every hue and tincture

Her descriptions vivid
Of flashes of colour
And aspect
Dazzling the page
With words of flight

Indeed across the page
We see them fly
Brought to life
By the poet's words

And casual turn of phrase. 
We see them
We feel them 
We can almost touch them

A joy to read
As we traverse from
Birds to Saints
From riddles to rhyme

Tales of trains
Mysteries and conceits
Parents and drowning
Vivid in thought and execution

A vast array of
Characters rounded
Surrounded her description  
Eloquent a joy to read.

So do read
And enter into
A world of words and dreams
Enjoy the spirit

So freely shared. 
A comfort and a challenge
In a time when
We dearly need the pleasure.

About the reviewer
Jonathan Wilkins is a Creative Writing PhD Student at Aberystwyth University, Wales, reading mostly Golden Age Crime fiction. His website is here

Monday 14 March 2022

Review by Elizabeth Chell of "Sing Ho! Stout Cortez" by Michael W. Thomas

I have just finished reading Michael W. Thomas’s Collection of novellas and stories Sing Ho! High Cortez. It is a book I will want to read over and over. The central theme for this collection of stories is family life and friendships. The first novella, Esp: The Voice of Grenada, is the story of a group of boys. We journey with them as they grow from boys to men and learn the history of their country. The music they compose and play is more than the rhythm of their lives; it is their personal and Grenada’s battle for freedom. The writing is poetic and beautiful; the cultural refences to music and film resonate with one’s own journey from child to adulthood. It is witty and poignant. It is of no surprise that such a clever story, with its rich dialogue, should have been shortlisted for the UK Novella Award 2015. 

‘Tickle, Tickle,’ a harrowing survivor’s story, is exquisitely written. We are steered through the twisting path of youth and experience and the minutiae of family life. Again, the musical references resonate with one’s own adolescence. Music, like a smell, puts you in the time zone giving credence to the tale. 

‘Mister Sixth’ catalogues the of life Evan. It is reflective and insightful, examining the ghosts of the past. Using Evan’s boyhood bedroom and memories, the story unfolds, spilling the beans of sibling rivalry amidst sunny suburbia of twentieth-century family life. Finally, with the skilful use of metaphors, we learn the resolution and wisdom that comes with the rights of passage into adulthood. 

‘Never Any Sometimes’ picks apart a man’s position in a family of three adult daughters. It is an intimate story set in a restaurant. The tension ratchets up as the wine flows. 'Sing Ho! Stout Cortez' is the story of a group of colleagues preparing to party on the first ever ‘New Year’s Day’ holiday. The characters are expertly drawn, the lightest of brushstrokes painting a thousand words. We breathe with them, making the poignancy of the ending real. ‘The Maker's Mark’ explores Ian’s angst of being fourteen and at the bottom of the pecking order in the family. Ian is a people watcher and an expert in body language. It is a satisfying read; we empathise with him. 

Michael W. Thomas’s collection of stories would be a welcome addition to any bookcase; it will be well read and loved by all who read it.

About the reviewer
Elizabeth Chell is a full-time teacher and is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.

Wednesday 9 March 2022

Review by Jane Simmons of "Swimming to Albania" by Sue Hubbard

Swimming to Albania is Sue Hubbard’s fourth collection of poems. The opening poem ‘Lost in Space’ teases out the preoccupations of the collection – longing, desire and loss – in its presentation of the poet as a child ‘lost’ and dreaming of ‘a boat that will take her home.’

More poems about childhood follow and the sense of being lost is reinforced in the tentative title of ‘1955, perhaps?’ and in the opening of ‘Snow’ where the poet is ‘lost in an infinity of misted mirrors.’ The words ‘loss’ and ‘lost’ reverberate through the poems in the first of the three sections of the collection, along with ‘absence’ and ‘space.’ This emptiness is a space which cannot be filled because ‘the past is another country / one I barely remember’ and ‘the dead [are] impervious to our childhood questions.’ The truth is ‘a void’ they cannot fill, leaving the poet haunted by ‘all that was never said.’ 

From here, the poet invites the reader to accompany her on a journey in poems which take her from the west coast of Ireland by way of Lisbon, Siena and Greece, to Albania. It soon becomes clear that this journeying is loaded with metaphorical significance: it is a journey into the poet’s past, a voyage of self-discovery, and an Odyssean search for an idealised home where the self is known – a safe place on the other side of grief, a state of reconciliation, redemption, and understanding.

Between the coastal places of the opening and closing poems at either end of the journey, further images of water function as metaphors of psychoanalytic exploration – as the poet dives into deep dark places of self. The Albania which the poet is swimming towards in the title of the collection, and the penultimate poem, is the once-forbidden place that even now is difficult to reach.

About the reviewer
Jane Simmons is a former teacher – and now a PhD student. She won the University of Leicester’s GS Fraser Poetry Prize in 2019, 2020 and 2021, and the Seren Christmas Poetry Prize in 2020. Her work has appeared in Ink, Sweat and Tears, The Blue Nib magazine and on the Seren blog, as well as being long-listed for the Butcher’s Dog magazine.

You can read more about Swimming to Albania by Sue Hubbard on Creative Writing at Leicester here

Monday 7 March 2022

Review by Cathi Rae of "Word Bath" by Kassie Duke

Kassie Duke is an American poet and writer but is firmly linked to Leicester and the University of Leicester, having studied an MA in Creative Writing here. This is her first collection – described as “a short sweet walk through the mind of a writer,” including poems that explore “every mood but melancholy.”

Kassie uses language confidently, painting small but beautiful pictures of nature and the everyday and is particularly skilled at the short poem form – something which is far harder to achieve than might seem from first reading. These poems, often quiet on first reading, bear multiple visits and will re-pay careful attention and time. I enjoyed the micro poems and their use of language based on the natural world. 

In our current dark times, this little message of hope seemed particularly apposite: “and I will dream — not of the time I spent in winter — but of the sun coming up with the steam.”

This is a book to pop into your back pocket and dip in and out of over a coffee or when you have a few moments to reflect on the power of words.

About the reviewer
Cathi Rae is a spoken word artist and poet. Her debut collection is Your Cleaner Hates You and Other Poems (Soulful Publishing, 2019). She is currently working on an M4C-funded Creative Writing PhD at the University of Leicester on telling marginalised lives through poetry.

You can read a review of Cathi's collection on Everybody's Reviewing here

You can read more about Kassie Duke's Word Bath on Creative Writing at Leicester here

Friday 4 March 2022

Interview with Antonia Wimbush

Antonia Wimbush is a postcolonial scholar who graduated from a PhD at Birmingham in 2018. She joined Liverpool University Humanities department in October 2020. She took up a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship under the mentorship of Prof. Charles Forsdick. Her project is entitled 'Representing the BUMIDOM: French Caribbean Migration in Literature and Culture.' She is the author of Autofiction: A Female Francophone Aesthetic of Exile (Liverpool University Press, 2021). 

Interviewed by Elle Morgan

This interview is spread across my own website The French Lettres, and also Everybody’s Reviewing in Leicester. This is because of Leicester’s close connection with postcolonial studies. Indeed, Antonia's fascinating expertise on migration will likely be of interest to many creatives residing in the city. The literary scene in Leicester has long been engaged with the same issues of displacement, migration, and home that Antonia writes about in her latest book, Autofiction: A Female Francophone Aesthetic of Exile

Originally, the book was a thesis, its aim being to address the wealth of writers whose work existed outside of the metropolitan: those who are not white, male or middle-class. During the interview, we discuss writers such as Dante Alighieri (who wrote from political displacement in his native Florence) as a famous example of what some people mean by 'exiled writers' because he fits into all of those privileged categories. Antonia’s work interrogates this by engaging with writers such as Nina Bouraoui, from Algeria and France. Her work also expands upon Julia Kristeva’s threefold explanation of 'exile': geographically, as writers, and also as women. She says: 'I am deeply interested in women writers who write in a metaphorically exiled position, in an imagined place.'

She expands upon this by referencing Edward Said, whose work interrogates the notion that 'exile' means to be a member of the bourgeoisie and therefore somehow 'important' and 'mattering.' Antonia is clearly passionate about the sense of 'otherness' that comes from not belonging, and this is evident from her work teaching emerging scholars at Liverpool University. 

As a Lecturer, Antonia has seen many early-career scholars, such as undergrads and postgrads, who have been engaged in research on memory. There is a particular pattern of interest in concrete examples of statues and monuments, as well as identity. As she teaches in postcolonial Francophone subjects and has long been interested in the notion of 'Carribbeing,' her research corresponds urgently with the thirst for learning about underrepresented writers.    

She says: 'It was a thesis on four writers, at first. For the book, it widened, expanding to six, which was a challenge. I looked at all sorts of writers whose postcolonial entity is even contested, moving towards writers in Quebec. There are writers such as Michèle Rakotoson, in Madagascar who underwent political exile for their comments against the dictatorship.'

Clearly, it is a timely area that has been contributed to, and expanded by, a scholar considerate of the ambiguities concerning exiled voices. 

About the interviewer
Elle Morgan is a student and writer who is usually quite lost, navigating both life and various university buildings. If you would like to find her, she is on the internet here.