The Poetry Book Society’s Autumn Selections are among our most striking yet. Spanning across the globe from US legend Jericho Brown to Leeds-based Seni Seneviratne, each are united by questions of identity and exile, in a powerful testament to these troubled times.
Described by US Poet Laureate Tracy K Smith as “one of the most luminous and courageous voices I have read”, Jericho Brown fearlessly interrogates freedom, fatherhood and the political act of being black in Trump’s America: “I am a theyin most of America”. Beneath the fiery rhetoric lie tender portraits of love and childhood innocence: “they play. He is not yet incarcerated”. Jericho claims, “I want my poems to make you do the kind of crying that leads to real thinking”, and indeed they do.
The much-anticipated debut by an electrifying performer, Out-Spoken publisher and champion of poetry in all forms. As a British-born Cypriot, Anaxagorou unflinchingly tackles the history of “race”, Cyprus, Empire and in-betweenness: “to be British / is to be everywhere”. Balancing experimentalism with formal mastery and fierce intelligence, this is a force to be reckoned with.
Like the fencing pun of the title, Hong Kong born Mary Jean Chan is formally dexterous, fencing between languages and cultures. Her poems are fraught with the difficulties of being “written in a historically white space” and the bodily vulnerability of queer post-colonial life. The turbulent history of China and Hong Kong seeps into her poems, remapping the mantra of “one nation, two cities” across one body, many selves.
Leeds based Sri Lankan poet Seni Seneviratne brings to life a series of family photos to explore her father’s experiences in WWII. Each poem brings into focus the ironically nicknamed “Snowball” in a heart-warming family portrait, which also tackles the long shadow of war and racism.
This moving collection by exiled Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail was composed in both Arabic and English to symbolise the displaced duality of the “poet (who) is at home in both texts, yet… remains a stranger”. Inspired by harrowing tales of the IS female slave market in Iraq, Mikhail questions gender and language and reminds us all of the precarity of our own safety: “We are all refugees”.
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