Esgob Annwyl!

Edwin Stevens – Seagulls (Very Bon Books, 2020)

Seagulls is Stevens’ debut novel, a sordid glimpse of an imagined North Walean life, depressing and disgusting but somehow magical, and a version of Pontins quite unfamiliar to that place you may have visited as a child. While I was reading I picked a scab on my ear until it bled and got blood on page 74. It seemed quite fitting. Bumming, wrestling, circumcision, pubey chips, Crosby, Stills, and Nash – it really has it all. Stevens’ capacity for evocative description and dreamlike scene-setting is impeccable. By the end, I was part-aroused, part-nauseated, part-wistful, part-drunk with excitement for his next work. Stevens is my favourite scumbag angel, his first book a perfect flash of his gross, rotting, and beautiful head, and I hope that his hilarious and vivid voice will soon be in your head, too.

Blair James

THREE BOOKS OF ILLUSTRATED POETRY

Astra Papachristodoulou & John Kilburn – Bunnies Behind Bars (Knives Forks and Spoons 2021)

Well, this was not what I expected. Perhaps I should have known. There are opening warning sentences of: This is a tale of distress. This is a tale of sorrow. I was taken in by the child on the cover in a cute rabbit costume, and the 1970’s – 1980’s children’s colouring book outlines, partially crayoned. This book has everything from my childhood, twisted around and made real into a horrifying recognition that animal testing is real and humans are the real threat to animals. It is a beautifully made book that makes a strong statement with a clear agenda, making me shiver inside. The graphic poetry combined with the illustrations creates a dissonance of fluffy bunnies and the terror of death.

corrosive chemical

applied onto shaved skin

to determine how much

it takes to kill him

The personification of the animals and giving scientists names (Dr Emma) brings it home, imagining a rabbit in pain, imagining a worker washing their hands:

they now cleanse

themselves

from daily guilt

The book ends with the authors reminding us they warned us it was a tale of distress and sorrow. I was left feeling uncomfortable wishing for a happy ending, though of course for many animals there will not be one.

Phoebe Power and Katrina Porteous (illustrated by Rose Ferraby)- Sea Change (Guillemot Press 2021)

Sea Change, on the other hand, is more hopeful. The authors write about the coast of Durham. The pictures here appear as collages, the flotsam and jetsam of paper and colour, providing fitting companionship to the words. Phoebe Power writes the first half of the book and begins in fragments of prose/ prose poetry/ vignettes, and ultimately floats off into more and more dispersed words:

sea           heaves

    it           all            and spreads

                      it rattles

It is very readable and I find myself immersed in the experience. Katrina Porteuous has the second half of the book, and has a very different style, using individual poems. The easy colloquialisms used give a sense of place and people. The imagery takes us there in a different way to Phoebe Power:

Through fireweed and meadow grass, she wades, to the brink –

To the windy cliff at Shippersea, the clean horizon.

In a handful of ashes she brings her Mam to beauty.

I found this book powerfully crafted, an intelligent and enjoyable read.

Ruth Stacey (Illustrated by Desdemona McCannon) – VIOLA: The Virgin Queen (Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2021)

This small, circa A6 pamphlet intrigued me from the moment I looked at it. The size, the design, the illustrations, the name and a flick through gives even more to want. It references one of my favourite periods of history (Tudors/Elizabethan) and Shakespeare who was obviously around at the time. It is accessible academic poetry. It has a sexual tension running through it, discussing bodies, blood and clothing as representing who one is and where one belongs. Each page has a poem or a picture and, like Bunnies Behind Bars is beautifully made. The book uses some words from the time, including Mam, (meaning mother), which has stuck around till today (evidenced by Sea Change above). There is a lot to this little book and it deserves more than one reading.

Sally Barrett