Homesickness and Exile ed. by Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright

-Reviewed by Steve Nash


Homesickness and Exile, the latest anthology from The Emma Press, takes Ovid’s exile to Tomis on the Black Sea, for what the poet described as ‘a poem and a mistake’, as its catalyst. Anyone fearing a narrow-scoped collection overburdened with mythological allusion though lacks faith in, or experience of, the unique editorial balance of passion and care repeatedly demonstrated by Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright.  In Wright’s tender introduction she confesses, ‘I feel envious of Ovid in his absolute conviction in where he calls home, because it strikes me as quite rare and wonderful to be able to identify somewhere as your home with full satisfaction and accuracy.’ The truth is that the narrative arc of finding your way home has given us some of our most enduring stories, and here we find some of our finest poems too.

The work contained within the anthology wanders as freely as the many lost and homesick souls that populate its poems.  There are meditations on being a stranger, poems of longing, and songs of celebration taking great joy in the solace of home.

Anja Konig’s ‘Light on the Galactic Tide’ opens the collection with a musical and meticulously formed manifesto of sorts, throwing open the boundaries of the book to include the breadth of the cosmos.  ‘Foreigner is the fate that fits’, she states with a quiet authority before urging us knowingly into the book by telling us, ‘You know you can never go home.’  James Coghill shares this sense of displacement in a poem exploring at once the power and impotence one can experience in the face of language.  He concludes with a stanza evocative of Whitman’s ‘To You’, as he describes that in his possession he still has ‘…a dog-eared phrasebook I’ve learnt/ off by heart, just in case I meet someone/ who wants to talk.’

Elsewhere Carole Bromley gives us a beautifully measured elegy for a peripatetic soul with ‘Emigrant’.  Here, personal detail is woven through the poem to present a tale in absolute clarity to the reader:

The second time just for a year
and he’d be back before we knew it,
wrote long letters on airmail paper,
missed Alan Partridge, rugby league,
a pint of John Smith’s.

For every traveller missed though, there is an adventurer returning home. Selina Nwulu delights with her joyful imagery, detailing with great perspicuity the physical experience of returning: ‘The heat wraps its legs around me/ pees in the small of my back’, and Elizabeth Horne, in ‘Coming Down’, sings about ‘the pleasure of re-belonging’.

Alex Bell presents a marvellous jumping fizz of language that revels in its own music as it leaps across the white space, but its value rests in far more than its aesthetic, as Bell threads a contemplative tone through the pyrotechnics: ‘I walked/ I walked the road/ until it wasn’t road anymore’.

There is plenty of mythical allusion to be found here also, and Eve Lacey renders such themes with great fondness and wit in ‘Women of Corinth’:

I’m tapping these damn patent shoes till they wreak
red nomad havoc on that homewrecking lust
of my homemaker Jason, fleecing me

While most of the poems here are diminutive pieces, there are longer works, such as ‘Winged Carrots’ by Zeina Hashem Beck , and the mesmeric ‘Aunty’ by Rachel Long, in which her ‘…laugh echoes foreign against the lockers.’

The most challenging aspect of constructing a review for Homesickness and Exile is in the selection of which poems to single out and which to save for readers to discover on their own.  Suffice to say The Emma Press’ policy of publishing only what they feel truly passionate about is evident with each turn of the page.  There are remarkable works here from Ivy Alvarez, Charlotte Higgins, Mary Buchinger, John McCullough, Cheryl Moskowitz, Holly Hopkins, and more besides, but I will leave some uncharted territory for the next adventurer.

The book, as one has come to expect from The Emma Press, is a beautiful artefact.  The care and dedication spent in the editorial process, and in the crafting of the poems themselves, is reflected in the elegance of the physical tome and Emma Wright’s unique and enchanting illustrations.  As something of a stateless pirate, this collection reaches out with new connections upon each reading, and I’m increasingly feeling that home is having an Emma Press book in my hands.