The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks, ed. by Peter Kahn, Ravia Shankar, and Patricia Smith. Foreword by Terrance Hayes

Reviewed by Colette Sensier

The Golden Shovel celebrates one of the most influential American poets of the 20th century, using a technique somewhere between a verse form and a writing prompt: the “golden shovel.” Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African-American poet to win the Pulitzer in 1950, and remained what Smith calls “Queen of the Colored Girls” in the Chicago poetry scene, hugely respected and loved across the rest of the country, until her death in 2000. In homage to her, Terrance Hayes wrote the first golden shovel poem in 2010, and after seven years’ of its use across the globe by other poets and within writing workshops, Kahn, Shankar and Smith have created this anthology of the form.

A “golden shovel” poem is easy to illustrate. The poet takes a line from a Brooks poem and runs it down the line endings of the new poem, so that, for example, the first three lines of Hayes’ ‘We Real Cool’-inspired poem run:

When I am so small Da’s sock covers my arm, we
cruise at twilight until we find the place the real

men lean, bloodshot and translucent with cool.

The name for this form is taken from ‘We Real Cool’, which is frequently taught in US high schools, and begins with what looks like a playwright’s character description: ‘THE POOL PLAYERS./SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.’ One poet in this anthology, Brit Mags Webster, brings The Golden Shovel to life as a bar, in which the narrator has a romance with the ghost of an addicted girl. For the rest, it’s only the use of this new technique which turns the anthology into a shady bar filled with glimpsed characters, voices, and short, intense stories shared beside the jukebox.

The Golden Shovel contains over 300 creative conversations with Brooks’ work, from poets ranging from international luminaries to high school students. Some of the most touching contributions are by young poets, who passionately reclaim Brooks’ words in the service of contemporary activist writing. Chicago undergraduate Kelly Reuter responds to Brooks’ ‘The Blackstone Rangers’, about a 1950s Chicago street gang still active under the name ‘Almighty Black P. Stone Nation,’ with a haunting narrative about her brothers’ shooting death, in a world which has ‘taken the corpse of the city/ and hung it by each of its limbs.’ The spirit of protest continues in poems from the UK, Australia, India, and more. While there’s no requirement for a “golden shovel” to talk back to power, the fact that so many poets have responded in that way shows the kindling of change that Brooks’ poems can create.

Some maintain only a lyrical connection to Brooks’ work, speaking on different subjects and preserving only the vocabulary of the chosen line or lines. Others bring out hidden or alternative views, including Chicago-based Hannah Gamble’s brilliant response to Brooks’ ‘Boy Breaking Glass,’ which brings out the underlying gender dynamics in Brooks’ line ‘I shall create! If not a note, a hole.’

Many elaborate on or alter Brooks’ own characters or situations, or bring tangential new voices into her poems. Brooks was known for intimate portraits of neighbourhood characters – her Pulitzer-winning Annie Allen tells the whole life of a Chicago woman – and there are a lot of portraits in this anthology. My favourites came from ‘The Bean-Eaters,’ about an impoverished ‘old yellow pair’ who nonetheless enjoy their memories together. Nicki Giovanni celebrates this couple as an ‘honest upstanding pair’ who ‘See the evening of life as a treat to eat’; Sandra M. Gilbert’s ‘The Fava-Bean Eaters’ moves the point of view to a rich couple eating ‘Breton lobster salad’ as Brooks’ bean-eaters ‘peep’ at them through a restaurant window. Meanwhile, hip-hop artist Christian Robinson/ Rich Robbins talks of threats to the satisfied married life the bean-eaters enjoy:

Now, my grandmother forgets to mention “they”
when she speaks of my parents […]

            A Mexican bean.

And a Black bean. From same family but mostly
on different ends of the garden.

Multiple viewpoints on the same image – like an elderly couple eating beans together – make the anthology into a public space in which writers talk to each other, to Brooks and to themselves, retelling and questioning her stories.

Some poems, including Sharon Olds’ ‘Thanks to Miss Brooks’ and Jon Davis’ ‘On Gwendolyn Brooks’, directly pay homage to her, but many more subtly write into the beauty of her lines and tease their meanings. Clare Pollard’s ‘Boy Breaking Glass, Peckham’ replaces Brooks’ boy with a boy smashing a shop window in the 2011 riots, and ends in a triple repetition of Brooks’ strikingly contemporary description of a broken window:

The born-rich gawp at this filmed is raw: is sonic: is old-eyed premiere.
is raw: is sonic: is old-eyed premiere.
is raw: is sonic: is old-eyed premiere.

Elsewhere, Sandra Beasley’s ‘Non-Commissioned (A Quartet),’ inspired by Brooks’ examination of World War Two draftees, ‘Gay Chaps at the Bar,’ contains one section consisting of nothing but the turn of Brooks’ sonnet made vertical, emphasising both her collaboration with Brooks and the heart-breaking guilt of boys becoming soldiers:



Perhaps due to the power of Brooks’ portraits of unconsidered people, her lyricism is rarely stressed, but when decontextualized, lines like ‘he swallows sunshine with a secret yelp’ (‘Sundays of Satin-Legs Smith’) or ‘these graves grow no green that you can use’ (‘To the Young Who Want to Die’) shine. Their inclusion in a ’golden shovel’ poem, together with the poem’s own strength and the memory of Brooks’ work, form a new contemplative space. Read The Golden Shovel with a Brooks anthology next to you (Blacks (1987) contains her entire canon). Read it with a notebook beside you, too. Brooks’ electric lines inspire immediately, and the variety and beauty of these poems create plenty of space for new voices to join in.

Goose Fair Night by Kathy Pimlott

Reviewed by Grant Tarbard

Kathy Pimlott grew up in Radford, Nottingham under the yellow-fingered dusk of the Player’s cigarettes Castle Tobacco Factory, but has lived in London for the last forty years. Having abandoned poetry in her early 20s, she took up reading and writing again about ten years ago, luckily for us. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like Goose Fair Night after reading the introduction by Clare Pollard, as the lines she quoted came across as tame, but her foreword proves prophetic:

Again and again Kathy’s poems show the enormity of the ordinary. Because of this, it is the details that will snag in your mind.

Snag they do: Pimlott’s bull’s-eye expressions are colourful barbed flies that lure me, the trout mouthed reader, to the surface. The cover of Goose Fair Night, published by Emma Press, is a sketch of the Goose Fairground itself, hot engine oil, hot sugar, illustrating the first poem, ‘You Bring Out the Nottingham in Me’.

The poem is marked as ‘after Sandra Cisneros’, and I can see this influence. Here’s Cisneros:

They say I’m a bitch.
Or witch. I’ve claimed
the same and never winced.

Here’s Pimlott:

You bring it out of me duck, you do, that mardy
Lawrence fuck. With you I’m Clough-strut right

The words fall like grapeshot, a bunch of syncopated roses. The poem is about all-present young love, that lingers.

You bring out the Hyson Green and Forest Fields
of me, Saturday night and Sunday morning love
bite signalled by a chiffon scarf.

‘Enid and the Peas’ reminds me of my great-grandmother, brought up in Edwardian England:

No, Enid said, don’t prong them individually.
You use your knife to squash them to your fork
held hump side up, not like a shovel.

Enid is a recurring character in this pamphlet. ‘Enid and the Toad’ is another starring role, which I find myself reading in a voice reminiscent of Dylan Thomas:

raw as fresh-sawn deal
seeding the sulky air.

But my favourite poem here is ‘Soho Hens’, about hen parties. It’s loving, tilted, gets with laser precision the loneliness of these once or twice (or even more) in a lifetime milestones marked with the event, the curious event sad as daylight tinsel:

They teeter in deeleyboppers, sashed,
from one fun to another, trashed
on Flaming Sambucas in the afternoon.
They jostle like a silvery balloon

If you want to critique it, yes the rhyme scheme is obvious, but that misses the heart of the work. It’s a love poem to human beings getting glammed up in fake diamond tiaras for the sake of fellowship, and this is the core:

they wheelycase it to the station,
wanting their mums, longing to be
in slippers, made a proper cup of tea.

We are never happy where we are now. It is an existential can of worms.

Lastly I would like to speak about ‘All the Way Here’, a travelogue of memories, with the poet exploring six roads that are important to her being. The first section, ‘Bobbers Mill’, is my personal favourite. Pimlott’s simplicity of phrase is easily readable, and her muse is fervent on this:

She hears me falling out of bed at night.
I play in her chip shop, spoiling paper bags
with nutty slack drenched in brown vinegar.

I like this book. It is tenderly written, with a fingernail dipped in mild acid. There might be detractors who do not enjoy simply written poetry – but what is “simple”? Look beyond the ink and you can see a world, that’s all a writer can ask of themselves.

The Shortlist for the Saboteur Awards 2016

Over 1700 people nominated in this year’s Saboteur Awards, and once again we are in awe at the variety of work selected. The five most nominated works in each category have made it into the shortlist, and voting is now open until 24th May to determine the winners. The results will be announced on 27th May at a special evening event at Vout-O-Reenees. Find out more here.

Vote here

By popular demand, we’re also sharing a longlist in each category, 10 works or people that narrowly missed out on the shortlist. Some categories, such as Best Spoken Word Performer had over 300 separate people nominated, so we drew the line at 10 to give you a sample of the work that has been exciting people this year – do explore them too!

Over the next 24 days we will put the spotlight on each category so that you can get to know each shortlisted work or person – we encourage you to explore the categories you don’t normally dabble with.

We have tried our best to contact everyone shortlisted prior to this announcement, but not everyone’s contact details are easily available, so if you spot yourself here and haven’t heard from us, do drop a line to Anna Jamieson at prize [at]

In no particular order:


Best Poetry Pamphlet 

Best Poetry Pamphlet Shortlist:

Border Lines by Stuart A. Paterson (Indigo Dreams Publishing)
Codes of Conduct by Neil Elder (Cinnamon Press)
I Am Where by Julie Morrissy (Eyewear Publishing)
Malkin by Camille Ralphs (The Emma Press)
Nothing here is wild, everything is open by Tania Hershman (Southword Editions)

Best Poetry pamphlet longlist:
Deerhart by Yvonne Reddick (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press)
Delicious by Padraig Regan (Lifeboat)
Density of Salt by Kate Garrett (Indigo Dreams Publishing)
Dissolve to: LA by James Trevelyan (The Emma Press)
Echolocation by Becky Cherriman (Mother’s Milk Books)
Lapstrake by Wendy Pratt (Flarestack Poets)
Optograms by Stephen Watt (Wild Word Press)
Swimming With Endorphins by Fran Isherwood
True Tales of the Coutryside, Deborah Alma (The Emma Press)
Wound by Richard Scott (Rialto)

Best Wildcard

Best Wildcard Shortlist

Alchemy by Abi Palmer
COP21 performance by Sophia Walker
Deerhart (art and poetry exhibition)

Seymour Poets at BlueSCI
Marcas Mac an Tuairneir

Best Wildcard Longlist:
Ad Hoc Fiction
End of All Things Podcast
I am not a silent poet
Irish Poetry Shop
Lunar Poetry Podcasts
Oz Hardwick
The Fat Damsel
Well Versed, ed. Jody Porter
Women Aloud NI initiative
Write Out Loud

Best Magazine

Best Magazine Shortlist

Bunbury magazine
Open pen
Reach Poetry

Best Magazine Longlist:

Bare Fiction
Hand Job Zine
Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts
Lighthouse Literary Journal
Prac Crit
The Missing Slate

Best Collaborative Work

Best Collaborative Work Shortlist:

And No Animal Is Without An Enemy by Megan Nolan with Linda Stupart, Penny Goring, Eoghan Ryan, Rachel Benson.
Fool’s World – A Tarot by Tom de Freston and Helen Ivory
Haunt Harrogate by Imove
Little Metropolis by Adam Horovitz & Joe Reeve
The Enemies Project by SJ Fowler et al.

Best Collaborative Work Longlist:

Hell Creek Anthology by JT Welsch and Dom&Ink
Congregation of Innocents: Five Curious Tales
Roulade: The Alchemy Issue
Speaking of empty fields by Ian Bailey and Colin Davies
Surveyors’ Riddles by Alistair Noon and Giles Goodland
Captain Fly’s Bucket List by Vasiliki Legaki and Agnes Marton
Londinium (Dugdale Centre, Enfield) by Anthony Fisher and Jools Barrett
AWOL by John Fuller and Andrew Wynn Owen (The Emma Press)
Are you There? Jasmine Ann Cooray & Upswing.
What Makes our Eyes Smileed. Shelley Tracey

Best Anthology

Best Anthology Shortlist:

Alice – Ekphrasis at the British Library (Joy Lane Publishing)
Being Dad: Short Stories about Fatherhood (Tangent Books)
Open Pen Anthology (Open Pen)
Over the Line: an Introduction to Poetry Comics (Sidekick Books)
Schooldays (Paper Swans Press)

Best Anthology Longlist:
Best British Poetry 2015 (Salt)
Blueshift: Art from Poetry – Poetry from Art ed. Karen Dennison
Casual Electrocution of Strangers (Literary Salmon)
Coming Together in Verse ed. by Ashley Lister
Futures: Poetry of the Greek Crisis (Penned in the Margins)
Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Bookshop)
some mark made ed. Sue Rainsford
Stanzas: Year One Anthology of Best New Irish Writing
The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2 (Mother’s Milk Books)
Unthology 7 (Unthank Books)

Best Spoken Word Performer 

Best Spoken Word Performer Shortlist: 

Susan Evans
Emily Harrison
Jemima Foxtrot
Sophia Walker
Luke Wright

Best spoken word performer longlist:
Ash Dickinson
Robert Garnham
Salena Godden
Jackie Hagan
Kieren King
Hollie McNish
Andrew ‘Mulletproof’ Graves
Ross Sutherland
Kate Tempest
Agnes Török

Best Reviewer

Best Reviewer shortlist:

Dave Coates
Joey Connolly
Emma Lee
Fiona Moore
Bethany W Pope

Best reviewer longlist:
Isabel Costello
Nandini Dhar
Katy Evans-Bush
Greg Freeman
Naomi Frisby
Afric McGlinchey
James O’Leary
David Turner
Charles Whalley
Ben Wilkinson

Most Innovative Publisher

Most Innovative Publisher Shortlist:

Burning Eye Books
Eyewear Publishing
Indigo Dreams Publishing
Penned in the Margins
The Emma Press

Most Innovative Publisher Longlist:
Cinnamon Press
Dead Ink Books
Gatehouse Press
Knives, Forks and Spoons Press
Mother’s Milk Books
Murder Slim Press
Paper Swans Press
Test Centre
Unthank Books
Urbane Publications

Best Novella 

Best Novella Shortlist:

Black cradle by u.v ray (Murder Slim Books)
Filled with Ghosts by Karen Little (Onion Custard Publishing Ltd)
Kumkum Malhotra by Preti Taneja (Gatehouse Press)
The Lost Art of Sinking by Naomi Booth (Penned in the Margins)
The Shape of Dogs’ Eyes by Harry Gallon (Dead Ink)

Best Novella longlist:
Cho Snog ‘s a Tha Thu by Alison Lang (Sandstone Press)
Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill (Granta)
Grans & Ammo by Mark Farley (Sanitarium Press)
Heroes of Hendonby James Whitman (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform)
In Casting Off, J.O. Morgan (Happenstance Press)
Killochries by Jim Carruth (Freight Books)
Pony Castle by Sofia Banzhaf (Metatron)
The Harlequin by Nina Allan (Sandstone Press)
The Vegetarian by Han Kang (Portobello Books)
Virus by Linda Stupart (Arcadia Missa)

Best Spoken Word Show

Best Spoken Word Show shortlist:

Cult Friction by Sophia Walker
God Save the Teen by Andrew ‘Mulletproof’ Graves
If You’re Happy And You Know It – Take This Survey by Agnes Török
Melody by Jemima Foxtrot (co-written and directed by Lucy Allan)
What I learned from Johnny Bevan by Luke Wright

Best Spoken Word Show longlist:
Asking Nicely by Hannah Chutzpah
Burning Books by Jess Green and the Mischief Kids
Council House Poetry Louise Fazackerley
Fat girls don’t dance by Maria Ferguson
Kraftwerk Badger Spaceship by Fat Roland
Miserable Malcolm’s Graveside Mannerby Bill Jones
Ovid’s Heroines by Clare Pollard
Pop Tart: Now That’s What I Call 40! by Rod Tame
Sunspots by Simon Barraclough
Until You Hear That Bell by Sean Mahoney

Best regular spoken word night 

Best regular spoken word night shortlist:

Bad Language (Manchester)
Evidently (Salford)
Liars’ League (London)
Loud Poets (Edinburgh)
Stanzas: An Evening of Words (Limerick)

Best regular spoken word night longlist:
A Lovely Word (Liverpool)
Bang Said The Gun (London)
Cafe Rio (Glasgow)
Fictions of every kind (Leeds)
Find the Right Words (Leicester)
Hammer & Tongue (Cambridge)
Mr Fluffypunk’s Penny Gaff (Stroud)
Poetry on the spot (Bournemouth)
Rally & Broad (Edinburgh)
Vanguard Readings (London)

Best Short Story Collection 

Best Short Story Collection Shortlist: 

Between Here And Knitwear, by Chrissie Gittins (Unthank Books)
Children’s Children by Jan Carson (Liberties Press)
Dinosaurs on other planets by Danielle Mclaughlin (Stinging Fly)
Spiderseed by David Hartley (Sleepy House Press)
Treats by Lara Williams (Freight Books)

Longlist for Best Short Story Collection:

Dark Doors by LMA Bauman-Milner (Indigo Dreams Publishing)
Faerie Thorn & Other Stories by Jane Talbot (Blackstaff Press)
Jellyfish by Janice Galloway (Freight Books)
Light Box by K J Orr (Daunt Books Publishing)
Miyoko & Other Stories by Michelle Tudor (Platypus Press)
Mr Jolly by Michael Stewart (Valley Press)
On the Edges of Vision by Helen McClory (Queen’s Ferry Press)
Storiesby Joseph Ridgwell (Bottle of Smoke Press)
Vertigo by Joanna Walsh (And Other Stories)
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yoursby Helen Oyeyemi (Picador)

Vote now!

If you are longlisted feel free to use this image:

Longlisted in the

Likewise, if you’re shortlisted, go for this one:


Congratulations everyone!


#UntitledOne: Neu! Reekie! edited by Kevin Williamson & Michael Pedersen

Reviewed by Andrew F Giles

I want to talk about the genealogy of #Untitled One: Neu! Reekie!. The cover is grey and plain, saying very little about what’s inside. There is poetry inside, but why Neu! Reekie!? Is it neu? Auld Reekie is a nickname for Edinburgh, Scots for old smoky, but the art showcase Neu! Reekie! takes its name and intellectual provenance from Scottish countercultural poet and critic Paul Reekie (1962 – 2010). Reekie’s tiny oeuvre (of which two poems appear in this anthology) is most famous for the use of his poem ‘When Caesar’s Mushroom is in Season’ at the beginning of Irvine Welsh’s novel The Acid House (1994). Reekie is conversant with the history of poetic form: sometimes he argues with it, sometimes he laughs at it; he treats it affectionately or gives it short shrift; his work expands beyond ‘high’ and ‘low’ art by taking both in and releasing them, lovingly, in a jumble of voices.

There are also countercultural implications to Reekie’s work. In the intellectual movements of the 1960s and 70s, Scotland produced two figureheads: antipsychiatrist R. D. Laing, and the founder of Project Sigma, Alexander Trocchi. In July 1964, Laing and Trocchi met alongside other counterculturalists at Braziers Park in Oxfordshire, an event that descended into chaos, not least because of Trocchi’s drug use. It is this counterculture that Paul Reekie spoke of to Kevin Williamson, founder of magazine – and later publishing house – Rebel Inc. Trocchi appeared in the second issue of the magazine, alongside Irvine Welsh.

In light of this, Neu! Reekie! has some family to live up to, and neither Reekie nor Neu! Reekie!, like Laing and Trocchi before them, conceal their interest in unsettling the establishment. Neu! Reekie! have built a phenomenal reputation, showcasing innumerable fine poets, film-makers and musicians. At the sold-out #UntitledOne launch, Young Fathers and Andrew Weatherall performed alongside poets, and this summer with FOUND they will be touring some small and beautiful places in the Borders, Lowlands, Highlands and Islands for their ‘Anything But the City’ Tour. This kind of ambitious multifaceted programming is typical of Neu! Reekie!, with an atmosphere at once electric and intimate. UK Poetry and performance is in a healthy state, but there are few convenors who can attract such a monumental crowd of punters. In that spirit, their first book collection presents us with a good, sometimes great, collection of poets writing at the moment, along with a downloadable playlist of Neu! Reekie!’s roster of bands.

#UntitledOne has a fine sense of occasion, of vision, and of politics. Scottish maker Liz Lochhead, Douglas Dunn, Irvine Welsh, William Letford, Kevin Williamson, Clare Pollard, Helen Ivory, Michael Pedersen, Kirsty Logan and Jenni Fagan all appear. Dunn seems far removed from the rock-and-roll aesthetic of NR!: he ‘love[s] this remote expertise, far | From the concerns of so-called friends | Interested in ‘gigs’, applause, and fees.’ (‘Transport in Madagascar’). However, the sensual, floral botanics of Dunn’s work is just the kind of canonical stuff that NR! desire in their broad but well-defined cultural vision. It is Scottish at heart, international by choice, and Dunn holds his position firmly within this genealogy.

The effervescent, generous celebration of cultural identity that not only Dunn and Lochhead, but Reekie, Welsh, and others inject into this collection is its most exciting quality. Newer writers like Letford, Fagan and Logan also shine. It is reductive to view this as a ‘national’ event – the collection’s intellectual heft works at a much more human level, as Neu! Reekie! try to rupture the authoritative divide inherent in tradition: this is the school of critical thought they inherit. In an environment in which poetry functions on a canonical basis, settling into cyclical patterns of pamphlets, collections, and readings (‘gigs’, applause, and fees), Neu! Reekie!’s coherent, immediate countercultural voice understands movement, fiesta, changeability, anxiety, gender identity, discomfort, anger, madness, violence; it is anti-establishment and anti-status quo, which (not really that paradoxically) means the work is humanist and anti-authoritarian. They are the people’s perverts, to steal from John Waters. More than this, though, the collection celebrates the word in all its forms and with all its sensuality. Its credentials are riven with the kind of poetic rigour that many collections lack; these credentials put reader and audience on equal footing, with a deeply political sense of artistry. By mining a Scottish intellectual past, Neu! Reekie! spearheads a comprehensively radical movement. As Reekie writes in his poem ‘One Day of Lions’:

He says I wonder if it would work on the page | I say it sits on the page, it stands | On the page. It does fuckin aerobics | On the page.

Campaign In Poetry ed. by Rachel Piercey & Emma Wright

Reviewed by Sohini Basak

Strikingly, the poems in Campaign in Poetry are as much about contesting lack of concern about democracy as about the people, the individuals who are the units of the democracy. I will start with a poem on the centrefold, Rachel Long’s ‘Aunty’, which depicts what the most basic political scenario is often about: an encounter with the other. The poem narrates a series of movements and mind games set in a public bathroom, between the narrator and a cleaner, who the narrator deduces is Yoruba, as her mother also ‘is’ or ‘was’. Each time the narrator thinks of starting a conversation by calling her ‘Aunty’, she withholds herself, afraid that it will take a familiar turn:

I want to tell her No! I know you don’t.
I want to tell her a secret,
my Mum is Yoruba, or she was,
before she came to England.
But Aunty will ask, What people? What town?
I won’t be able to answer.

Meanwhile, each time, the cleaner thinks that the narrator is going to say something demeaning. Finally, when the conversation does not happen (other than two separate imagined ones in their heads), she reads the narrator’s mind and can only react with a contradiction:

My laugh echoes
foreign against the lockers.

Luke Kennard’s “Poor Door”, which appears just before “Aunty”, is another piece combining satire, form, fact, and empathy in exact doses, to talk about the way our society, or its tangible structures, will always be designed to feed the beast of inequality:

Our monogrammed postboxes are extra wide to allow for
the quality of stationery. It’s not that we look down on you – our
gentility’s unimpeachable − it’s that you’re out of place here: a
peach with genitals. It’s not about where you came from it’s how
you’re getting in.

Another point of satisfaction, in reading this collection, is that there is a good balance of poems written in response to key events of the past years, and poems about people and politics on more allegorical levels. James Trevelyan’s poem “Understanding the collapse of the economy” is an acute tongue in cheek commentary:

when Katie
Robbins got off
with four boys
in one night
at the Rugby Club
and I didn’t care
cos one of them
was me yeah
it’s a bit like that.

Other poems in response to current affairs include Rosie Miles’ “Cuts”, which takes a jab at the NHS with can openers, Ellie Danak’s “What I Know about Voting in the Scottish Referendum”, “In Fashion” by Anna Kisby – written in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza collapse – and “On the day Obama was inaugurated”, which the anthology ends with.

Satire and animal allegory has long been associated with writing about politics; one only has to glance at a basic literary shelf housing Orwell or Swift. It is therefore apt that Campaign in Poetry opens with Holly Hopkins’ poem about bees. Only it is not about bees. It is titled “The General Election”, and it stings. Clare Pollard’s “Hamelin” is also an excellent inclusion, about the rat-infested town where the collective thinks “We must face the nature of the threat / and extend the powers of the catcher.” On a similar ground of myth and the politics of island geography, Mona Arshi builds a picture of ‘wireman’ and his seemingly perfect wire family in her Reduit Beach prose poem “Wireman”.

A running concern in these poems, and in our everyday dialogue about politics, is the gap between speech and action, between promise and brainwash, or to borrow from Clare Pollard, the dangerous campaigning of “Common Nonsense”. Stephanie Arsoska’s poem “Proper Procedure” is a brave take on this loophole that is doublethink:

You are true citizens now.
True citizens follow the rules.
True citizens are golden.
True citizens will be looked after.

and these haunting lines with which the poem ends:

We are watching.
We love you.
We are watching.
Be true to yourself.
This is a message of hope.

Ewan Stevenson’s “Election Line” is another gem of a poem on the role of media and censorship in political campaigning. The editors, Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright, point out in their introduction that the idea behind the book was to shake up voter apathy, by presenting poems that would “make clear how important it is to think” about what is happening around us, and what needs to change. On this front, Ellie Danak’s poem “Stop” hits the nail on the head (and is an appropriate cue to end this review on):

And are you not moved some days
to run out of your house, your arms
whipping the air, to cry out ‘Stop’?