This Is Not Your Final Form: Poems About Birmingham, edited by Richard O’Brien and Emma Wright. The Emma Press, 2017.
‘This is not a city.
This is a cloudburst of culture –
and we are not citizens,
we are soaked to the bone.’
(More canals than Venice! By Kibriya Mehrban)
The UK’s second city has a genuinely inclusive, refreshingly unpretentious, truly exceptional creative scene. This Is Not Your Final Form is the much-anticipated anthology of entries to the inaugural Verve Festival of Poetry and Spoken Word competition, which took place earlier this year.
From the industrial revolution to intimate family histories, public and private stories combine in this new book of poems celebrating Birmingham. As a Brummie based in London, I was very excited to read it. An ambitious project, it attempts to capture the humour and humanity of this dynamic and open-minded ‘city of a thousand tongues.’ (Beorma by Gregory Leadbetter)
Heather Freckleton’s In the Bullring: After image of my Parents took me straight back to shopping for dress-making fabric in the Rag Market with my Mom when I was little. We would have ‘greasy newspapers full of chips’ as a treat, possibly to stop me moaning. Shaun Hands made me laugh out loud with his references to Daysaver bus tickets and the old Brutalist architecture in Birmingham: An Odyssey in 21 Images. His witty blend of admiration, nostalgia and disgust flawlessly contrasts the modern with the old images of the city.
‘As long as kids are throwing shopping trolleys into rivers/
There’ll always be a Birmingham.’
Washday by Bernadette Lynch captures the unpredictability of working class wartime life. In this vibrant snapshot of the past, a mundane afternoon is made extraordinary by the dramatic return of a soldier. It is a beautifully understated study of how challenging times fostered the resilience of local people who carried on through adversity.
‘Our Dawn scrubbed her knuckles raw on the washboard, cleansing Europe of Hitler.’
In the melancholy prose poem The Second Law of Thermodynamics by Susannah Dickey, Birmingham’s Electric Cinema, the oldest working cinema in the UK, forms the backdrop to an unsuccessful date. With a nod to its seedier past, the narrator attempts to make a connection amidst the chaos of the city whilst struggling with insecurity.
‘I wish I could stop trying to justify myself. The city urges me not to, in its greenery,
its concrete, its clustered formations like constellations.’
Memories of family life growing up in modern Birmingham are intricately woven into Reza Arabpour’s ingenious Another Day in a Brummie Life. Local and international communities combine, emphasizing the city’s multicultural heart. It subtly focuses on the human face of the city as well as the hidden beauty behind the concrete façades.
‘I picked up a gab’s worth
of Baba’s Mama’s tongue –
the Persian version –
in Handsworth above my Amoo’s shop
among the varieties of life making roots
from distant time zones.’
The incredibly catchy Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm Tree? by Helen Rehman is based on a real-life local murder case. During the second world war, a woman’s body was found hidden inside a tree in the woods. The mystery has never been solved and the poem artfully incorporates the various local conspiracy theories surrounding the story. This rhythmic plain spoken lyrical poem reads like a sinister children’s playground chant and stayed with me for days.
‘Birmingham has bloomed since 1943,
from the Bullring to John Lewis to the Library –
we have theatres, universities, a symphony,
but we still can’t name the woman in the wych elm tree.’
This Is Not Your Final Form is a compact, accessible read befitting multiple revisits in order to uncover the poems’ many layers. It made me laugh, cry, and wonder why I’ve never wondered what the Floozie in the Jacuzzi dreams about at night. The poets have channelled the city’s depths and looked (for the most part) beyond the obvious clichés. Talented voices of many different backgrounds and poetic styles are featured, reflecting the diversity which to me is one of the city’s greatest strengths. The city’s distinctive self-deprecating humour and outlook fill the pages of this funny, bleak, uplifting, tragic, original, gritty and inspirational love letter to Birmingham.
‘An open sky/
The streets I was raised around/
I walk among them/
Feel this world before me’
(Birmingham: An Odyssey in 21 Images by Shaun Hands)
Emma Wright, founder of The Emma Press and co-editor of This Is Not Your Final Form will be speaking at Reading & Being Read: Birmingham at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery, Tuesday 27th June 6-9pm. For more information and tickets click here.
About the Publisher:
The Emma Press is an award-winning independent publisher based in Birmingham. Founded by Emma Wright in 2012, it is ‘dedicated to producing beautiful, thought-provoking books’ and aims to make poetry more accessible. The Emma Press is keen to discover new writers and holds regular themed poetry competitions.
Review by Becky Danks:
Becky Danks is an avid reader, creative writer, dog lover, occasional poet, and book reviewer. Among other things! Her poem was shortlisted for the Verve Festival poetry competition 2017. Read her magazine feature on the Verve Festival here. Twitter: @BeckyD123. Website: www.beckydanks.com