Surrey Poetry Festival

Surrey Poetry Festival year 8 V2


Surrey Poetry Festival

June 2nd 2018
11.00 am -5.00 pm

G Live, Guildford, London Road, GU1 2AA

Now in its eighth year, the annual Surrey University Poetry festival is curated by this year’s Poet in Residence James Davies. A day long wonder blast of innovative poetry from the following takes place in Guildford, a stone’s throw away from London. Featuring rare readings by American legends Tina Darragh and P. Inman.

Tickets a snip at £5 available from G Live or on the door.

Programme for Poetry Festival

In the Foyer

11 (until 1.30): Peter Jaeger durational performance

All below in Comedy Room

11.10: Introduction to festival

11.20-12.00: Surrey students & Scott Thurston

12.10-12.50: Rob Holloway & Rebecca Cremin

1.40-2.20: Sharon Kivland/Clémentine Bedos & Tina Darragh

2.30-3.10: Lila Matsumoto & P. Inman

3.30-4.10: Amy Cutler & Philip Terry

4.20-5.00: Emma Cocker & Emma Bennett

from 7 in Glass Room

Tom Jenks performs in the evening soiree – exact time TBA


Clémentine Bedos is a multidisciplinary artist whose recent shows include a solo exhibition at the Constance Howard Gallery, London ‘Contagious Hystories’. Currently exploring themes of identity, binaries and the Other.

Emma Bennett’s recent performances include durational piano pieces, an exploration of pining for soft things, and interpreting the words of birdsong.

Emma Cocker is a writer-artist whose work explores the slippage between writing on page, to performance in time, between still and moving image, between individual and collective action.
Rebecca Cremin draws on traditions of live art, Fluxus, performance writing and site-specific work using language as an object to expose, to investigate, to locate.
Amy Cutler is a multi-disciplinary practitioner with a special interest in geohumanities – the engagement between geography and arts/humanities.

Tina Darragh is one of the original members of the Language group of poets. Her work explores class, race and ecology.

Rob Holloway is currently exploring sonnets and prose poems, and has been a DJ on Resonance FM.

P. Inman is associated with language and minimalist poetry. His work has been described as ‘thick with meanings that never quite complete themselves; full of social ironies and a sly and biting humor’

Peter Jaeger will perform a durational version of his latest book Midamble, on the lawn at G Live. The book concerns his recently completed walk on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

Sharon Kivland is an artist who has recently been called a poet, five times, to her surprise. Her work considers what is put at stake by art, poliics, and psychoanalysis.

Lila Matsumoto’s poetry explores dailyness through allegory and literalness.

Tom Jenks is often verbivocovisual and always hilarious.

Philip Terry uses Oulipian methods and translation to examine the crimes of bureaucracy and management.

Scott Thurston’s current work responds to ongoing encounters with various dance and movement practices including Five Rhythms, Movement Medicine and Open Floor work.

Students from The University of Surrey have been exploring a range of poetic strategies during the workshop series Making Things Happen including the use of diaries, minimalism, Oulipo and collaboration.



Recipe for Being a Woman

Recipe for Being a Woman, Hermione Cameron: Ampersand Publishing, 2018

Recipe for Being a Woman is a playful and pithy debut collection from a poet whose awareness and grip on language allows her to create a concise and deeply ironic sense of being in the world. Hermione Cameron speaks of, to and for the modern age in 28 poems, in which she shows us the world anew, as if standing on our heads. The collection is published by Ampersand, a newly established independent literary publisher who print their own books from Seven Sisters, North London.

The edition is beautiful, made with care and attention to its contents. The decadent decay of flora on the cover reflects decaying ideals of beauty and femininity that the poems present: they offer something brave and honest.

The collection opens with the title poem, ‘Recipe for Being a Woman.’ It is a prose poem that is pithy in both senses of the word, substantial and fruitful like the pulp of an emollient peach: “Her skin should be clear and peachy, her features should be elegant and refined.” Cameron treats femininity with uncanny, at times potentially abject, consideration: “Measure the organs, skin, form and facial features into a bowl and stir together to form a dough. The dough should be firm yet pliable, once she is fully baked.” The result is a manual of tongue-in-cheek aphorisms that elbow-nudge ideas of ready-made gender moulds:

Fold the dough in half and knead it, making sure that all the beauty is contained. Beauty is a woman’s most powerful asset and must, under no circumstances, be wasted.

The language is formal and antiquated, a pastiche of domestic cookery books, which are, in terms of syntax, instructive and imperative. A woman should be edible. The ideal of beauty is upheld by a multi-billion-dollar cosmetic industry that depends on that image. Women consume industry in order to be consumable themselves. The poet’s irony insists that, rather than being told how to be a woman, we be let alone to figure out how to be own separate selves.

Recipe for Being a Woman

Cameron is playful with poetic form. ‘ID,’ for example, is a concrete poem dealing with Freudian psychoanalysis. It seems to put neuroses on the page, wherein the lines that make up the poem warp and scatter in a cerebral formation. The poem looks like a brain and may visualise chatter in the skull that we endure and struggle to silence: “all I have and all I ever really had / is something I can’t hold in my hands.” It is difficult to read the lines in any coherent order, which is representative of a chaotic mind.

She is also playful with language. Such as in ‘Cliches,’ “gone are the days / When we’d sit praying for it to rain / Cats and dogs / Barking up all the wrong trees / in the hopes we would reach our dreams,” she reissues passé habits of language to speak for a new generation in crisis. She shows that a modern or “millennial” existence is far more troubling and complex than we imagine. These poems suggest, with a subtle spirit, that the future is in the hands of a youth who struggle and strive with being born into an accelerating world: 

We never run from the spider

That lures us

Into the World Wide Web

Come let’s see the sites he says

This world he weaves

Words we read

Emoticons over emotions

The collection is political, philosophical and psychological and, at the same time, accessible and relatable. Cameron handles issues of heartache, grief, and self-identification with humour and kindness; in the sense of having things in-kind and an understanding of each other. Her poems are honest and generous with real gumption.

Click here to order Recipe for Being a Woman direct from Ampersand Publishing.

About the Publisher:

Ampersand is an independent literary publishing house based in Seven Sisters, London. Their selection encompasses everything from innovative contemporary fiction, poetry, and criticism, to new editions and translations of literary classics.  Ampersand own their own press and their books are handmade using a combination of traditional and contemporary methods.

Review by Kirsty Watling

Kirsty Watling is a writer, bookseller and recent Literature graduate specialising in twentieth century literature, visual culture and critical theory.


Bone Ovation

Bone Ovation, Caroline Hardaker: Valley Press

Bone Ovation is the debut poetry pamphlet from Caroline Hardaker. It is a slim collection of 20 poems, published by Valley Press, that satisfy an interest in myth and folklore. Hardaker’s poetry is an example of mythology as a splitting open of the present, of stories and a deep-seated connection to the past. It considers an element common to
all: “Composite of brittle chalk and precious like the stalks of daisies in chains.”  Bone.
Hardaker positions humans in relation to non-human things, so much so that they are transfigured. This at first seems anthropomorphic, in that human attributes are applied to non-human entities. But, as we pick these poems apart, it transpires that the human is morphing into the non-human; becoming less human and more planetary. The pamphlet is varied and vicarious, each poem adding to the deep well of stories that constitute mythos.

Hardaker’s skill as a poet is apparent from the first pages. Blank space cleverly settles the reader into the collection:

W h i t e s p a c e

for eyes’ respite



She experiments with the page and shows no fear, using the blank page to create meaning as much as the signifying words. The result is abstract and expressive. Her style is distinctive in its use of assonance and alliteration in a play of patterns between phonetic sounds. ‘The Rains,’ for example, is a short poem (only nine lines in two stanzas) yet it glows.

Each raindrop contains a soul
I’m told, and sleet is nought
but the urgent need of the dead to meet
their loved ones in the mortal world.

The narrator recalls her grandmother habitually eating drops of rain: “She said it made her feel alive again.” Traces of the past fuse with the present, handed down orally from one generation to another. It is a celebration of kinship, etched in memory and the natural imagery of falling rain. The poetic voice tends to our mortality – a life cycle that repeats, repairs, restores – but also regards a transcendental and immortal consciousness, a spiritual being-in-the-world, in a simple ritual of remembering and returning.

‘The Weight of My Feet’ recounts the experience of having a/living in a/being a physiological body: “tired feet / tired fire-feet.” The aching body distracts the mind from itself, simultaneously returning the mind to itself as part of a body that aches. The poem is thick with imagery of flora and food to explore the restorative responses of the body to
survive, seemingly of its own accord. The speaker’s feet “shed skins,” are “red plums to stand on,” an adolescent bulb “amongst nimbler water lilies.” Aching is expressed through the italicised refrain and interruption: “My tired tired fire feet,” where, in its excess of sensation, pain disrupts thought and, in the end, stops the poem altogether: “I have so much more to say.”

Bone Ovation

‘The Paper Woman’ depicts a mythical figure, told as hearsay between folk: “Who is she, sir?” The figure in question is a fragile woman whose body is metaphorical paper. She is slow and magnified:

once an hour dropping crepe lids

over ochre corneas, crusted dry

more to shut off the world than moisten the eyes.

She is rapt, tainted, even cursed, and alienated from the rest of the world. Her porous skin is stained with pigments of ink, “bold tattoos / like the Bayeux Tapestry,” a body that bears the consequences of history:

The event is etched on her skin
with a sharpened stave, leaving bitter rivets which
itch to a depth she can’t scratch.

Hardaker conjures a beautiful parable of “warm, soft cloth” on paper, water seeps into the fibres “to expose her raw insides.” Her exposure is potent, cleansing the skin, in order to relieve the inner itch. Fragmented, but elegant and humorous, ‘Sticky White Rice’ demonstrates the humanness in Hardaker’s poetry through simple, ordinary, everyday observation. The subject of the poem is making sushi, a fiddly task, and the lines knock into each other as an effect of enjambment: “but / I want to crush it – / push it tight in my fist / humiliating it.” Juxtaposing Pictish painting with neatly setting the table, the poem is a short and sweet expression of our internal dissension.

In ‘The Woman is Like the Picasso,’ Hardaker explores art through aspects of cubism in short line stanzas, abundant in its painterly quality:

You’ll not know her, she looks to the side
all eyes
a spectrum of illicit shades
hair all quantum in sharp directions

It is descriptive of Picasso’s many cubist portraits of women (Weeping Woman with Handerchief III, for example), a retelling of painting through writing to communicate a point of view: “See that fierce pride under bashful eyes? / Even Picasso couldn’t capture it. / He tried.” ‘The Woman is Like the Picasso’ speaks to ‘The Paper Woman,’ each
exploring the blank, flat or delicate qualities of the page that art and writing attempt to release, like moments of time to be filled.

In many of these poems, personality is a physical attribute and the separate stories speak to each other in the cosmos of the collection, as in ‘Marriage & Black Holes’: “I’m the sucking goop between galaxies there, / spread thin like emollient blackcurrant jam.” The handle of myth is light-hearted and humble, using art and language as tools for reference and meaning. Bone Ovation is a small fable of poetic thought, shaping new imaginings of the modern world to add to an ancient history of mythic story-telling.

Click here to order Caroline Hardaker’s Bone Ovation from Valley Press.

About the Publisher:

Valley Press is an independent publishing house based in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, UK. They publish poetry, including collections, pamphlets and the occasional anthology; fiction, including novels and collections of short stories; and non-fiction, including memoirs and travel writing.

Review by Kirsty Watling

Kirsty is a writer, bookseller and recent Literature graduate specialising in twentieth century literature, visual culture and critical theory.

Giant by Richard Georges

Giant, Richard Georges: Platypus Press

I was entranced by Richard Georges’ poetry collection, Giant, from the very first words. I found myself understanding and appreciating his visions out to the ocean from an island home. I felt a sense of timelessness from this poetry too. Connections with creation stories (and scientific truths) from across the globe blend together with memorable imagery such as this initial sentence from Giant:

“Having lost their sight in unlighted deep,
the gods of our fathers rose and strode
towards falling shards of sunlight”

This collection includes such almost mythical poems as well as poems describing specific places. Georges has a sharp eye for seemingly insignificant details and his vivid portrayals of sights as everyday as the angle of plants:

“tamarind trees lean over narrow
coastal roads like wiry grandmothers”

Allowing me to clearly envisage Caribbean landscapes as he does. We observe goats precariously but blithely feeding by the roadside and, later, see the grotesque image of a lamb who was less lucky with the traffic. We also learn of families blighted by alcoholism and grief.


Giant uncovers many aspects of island life that diverge from the tourist brochure promises, but I never thought that these poems lost hope. There is anger certainly, and a resentment perhaps of a colonial past that still rears its uniformed head from time to time but does not provide the basic resources to ensure that the lights stay on in the people’s homes.

Since my initial reading of Giant, I have found myself returning to the book either simply to reread those poems I particularly liked or, more frequently, because a certain concept or turn of phrase suddenly occurred to me and I saw it in a new light. I love that I can continue to interpret and understand Georges’ ideas in different ways.

Click here to buy Giant direct from Platypus Press.

About the Publisher:

Platypus Press is a boutique publisher based in England.  We seek to unearth innovative contemporary poetry and prose from a broad variety of voices and experiences.

Review by Stephanie Jane

Stephanie is a travelling blogger usually to be found in her caravan somewhere in Western Europe. She loves long country walks, theatre trips, second-hand shops, coffee and cake, and, of course, reading. She makes a point to read diverse authors from around the world as this allows her to experience countries and cultures that she may not get to visit in person. Literary fiction is her favourite genre, but she is happy to try niche reads across the board and enjoys supporting small publishing houses and indie authors.


Autonomous Voices

An interview with poet/activist, Kathy D’Arcy, editor of Autonomy, a women-led anthology on taking back the body, published by New Binary Press (March 20th). The collection includes writing by Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill and Sinead Gleeson, amongst many others, and makes a literary contribution to raising awareness in the campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment. Profits from the sale of the book go towards funding those involved in reproductive healthcare for women, including safe, legal abortion.

Editor Kathy D’Arcy originally trained as a medical doctor. She is completing a Creative Writing PhD at University College Cork, where she teaches with the Women’s Studies and Creative Writing Departments.

Fiona O’Connor is a writer and Visiting Lecturer at University of Westminster. Her one act play, she had a ticket in mind, has its London launch at Etcetera Theatre, Camden, April 5th – 7th. Excerpts from the play are included in Autonomy.



Fiona O’Connor: Kathy, can you speak about the origins of this project?

Kathy D’Arcy: I wanted to do something unusual and creative to raise funds for the campaign. And because I love reading creative writing, and because I think stories have a lot more power to engage people than academic work, or even sometimes facts, or the kind of angry tones that can happen in a debate like this, I wanted to gather a collection of writings exploring what it means to have bodily autonomy. I wanted to show how this is a complex concept, and so through all these stories and all of these experiences we can reach an understanding of the importance of this idea.

FO’C: How did you go about gathering these narratives?

KD’A: This had to be a collaborative project. I believe very strongly in activist collaboration. And particularly because this is a people-powered campaign – this fight is people powered, people on the ground, their experiences, their stories. It’s all about collaboration. So all I did really was put the word out – I just kept tweeting about it – making a call for stories, wanting anyone who wanted to, to get in touch – they didn’t have to be established writers or experts or anything like that. The book now is exactly what I wanted: it’s a very diverse collection of perspectives with many different genres, from memoir to poetry, to academic writing, to green plays, dramatic scripts, and people from all different levels and kinds of experience. Some are established writers and some are just beginning to write, some are bloggers, some people have never written creatively before and some people are well-established academics. So it’s a huge range. The launch too is a collaborative effort, taken over by contributors, and going really well throughout the country.

FO’C: It strikes me that this is literature moving forward in a new way. Do you feel the advance of the indie publishing industry, powered by technological developments, contributed to this people-powered initiative?

KD’A: I think we are very lucky to have so many new dynamic small presses. And I’m particularly lucky that we have New Binary Press here in Cork – only a few years old and run by James O’Sullivan, a lecturer in Digital Humanities at University College, Cork. James feels very strongly about opening out the range of publications available. He publishes very interesting, challenging books. And books like mine that I would never have been able to pitch to any kind of mainstream or commercial publisher, where the focus is going to be on profit. The importance of small literary presses like this can’t be overestimated in getting a more diverse voice out there. When we only have lots of large, commercially driven presses the voice gets very homogenous and monolithic. And so many perspectives and stories get left behind, which is so bad for literature, and culture. So it was fantastic that New Binary Press said yes, and is behind this project, willing to publish this book and to be part of the campaign.

FO’C: The Autonomy project seems to have been accomplished at a fast pace – from idea to the book in hand – just a few months. Is that something also more available to the small press industry? That they can get in behind an initiative like this and then produce something, which is so packed, almost instantaneously, as this seems to have been, to create an intervention in a political campaign?

KD’A: Well, I know from friends who work in some of the larger presses that things tend to be planned for years in advance. There is much less scope for spontaneity. New Binary Press moves from project to project, across disciplines and sectionalities. I think we have in Ireland a history of vibrant small presses that will explore issues larger presses wouldn’t touch. Controversial issues around power and class – and gender and equality. I think there’s often something subversive about smaller presses. And that’s so important.

FO’C: Then there’s also the role of this publication, not only in feeding into the debate, the discourse on feminism, women’s bodily autonomy, but also actually being part of the effort to raise funds, as well as awareness, something novel perhaps in relation to small, literary presses?

KD’A : Well, I think it’s something I’m seeing happen more and more – I’m thinking of work like Terry O’Brien’s anthology, Look at the Stars, a collection of work by contemporary writers about homelessness. That collection raised over £20,000 for the Simon Community charity working with rough sleepers in Ireland. For me it’s a no brainer – specifically on these kinds of issues, which people feel passionate about – they want to read stories and be involved in thinking these things through. And if they can do that, and contribute to the cause at the same time, and contribute to keeping small presses alive, which is after all, contributing to a richer literature for us all, I feel it’s one of the most useful things you can do with regard to publishing, because of the social value of publishing. So yes, contemporary literature can be a vital force for change.

The London launch of Autonomy takes place April 7th at Etcetera Theatre, Camden following performance of she had a ticket in mind.

Click here to pre-order Autonomy from New Binary Press.

‘Reclaim the Elsewhere’

Toward Passion According, Jazmine Linklater: Zarf Editions (2017)

Jazmine Linklater’s debut poetry pamphlet has everything that readers of contemporary experimental poetry might expect from a Zarf edition: daring and sensitive linguistic experimentation, gorgeous imagery put to work in service of expanding the boundaries of what’s possible, and a light dusting of magic. Linklater’s accomplished first collection explores the expansive potential of the lyric to hold stories and vocabularies that reach through time and across cultures, invoking and inverting epic tropes to create something much more subtle and understated: a gesturing toward passion that’s quivering at the edges of every poem.

A feminist re-working of the lyric/epic traditions that begins with the injunction to ‘Remember you are elsewhere’, the first two poems ‘Her Stammer’ and ‘The world as (h)is’ place the feminine outside of history, tradition, culture: ‘(we speak never of but meet / secret in margins …)’, describing male-female relationality using the formula ‘object (f)/subject (m)’ and suggesting the world is ‘seldom elles’, playing on the Old English etymological root of the word ‘else’ ( sp. ‘elles’) and the French pronoun ‘elle’ (she/her). Throughout the collection, however, readers are invited to ‘reclaim the elsewhere’, to become the ‘Heroines Female heroes’ of this understated reclamation epic. Of the four dance poems, Pyrrhic Dance is dedicated to the posthumous pardoning of Alan Turing and 49,000 other men who had been punished for ‘crimes’ under homophobic laws. Reclaiming the elsewhere is an injunction and an invitation not just to women or those who identify as women, but to all those who have for too long met secretly in the margins. In a moment of incantatory magic, we proclaim and imbibe our own affirmation:

            cast shamanic

our pollen-clogged mouths

glitter syrups & we drink

yes                  we drink Yes.

The poems in this collection are richly layered, with vocabulary gleaned from a wide selection of poetic, philosophical, cultural and popular sources – the notes and acknowledgements at the end of the pamphlet make visible the processes at work in the poetry, defining the edges and seams that open the poems out to other works, other wor(l)ds, and foregrounding the poetic artifice in the act of construction. Through collaged citations, Linklater invokes the contemporary feminist poetics of Emily Critchley, Amy De’Ath and Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, as well as Scott Thurston’s investigation of the lyric form in its relation to contemporary dance practices, curating an appropriate lineage for the primary thematic and formal concerns explored in Toward Passion According.

These poems reward multiple readings and unhurried reflection. Perhaps none more so than ‘Artemisia/Susanna/Abra/Judith/Diana/Artemis’, a choral/dramatic/epic response to various classical stimuli including the graphically violent depiction of Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi. This painting belongs to the group called the Power of Women and shows a scene from the apocryphal Book of Judith (Old Testament) in which Judith beheads the Assyrian general Holofernes. Gentileschi’s rendition inserts her own face as the face of Judith with the face of her mentor Agostino Tassi, who was tried in court for her rape, as Holofernes. In Linklater’s poetic working through of this image she presents ‘woman as actionary / negation as actionary / revenge as possible’. The poem is a complex and multivocal drama, restless on the page and restless in its incomplete syntactical arrangements. It’s an assertion of feminine power as makers of art and feminine potential to make history.

For me, though, it is the four dance poems that are the most subtly powerful poems in this collection. These poems delight in their linguistic play, incorporating found text that gives them both physicality and dexterity, such as ‘I saw shoulder tension interrupt your line / your spiral containing its height / reel unflickering your lightful fiction’ in Lyric Dance. There’s sound play such as the alliteration and semi-rhyme in ‘& blows / bled into words’ or ‘Take tambour’s beat / you back arch / bacchic spine’ in Bacchic Dance.

Multiple references in the dance poems to lines, such as ‘interrupt your line’ (quoted above), as well as


line / limit / laws’

and ‘body re-build measure my line’ give the poems a metapoetic quality foregrounding the experimentation with line length at work throughout the collection and in these poems in particular. Pyrrhic Dance begins with the line ‘The beginning and the end is breath’ and includes an unattributed quote from Charles Olson’s ‘Projective Verse’: ‘The kinetics of the thing’. These poems derive a kinetic quality on the page from their experimentation with line length and positioning. Bacchic Dance steps across the page, occupying more space than is conventional for a (traditional) poem, in an expression of the collection’s call for the feminine to reclaim the elsewhere, to take up physical space in places traditionally denied to women/others. This gesture also performs a sense of the movement of dance, and requires readers to become aware of their own movements while reading.

Jazmine Linklater’s poetic voice seems to grow in skill and confidence from the beginning to the end of the pamphlet. While the earlier poems have definite strength, it’s the subtlety of the second half of the collection that feels most powerful to me. Drawing on a rich tradition of modern and contemporary feminist poetics, Toward Passion According seeks to expand the lyric form to make it inclusive of multiple voices, positions and perspectives. It achieves this and so much more.

Click here to buy Toward Passion According direct from Zarf Editions.

About the Publisher:

ZARF is a quarterly magazine of new experimenting poetry and pamphlet press. it started in 2015 and is edited by calum gardner

Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow researches and writes utopian poetics at the University of Westminster. Her poems have been published by Adjacent Pineapple, Eyewear, The Projectionist’s Playground and Zarf. The Unfinished Dream, a collaborative chapbook with visual artist Joe Evans, was published by Sad Press in 2016.   She is the research assistant for The Contemporary Small Press and she is on the judging panel for The Republic of Consciousness Prize. Follow her on Twitter: @Spaewitch.

Paisley: Political Poetry

Paisley, Poems by Rakhshan Rizwan: The Emma Press, 2017

Rakhshan Rizwan is described on the back of this slim poetry pamphlet as “an emerging Pakistani poet”. The focus on nationality is apposite because Rizwan’s poetry bears all the marks of a postcolonial history and perspective, with an emphasis on politics of identity, resistance and belonging. However, the focus on the nationality of the author is somewhat misleading as the work deals largely with the migrant experience in Western Europe rather than with Pakistan. The introduction to the work, by Leila Aboulela, a Sudanese writer, emphasises this aspect of the writing as well as its preoccupation with language and languages. The poetry is thus not confined by the parochial dimensions of nation, but enlarged through engagement with the clash of East and West and its situation within the larger frameworks of contemporary globalisation. Furthermore, in its exploration of issues of gender, the work clearly marks itself out as “intersectional”. That is, gender and race overlap and inform the perspective.


The figure of the paisley, which is woven into the fabric of several poems, stands as a symbol not just for the work, but also the poet. This originally Persian design became popular in the west and eventually took on an English name. The poet herself, like paisley, comes from the East and yet writes poetry in English, speaks other European languages, as the symbol of the paisley now does, beyond its original language, and lives in European countries, like our paisley shirts belong to English fashions. Rizwan’s identification with this appropriated and displaced figure is therefore resonant on several levels which are explored. One instance is when Rizwan engages with how Westerners say her name differently from its originally intended pronunciation in “Noon”. She writes further in “Migrant” how no one in the West can understand her. The emphasis is on how the symbols, and the people and language of one culture cannot be understood by another but are always productively misunderstood and aligned with the structures of meaning which are peculiar to one society over the meanings that other groups bestow on them.

Paisley also has another significance which adds a larger dimension to the work. The design is formed like a teardrop. It is the symbol of suffering. Rizwan’s work is wracked by the spectre of suffering. In “Buffet”, Rizwan explores the “gaping hole” (5) which the spectacle of suffering in the media caters to, yet image upon image in this collection obsessively encounters the same sight and panders to the same appetite. Atrocities against Pakistani women by men are listed in “Eve”, a short prose poem and the theme is continued in the poem named after the title of the collection. In other poems we are presented with the bleak picture of life as a misunderstood and marginalised migrant woman who sheds pounds “working two jobs,/ in hopes of securing/ a paper-thin/ ticket home” (15).

This collection of poetry is thoroughly familiar to a British Asian reader such as myself. I know the themes it explores well and have met many people and writers with similar life experiences and preoccupations. The writing style of the work did not particularly appeal to me, hence I have concentrated on subject matter in this review. In my opinion, the poet is suitably described as an “emerging” voice as the collection is clearly the work of a promising young hand. However, I do not wish to lavish too much praise on this collection, which is certainly worth reading. In places, the work suffers from that exuberance and cock-sure confidence of youth by becoming preachy and insisting on the points that are made quite repetitively. Sometimes the work marginalizes the perspective of competing voices which is worrying in a work which aims to disclose a migrant perspective which has itself been marginalised.

In “Eve”, critiques of western feminists, with their western ethos, are presented as deluded monsters who uphold atrocities against women. Certainly, men can pretend that all Pakistani or Indian families are perfectly happy when all is not well and there are real and even widespread issues of domestic violence, exploitation and rape in society. Some men do want to sugar-coat reality in their own interests. However, the “deluded monsters” still make a perfectively valid point in “Eve”: that western structures of thought like Western feminism can’t just be transplanted and exported everywhere as though they were incontestable, universally valid and applicable ideas about people and institutions like the family. It is perhaps surprising, but ultimately revealing, that Rizwan’s postcolonial outlook conflicts with her feminism in this example. It begs the larger question of how coherent an intersectional approach to life can be and how near and far we are as a people from colonial and neo-colonial structures of thought.

The collection as a whole, however, is a serious instigator of thought. It will certainly appeal to a Western audience so that they can see what integration means to those that that they want to integrate and what kinds of things their ethnic minority brothers and sisters from the Sub-Continent are experiencing and thinking about.

Click here to buy Rakhshan Rizwan’s Paisley direct from The Emma Press. 

About the Publisher:

The Emma Press is an independent poetry publisher based in Birmingham, UK and founded in 2012. The Press is dedicated to producing what it calls “beautiful, thought-provoking books”. The Press states that it is “passionate about making poetry welcome and accessible”.

Review by Suneel Mehmi:

Suneel Mehmi is a scholar and an amateur writer, poet, songwriter, musician and artist. He is a member of the British Asian community and lives in East London. He holds degrees in Law and English Literature from the London School of Economics and Political Science, Brunel University and the University of Westminster. He has published academic work on the concept of Law and it relationship to violence in the adult short stories of Roald Dahl. He has previously contributed scholarly book reviews to the Literary London journal and to the London Fictions website.