Are we corrupt or innocent, fragmented or whole? Are responsibility and freedom irreconcilable? Do we value memory or succumb to our forgetfulness? Application for Release from the Dream, Tony Hoagland’s fifth collection of poems, pursues these questions with the fierce abandon of one who needs to know how a citizen of 21st-century America can stay human. With whiplash nerve and tender curiosity, Hoagland surveys the damage and finds the wonder that makes living worthwhile. Mirthful, fearless, and precise, these poems are full of judgment and mercy. Tony Hoagland’s poems poke and provoke at the same time as they entertain and delight. He is American poetry’s hilarious ‘high priest of irony’, a wisecracker and a risk-taker whose disarming humour, self-scathing and tenderness are all fuelled by an aggressive moral intelligence. He pushes the poem not just to its limits but over the edge.
Vicky Foster is one very capable writer and Bathwater is a very personal story. Using her own real-life experience of what happens when violence spills over into family life, Bathwater is a gripping, ever-twisting, often moving, somewhat shocking and often agonising piece of work. Rather than a cathartic over-share, however, Foster goes way beyond writing what she knows in order to craft something that is simultaneously hard-hitting and poetic. She has written a work of literary beauty, despite the harsh and uncomfortable subject matter, combining prose, poetry and dialogue.
This is as bold a line in the sand as a writer can make to announce their arrival. Given her enormous talent and ability to weave a piece of work so well, there’ll be plenty more to come from Foster’s experience-fuelled imagination as she strides, confidently, into the literary and poetic world.
Courting Katie explores tenuous notions of what it means to be Irish. This is a collection about drunken nights, about cranes, outbound flights, and confirmation parties. Situated within a range of pre- and post-Celtic Tiger contexts, it examines social and cultural crises, both local and national. These poems engage with the experience of Ireland, not simply in a grandiose manner, but through the individual, and the many disappointments that have been suffered on this island.
The body is the ‘bad machine’ of George Szirtes’ latest book of poems. The sudden death of his elderly father and of his younger friend, the poet Michael Murphy, remind him how machines – sources of energy and delight in their prime – go so easily wrong; and that change in the body is a signal for moving on. But language too is a body. Here, politics, assimilation, desire, creatureliness and the pleasure and loss of the body, mingle in various attenuated forms such as lexicon, canzone, acrostics, mirror poems, postcards, and a series of ‘minimenta’ after Anselm Kiefer whose love of history as rubble and monument haunts this collection. George Szirtes is one of our most inventive – and constantly reinventing – poets, and Bad Machine shows him developing new themes and new ways of writing in poems which stretch the possibilities of form and question language and its mastery.
“His contribution to the development of Irish satire is indisputable… Higgins’ poems embody all of the cunning and deviousness of language as it has been manipulated by his many targets… it is clear that Kevin Higgins’ voice and the force of his poetic project are gaining in confidence and authority with each new collection.” – Philip Coleman
CCTV cameras, TV recording equipment, microphones, all capturing and recording events in peoples lives. In today’s Big Brother world, these constant intrusions are at once a threat and a comfort – moments would be lost forever without surveillance. Tim cumming tells of events caught on camera as they happen to disparate protagonists, seemingly at random, but which dissolve into one another as they loose partners, jobs, identities and belief. “Contact Print” is set in a traffic jam on the Holloway Road in London. Its hero is Tony Harris, who is seen driving away for the last time from his married girlfriend’s house into a traffic snarl-up, a demo, a pub, a maze of memories, the city or the city itself, repeating itself to the horizon, which finally swallows him up. Along the way we are treated to arresting images of urban life, from the kidnapping of a junior minister to doing smack in the toilets of Paddington station. This is a world of personal and political instability, captured with photographic accuracy.
Tim Cumming’s poems have been published widely in Britain and America, and he writes regularly for The Guardian and The Independent. His work has been broadcast on BBC radio and TV, and he has featured in the New Voices season at the South Bank. He lives and works in London.