Poetry review: 27/10/21

from The Poetry Business

Cover of 2020 New Poets Prize Winners

..Young poets impress… 

This is a whistle-stop tour of the New Poets List. The New Poets List is an imprint of The Poetry Business, which discovers, fosters and publishes outstanding new poetry by writers between the ages of 17 and 24. Each book is available separately as a slim volume with a block colour front, or as a bundle of four. As a collection of four, they look pretty good and fit into the smallest of backpacks for reading when your phone loses connectivity or you fancy being inspired.


In no particular order:



by Georgie Woodhead


The very first page sets up this collection of beautifully structured poems: ‘Takeaway’ brings the tragedy face to face with the mundane.


After the explosion, we got a Chinese takeaway and sat

Pulled up outside Asda crunching through prawn crackers

That looked like freeze dried jellyfish.


Woodhead’s poems drop you into a place and time and, whether you like it or not, you’ll feel you’re physically there. Reading 'Takeaway' is a visceral experience – words going head to head to grind out the gritty reality of living. It’s a collection that notices small good things too and food is a recurring theme – just don’t relax. She knows when to come in with a punch and hit you hard, just when it matters most. These poems are brilliant and devastating: tenderness hides behind grim reality and fear behind monotony. I thoroughly recommend getting a copy.


Ugly Bird

by Lauren Hollingsworth-Smith


The poems in this collection are clever, weird, often funny and strangely pleasing. I’ll give you a taste of what it contains: ‘Ruben’s Smile’ is a love song to a quiet boy at school; ‘Cappuccino’ gives us a window into a complicated family where suicide attempts and tragic dramas are swept under a carpet of the commonplace; ‘It’s Okay to Break’ is a fierce song to women and ‘No-one Knows Care as Much as Her Hands Do’ is as controlled and beautiful as the hands it describes.


Whether it’s a love poem or a poem about standing naked on stage, there is a brutal honesty to the detail and the emotion that carries the reader along. And when Hollingsworth-Smith really wants to hit hard, she does so with controlled brutality so that my scribbled comment at the end of ‘Meritocracy’ reads: Horrible. Fuck him. Fuck all of them.


Have a Nice Weekend I Think You’re Interesting

by Lucy Holt


Holt’s collection is full of moments of tender insight. There is a feeling, through many of the poems, that the narrator has missed out – even if what she’s missed might not be all that good. In the poem, ‘Clive who walks across the sands’ she laments,


I’ve never sulked coldly

on the sea wall pebble dashed


and again in ‘Birds as consolation’,


the point is that I’ve never drunk-cried

outside a nightclub before


The themes of sorrow and regret make hesitant appearances throughout the collection. In ‘The death of the living room’, even the potential of a new start is full of emptiness and distrust.


left the hollow door ajar

raised my eye line to a false horizon


and winced like a bird

in the half-second before flight


There is also light relief. In ‘A dedication or a type of portal in fact’, I laughed out loud at,


I’m planning a poem about precipices

and three separate essays

on listening to your gut


I’m pretty sure the poet was joking.


My favourite of Holt’s poems is ‘Ghost I’. It’s lyrical, historical, rhythmic and playful.


the email thread isn’t a real thing

dining al desko isn’t a real thing


It does what I love most about poetry – takes something huge and hands it to the reader in a page of carefully shaped words that say as much as a great tome could.


Aunty Uncle Poems

by Gboyega Odubanjo

when she finds

her heart it is a bouquet of chopped scotch bonnets.


Odubanjo’s collection is alive with poems about family: he pokes fun at idiosyncrasies, shining a light on the ludicrous and embracing the love. These are poems rich in comedy, food, noise, uncles and aunties – a soundtrack to life. But when he moves his lens back, he offers us a frightening insight into how our world looks when we don’t turn away from greed and brutality.


In poems like 'Home’, ‘Butch Cassidy’ and 'Oil Music’ Odubanjo moves beyond the politics of the family to the attitudes and ideologies that threaten the communities we live in. ‘Home’ is disturbing in both its meaning and its disjointed layout.

Throughout, Odubanjo treats form in poetry as a personal plaything. He sets out his intention on the first page when ‘Sunday Service’ presents the reader with two lower case paragraphs that are expertly punctuated to give rhythm to speech.


came with a plate. gonna leave with food. want my blessing now. talk to me about later later. i can feel it. listen:


‘Babel’ looks like a dance or a tower block. ‘Fam’ reads like the cast list at the start of a play: pithy character summaries, linking relationships and building a picture for us, as much in what is not said as what is!


AUNTY 1 – gold tooth. kept the fanta fruit twists in her wardrobe. may she rest in peace.


UNCLE 1 – her husband


What appear like surface snapshots, actually take you deep into the family dynamic: unearthing truths, longings and familiar peculiarities.


Dad wants the head of the fish but Uncle is eyeing it up and in a better position to get it.


I look forward to reading whatever Gboyega Odubanjo writes next!

Review: Sarah Hehir

Get it:

ISBN: Various

smith|Doorstop, 2021
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