7th October, 2018
Palace Green Library
Review by Rhiannon Morris
In the intimate setting of Palace Green Library, which helped to create a relaxed and familiar atmosphere, Professor Stephen Regan introduced three of the Faber New Poets.
Rachael Allen, Zaffar Kunial and Sophie Collins each had a distinct and individual style which drove the momentum of their readings. Rachael began, and her words were captivating. She explained that she worked closely with visual artists, and her poetry was steeped in bold images of violence and mythic grandeur. They added great intensity to subject matter such as heartbreak and female identity, which pushed her style beyond a singular confessional voice. Her imagery was shocking but compelling, with a strong motif of fire and burning.
This repetition of visceral imagery packed a punch into her vocal inflections, and made her moments of dark humour highly entertaining. You could feel the emotional intensity in the rhythm of her voice underpinning the seemingly impersonal nature of abstract imagery. There was something frenzied and wild about it, a certain emotional nakedness which echoed some of the images of women she showed the room. Female identity was a stringent theme throughout, with a distinct dread of the drudgery of domesticity and the power and control of men.
Zaffar Kunial followed with a much lighter, more accessible style. His poetry focused on identity, connection and displacement. He spoke very gently and endearingly about some of the meanings behind his poems. His air of self-deprecation complemented his interest the fragmentation and instability of his identity. For example, his first poem discussed a recent ancestral DNA test, and ‘Spark Hill’ described a fight he’d had at school with a boy who looked the ‘same’ as him. In both he uses language to describe an insatiable longing for an understanding of himself, and of belonging to people and community. In the electric description of the school fight, he questions what difference is – that tenuous, constantly–changing connection and lack of connection with those around you. His poetry left the lingering impression that nothing is certain, nothing is fixed. Everything and everyone are suspended mid–translation by new people and new ideas. Perhaps it was the gentleness with which he read after the heavy, punchy rhythm of Allen, but this was not a disturbing message. Instead it was almost comforting. At least through poetry we can attempt to grapple with definitions, and the fragmented reflections of ourselves.
Lastly, Sophie Collins seemed to fuse fundamental elements of the previous poets. She had a similar confessional style to Kunial at times, whilst delving into slightly more impenetrable imagery like Allen at others. Yet she had a distinct prosaic style, particularly in her fragmented essay ‘White Monkeys’, and although we only heard a small extract, it was strikingly intelligent in its use of symbolism and imagery to discover aspects of and truths about herself. There was an almost Plathian air of looking at oneself through warped and distorted perception with confusion and resilience. Her writing was remarkably fresh and honest, a self-dismemberment that was puzzling and engaging, whilst also familiar. She managed to highlight the eerily present yet hidden corner of the mind which relentlessly watches us with judgment – the knowledge of shame. I felt this was her stand-out piece and was disappointed we could not hear more. Her innovative writing will surely see her forge ahead in the literary and artistic world.
This work was produced by participants on our Durham Book Festival Reviewers in Residence programme, a cultural journalism programme run by New Writing North Young Writers. Reviewers in Residence gives aspiring journalists aged 15-23 the chance to review books, attend events and interview authors at the Durham Book Festival. For more information about New Writing North Young Writers visit the New Writing North website.