Moniza Alvi and Alan Baker: new poetry

Spring is proving to be a great season for new poetry. My two best reads so far both present fascinating and very different challenges for their readers. Monica Alvi’s new collection Fairoz (Bloodaxe) is a book length piece which focuses entirely on one young woman’s encounters with those attempting to radicalise her through online contact. Alvi explores the impacts that Fairoz’s susceptibility to extremism have on both her and the immediate world around her. This brave, powerful and important book completely gripped me and I read it in twenty fours hours. Alvi experiments with form to explore the different voices and feelings which permeate her imaginary character’s young mind. Absences from school and views about her family relationships are extremely well captured in ‘Her Absences’ and ‘Wolves-of-the-woods’, the latter being a cannily crafted poem which solely uses hyphenated words that superbly convey the intensity of the experience:

‘wolf-where-the-streams-never stop

wolf -with-grievances-going-back-generations


The teenager is increasingly distanced from her real world and the fears and temptations which haunt her are imaginatively captured in Gone and Who’s there? as well as many other poems. A tour-de-force.

Alan Baker’s When Did It Aall Gan Wrang? (Open House Editions) immerses its readers in a very different world from that of Fairoz by using Geordie, the Tyneside dialect as spoken by neighbours from the housing estate where Baker grew up and assorted other Newcastle folk, including Bob Morris, a retired miner who participated in the 1950s British Survey of English Speaking Dialects. The first ten poems, the ‘Ten Tyneside Twittersonnets’ are written in a very tightly structured form (280 characters in total, 14 lines and 20 characters per line) originally devised by Robert Shepard. The sonnets draw closely on real conversations and pack a punch. You listen in on opinions and stories about working lives, life in the shipyards, crossing the Rhine in 1945, reading poetry aloud and a young Baker’s potentially bleak prospects:

‘. ye’re a bonny bairn

but ya nowt but trou

ble. Aa’ll be hevin

words wi’ ya mam.’

To hear the collection’s title poem ‘when did it aall gan wrang?’ performed by Alan Baker, founder of Leafe Press, go to soundcloud This diminutive (10 x 15cm) collection does a wonderful job. The ‘bonny bairn’ has gone far.

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