Book Review: We Are All Somebody

we are all somebody

“I realised how powerful poetry can be. It can instil hope, it can inspire and you can feel the emotion in the words.”

“Listen to our young people”

We Are All Somebody is a poetry anthology written by street children who were chosen to represent their countries in Street Child World Cups. Starting in 2010, these international events are organised ahead of the world’s biggest sporting competitions in cricket and football. Their aim is to bring together street connected young people from around the world, and to advocate for change in the way they are seen and treated.

The anthology was compiled by Samantha Richards who, in 2018, represented the UK at the Street Child Football World Cup in Moscow. Inspired by her discussions with members of other teams from across the globe she put pen to paper and wrote out her emotions in a poem. She invited her new friends to contribute in poetry or artwork.

“We must encourage each other to be the best version of ourselves before we can expect others to do the same.”

The book opens with profiles of the young leaders in the competitions from various countries. Their plea is to be treated fairly and with compassion. What they want is: shelter, food, clean water, healthcare, education. They ask for protection from: violence, exploitation, sexual abuse, trafficking, child marriage. Key to accessing these basic rights is a legal identity, often hard to come by.

“They are children like any other children in the world.”

The poems that follow are heartfelt cries for needs to be met without discrimination. Several include references to COVID 19 and the difficulties of adhering to recommended guidelines when access to proper sanitation is limited.

“insecurity and hunger are their greatest threats”

The street children are exploited by all they come into contact with, including at times each other. Despised, unprotected and blamed for their situation they have no recourse to justice.

“We sleep in a group
If you sleep alone, you are sexual prey
If you sleep too deeply, your money gets taken”

Although raw at times, the message herein is powerful. The contributors ask that their voices be heard on behalf of other street children. I hope they find readers who will listen.

original_112459ce-2741-4d1f-a61a-39d4857ec5f5_IMG_20210401_125217564_HDR

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Fly On The Wall Press.

Book Review: How To Make Curry Goat

How To Make Curry Goat, by Louise McStravick, is a collection of thirty-three poems that bring to vivid life the experiences of a second generation Windrush immigrant. The author describes herself as of mixed race and heritage. Many of the poems explore the theme of culture, belonging, and the challenges of expectation and assimilation. Questions are asked about how people change when horizons expand – if this is improvement or loss, and how these affect those left behind.

Opening with Just another road in Erdington, the reader is offered a picture of the place where the narrator first remembers living. There is violence, drug taking and a nod to urban habits and survival tactics. There is also humour in the memories of home furnishings.

Tanned Feet considers skin colour and the pride to be felt in what this represents. Although many of the poems in the collection examine how often the narrator tried to change how she looked or acted – in order to please others or feel accepted – there is also acceptance of her cultural inheritance and how this has shaped her. She may now prefer Earl Grey tea to builder’s brown brewed, but this is neither a rejection of where she came from nor of who she is.

The titular poem is just wonderful. The frequent interjections from the parent add both fun and poignancy to what is a recipe but also an appreciation of stories passed down through generations – memories evoked through the senses and richer for the depth of feeling this brings.

Mommy Belly is a love song to a beloved parent.

“We learn the beauty of belly with skin
that no longer fits.
That does not conform to the rules of playdough
it does not return to its original shape, no
more like a creased cape now
on the world’s greatest superhero.”

Beyond family, there are poems looking at the difficulties inherent in dating and cohabiting. The woman contorts what she is in order to conform, fitting in but not comfortably.

“There isn’t enough space for everyone and her curls take up double. So they pull and they push and use their fingers to touch, make her disappear between the lines”

There are betrayals and endings, pain but then valued lessons learned in hindsight.

“I thank you for teaching me the nature of things that a smell can become cotton fields and tropical rainstorms that futures are real in the moment but live in the past more than anything”

A few of the poems are more opaque – perhaps dealing with the loss of a child, or a child who could have been. It is always a mistake to assume authors create work that is autobiographical but the writing is nuanced and intensely personal in all it represents.

As a white, female reader there is much that resonates but also much to consider. The collection presents a life outside my personal experience but with a strength and piquancy that may be savoured. In avoiding both the didactic and the sentimental, these poems offer a candid window into growing up in a country that invited but then struggled to welcome. The next generation wove their lives around the impact of this treatment of their parents, and these poems reflect that there is much still to be unpicked.

Playful and clever use of form and language add weight to the always accessible reading. This is a poetry collection I am happy to recommend.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Fly on the Wall Press.

Book Review: Grenade Genie

Grenade Genie, by Thomas McColl, is a collection of 25 poems that are described as ‘brief studies of the cursed, coerced, combative and corrupted’. Divided into sections corresponding to these descriptions, each entry takes a contemporary theme and offers the author’s insights with a mixture of wit, humour and poignancy. There are standout poems and those a reader may pass over more lightly. What is captured within these pages are many of the absurdities of city living – behaviours people adhere to against their best interests yet tacitly accepting.

The collection opens with No Longer Quite So Sure – a satisfying glimpse of nature and man’s futile attempts to tame it. A coup d’œil unsettles the tired worker through whose eyes we view the streets from the bus he is travelling in on his journey to work. This reader felt cheered at the potential for natural regeneration.

Next up is The Evil Eye, the first of a number of poems exploring modern man’s attempts to find affirmation of his existence on social media. The warning being given segues into a disturbing reflection on the narrator’s history – a plea to take notice of more than self on-line.

The subjects covered in this section include: refugees, shoddy housing, the desire for wealth. It concludes with a wry look at how literary talent is measured given shrinking attention spans, and whether this matters in the wider scheme of things.

“Who knows? Maybe, by 2021,
I’ll have no choice but to fit my opus
into four lines on Instagram.

But then, when I do,
my simple, artless platitude
will inexplicably receive a million likes,
and then, released as part of a book,
will inexplicably sell a million copies”

The second section has a lighter feel although with serious subject matter. It looks at: expendable workers, interchangeable senior management, the modern addiction to shopping, dress codes and fashion.

I particularly enjoyed Jan, Jen or Jean which details a passing encounter when the narrator struggles to remember an old acquaintance’s name. The metaphor of gambling is used to good effect in this and across several of the poems.

The third section takes further swipes at consumerism before veering into the difficulty of being a pedestrian on the busy, packed streets of the city. The narrator does not appear to like cyclists any more than drivers of motor vehicles.

The Phoney War sees two boys playing war games behind a sofa. Its conclusion is devastating.

The final section explores themes such as: internet privacy, grammar and literary snobbery. It then touches on drug taking before offering two entries that I found somewhat weird – I pondered if the narrator of First Kiss was high on something.

The collection concludes with Literal Library which I very much enjoyed. The shelves in this library are divided into contemporary subjects, each commented on with wry humour.

“There’s no longer any room for books which are off message
on the LIBERALISM shelf”

The poems entertain whilst also provoking thought on a wide range of issues pertinent to a resident of a city such as London where the author lives. Readers who fear that poetry can be difficult need have no concerns about understanding and enjoying this selection. It was perfect for a time when my ability to concentrate is impaired yet still offers plenty to consider and evocations that linger.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Fly On The Wall Press.

Book Review: Bad Mommy Stay Mommy

Bad Mommy / Stay Mommy, by Elisabeth Horan, is a collection of poems that provide a visceral and often harrowing account of the author’s postpartum depression. Following the birth of her second son, Horan found her world unravelling. Her behaviour made others uncomfortable and, at times, angry. She was not behaving as a new mother is required by society. Most of all though Horan struggled to cope with the change in herself.

“I am you in mixed acrylic on a Pollack canvas”

The author writes of the guilt she feels over how she treats her two young children due to her illness. The boys know that she is sad but must still bear the brunt of her mood changes.

“Who am I? lashing out –
my tongue a leather whip
leaving verbal welts
on the back of someone so small”

In Wellbutrin in my Brain, Horan recounts the effects of the medication she was prescribed.

“I’m fat and puffy yet endlessly hungry,
my hair in my hands and
my back to the wall of a cliff;
then falling, falling
into a Dali sea –

Rife and roiling with
lunatics like me.”

Efforts to be around her family are depicted in raw, emotion. She writes of prowling through night’s darkness and of regrets when, exhausted, she lashes out again.

“But what of the little boy?
Cowering, looking to me for shelter”

Basement Mother is one of several poems that reference her self-hatred. This leads to suicidal thoughts that are expanded upon. In Mother Maple she writes of the cost to her family.

“Funnny, how they hold up
The felled trunk of me
Even as they succumb
From my smothering –
From the immense weight
Crushing them.”

Despite the torment she knows that her family wants her. She struggles to see how, in this state, she can be good for them. She becomes desperate to find a way out of the abyss.

“Gnawing on one’s own failure bed
my prone heart
the same the same”

A climax is reached in Better off without me which is powerful, painful, and should be read in its entirety.

As the title suggests, eventually Horan finds a way to stay alive.

“t’isn’t easy being in the world now
as a member, not an inmate

My own warden.”

It is rare to find such an honest depiction of a new mother’s wounds and shortcomings. The complexities of mental illness are balanced with the love felt for the children, love that is written between the lines rather than sentimentalised. Despite the depression so searingly depicted there is hope in this collection.

A stark yet spirited window into a condition rarely brought into open, honest discussion. An important portrayal that overflows with a rare candour. Hear her roar.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Fly on the Wall Press.