Category Archives: 2) News and reviews

Reviews of books (new and old) and notice of writing published elsewhere.

2 reviews: Hannah Lowe and Stewart Sanderson

I enjoy doing OPOIs (it stands for ‘one point of interest’) for Sphinx Review, the brainchild of Helena Nelson at HappenStance Press. The form, 350 words on one thing you liked about a new pamphlet, works like all forms – the restriction becomes a kind of freedom. If you haven’t written any criticism before it is a good, supportive place to start.

By ‘criticism’ I mean any kind of reflection on how literature does and doesn’t work for you, though these days the word will seem negative to many people. There is no reason why this has to be the case. All reviewing is a kind of criticism, or ought to be.

The beauty of the OPOI is that because of the word limit you have to direct that attention on the poems, and only the poems. There’s no room to speculate. My two most recent efforts are below, on Stewart Sanderson’s An Offering and Hannah Lowe’s The Neighbourhood.

In the first, I talk about how rhyming can help a poem carry an argument or a narrative. I’ve been thinking about this again recently reading eighteenth century poet Alexander Pope properly for the first time, most of which is in rhyming couplets. Pope’s ‘Essay on Criticism’, incidentally, argues that the point of criticism is to encourage what is good.

Even if you agree with Pope that criticism is a positive thing, the question then, is – who wants to put themselves forward as the arbiter? To which you can only ask: who else is going to do it? At the end of the day, you are only explaining what you like, but it might help someone else decide what they like.

Hannah Lowe’s pamphlet is very close to home: my street in Brixton is on the front cover. In the OPOI I talk about how one poem in the pamphlet deals with different kinds of distances.*

An Offering, Stewart Sanderson

The Neighbourhood, Hannah Lowe

Another Way of Forgetting?

I wrote something about ‘A Very Expensive Poison’, a play on at the Old Vic last year about the Litvinenko poisoning, how I enjoyed it (the play, not the poisoning) and what I thought it said about the way in which we think about ‘Russia’ for the Observer/Anthony Burgess Foundation prize for arts journalism and it ended up being shortlisted.

The review is now online with the rest of the shortlist and the winning piece by Lucy Holt. This the first time I’ve been published in a newspaper since a highly prophetic but entirely ineffective letter to Nick Clegg about the 2010 election.

The Observer/Burgess also gave us all these nice plastic blow-ups which make the article look like a real thing in a broadsheet, which was sweet of them. Reviewing is an unnerving job, and any critic with any self-awareness will feel like an imposter, so, it is good that the prize is encouraging new writers and I would encourage anyone who even vaguely thinks of themselves in those terms to have a go.