Thursday, September 26, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Crown of Thorns by Bethany W Pope

Bethany W Pope’s new poetry collection is a tough and sinewy account of the survival of love and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of dysfunctionalism, violence and poverty.

‘Crown of Thorns’ collects four sequences utilising the sonnet form. The title sequence is an heroic crown, i.e. fifteen sonnets, the last of which is composed of the first lines of the preceding fourteen. It’s an incredibly difficult form to sustain and one that very few writers seem comfortable with, but Pope’s command of structure and poetics is superb. There is absolute confidence in her conception and execution of the piece, but the thematic depth and emotional honesty on display make this more than just a barnstorming display of technique.

‘House of Masks’ and ‘Rabbit Trap’ are shorter but distil harrowing memories and unflinching imagery to potent effect. Poetry attuned to the natural world is seldom this visceral in its realism, but it soon becomes apparent that an absolute refusal to turn her head from reality is a hallmark of Pope’s aesthetic. This is never more apparent than it ‘Bloodlines’, the emperor's crown which closes the collection. It’s here that Pope’s ambition and linguistic capabilities are given a Herculean workout.

‘Bloodlines’ consists of forty five sonnets – that’s 630 lines of poetry – and the best description I can offer is this: imagine the structural formalism of George Szirtes, the beautiful yet disturbing imagistic bravura of Cormac McCarthy and a wry observationalism of human eccentricity that you might associate with Werner Herzog. That Pope achieves this without ever sacrificing what it unmistakably her own voice as a poet is nothing short of astounding.

‘Crown of Thorns’ is a hand grenade of a book. The title is well chosen, not just for referencing Pope’s chosen poetic form. It’s a spiky, gnarly book that gets its hooks into you and doesn’t let go. It proves that poetry can be as muscular and unflinching as any other art form. It proves that poetry is, in fact, essential.

My interview with Bethany W Pope can be read on the LeftLion website.

‘Crown of Thorns’ is available from Oneiros Books, priced £5.00

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