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Review: Birdsuit 9
Reviewed by Jess Wynne

Birdsuit 9 is aptly named: the integration of contributions from established writers with the work of Norwich School of Art and Design graduates and overseas students provides a rich and colourful poetic plumage.

Birdsuit advertises its arrival as “lush and pukka”; the use of such contemporary colloquialism is ironic as, on the whole, this collection rarely attempts to subvert poetic conventions. This is a shame; there is clearly considerable talent lurking within these pages. With fewer people reading poetry and more attempting to write it, the genre is struggling to define its position within literature and society as a whole. Therefore, there is an urgent need to stretch boundaries in order to create work that radiates originality both in style and content. Of course poetry will always be subjective and some of the poems that succeed in Birdsuit are those which revel in simplicity of form. Laura Hickie’s “Going Home” is beautifully visual and displays an economy of words, which serves to clarify the images and the rhythm. Unlike several other pieces included it does not feel contrived – this book is compelling in the evidence it provides of young poets trying to hard to be poetic. Few pieces are without worth but it is obvious that many contributors are yet to establish their own voices; many seem to echo the animalistic themes and diction of Ted Hughes. His influence as a respected Poet Laureate is obvious – it remains to be seen if Andrew Motion (champion of the “anyone can write poetry” school of thought and here providing a typically encouraging forward) will produce anything like the same effect.

Other writers worth a mention include the American poet James Tate. His poem “Dream On” manages to be both self-righteous (like the 30s poetry of Betjeman and Auden he could be accused of intellectual snobbery) but also insightful and humorous concerning modern life and the absence of poetry. “Restless Leg Syndrome” is also refreshing in its free form and prosaic language. The prize for the most effectively bleak poem goes to Ian McHugh’s “Undertow” – and let's face it, who wants to read happy, joyful poetry these days anyway. This piece is fairly disturbing in its imagery and in its jumps from first to third person.

In short this book is brimming with potential. The juxtaposition of stark and sometimes bizarre drawings with the text screams “art college” – although the cheese grater on page 69 is fantastic. However, as Robert Graves notes “there is no money in poetry; but then there is no poetry in money either”. Most volumes of poetry might as well be locked in a disused cellar with a sign on the door reading “Nuclear Research Site:Do not enter” – they will receive approximately the same amount of attention as they do after publishing. So hopefully the writers of Birdsuit will continue to evolve and develop their ideas – without falling prey to disillusionment whilst building their nests of obscurity.

Birdsuit 9 is published by Starwheel Press and edited by Andrea Holland.
Norwich School of Art & Design
St George St
Norwich NR3 1BB

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