Amplify: Janine Booth, Allographic Press

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Following a live performance, there are some poets whose voices you continue to hear whilst reading their printed words. Janine Booth is one such poet. Once heard, her sometimes strident, often mocking, always entertaining performing voice imbues each one of the poems in her new collection Amplify, published by Allographic Press.

Booth has an exquisite way with rhyme, which doesn’t sound like a unique or controversial thing to say about a poet but quite often, the meter in her printed poems doesn’t scan quite as neatly as it could. Once you’ve heard her deliver them though, any desire for a tidy meter is thrown in the bin, in favour of cleverly pregnant pauses, knowing looks, hysterically funny or damning denouments, and BAM! that rhyme scans perfectly, as it turns out.  

With a generous 78 poems, Amplify whips up a storm of resistance, calling out corruption, imbalance, inequality and injustice in all its forms. It is a real call to arms and if you don’t feel galvanised into action by the end of it you might want to check that your soul isn’t dead.

Once again I am reminded that one of the roles of poets is that of (counter-) cultural historian.  They tell you what the history books choose to omit, shine poetic spotlights into the dank and dirty corners of the hierarchical structures of our society.  

Through a combination of authentic lived experience and brutal dissection, Booth shows truths about greed and struggle, rights and wrongs, the deserving and the undeserving, with a little light entertainment thrown in for good measure.  ‘Share of the Pie’ borrows from Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’ to relate the difficulties faced by escalating utility costs:


     I can’t remember if I cried

     when I read the increase they’d applied

     But something chilled me deep inside

     the day the bills arrived


     So bye-bye to what I needed to buy

     Drove my Mazda 

     down to Asda

     but my wallet was dry

     So it’s time for us to march, to strike and defy

     to win a bigger share of the pie

     to win a bigger share of the pie


Snubbing expectations of what or how a working-class poet might write, Booth reels off pantoums, sonnets, villanelles and triolets with consummate ease, and uses them to highlight various injustices.  ‘Joint Enterprise’ is a villanelle about a common-law doctrine used disproportionately against young Black men:


     You’re guilty in the system’s eyes

     and though they know you were elsewhere

     convict you of ‘joint enterprise’


     They see your blackness and surmise

     you worked as one, a gang affair,

     the courts prejudge and penalise


‘Be Streetwise’, the advice given to women by North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Philip Allot, is ripped apart within a triolet series, and I’d never heard of a ‘golden shovel’ before I read this book, but I know what one is now!  A golden shovel “pays tribute to (an excerpt from) another work by using its words as the last words of each of the poem’s lines”.  This sounds quite difficult, but she makes it look so easy.  Her clerihews are sharp, funny and excoriating:


     Grant Schapps

     he talks and he craps

     but often gets confused

     about which end he’s used


but I think my absolute favourite poem in the whole book is very near the end. ‘Rage’ gave me goosebumps, and beautifully sums up how it feels to be a poet with a need to express that inner fury:


     I want to pour my anger into a poem.


     I want it to drain from my scorched throat and flow down

     my arm, into my fingers, through my pen and onto the

     astonished page.


     It would burn up and consume everyone who read it. It

     would take away all their hope, all their self-esteem, every

     pleasing memory and glad thought they ever had.


     I want to pour my anger into a poem. But if I did that, the

     paper would incinerate, and my tears would come too late

     to extinguish it.


If to amplify is to make something louder, to increase the size or effect of something, then Booth has achieved that aim, and then some. No voices go unheard, no resistance is unspoken, no corruption, greed or contempt unseen. This is a whirlwind of a collection. Do yourself a favour, buy the book, and if you get the chance, go and watch her live. You are guaranteed a rousing  performance.


Janine Booth, Amplify, Allographic, £10




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