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Rhyming Thunder: the alternative book of young poets, Burning Eye

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Spoken poetry in the UK is huge at the moment.  Call it what you will, spoken word, performance poetry, there is an abundance of fresh, impassioned acts out there.

Editors James Bunting and Jack Dean have handpicked this crop of the best emergent poets and made themselves a book that is an absolute must have for anybody with even a passing interest in this art form.

This is the kind of book you can gorge on,  or nibble at, dipping in here and there and picking poems to suit your mood. Each poet get two-three poems each, and there is a helpful introductory paragraph about each one.  It is entertaining and user-friendly, a kind of informal reference book for finding out about some of the best young artists currently making  poetry all over the UK.

The poetry itself is fresh, relevant, current, unpretentious, tongue in cheek and comedic by turns. There are far too many poets in the book to mention every single one of them, so I’ve picked out some of my personal favourites.

Jodi Ann Bickley, ‘Unit’: Poetry set out like prose, but defined by its rhythms. Read this out loud and you’ll soon forget the way it looks on the page. Jodi Ann is a natural storyteller who is not afraid to be honest and cause discomfort in the reader: “I could tell you what my Mum’s fear smelt like – chain smoke masked by vanilla scented candles and coffee.”

Talia Randall, ‘Stanmore’: Her poems instantly hook you into a world that is both specific to her own life story  - ‘Stanmore fills me with an irrational fear’ - and in touch with universal themes like family and the past: “Jewish places make me feel uncomfortable, like I’m not being Jewish enough”. Another one who knows how to tell a good story, who keeps your interest through twists and turns and conjures up a world you can relate to: “whilst housewives and estate agents see spacious reception rooms for dinner parties and coffee mornings, I see the hell of Avon ladies.” 

Amy Acre, ‘Percussion’: A unique voice with a very quirky imagination: “staccato flesh hits, dripping on floor tiles”. Acre’s poems are never quite what you’d expect  - “I was lying …when I told you I could salsa” - but are always compelling, drawing on a mixture of tight rhythms, down to earth , honest stories and a wicked sense of humour.

Raymond Antrobus, ‘Interrogating Depression’: Mixes a conversational style – “Before you hit the garden party, consider your mood” - with insight: “How much light can you touch inside yourself”. Antrobus’s poems are cadent and lyrical, simple but mesmerising: “You know if it stays too long you won’t look both ways when crossing the street.”  His interest in people and in mulling over everyday details  - “you try to peel it away, like a towel that wipes your dirt” - means these  poems translate very well to the page.

As these poets work in public spaces - joint editor James Bunting lists “pubs, bars, theatres, cafes and libraries” as their stomping ground - a book is perhaps not their most natural habitat. Sometimes poems that sound fantastic when performed are less compelling without a strong verbal delivery. An example of this is ‘Paper People’ by Harry Baker, which  I’ve seen go down very well with slam audiences, but without his energetic, well-timed performance the alliteration seems trite and the message overly simplistic. On the other hand some poems, rich with complex imagery and ideas, like Sh’Maya’s ‘Canticle’ benefit greatly from the chance  to read and digest it at leisure.

One of the fiercest, and most obvious, debates within contemporary poetry centres on the question: which form is the better, spoken word, or print?  This book could be seen as a kind of manifesto for spoken word as viable literature.  But actually this collection is not about competing with traditional poetry - it is about celebrating a fresh, vibrant movement which is hugely successful in its own right. Lettie McKie


Rhyming Thunder: The Alternative Book of Young Poets, edited by James Bunting and Jack Dean, Burning Eye, £5


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