O Positive by Joe Dunthorne
No sooner had I started reading my first novel by Joe Dunthorne, the rather fab The Adulterants (reviewed here), than I discovered he had a book of poetry coming out, and I was keen to see more. O Positive with its blood-red lettering on the front cover, is divided into four sections, one for each of the major blood types, A, B, AB and O. It’s telling that Dunthorne picks O+ as the title of the collection though – it is the most common bloodtype, 35% of the UK population have it – does Dunthorne? He doesn’t say – Ha!
The first section, ‘A’ begins with a superb poem – A sighting (right) which plays with the identity of the bear, whilst having a cracking opening line. This is followed by poems on unhappiness and happiness, facing each other on the page. Each of the four sections has poems varying in length, some a simple 4 or 5 line stanza, a few written as prose, but there are only a couple that spread onto a second page though. The first part ends with a shockingly visual poem called Old Days which begins:
Remember when everyone on earth
was pregnant except for you
which was a miracle
and the babies jangled down on their cords
like masks during sudden
Dunthorne does genial darkness very well indeed! Almost all of the poems have some aspect of threat or menace in them. Veiled in sunny tones, the mood can turn on a sixpence. There are some parallels between the sections – ‘B’ begins with a poem in which owls carry off the author’s sleeping child, whereas in ‘O’ the narrator recovers his children in ‘Ransom tape.’ It also goes the opposite way, in ‘B’ the narrator gets searched at the airport but let go in Though the officer, in ‘O’ in At last I am chosen, the narrator actually wants to be caught and body-searched. – Ew!
I enjoyed his economy of style, the bizarre scenarios, I loved the black humour too, but was equally surprised by occasional moments of soppiness which was very endearing. A rather wonderful first collection. (9/10)
Source: Review copy – thank you. Joe Dunthorne, O Positive, Faber Poetry, March 2019, flapped paperback, 64 pages.
The Print Museum by Heidi Williamson
Williamson is the daughter of a printer, and from 2011-14, she was writer in residence at the John Jarrold Printing Museum in Norwich. Every poem in this 2016 collection takes its title from a printing term from Letterpress to Non-printing blue, via a more familiar pair called Portrait and Landscape, poems suitably shaped, she writes about the whole history of printing from Gutenberg to Digital, and a very helpful glossary of the printing terms used is appended. While many of the poems overtly refer to the processes and equipment of printing, others take their inspiration from the term used in the title and go off elsewhere, such as Coffin (an alternative name for the printing press bed):
We were in the car for seven hours
driving home to Scotland, listening
to the radio telling us over and over,
between songs, that Diana had died.
There is life and dying, love and waiting, nature and nurture in these pages, amongst all the printing history. There are glints of humour, but Williamson doesn’t do throwaway endings. My favourite was a poem called Figure, (right) which captures the sense of resignation and acceptance and this being at one with the world. While I wasn’t as entertained by these poems as by Dunthorne’s collection, Heidi Williamson did make me think a bit more I think, and I’ve learned more about printing on the side. (8.5/10)
Source: Library. Heidi Williamson, The Print Museum (Bloodaxe Books, 2016) paperback, 72 pages.
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