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Staff Picks September 2021 — Lady Godiva mourns her mother's teeth

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Walking the Coventry Ring Road with Lady Godiva by Cathy Galvin (Guillemot Press, 2019)

Given that most of us probably live within ten miles of at least one civil engineering nightmare, this book (like all the best psychogeography) is really about anywhere. It's about the debris you find down the crack between past and present, about removing the layers of homogeneity that stop places being proper places. Illustrated by abstract prints that are part tyre-tread, part 2-Tone iconography and part 1950s tableware, this is a journey through England’s dark underpasses in the five-seconds-to-Covid era.

— Chosen by Russell Thompson

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Honorifics by Cynthia Miller (Nine Arches Press, 2021)

‘My mother is a sulphur fruit, sharp and bright / as lightning in a dry season, a whole wildfire burning hard out ahead, / clearing the way.’ The poems in Cynthia Miller’s debut collection (shortlisted for the 2021 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection) are bright and lush and blazing. Miller is Malaysian-American, and her poems capture scenes from my own childhood memories of Malaysia with uncanny precision: wet kitchens, bowls of prickly fruit, continuous rainy seasons. I can just about taste it. I am also always looking for poems about sea creatures, and the central sequence in this book, titled ‘Bloom’, happens to be a stunning series of poems about jellyfish: ‘we bloom like nuclear hydrangea.’ 

— Chosen by Nina Powles 

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Obit by Victoria Chang (Copper Canyon Press, 2020)

Is death the most enduring subject in poetry? In life, it seems the only certainty. In 100 pages of prose poems and tankas, Chang sketches amusing, surreal and moving elegies for her parents - immigrants to the US from Taiwan - and marks the miniature myriad moments of loss that quietly stud everyday consciousness. Among the mourned are Language, Friendship, The Clock, The Situation and My Mother’s Teeth, leaving a lonely absurdity in their wake that speaks to our current age: ‘I will make small talk with myself’. For all this morbid memento mori-alising, this collection left me wanting to say yes to everything. Even The Great Sleep. (Well, maybe a little more small talk first...)

— Chosen by Karen Smith