Welcome back to the Poetry Basket Reviews. We’re blowing off the dust, and evicting Dobby from there! We’re also rehoming PB to this page.
Out of there at once, Dobby!
Most honoured today to have Jenny Mitchell’s wonderful debut collection Her Lost Language, in the review basket. A joint winner of the Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize, Jenny has written work of raw emotion and poignancy.
The debut pamphlet, Her Lost Language, by the vibrant poet Jenny Mitchell, is a powerful read and unleashes voices that previously couldn’t be heard. Legacies of British transatlantic enslavement, and the Windrush generation are candidly voiced.
A joint winner of the Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize, this welcome collection is neatly placed into two sections. There are vivid homages to enslaved ancestors and others previously unacknowledged. Yet, it’s real power is the moving voices and strong human emotions.. With good use of tenses and verse that work well.
My Five Times Great Grandmother was Enslaved is a very personal piece in a collection of personal pieces, drawing us in deeper, until we feel we’re at the point of no return.
Song for A Former Slave, Someone Thank the Tailor, Black Men Should Wear Colour and Blood the Seamstress – with the incredible first line ‘I’ll be the dress she never owned’, are raw emotions and memories and tributes told through clothes, and other things next to our skin. A simple concept that opens doors to the very different life that ancestors have had. Vivid and detailed, yet the emotions are all ours.
Emancipating Ancestors is a tribute to those who died on slave plantations and opens a whole new and poignant chapter of suffering and inhumane history. We are confronted with how human beings could be so cruel to each other.
A personal favourite is Missing Grandmother, who worked so hard but never appeared in a photograph, nor any foreground, unlike the men of the family. This says so very much for the women who worked so thanklessly to get them there. Becoming Queen, opens another window of a hard life not documented.
My Family Shares its Voices jumps out at the reader, the brutal grandfather and the secret burden women still have to carry.
Before the Silence tells us of a young girl, against a strict upbringing, who really had no choice nor opportunity. Plus the father’s cruel punishment. The tenses work very well in this piece.
The collection turns about with the account of immigrants coming to Britain and their encounter with a cold and hostile new land. This is reflected in the incredibly detailed Strange Land. We get closer to the poet with The Bride and a Veil, and the loss of a father, and the mother’s reflections. The air of loss and mourning are tangible.
One stanza tells so much, two are powerful.
The Mess They Made and Monica Darling expresses the decline and sheer pain of a loved one with dementia, and how a mother can deny their children.
Retreat Jamaica (1939), is a candid account in two stanza sections of a difficult birth, and an account of how men would walk away from the woman’s agony. Here, the poet really excels and we are taken on this road. Taking His Leave gives us insight into an upbringing in sheer hardship, and a Mother’s suffering. We are reminded of what once had to be hidden, and we wouldn’t dream of not sharing this journey.
In Eve’s Lost Daughter, the images genuinely shock and disturb us, and as we cross to English Fields there are other tales from the outside that bring us the painful realisation that women were truly helpless.
Incident and Her Lost Language are a fitting and sad climax. Uncomfortable and very true, yet such compulsive reading.
This collection will stay with you, and touch things that we in so many ways ignore, but you’d still read it again. A triumphant debut.