It has taken me a while to write this review. The book swallowed me. I found myself in a beautiful, haunting and obsessively quirky world that I just didn’t want to leave.
Writing this review almost bursts a magic bubble. I must be careful. And I must begin by saying that this is the best contemporary anthology of poetry I have read. Honest. After a lull in my own poetic output, S/S/Y/K (4) has filled me with the urgency to surround my own dark, silly and surreal ideas with fresh words, vibrant words, words that, far from desperate, know they are bright enough to lure us into a powerful dream.
There are 28 poets in the book, with black and white illustrations between the poems. The artwork doesn’t just complement the poets; it stands side by side with the poems. It gives you that moment, after a final line that has just snatched your breath, to feel the genuine playfulness of this place just as much as the dark humour and the absurd abstractions.
The book opens with three poems by Mollye Miller. The first ‘Stepping Out of the Shade Particles’ ends ‘in this unbelievable garden I am only waking up.’ Perfect.
For me, the standout poems are by Nathan Hamilton, Matthew Gregory and Sam Riviere, they just struck a chord with me. They make me dream.
I keep coming back to Nathan Hamilton’s poems ‘Malcolm Training’ and ‘Malcolm Judged’: ‘Lone Malcolm kicks at shadows in the long evening / the wind busy scribbling him out’ and ‘he is a crime of sorts and very anti most things.’ sounds like someone I know, ahem...
In Matthew Gregory’s first poem in the book ‘Discovering the Early Humans’ we go into Hades and meet ‘an elderly ram, in pointy slippers, a formal tux – / withered, eyes turned in from each dim century.’ And in the second poem a couple found a young pterodactyl and ‘loved it with our eyes closed; simply, too much, / now it has outgrown us and we are left / clutching after its wake.’
I find myself picking up the book and flicking to Sam Riviere’s poem ‘Rain Delay’ and staring at it for a long time to get to the bottom of ‘the wing-beat rate a beetle needs to stay dry in the rain’ as words like ‘Amit’s aztec gaze’ and ‘a witchhunter’s ardent, direct line’ poke me in eyes. This poem shifts and ripples, it is exciting stuff. Sam Riviere never fails to make me scratch my head (in a good way) before I smile or sit staring for a while, wondering how he does it.
Other great poets in this book include Jon Stone, Joe Dunthorne, Ben Stainton, Emily Toder, Jack Underwood, Emily Berry and Tim Cockburn; with illustrations by Benjamin Brett, Beatie Fox, Megan Whatley, Lisa Handley and Helen Maier, to name a few.
To be honest, I feel guilty that I couldn’t write about every poet/poem/piece of artwork in this great anthology.
Every now and then a book comes along that sort of untangles the wires and allows the electricity of poetry to run smoothly through my veins and fill my head with colourful lights. If you don’t buy this book right now, I can only assume you don’t like discovering new poetry, cool poetry, poetry that becomes a close friend and tells you strange and wonderful things in the middle of the night. I can only assume you are not human.
Bobby Parker is a British poet.