Jessica Mayhew reviews
by Jess Green
#romance is a collection that revolves around connections and interactions. However, as shown in the Twitter-inspired hashtag title, these are connections strongly influenced by the contemporary. These poems will speak strongly to the social media generation, and are tinged with the voyeurism that has crept into life through technology, as shown in ‘#romance.’ Green has a very modern voice; even when referencing ‘a Hughes and Plath affair’ (‘Another One Broken’), comparing it to her own emotionally damaging relationship, the reader would not place the poem in any other timeframe but now.
Green’s poetry does away with traditional idealisations. In ‘Another One Broken,’ the speaker of the poem remembers sitting alone in a cheap hotel, recounting the broken promises of her older lover:
I drank champagne from the bottle
in the blustering wind of an open window,
the mugs were still stained with tea
and you said you’d bring back washing up liquid...
(‘Another One Broken’)
The mundanity of these images contrasts against the poet’s desire to be ‘...fucked up/ so I’d have something to write about,’ the desire for experience. Green artfully maintains this atmosphere to the final stanza, where she betrays an almost sadomasochistic wish to ‘ask for my feelings back.’
However, there are also tender moments of connection within this collection, such as in ‘Potatoes.’ Again, this poem begins with a sense of isolation:
I was lonely when she first arrived
in a house so huge
it spent time in the eighties being flats
Despite initially setting herself against her new flatmate and ‘the private school she worked in,’ the speaker of the poem ‘bonded over my lack of potatoes/ and her having some fried with blue cheese.’ The friendship even survives separation:
when I stumble back to my mum’s house...
I pour myself another wine,
stick my headphones in
and have a one woman Tina Turner party
she’d be proud of
Even within the poems concerning friendship, Green is clearly concerned with political and social commentary, and poetry’s place within it. This is most clearly communicated in ‘Stop The Poetry,’ the final poem in the collection, taking inspiration from the recent demonstrations in London, in which she declares, ‘kettle us, keep us, beat us and berate us/ but you won’t stop the poetry.” Here, the internal rhyme shapes these final lines like a slogan, something the reader could imagine being shouted aloud. These class struggles are coloured with personal experience, shown when she is told:
scratch your degree from your CV.
It’ll make you more employable,
‘cause no-one wants a show off
afraid to get your hands dirty
then off to the theatre.
(‘Scratch Your Degree’)
However, any anger is also balanced with moments of humour, as shown when she rewinds time back through her degree:
I never shook hands with Brian May,
and in any case
that would have been ok
because I only know the words to
Don’t Stop Me Now
(‘Scratch Your Degree’)
Green effortlessly switches between the serious and the light-hearted with no loss of pace or drama. #romance is a short pamphlet, consisting of eight poems in free verse. It is clearly poetry that is intended to be spoken aloud. However, the words also work beguilingly on the page; ‘we sway up those spirals/ crack egg shell painted walls’ (‘Deep Down In The Avenues’). Here, the satisfying sibilance reveals a poet experienced in the musicality of language. Jess Green’s language speaks from the page with a vibrancy that encourages you to see the poems performed.
Jessica Mayhew is a Masters student at UC studying English Literature: Issues in Modern Culture. Her pamphlet Someone Else's Photograph was recently published.