Grist cover

“We’re All In It Together”: Anthology

Another anthology review from me. A new anthology from Grist is out called ‘We’re All In It Together‘. This is a really good read. Some of the poems were read out at the Huddersfield Literature Festival earlier this year that I posted about, so I know they sound good too.

Here is my review which I hope you like. It will give you a flavour of what’s in the book.

We’re All In It Together: Grist Anthology Review

We're All In It Together book cover. An anthology of Poems for a Disunited Kingdom.

The new anthology from Grist, ‘We’re All In It Together’ , edited by Michael Stewart, Steve Ely and Kayleigh Campbell is an exciting and challenging collection right from the preface to the last poem, ‘Asylum’, and it’s well worth starting with the preface before you read the poetry. This is not something I usually do, preferring, instead, to dive straight into the poetry, but this time I thought it best to give it a read as I’m reviewing rather than just reading. And I’m so glad I did.

The preface is one of the most compelling and honest that I’ve ever read. It tells the amazing story of why and how these poems were brought together, and by the time you’ve read them, it becomes very obvious that these poems fulfilled their purpose, the brief, as described in this preface – a focus on the ‘state-of-the-nation’.

The collection runs like a roller coaster to me, with it’s ups and downs – in terms of poetic content, not quality. Roller coasters are more exciting than round-a-bouts and this is reflected in the book. It begins with the (almost?) bleakly cynical start with ‘Imperial Exodus’ and ‘Strandline’, depicting the loss of Brexit with some very hard-hitting messages. I especially liked the message towards the end of ‘Omni’ that was caught in the lines:

‘Old Hugenots could train us to reweave
the national tapestry, tie in rogue threads,
not hide a stain but set it in the pattern –
were we open to real history:

This poem, for me, starts to move me upwards on the roller coaster, and intelligently sets in some delicate rhyme within the lines, whilst alluding to the very industry – textiles – that built Huddersfield from the 18th century onwards.

I found the poem‘Another Debate in My Parent’s Kitchen’ very moving. Simple in words. Simplicity in form. But it reaches the emotions without fail, and I suspect it will do so for many people when they read it. Similarly the poem ‘Two Minutes in Translation’ pulls at the heart strings, both of these poems reflecting on parenthood in different but equally compelling ways.

The poem ‘The Only Way to Lose an Accent’ with it’s line:

A sob is language dismantled.’

Contains an incredibly powerful idea, for me, about how the way we speak means nothing when we audibly exhibit strong emotion. Such emotion as described in the poem, becomes a ‘leveller’, and independent of our accent – be it northern or southern.

The messages held within the poems are as varied as the formatting, and it is the variety of latter which often challenges the reader to read and read again. The formatting of some of the poems can be incredibly subtle at times too, such as that of ‘Goole voted Leave’. My proofing eye saw gaps in the lines, but my poet’s eye realised that they were there on purpose, were intentional, and in being there, added to the depth of the message of the poem. The poems ‘On This Occasion’ and ‘Judas’ are examples of the power of the formatting used in some of the poetry, the impact that formatting can bring to a poem. These are short but compelling poems that use the formatting intelligently to further bring their message home, like the way ‘Artic Tern’ uses changes in line and verse length along with italics to create a sense of rising to a crescendo in the words.

Each time you read a poem, for example, ‘Brexit Explained’, ‘Bagpipe Music 2022’ or ‘Oh England, I Love You’ you find something different. A bit like the way a signature looks slightly different each time you write it (remember cheques?). It’s never (quite) precisely identical each time. So too with some of the poems in there – each a unique signature of the lines echoing in one’s head.

There are some beautiful lines in these poems that struck a chord with me. ‘Leaving Britain’ is one that resonates deeply, particularly the lines starting with:

Each word is now see-through as thin glass
but that doesn’t’ mean they are true

For me, this holds to the brief of the anthology in describing the words of the politicians at the time. Or ‘Bog & Fen’ with its links to, and images of, history and plant life. As a botanist who is also passionate about history, I felt like this one was written just for me.

Another that stood out for me on the page was that of ‘Yorkshire Cricket’ which I first heard at the launch of this anthology at the Huddersfield Literature Festival earlier this year. This poem, one of a number that were read out, is a forceful message that comes across equally well as a spoken word and as words read inside one’s head.

There something for everyone here. It is an eclectic mix with a visible seam coursing through it. But the beauty of the collection is that the seam is open to interpretation, and I doubt that everyone who takes the time to read the poems will interpret it or identify it in the same way.

The anthology finishes as strongly as it starts with the poem ‘Asylum’, a poem that links back to ‘Strandline’ at the start of the book, (in my head) because of the way the latter poem defines asylum in its lines. A very perceptive way to ‘close the loop’ as it were on the poems in the collection – to unite the poetry in a collection whose purpose was to describe a disunited land.

If you like poetry, you will love this new collection that reflects on the ‘state of the nation’. Very timely too.

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