Friday 24 January 2020

For 2020, the StAnza Blog is hosting DURA – the Dundee University Review of the Arts – who as reviewers in virtual residence on the StAnza Blog will post excerpts from their selection of reviews of titles by poets on the StAnza 2020 programme, including this one in today’s blog. The full review can be read on their website at  https://dura-dundee.org.uk/category/poets-stanza-2019-reviews/. Written by staff and students, DURA is keen to promote the diversity of artists and art forms in the UK context, supporting especially (albeit non-exclusively) independent cinema outlets, exhibitions, theatre, film and publishing. 

Jay Bernard, Surge, reviewed by Beth McDonough 

In 2016, Jay Bernard became writer in residence at the George Padmore Institute, ‘an archive, library and research centre dedicated to radical black history in Britain’.  With a mission to investigate the ‘New Cross Massacre’, and its aftermath, Bernard soon became aware, in those days after the Brexit vote, ‘that the events of the present were eerily similar […]. Then in June 2017, Grenfell happened’, ‘the archive became, for me, a mirror of the present, a much-needed instruction manual[…]’

Bernard’s investigation takes the echoes of both fires, Windrush, and more personally, their own ‘place in Britain as a queer black person’, channelling these major themes through many forms and voices. Surge (the poet’s first full collection, after three pamphlets) in its earlier incarnation as a multimedia performance work, Surge: Side A, won the 2017 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.

By any standards, that’s a commanding mix for 53 pages of poetry, which includes various plates. In terms of the enervating response to the recent and not-so-recent historical events, Surge works brilliantly. I’m a little less certain, however, that their exploration of the emergence of their own queer black identity and the painful nature of that identity’s shifting places in that community is so well-served. That is not to say that these poems are not profound, well-structured and stirring, but I feel there is a need for more space to develop this poignant and important theme. It may take another volume to unpack what we need to face in the sometimes false promises of intersectionality, with its myriad tripwires.... [Yet] Bernard's Surge is a testament to courage in the face of overwhelming ruling indifference. In Johnson's Britain, we need to add our voices now