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POETRY REVIEW: The Birmingham Jazz Incarnation: Or, Playing the Changes by Simon Turner

December 12, 2017 2:00 pm

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Review by Amelia Davis


I have mixed feelings about this poetry collection. That’s good, I suppose, because that’s what poetry is supposed to do. Make you feel. But it’s frustrating because I can’t quite put my finger on why I wasn’t smitten with it.

I’ll start with what I know I liked. The Emma Press never fails to publish quirky, alternative collections that really make you think. This book is composed of various alterations of the title poem Birmingham Jazz Incarnation. I love this first poem. It epitomises everything about being a poet in a city; how you notice things and appreciate the simplicities around you. The smell of a bookshop, colours in the sky and individual people. All different and the same. It focuses on a jazz player and his music seems to create the city itself, deciding its fate. His music is so full of life and beauty. I was intrigued by this view of reality, in which something as simple as music shapes what we see and smell and feel. As soon as the tune stops, do we?

The first version of the poem is a blackout. I use this method for inspiration but I’ve never seen it in a finished piece. Again, this poem provides a sense that what you thought was real, may not be. The idea that a completely different story has come from the words of another is extremely thought provoking.

So the collection continues. The same poem recomposed, using slightly different words, as a playlist or a storyboard. The majority, I can appreciate. It’s intriguing to see, since in the end, poetry is just words. They are so powerful that by just changing a few, you create something new but just as influential.

Now the hard bit. Why I’m not 100% convinced. It’s hard to articulate but here we go. I think the problem is that it’s too long. After about the sixth piece, I started to lose interest. Not because the writing was bad, but because I knew what was going to happen. I had the sense already. A few of the pieces I thought were irrelevant. Flatpack was two pages filled with lines of letters. No words. Just letters. I think that maybe I’m just not understanding it properly but I can’t see what I’m supposed to be understanding. It was frustrating because the start was strong but towards the end, these strange compositions started appearing, which felt like they had been thrown in just for the sake of it.

However, overall this book is a triumph of the English language, showing how our words can be swapped and changed to achieve different feelings and stories. It shows the power of our language to make people respond in a certain way and this might be why I didn’t like all the poems. Someone else reading it might have the same reaction but to different pieces; it just goes to show how different we all are. And I think that this book sums that up perfectly.


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