I’ve been in a bit of a reading funk this year. I keep starting books and not feeling like finishing them. The editor for Knapp’s work is his uncle who just so happens to be a really underrated editor and publisher. I remember when he sent me a copy of Knapp’s first book and I was nervous about reading it. I needed have worried, it hit me somewhere inside and my emotional late teens came flooding back. Since then I’ve been a fan. When I heard this book was coming out I said no to a review copy because I wanted to pay for it. I needed to express my admiration for Knapp’s work in the only meaningful way I knew. I paid for it.
It would be easy to say that this collection is about the natural world and how we look at it when we slow ourselves down and really see it. For me though there was something else. An undercurrent of love for another person, maybe unrequited and maybe not. The struggle of human contact and emotional attachments hit me and my own struggles really hard.
The simple structure and the far from simple words combined to paint vistas in my mind. The way this book is put together with a smattering of notes and an interview interspersed through the work made this feel more like a journal that I was guiltily reading without the owner knowing.
I have always found it difficult to be objective about poetry and this publication was no exception. I became emotionally attached not just to the work but also the life of Kyle J. Knapp. I’d have loved to sit in the pub garden having a long chat about ephemera over a jar of warm beer.
What a great way for me to be enthused about books again. I may have just ordered a book on Sufi poetry because of this book.
Stephanie Johnson did an amazing job with this cover. My wife rarely says anything about the books I read but she said wow when she saw this cover. Upside down it kind of looked like lady bits, but that might just have been me projecting.
This book was all about foxes. I liked the way Pan was used to place the foxes within the world. This book challenged me as a reader. The thing that I liked the most was also the thing that made this difficult to read as a whole. These poems because of their origins have a different structure and rhythm. After reading the whole book in one go (it is about fifty pages so not that impressive) I went back and read each poem one at a time. It worked better when I did it that way as I could focus on that poem rather than the overall flow that I usually look for.
I enjoyed this collection and was disappointed that there were not more poems as I could happily have read more. Foxes for me have always been a sign of wilderness. Even in an urban environment they seem to embody what it is to be out there alone in the wilds. That came across really well in this book.
I tried for a while to decide on words to describe Akala. It was a lot more difficult than I expected. Best known as a Grime rapper Akala to me he represents so much more. From his TED talk and Hip-hop Shakespare Company to his articulate and intellectual dismantling of the quasi-logic of British racist politicians through to his Oxford Union history talk. I could go on and cite dozens more fascinating things that Akala has been involved in but You’ll enjoy it and learn more if you go looking for yourself. You may be wondering why I’d mention these things before talking about a poetry book. This wasn’t just a collection of Grime lyrics laid out as a poetry book. This was a genuine poetry collection.
The book itself was a paperback. Akala self-published this material to maintain control of his supply line. Could he have made more money through other channels? Possibly. I admire the way he does everything he can to be responsible for his art. It can’t have been easy. When I read a small press or self-published book I always feel the paper. The quality of the paper can often tell you a lot about how much a piece of work is valued. As expected the paper used for this book was of good quality and a great medium for this work.
There was a utopian/distopian futuristic story to the first part of this collection. It centred around the strength of ignorance as a method of control. What I liked most about this part was not only how I could see it in how our own society is developing but how the seeds that control were already present now and a long way back in the past. It would be hard to talk about this book without mentioning slavery and the control of the proletarians throughout our history. I won’t. I don’t have the skill or intellect to do it anywhere as well as Akala does. The power of his delivery also conveyed his passion and knowledge on every page.
The second section of this book was more of the kind of collection and structure of poems that I am used to. The content though was hard hitting and thought provoking. There was one poem called Yours and My Children that I read over and over again. It really hit me hard. Part of me wanted to put the whole of that poem on here to show you but that would take away from discovering it where it should be found in this book. Below is the chorus that I still have echoing through my head several days after reading it.
Kids in Iraq: Yours and my children
Kids in Iran: Yours and my children
Afghanistan: Yours and my children
Even Sudan: Yours and my children
Kids in Brazil: Yours and my children
Police drive by the favela and just kill them
Kids in Brazil: Yours and my children
Police drive by the favela and just kill them
Yours and My Children by Akala taken from Doublethoughts
The third and final section of this book showcased some of Akala’s amazing Grime. It included the lyrics to his seminal Fire in The Booth session and I found it fascinating to slow it down and really try to digest what he was saying. There was purpose and education in what he said not just in this section but throughout this collection. I’m finding it hard to be objective about this book because as with most things about Akala I found it thought provoking and belief challenging. I really hope Akala releases more material like this.
First things first. There is no best of from me this year. No lists of particular books you should buy. This year I’m going to write about people. Those amazing people that have inspired me to pick up a book and sink in to another world. It is not a complete list and is based solely on those people that have impacted me personally.
First off I’m going to start with Colin F. Barnes. One particularly bad day at work I typed in to Amazon “Killing My Boss”. I didn’t really expect to find anything. What I got was the most cathartic book I have ever read. I posted my review and I got a thank you from the author. I didn’t know it at the time but Colin recently told me that was the first review he’d ever had (excluding all those beta readers and editors of course). Since then I’ve been lucky enough to receive quite a few advance copies of his work. I’m a huge fan. I would like to see a follow-up to Killing My Boss called Killing My Ex though. That would be awesome. I don’t know if I prefer Colin’s cyberpunk or horror stories. At the moment I’d probably say his Techxorcist series, but he does have a new horror story called Dead Five’s Pass being published by Darkfuse soon.
Next I’m going to talk about Ian Sales. In twenty or thirty years people are going to look back and wonder why people were more interested in sparkly vampires than thoughtful and well written science fiction. When they do I’m pretty sure he will be one of the authors being lauded. I regularly read his blog and am constantly amazed by both the depth and breadth of his reading and literary knowledge. I have also been really impressed with his reaction to SF Masterworks. It was really eye-opening to read the sfmistressworks site and see just how many little known high quality female science fiction authors there are out there. Ian’s Apollo quartet is well worth reading and I for one am eagerly awaiting the fourth part.
After praising Ian Sales and his drive towards gender equality I am going to mention a woman next. Not an author this time though. Adele Wearing is the owner and driving force behind Fox Spirit. I’ve met Adele and I can confirm she is just as lovely as she seems online. There is a certain enthusiasm and excitement to everything she does and that is reflected in the books she produces. I particularly like the idea of the Fox Pocket anthologies. These are the perfect size to fit in a pair of cargo pants or a handbag (man bag in my case). The covers are fantastically vibrant and easy to spot in a pile too. If you are looking for quirky speculative fiction by excellent and often little known authors you really should check them out.
The final person I’m going to mention is David Cranmer from Beat To A Pulp (BTAP). I owe a lot to David. He changed my reading habits more than anybody has for many years. I barely had a clue what crime noir was let alone hardboiled before I started reading BTAP. Without David I would not have enjoyed reading amazing stories by authors such as Patricia Abbott and Thomas Pluck. Probably the biggest surprise for me though was how much I have enjoyed reading stories set in the old west. Westerns are dead in modern fiction, right? It turns out that I was wrong. From David’s Marshal Cash Larmie to Heath Lowrence’s dark and weird western fiction there is a wealth of great stories out there. It was because of this that I decided that every so often I’ll read something completely out of my comfort zone. Which is why I read an erotic fiction story by K.A.Laity called Chastity Flame. I literally blushed whilst reading it.
As you can probably see I like it when I’m made to think about different things on occasion and all of the above do that. In my mind great art should be beautiful but also challenge the audience. Each of the people mentioned above are worth spending a few hours and a couple of quid on (more than that but you get my gist). There are plenty more people I could have mentioned but these are the ones who have impacted on my way of thinking the most this year.
I am already looking forward to reading loads more emotive and insightful stories next year.
Have fun one and all.
I think everybody should read poetry once in a while. I always try to read poetry out loud or at worst mouth and mutter the words. I didn’t get these poems at first but as soon as I started reading them aloud the passion and emotion really came through. There were points in this book where I found myself sneering with contempt or growling with rage borne of frustration. There was also a feeling that he always felt alone in the world, especially in a group. This I could really relate to.
This book is not for everyone. The metre is not easy to grasp at first and a good vocabulary is required for some of the poems. More than anything though this is a dark and angst ridden work. This book made me think back to my own dark times as a youth and how I came through them. I couldn’t express my emotions and so I scribbled in little notepads. I could feel every word of this collection like a physical connection. It hurt to read this at times. It is a shame that Kyle J. Knapp was not lucky enough to navigate his way through those times.
Life is fragile but art like this will live on.