READ THE WORLD – Canada: Even this Page is White by Vivek Shraya

A collection of poetry about race, politics, gender, sex and the crossover between all these things and more.

The collection is split into five parts titled “white dreams”, “whitespeak”, “how to talk to a white person”, “the origins of skin” and “brown dreams” and seeing the headings they definitely caught my attention.

These poems are brutally honest and I think it’s something white people should read. Even from the above section titles you start to get an idea of what to expect and as a white person you learn to listen and take it in. The poetry made me think and while I’ve personally be aware of my privilege, they made me want to be more active in trying to use that privilege “for good”.

Shraya’s poems talk about white privilege, anti-blackness and the different ways racism presents itself towards people of different races. I liked how there was a section that was a conversation between Shraya and her white friends Sara Quin, Amber Dawn, Rae Spoon and Danielle Owens-Reid, though I did second guess myself because as Shraya writes, “white people listen to white people.” It’s is a great couple of pages of dialogue.

Flicking through the book, finding my favourite poems I realised that my favourites generally came from the “how to talk to a white person” section. I think that was because in a way they were targeting me. A lot of them are about how people of colour may change how they act or what they say or how they say it in front of a white person.

I really enjoyed this poetry collection. It was a very quick read as the poems are all short and concise and they were all written in interesting ways – interesting to me anyway, as I don’t read a lot of poetry. The poems are hard-hitting and don’t shy away from potentially controversial topics and opinions. I can imagine seeing Vivek Shraya perform her poetry would be an amazing experience as often the poems feel like they should be spoken aloud by someone. Still, it is a thought-provoking and lyrical collection of poems. Definitely recommend Even this Page is White. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – El Salvador: Looking for Trouble by Roque Dalton

A collection of poems from Roque Dalton, a Salvadoran poet and revolutionary.

The thing I really liked about this collection of poetry was it had Dalton’s original work in Spanish side by side the English translation. It’s a great way to see the words that would’ve rhymed in Spanish and it’s nice that the original text isn’t forgotten. Also at the start of the collection there was a short biography of Dalton which was interesting and helped me understand where his poetry was coming from.

Each poem was very short, often no more than a page and many were only ten lines or so. This made them punchy, getting across the ideas and emotions in a concise way. His poems were often sarcastic which was an interesting yet strangely fun way for poems about love, death, revolution and politics to be. His sarcasm definitely shone through in his more political poems and I love sarcasm in writing.

My favourite poems in the collection were the political ones like “Poem XVI” and “My Military III the P.S. (Prodigal Sons)” Thanks to the biography at the start of the book you have a rough idea of the political turmoil going on in El Salvador at the time of his writings, with the ideas of a revolution being rife in the country after the Cuban Revolution in the 1950’s. One of the poems I liked a lot because it made me think and put a wry smile on my face was “Miscellaneous” – this one is about socialism and imperialism and how the two could attempt to shape El Salvador. My other favourite was “On Headaches” which is about the pain different movements cause while Communism is like “an aspirin the size of the sun.” It was an amusing look at different political ideologies and a great insight into the mind of a revolutionary.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read poetry for fun – I think having to learn everything about Seamus Heaney and Caroline Duffy’s work for my GCSE’s kind of put me off poetry as a whole genre for a while – but I found Dalton’s work really accessible. It’s a quick read and reading his poetry was an interesting snapshot into a country’s history. I think I might look for more poetry collections as I continue to attempt to read the world!

REVIEW: Egghead by Bo Burnham and Chance Bone

eggheadA collection of emotional yet odd poetry and thoughts accompanied by illustrations.

Bo Burnham is a comedian, musician and poet who you may have seen across the internet as his witty songs are often turned into gif form. I had seen the gifs and the odd clip of his performances and I really liked his sense of humour so when I saw his book in a second hand book sale I thought it was the time to pick it up.

The poetry is often weird and creepy but it’s so funny and then I found myself thinking, “Why am I laughing at this?! It’s slightly disturbing?” Then there was the poetry that was more emotional, one of my favourites was called “Beautiful” and the way Chance Bone’s illustrations went with that poem worked really well.

The format of the poems often add to the humour, for example “Entrance” which makes a reference to Tetris so the poem is like one of those long, five block Tetris pieces. Then there’s the poems that make you think, like “Change” which I will quote now because it’s short and perfect: “I don’t expect to change your mind with one conversation, only to chip away at it, like a woodpecker on a redwood tree.” What a good poem right?!

Some of Burnham’s poems are only a couple of lines long while others take up a double page and Bone’s illustrations are related to each poem. All the illustrations are in black and white and look like simple pen drawings but when they’re with Burnham’s writing, some of the illustrations are a bit unsettling while others kind of beautiful in their simplicity.

The only thing negative I’ve really got to say about Egghead is that a lot of the poems feel like they would have been more funny or impactful when actually spoken aloud. As I read them in my head I thought how emphasis on different parts could make the meaning suddenly different but seeing Burnham’s poetry written down and experiencing it that way definitely makes me want to check out more of his shows online.

If like funny and off-kilter poetry or if you are a fan of Bo Burnham, you should definitely check Egghead out. 4/5.

bo burnham