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This review is taken from PN Review 252, Volume 46 Number 4, March - April 2020.

Cover of Dear Big Gods
Hal CoaseUnsettling the Sublime
Mona Arshi, Dear Big Gods. £9.99;
Janette Ayachi, Hand Over Mouth Music (both Liverpool), £9.99
What can a poet do with nature? The question itself hardly belongs in our young, unhappy anthropocene. It is almost a trespass. Full of hubristic presumption, it suggests a tarnished model for thinking about poetry and the environment, one junked and discarded in a not-so-distant past age that is still, nonetheless, littering contemporary thinking. Mona Arshi’s second collection, Dear Big Gods, is at its best when it struggles against the assumptions of nature poetry. These are poems that mostly do nothing ‘with’ nature. Rather, they trace a fraught conversation between their lyric subjects and their environments. It’s a collection that gains its strengths not from the devices of ecopoetry (nothing here, in short, that speaks ‘for’ or ‘to’ nature) but through a tenacious exploration of where the need to use (and abuse) natural metaphors might come from and what we might be left with when they fail us. In its most arresting moments, as in ‘Autumn Epistles’, mid-way through the collection, Arshi constructs curling, measured stanzas that unsettle the sublime and depict thought itself as a plaything of the world around it:
    I bend myself right back
to breath-filled knowing again,
the dormant mumble
    of well-water and the implied
lakes in our mind we
never hesitate to still.

The ‘breath-filled knowing’ of poetry is a refuge of sorts but nothing about this interiority is steady or certain: the moves between images are hesitant, restless – ‘implied’ is the perfect word to note hanging at the poem’s end.

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