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This review is taken from PN Review 255, Volume 47 Number 1, September - October 2020.

Cover of Mutton Rolls
Joe Carrick-VartyMutton Rolls
Mutton Rolls, Arji Manuelpillai (Out-Spoken Press) £7

At one moment darkly funny and insightful, the next prophetic and gut wrenching, the poems in Arji Manuelpillai’s debut pamphlet Mutton Rolls oscillate between a multitude of tones, as in ‘nominated for a BAME prize’ when a speaker remarks: ‘it’s always in capitals / like someone is shouting it’, before returning home: ‘tomorrow when I meet my family / I shall tell then I was loved’. Public and private lives, inner and outer worlds, Manuelpillai offers it all, and asks tough questions in the process. None more so than in ‘after being called a paki’, which begins in quiet innocuity under the shadow of its title: ‘my father used to say / the hardest oranges to peel / are often the sweetest’. This is a terrifyingly important poem whose minute stanzas and complete lack of punctuation lay the foundations for a heart-breaking final arrest:
tonight when I tell
my father what happened
he covers his mouth
with his hand
an orange peel attaching
back onto an orange

The poems in Mutton Rolls will keep you on your toes, never quite settled. At one moment ‘an orgasm is caught in the breeze’ the next a man is pickpocketing a corpse after a tsunami ‘quietly as though hiding it from the sky’. Magical.

Manuelpillai’s voice is subtle and concerned with the edge of things, the fine lines between this and that, the gesture we might have missed, ‘the lady to the right / casual as breathing… [who]… pulled her handbag close’. These ...

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