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This review is taken from PN Review 265, Volume 48 Number 5, May - June 2022.

Cover of The Barman
Joe Carrick-VartyPoints of Departure
Helen Bowell, The Barman (Bad Betty Press) £7
Eve Esfandiari-Denney, My Bodies This Morning This Evening (Bad Betty Press) £7
Jess McKinney, Weeding (Hazel Press) £10
Manuela Moser, Last night, the mountain (Bad Betty Press) £7
I love a pamphlet. Especially a debut pamphlet. That fast-coming adage of ‘EP before album’ just works. Here we are at the beginning or, not really the beginning beginning, there’s so much that happens before a pamphlet comes out – maybe a degree, magazine publication, tweeting etc. – but the beginning in terms of any kind of homogeneous collection of work). These are a poet’s first breaths, first steps into the mode of book publication, of fashioning ideas into a discernible complete thought, and pushing pages into the world. It’s newness… and newness, for any reader, is revitalising.

Helen Bowell’s pamphlet The Barman (Bad Betty Press, 2022) is, amongst many things, a cross section of a relationship. At one moment funny and heart-breaking: ‘Can I give you this trout for safe-keeping?’, the next frank and arresting: ‘I had a dream the barman couldn’t find his favourite pen / and called me a slanty-eyed thief’, the poems offer up truths, illuminating the many angles of a problematic romantic relationship, for all the toxicity and joy and nostalgia and hopelessness, and I loved them for it.

Brilliant images like ‘the nine drunk selfies / we snapped early on… after last orders, our teeth still / white and hard as promises’ orbit a shadow, a darkness, that rears its head with shocking clarity, as in ‘Scaredy Barman’: ‘One time a man spray-painted WHORE / on my friend’s house while she slept.’ And it’s the moments when these darknesses are set into relief that really got me, when they collide with light, as in ‘Summer’: ‘We laze before the telly and through the windows / the great flash ...


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