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This review is taken from PN Review 277, Volume 50 Number 5, May - June 2024.

Cover of We Play Here
Sarah-Clare ConlonKathryn Gray, Hollywood or Home (Seren) £9.99;
Dawn Watson, We Play Here (Granta) £10.99
Ready for Your Close-Up?

Showcasing forty-five poems themed around celebrity, Kathryn Gray’s ‘long-awaited second collection’ (Nick Laird’s blurb) isn’t quite on the LA-born ‘unretirement’ tip – Gray being busy with various projects including as co-gatekeeper of the online journal Bad Lilies. As the poet herself acknowledges, though, it’s been a while – ‘Fresh Hell’ admits: ‘I have a book out. My book has been out for sixteen years. Sixteen long years.

It’s now an even longer stretch since her 2004 debut, The Never-Never, though Gray’s though Gray’s nine-
poem pamphlet, Flowers, did make a cameo appearance in 2017. That appears in its entirety in Hollywood or Home, including The Deer Hunter tribute ‘A Bandana’, the mid-eighties-all-American-coming-of-age-movie-inspired triptych ‘Shermerverse’, and ‘Testament’, a kind of angst-ridden teenage love ballad to that book title’s Mr Flowers, lead singer of The Killers: ‘O Brandon, my brown-eyed boy, I will not answer / critics who say you’re a triumph of style over substance…’

There’s a nod therein to Googling (‘hourly’), and there is much in Hollywood or Home requiring research or prior knowledge. Modern movie parlance should allow most readers ‘The Meet-Cute’ – a well-rounded piece that invites complicity with the reader – or phrases such as ‘But here comes the money shot. We fade to black’ in the midpoint poem ‘High Concept’. Nods to specifics, however, and references to perhaps less familiar famous faces than, say, Meryl Streep, and my poor little smartphone was melting. After a full forty-five entries, each needing some level of explanation, and with the ‘Notes to the ...

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