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This review is taken from PN Review 224, Volume 41 Number 6, July - August 2015.

Necessary Difficulty toby martinez de las rivas, Terror (Faber and Faber) £9.99
vidyan ravinthiran, Grun-tu-molani (Bloodaxe) £9.95

On the heels of relatively high-profile pamphlets – published respectively through the Faber New Poets scheme and tall-­lighthouse – Toby Martinez de las Rivas and Vidyan Ravinthiran have offered first collections with little interest in pandering to tribal expectations that might be placed upon ‘young’, or at any rate ‘new’, poets. They know the contexts into which they are writing, and both poets are armoured in a difficulty that is rarely ill-fitting or ungenerous.

Ravinthiran’s most persuasive mission statement is found not in his title (courtesy of Saul Bellow: ‘Grun-tu-molani. Man want to live’) but in ‘Fallout 3’: ‘the texture maps beneath my feet / failed and I shifted to third-person view’. Disabling the assumptions that might be made about his Sri Lankan heritage, he writes in another poem ‘I have already found my voice / something to lose’: voice, language, and culture are viewed partly from the outside as failed maps, systems inviting critique. The poems acknowledge the disconnections inherent in a particular middle-class intellectual life. An exotic fruit’s prongs are ‘like Nerf ammunition / or a stress-relieving toy for executives’; post-coitus (as Ravinthiran’s speakers often are), a ‘Kleenexed Durex’ sounds out the ugly copulation of branding; and when ‘a stylist with no signature cut / is pressured to revamp his ailing salon’, the comprehension of poet and reader glances off each polished word like Nerf ammo off a steel fortress. The collection’s finest poem, the funny and pertinent ‘The Moon Under Water’, confidently holds in suspense different notions of the pariah, the reject.

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