Saturday, November 22, 2014

Black Country by Liz Berry poetry review – ‘love flowed out of me like honey’

A prizewinning debut collection that fizzes with transcendent language

Liz Berry
Earthy, no-nonsense appeal … Liz Berry.
They say poetry, like charity, begins at home. If her debut book of poems is anything to go by, Liz Berry would surely agree. Along with its lavish, atmospheric cover image of a bird’s dark plumage, what is immediately striking about Black Country, winner of the Forward prize for best first collection, is the way it digs deep into the poet’s West Midlands roots, enlivening and reimagining the heritage of that eponymous heartland of iron foundries, coal mines and steel mills, on both personal and public footings.

Here are Thomas Telford’s “fabled waterways” and the swaggering Lady Godiva, the right hook of the “Tipton Slasher” and the legend of “The Black Delph Bride”. Even a “Birmingham Roller”, the unlikely pigeon famous for its tumbling backflips in mid-flight, turns up: an emblem of light and hope amid the dark post-industrial hinterland. And, of course, the “bostin fittle” – Black Country dialect for “great food” – of granny’s homemade “faggots minced with kidney and suet”, as Berry brings her readers’ “lips to the hide of the past: / salty, dark, unexpected”.

What gives much of Berry’s poetry its distinctive flavour is her use of the vernacular More

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