Book Review - Black Country by Liz Berry

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The Black Country of this book's title refers to an area in England's West Midlands that became a powerhouse of industry during the Industrial Revolution - coal mining, foundries and steel mills.

Despite that background and a considerable amount of the poetry that is rooted in descriptions of working class life, there's also a reasonable focus on elements of nature, particularly bird life.

Black Country won the Forward Prize for Best First collection in 2014 and is published by Chatto & Windus who also brought us my favorite English poet Helen Mort.

What is striking about Black Country is Berry's use of what I assume is Black Country dialect.  To get a idea of what I am talking about have a listen to Bird performed here by the poet.

It should be noted that not all poems feature the use of dialect.  I quite like this feature of Berry's poetry, I think it helps broaden our definition of poetry or of what some might consider to be appropriate language for poetry.

As mentioned, Black Country does have a considerable focus on aspects of life in the West Midlands, but I still found a wide variety of subject matter and poetry form.  Bird kicks off the collection with what I see as a metaphorical escape from the confines of that life and perhaps perceived gender roles. The 5th Dudley Girl Guides twangs the strings of nostalgia.  There's poems about motherhood daughter hood, gender and sensuality.

I really enjoyed the collection and I'll be returning to Berry's work as part of my Year on Poetry, to engage in some close reading.


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