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This Is Not A Rescue

Emily Blewitt
ISBN-13: 
9781781724095
Publication Date: 
Thursday, April 27, 2017
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‘Blewitt draws us in with her keen eye for quirkiness, a good ear for dialogue and her riotous delight in all things absurd.’ – Maria Apichella, The Poetry School

‘Here is a riotous, cacophonous and wonderful book. Here is an important new voice in British poetry.’
– Jonathan Edwards, author of My Family and Other Superheroes.

 

This Is Not a Rescue is the eagerly-awaited debut collection from Emily Blewitt. These poems move in various registers, keyed to their subject-matter. There are pieces that take a playful approach to the author’s native Wales (‘How to Explain Hiraeth to an Englishman’, ‘How to Marry a Welsh Girl’) which resist cliché by subverting our expectations. Similarly, there are several sharp, satirical poems about modern office life; these paint a familiar scene, redolent of boredom and lechery (‘When I Think of Bald Men’, ‘The Question’).

The author’s coolly intelligent wit is to the fore in ‘Devouring Jane’, which updates Jane Austen’s heroes for a 21st-century Elizabeth Bennet. There are also a number of instructional poems, survival guides for the modern heroine: ‘Woman Poet’, ‘Self-Defence’, ‘Things My Dance Teacher Used to Say’. These contrast with some intensely personal lyrics that touch on childhood trauma, on depression, on sexual and domestic violence (‘When in Recovery’, ‘Sometimes I Think of Chapel’, ‘Forgiveness’). The revealing honesty of these pieces makes for compelling reading.

There are also poems inspired by popular culture, for a TV and internet-saturated age: ‘The Walking Wed’, ‘On Watching Paranormal Witness’, ‘Boba Fett and the Sarlacc’.

Perhaps most striking, however, are the number of startlingly beautiful love poems: ‘The Philobrutist’, ‘I Threw Myself at You’, ‘We Broke Up’, ‘Navigation Points’. Often a poem will initially seem to be about a landscape or an animal – say, a bird (‘Honeyguide’) – but this ostensible subject matter is a mere prelude to subtle declarations of passion, of yearning, of desire. 

Also here are two sequences: one inspired by crows, and the other by a favourite cat. The author’s appealingly wry, thoughtful manner, a delightfully circuitous wit, and her pointed intelligence, make this book one of the best and most entertaining debuts you are likely to read this year. 

REVIEWS

Review by Maria Apichella, The Poetry School

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

If Jane Austen was a modern Welsh poet, her name would be Emily Blewitt.

This Is Not a Rescue (Seren) is an easy mix of dark and light, scooping its inspiration from the years between girlhood to marriage in Wales. These are old-fashioned yet ageless themes and Blewitt draws us in with her keen eye for quirkiness, a good ear for dialogue and her riotous delight in all things absurd, such as these lines remembered from a natty dance teacher who smoked during lessons and made personal comments:

 

Keep your eyes up

You’re blushing again

You’re as flat-chested as I am

if you don’t use it you lose it

if you don’t click this time, there’s something wrong with you

You’re too naïve

 

These poems are not naïve yet there is a total lack of pretention. For example, we have poems about chilling out on the sofa watching Paranormal Witness.

 

The house they find is empty, cheap

as chips and chipped all over: old panels, damp; nothing that a lick

of paint and some love won’t fix, they think. If it were me

I’d wonder what the catch was

 

Blewitt’s writing voice is endearing, sweet and self-deprecating. Some of the poems read like gossipy, literary conversations you might hear at college. Her favourite Austen male character says it all:

 

Only one satisfies:

Robert Martin,

bare arms like hams,

shirt sleeves rolled up

ready for supper.

Unbuckling his belt at the prospect of pudding,

he tells me there is no time for poetry

but he’ll keep me in steak,

love my brown eyes

that remind him of cows.

 

The majority of these poems throw themselves at the reader ‘like a kiss across a crowded room,’ but others are as unsettling as an egg lobbed at a window. There is an undercurrent of trauma, a sense of wrestling dark desires to self-destruct. In one poem she imagines leaping out the window, wondering if she will ‘fall the way cats do’. ‘When in Recovery’ is a very matter-of-a-fact poem about mental health:

 

Resist the urge to stick your knife in the toaster.

Be reckless enough to decent hills at a decent pace

but pick your mountains wisely. Get out of breath.

Focus on words, wasting them. Take citalopram –

four syllables, once a day, behind the tongue.

 

As her dance teacher says, ‘it takes a bit of grit to make a pearl’.

As well as personal suffering there is a sensitivity to others. I was moved by ‘Witness’, a poem which recalls the suicide of a young man, presumably a friend from school who played the clarinet and leaned on the desk laughing along with his peers:

 

Word spread quickly

that winter:

your car, abandoned,

the driver’s side

a gaping mouth

to your graceful vault

over the barrier

toward the river.

 

There is also a creepy, reoccurring figure of an abusive uncle who did something horrific to her mother. The effects burn into the skin of the next generation.

 

I am my mother’s daughter. I forgive

the man, my grandmother who let him in,

who called my mother a bloody liar

[…]

But I am my father’s daughter, too. I won’t

forget. Every night,

I bury the man alive and breathing.

My fires burn hotter than any crematorium.

 

One very short poem creates a cold sense of unease, showing a community in the midst of an unspecified crisis:

 

The village is out.

There are stars, houses

wrapped in snow. A search begins.

 

Although it is not referred too, it reminded me of when five-year old April Jones went missing in Machynlleth, mid-Wales in 2012. The whole community went out searching for the girl whose remains were eventually found. I lived not far away at the time and Blewitt captures so well that eerieness of a communal wound.

Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed the Welshness of the book, the sense of hiraeth: that nagging, tricky to define feeling of ‘the soul’s longing for home.’ The imagery of lighthouses, harbour walls, old boats, sand dunes, salt and a dog following the smell of chips into Cardiff town centre created a sure-footed sense of place. Being a Welsh person presenting herself to the English is shown in a somewhat self-conscious manner. Her English lover (a Saes), is a quiet figure in the poems; he seems obligating but disoriented and puzzles through her familiar streets ‘feeling lost to this west country that is no West Country’. Soon she finds herself as a bride to an English groom, and in ‘How to Marry a Welsh Girl’ she helps him navigate by describing a series of nuptial traditions. She uses humour to send up but also celebrate that aspect of her culture:

 

For a dowry you take what you can,

get what your given: the chapel, prolific sheep, jackdaws, circling

hills and black mountains, the usual ropey singing

at the pub they don’t speak English in, cheese and pickle

cocktail sticks, pasties, corned beef.

[…]

you won’t know

to carve a lovespoon, but I’ll tell you that birdsong in the morning

means luck; there might be donations of cheese, money, wool, bacon.

 

Poets at Seren are invited to choose their own cover. Blewitt chose a cat, a contemporary yet impressionistic painting of a tabby. It sits upright, face turned away in a concentrated, feline gaze. Its head hovers just above a large blue and black shadow that its dappled body casts on the pearl-grey carpet. This is a well-chosen picture. It combines a simple joy in domesticity with the shifting shades of inner darkness. The cat is the perfect symbol for this collection: a mysterious synthesis of softness and brutality.

Review by Sophie Baggott, Wales Arts Reviw

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Spoiler alert: Emily Blewitt’s new collection This Is Not A Rescue may indeed, contrary to claims, be about a rescue. My reason for so bold an assertion? Well, for a start, her poems hint gently and gratefully at a recovery from depression with the crucial support of family, friends and felines. Second, her acknowledgements end with a dedication to her husband and cat: ‘Both rescued me’, she states. Enough to go on there, I think.

The collection opens on its titular poem, summoning a coastal scene conjured up by ‘I’ and featuring ‘you’, though the two are merged really. ‘You’ is edging towards freedom, nudged by a modern-day knight in shining armour, that is, a figure handing over tools for DIY-use:

 

He’ll spot the pebbles that in secret you have sewn

into your skirts and give you the penknife to unpick them.

 

The male figure encourages ‘you’ to brave the waters, despite her fears, coaxing with the memory that she loves the ocean. It’s a touching piece, but perhaps pins too many immediate and significant thanks to another individual, detracting a little from the insistence against a rescue – an insistence underscored on the back cover.

The poems in Blewitt’s debut collection sometimes bob on a lighthearted surface of jocularity, sometimes plummet to depths of abuse, fear and depression. Upbeat or down, the voice always feels personal – confessional even – and this draws the reader into forming a curiosity about the person at the other end of the book’s life cycle.

Female protagonists howl in multifarious ways. One, the Woman Poet, is a ‘smouldering’ (this adjective entertains her) ‘wild bitch howling’. Her heels are ‘a stiletto pressed to the artery’, while her throat opens like ‘a kookaburra in a tree full of snakes’. She’s predatory, a force to be recolours with. Flick twenty pages on, and there’s an altogether different tone of howling. Throughout ‘In Recovery’ the poet doles out instructions, again presumably to herself: ‘When you cry, howl at the moon’, she exhorts. The poem outlines how fragile a person can feel when battling depression:

 

Understand that there are days you watch yourself

as though you are a balloon held aloft your body

by a slip of string you fear will break.

 

The collection broaches numerous raw, dark subjects, presented as traumas that flare in the poet’s memory. One particularly striking poem, ‘Sometimes I Think of Chapel’, first tamely dabs a painting of a young, frocked and frilly-socked girl who potters in the vestry. The second stanza reflects on her mother leading her up for the aisle for a final time, slipping in the subtle notion that her mother was abused: ‘…what her Uncle did to her, the congregation watching’. It’s a haunting image that reappears and catches one unawares throughout the collection. 

Blewitt balances these heavy-going revelations with breezy, bright poems about Welshness. One of which, ‘How to Marry a Welsh Girl, was perused and enjoyed (if not entirely comprehended) by my very English boyfriend, who skimmed over the cawl and ‘griddle next to the currant-filled cakes’ with a bemused indifference. Little does he know the importance of a batch of fluffy, sugary picau ar y maen. Perhaps he was more concerned by the ‘da and brawd [who] won’t give up the chase’. The poem twinkles with traditions and stereotypes, all tongue-in-cheek of course:

 

Since you’re a Saes you won’t know

to carve a lovespoon, but I’ll tell you that birdsong in the morning

means luck; there might be donations of cheese, money, wool, bacon.

 

The collection sews in several love poems, including the radiant ‘My Colours – a favourite of mine among the poems in This Is Not A Rescue. The poet leads the addressee (the poems are in second person more often than not) through the colourful pictures dotted across her skin, including a portrait of Blodeuwedd on her right breast and a cicada on her collarbone. The ending lines explode with vivid shades:

 

I am an ephemera

of red kites

wheeling

through stormy skies

 

I am a riot

a cacophony

a bird of paradise

a gilded kingfisher

diving blue

 

The vibrancy and free-spirited atmosphere here is a far cry from the more greyscale talks that Blewitt has with herself at points in the collection. ‘Dear Emily’ describes the poet eyeing herself knowingly, steamed-up: ‘It is as though someone has smudged you | with greasy fingers’. This poem is virtually devoid of colour – the closest we come is the charcoal shell of a woodlouse. This scene from the midst of depression is a stark distance from the later rainbow rays of ‘My Colours’.

This Is Not A Rescue is a brave and reflective collection that I imagine will gain Blewitt a close-knit, loyal readership in Wales. The poems are familiar and the poet’s confessional tone gives her collection the air of a friend sharing thoughts. She has wheeled through stormy skies and emerged from the bad weather with a glow.

 

Review by Neil Leadbeater, WriteOutLoud

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Several things are clear from this collection: Emily Blewitt loves cats and she adores reading Jane Austen. She also has a penchant for American documentaries. Blewitt was born in Carmarthen, studied at Oxford and York and has a PhD from Cardiff University. This Is Not A Rescue is her debut collection. The title poem was highly commended for best individual poem in the 2016 Forward prizes.

The cover artwork by Karin Jurick hints at what is to come because cats and other animals frequently populate this collection. Blewitt is most at ease when writing about animals. She has studied their movements well. Of particular interest are those poems which blur the boundaries between animals and humans. In the poem ‘When I Think of Bald Men’ vultures unexpectedly come to the fore:

 

     … vultures that are nicknamed Bearded Vulture,

 

     Slender-Billed Vulture, Red-Headed Vulture, White-Rumped Vulture

     by their vulture friends. Every office has some –

     you know the men I mean. The ones that are reluctant

     to fly; the ones that hiss when threatened.

 

Similarly, in the prose poem ‘How to Explain Hiraeth to an Englishman’ where we are told that Hiraeth is one of those untranslatable Welsh words that is roughly equivalent to the soul’s longing for home, the subject is populated with greyhounds and in ‘Witness’ a boy is described as a cormorant. These unexpected, extended metaphors present Blewitt at her best.

‘The Walking Wed’ with its suggestion of ‘the walking wounded’ is a tightly-crafted poem suggesting that life and all its important stages is some kind of endurance test:

 

     So it’s arrived: the zombie apocalypse. The trick

     is to keep moving; like guests at a wedding,

     we begin at the bar and creep past

     sweating ushers who know their turn is coming –

     inexorably coming, staggering and shunting

     towards them like an old train carriage or a barge

     on a canal through a tunnel …

 

In this collection there are shipwreckers and there are home wreckers, love poems, weddings, recovery and self-defence. The subject matter is wide enough to hold our interest and attention. Within these subjects there are references to characters invented by Jane Austen, (‘Devouring Jane’), The Addams Family (‘Resolution’) and Star Wars (‘Boba Fett and Sarlacc’). Welsh customs are also described in ‘How to Marry a Welsh Girl’.

In ‘Things My Dance Teacher Used to Say’ we learn much about the dance teacher and also her pupil even though it is only the dance teacher who is doing the speaking. This is a fine poem that works on several levels. These are the things that the dance teacher once said  - they are not cast in direct speech but in reported speech. They are the things that the pupil, for one reason or another, has remembered. There is a dreamlike stream of consciousness feel to the poem rendered by the absence of punctuation and the short, disembodied lines. Just as the pupil recalls these sayings, so we the readers will continue to remember the memorable turns of phrase and lines of thought to be found in this book. Recommended.

 

Review by John Redmond, New Welsh Review

Monday, July 3, 2017

...Carefully constructed and shot through with good-humour, this is a book which radiates charm. At a time when political poetry seems ever more in the ascendant, these poems are refreshingly free of public commentary. Here is a book which nears no trace of Brexit/Trump – our contemporart ‘one story only’. The lyric self that is displayed here is an uncomplicated one built principally out of family and romantic relationships. Closely observed men – and cats – are favourite subjects and a number of poems are given over to their categorisation:

Every office has some –
you know the men I mean. The ones that are reluctant
to fly; the ones that hiss when threatened.

To the degree that the book has any politics at all, then to adapt a phrase of Clifford Geertz, it is a politics of the skin’s edge. The poems are relentlessly physical, and at the same time, worried about the body.

...

Blewitt’s influences are of the mainstream – the beguiling title-poem struck me as pitched somewhere between Rich’s ‘Diving into the Wreck’ and Sexton’s ‘Her Kind’. There are also hints of Plath, Duffy and, in the sequence, ‘Gifts from Crows’ (which features a talking crow), of Hughes. There are some blemishes – some of the poems are too slight or too flat and there is occasional recourse to off-the-shelf poeticisms: ‘his eyes / are ocean’. Overall, though, this is far from being a pretentious book. The author, who partly specialises in nineteenth-century literature, actually makes less of her academic hinterland than might have been expected. Abtruse references are few. The personality that the reader encounters is natural and recognisable – a major element of the book’s appeal...

Read the full review on the New Welsh Review website.

 

Review by Kitty Donnelly, Mslexia

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

This Is Not A Rescue begins with a statement. However, this is a collection full of questions: some dark, some humorous, many intertwined with the natural world and all in tune with the conflicts and complexities of present day living. The mythology of the female writer is explored from the first poem onwards. She is a changeable figure, this woman, sometimes martyr (“consume me with fire”), sometimes vixen (in her “blue-black jeans” and heels like “a stiletto pressed to the artery”). She’s both ancient and modern, vulnerable and predatory.
Themes of predators and prey return throughout the collection. In ‘When I Think of Bald Men’, Blewitt uses the metaphor of vultures skillfully, with both humour and a more sinister undercurrent. She also exposes similar issues in ‘The Question’ (cleverly left unanswered) of sexual consent. She conjures the ‘office creep’ in both these poems, exposing his nature for what it is: the frustrated animal who fosters rage within the cage of his own inadequacies. To me (perhaps because I’m soft) she also managed to convey a sense of pity, of the need for social inclusion and the consequences of this being stifled and turning to bitterness.
There are significant references to sexual abuse running through the collection that repeatedly asserted themselves, unable to be ignored. ‘Sometimes I Think of Chapel’ is full of innocence lost. The child’s enthusiasm and “frilly socks” are juxtaposed with the mother’s experience (“what uncle did to her”) and her conviction and resilience: “…let her never learn to kneel”. I felt this was a powerful statement: supplication is not an option. This theme returns as a clever twist in ‘On Watching Paranormal Activity’. The poem begins as a descriptive account of a TV series and ends with a question: what if the ghost, the demon, is in fact “a favourite uncle” creeping into the bedroom?
“It takes a bit of grit to make a pearl” the dance teacher says in one of the later poems and that phrase summed up the collection to me: like the split-sky of a horizon: half day, half night. If I had more of my word count left, I’d mention the sparking Welsh humour and cadences, the striking animal metaphors and the overwhelming triumph of love and tenderness. It’s all there to be discovered.

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