Karaoke King

Dai George
Publication Date: 
Monday, June 21, 2021
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This confident second collection by Dai George addresses the contentious nature of the times. Always deeply thoughtful but also alternately ebullient, angry, curious, ashamed, the poet moves through urban and digital spaces feeling both uneasy and exhilarated. As with the Auden of the inter-war period, there is a feeling of history shifting, as a younger generation confronts its ethical obligations, its sense of complicity and disappointment. Ecological crisis hovers in the background, glimpsed in the ‘Fooled Evening’ of a world whose seasonal rhythms have fallen out of joint. Karaoke King also contains numerous reflections on popular culture, culminating in ‘A History of Jamaican Music’, a sequence at the heart of the volume speaking to urgent contemporary questions of ownership and privilege, pain and celebration. 
“Dai George's verse is marvelously restive: one poem, mentioning ‘a split and democratic sky’, returns to the important word to harry and query it: “I mean democratic / as an argument that neither side can win.” These poems, many about music, are both thoughtful and melodic: George's ear is precise, rueful, sanative. His images can amaze, yet through each poem journeys a voice we always want to know better, capable even in the tightest situations of the sort of thought you wish you’d had.” – Vidyan Ravinthiran
“Against a background of ominously skewed weather, these poems search out ‘the structure of the new sky’, asking insistent questions of the world in all its unpredictability. Always sharp-eared, with a soundtrack that ranges from reggae to the most ephemeral jingle, they bring a sparkling attention to dailiness while sounding out a politics entwined with love, hope and subtle humour.” – Zoë Skoulding
“Dai George writes with a syntactical and lexical precision that is staggering. On this second collection he turns his hand to uncovering the minutiae of being in the world; noticing the passage of time; chronicling the sweeps and turns of the political climate; attending to the intimacies of shared experience. In his 'History of Jamaican Music', George adds in poetry to what Carolyn Cooper and David Katz have advanced in prose: extending a conversation on the singular contribution of a small Caribbean island to global music culture.”
 – Kayo Chingonyi


Review by Caroline Bracken, Nation Cymru

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Karaoke King, is everything a second collection should be, surefooted, expansive and hugely entertaining. His voice is completely his own and this book deserves all the prizes it will surely be nominated for. This voice grabs the reader from the first poem ‘Doxology’

‘Blessings flow, but trouble finds me
in the impasse after rain. I mean democratic
as an argument that neither side can win’

to the last, ‘Pink Cones’

‘A leg that fell asleep, hooked under me

on the lawn, buckles as it wakes, becoming

mine again. The songs will be unbanished

in your throat, riddling clouds of midges

make their answer known.’

It is this attention to and manipulation of language that raises the poems to such a high level. Each poem is a world of its own, often worlds we recognise, the deli counter, the park. There is a varied tone in the poems, ranging from the vernacular ‘Who the hell even surfs anymore,’ (Dustin Hoffman in Biarritz) to the formal ‘This is visitation from the lost land close behind,/ the space vacated every time I take my step.’ (Near Historical Swoon) to the prayerful ‘oh let me have been born to this – forever – the visiting hour extending – as I pace the building reading certain signs – anonymous and queasy – let me count on every kindness – sidestep empty trolleys’ (Wards).

George is a master of endings ‘the river’s saying next’ (Ubi Caritas) and beginnings ‘The manhole on 53rd snorts a bower of steam’ (New York Morning, Six Years On). He is not afraid to let the reader in for example in ‘Agoraphobia’ yet doesn’t take himself too seriously ‘Poem in which my hairline recedes’. Every poem in this collection has been weighed and counter-weighed, every word has been held up to the light and spoken aloud in the dark.

Bravo Dai George, Karaoke King is my poetry book of the year so far.

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