A5 portrait jacket. There is a wallpaper background of snakes in purple or orange, inside portrait-oriented rectangles, some more orange than others. Overall colour impression of background is light orange. The author's name and book title are centred in the top half. Author's name is in thin caps. Book title is larger, lower case and bold black. At the very bottom the publisher's name, AVIATOR imprint, and sunglasses logo are centred.Bad Luck Woman, Alex Bell

Eyewear Aviator, 2016  £5.00

Humour as armour

I’ve been thinking about irony lately. I enjoy it in life. I enjoy it in poetry. I particularly appreciate it alongside vulnerability: it seems a way of saying ‘Look, I am at times small and vulnerable, but here is my brain still functioning – we can share a good joke’. I think it builds trust. Emily Berry is a master here. Others too. And it’s one of the things I enjoyed most about Bad Luck Woman.

The first poem, ‘Overnight’, sets a pace: ‘moths faffed about a bulb’, it starts, sharing an image (sharing its tiredness). Alex Bell paints pictures, with this dry, quite streetwise humour. A poem celebrating ‘Julep’ is cleverly sensual: ‘I think that the ice was crushed by hand. Someone has sweated over this / ice. Beads formed on the long contours of their arm…’

The title poem pens an everywoman-type history of seeking the perfect (male) mate: ‘The first man was a runner. / He was all glisten and sinew… ’ (It’ll come as no surprise to learn this ends badly); ‘The second was a therapist… ’ (Later, inevitably: ‘I was glad not to see him again’.) The fun is in the language. Of course, there’s also pain. I love this line in ‘Georgia on my mind’: ‘We hate to see her go. We love to watch her leave.’ Or this (from ‘The dark end of the street'):

[...]  I think I’m happy with the shadow I’m in.
And me so small I can fit my things in a Tin-Tin tote bag
and be gone by nine. I leave that place so clean
of me.

Some of the poems seem even more overtly funny. ‘Björn Borg in Chicago’, for instance. (Although it is and isn’t: ‘On Björn’s down days, he rarely seeks company. I don’t know why today is different. // “That damn sweatband”, he says, touching his forehead’.)

Plus, throughout, there are deliciously-observed images. ‘I wonder if the mice are the same colour as the dust / on the tracks’, the poet wonders in ‘Encounters at the end of the world’, ‘or coated in it, like truffles in cocoa’.

Charlotte Gann

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When it comes to pamphlet comps, what’s the choice?

A good number of competitions are currently running in the UK. The Poetry Business International Book & Pamphlet Competition is perhaps the best known – and most coveted – but new ones spring up (and down) all the time. Here’s a list to get you started. (Please nudge us if you know of any we’ve missed.)

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