Emily Berry’s Dear Boy – Reviewed by Pam Johnson

Running through this collection we find episodes in the story of a long-distance relationship. The title poem is addressed to the absent lover: ‘…You know perfectly well I believe/nothing worthwhile is explainable. Dear boy,/don’t be so literal…/… we can make something up.’

Daring to make things up is what Berry excels at. She creates voices and viewpoints as would a fiction writer. Her poems are lyrical fictions, character-driven, compact narratives, filled with the poetry of precise observation and imagery, ‘… the clouds seemed to send down/light like spaceships marking where to land.’ Moments of insight often blend with the surreal: ‘You can buy non-sequiturs in bundles now/from international supermarkets. And guilt,/ where is that sold?’

“A Short Guide to Corseting” reveals Berry’s talent for characterisation, deft verbal play and a light touch in tackling ‘issues.’ This first-person account of a body being moulded to achieve a fourteen inch waist, smartly splices the language of the magazine problem page, ‘… we were in a loving and supportive relationship,’ and 21st century gym culture, ‘My trainer keeps me corseted twenty-three/hours a day. Any less is a waste of time…’, into a voice that seems to reside in the 19th Century, ‘…My breasts frothed/like champagne from a bottle.’

Berry jacket

Though many of the poems have a confessional intent they never read as if the poet is baring all. Rather than asking the reader to ‘listen in’ to a single voice, Berry’s poems offer imaginative spaces for the reader to enter and encounter a range of human experience and emotion, dramatised. Entertaining and thought-provoking, these poems are smart, witty and often warm-hearted.

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