Pretty in Pink


Humbert Summer, A.K. Blakemore (77pp, 9.99, Eyewear)


I first came across Amy Blakemore, now writing under the gender neutralised, machine gun like, A.K. Blakemore, in the anthology Voice Recognition: 21 poets for the 21st century. The youngest of the featured poets (she was born in 1991), her poems felt strangely exciting, it wasn't that they were perfect, there was however a sense that she was a young writer who knew exactly what she wanted to say and would waste no time in saying it. Her subject matter sprung from her immediate surroundings, there was a poem about the end of year school disco:

   Girls come sheathed in chiffon and satin
   bee-sting tits, flimsy lips,
   waistline gold chains that they finger nervously
       [from 'Achievement']

that made me feel there are not enough poems about school discos, but then, considering the average age of most poets, perhaps that's for the best.

Blakemore took up poetry after being force fed exam board favourite Carol Ann Duffy at A level, who she found 'rubbish', her teacher challenged her to do better and she accepted. Dissatisfied by stuffy modern poets, 'who deny ever having seen Friends', her main goal in writing was 'not to be boring'. Her debut collection Humbert Summer
more than meets that goal, it is the very opposite of boring, it is thrilling, punchy and occasionally frightening. Humbert Summer is written in a style that screams hello, kicks you in the shin and steals your biscuits (in a charming way), it's manifestly not a collection that will sit quietly on a shelf and gather dust, from the bright pink cover to titles like 'you can put it anywhere', 'kill all men club', 'licking future doctors'. A.K Blakemore's first instinct is to shock her reader, she makes no apologies for herself or the way she lives, a position she makes clear in the Lolita referencing title poem:

   you're old
   you wont get it.

None of the poems from the six year old Voice Recognition
selection are included in Humbert Summer, Blakemore has grown up and her style has matured slightly, she doesn't always bother with capital letters and the pace is much quicker, the violence a little louder. She has moved on from sipping J2O at the disco to the hedonistic fancy of tripping through moonlit forests:

                                    this is what you wanted all along
   eros-stink, the darkness of the forest by the motorway
   to be as high as lilacs on our college walls and with hell scrawled
   on bare chest
          [from 'Charlie']

She has a good ear for the sensual, the world she describes is a blurry whirl of sin crashing against the mundane surfaces of modern life. There is a sense of dislocation in her relationship with popular culture, it is unavoidably present but unavoidably disappointing, it is a switch that can't be switched off. She is not unromantic, however the aggressiveness with which she pursues pleasure can sometimes feel a little overly narcissistic. 

Blakemore's poetry sits neatly among the new generation of so called post-internet poets, a group of emerging young writers that have refreshed the poetry scene with new journals, presses and nights, post internet poetry almost has the buzz of being a 'movement'. The poet Blakemore most closely resembles from that group is Sam Riviere, whose weary eyed, paranoid texts are often the perfect encapsulation the culture they decry. Consider the two poets side by side:

   Are you brave enough for our very final finale?
   I have a cat, I have a band or two.
   We've got cocktails for grown-ups.
         [from 'spooky sunsets']

And:

   maybe five gin & tonics
   a spliff in the garden
   then the train back to Deptford -
        [from 'young adult']

Their shared disaffected gaze makes it hard to separate one from the other (for the record the former is Riviere and the latter is Blakemore) both poets despair and delight in modernity, both meet Rimbaud's command to be 'absolutely modern'.

Blakemore has also picked up tricks from Emily Berry, who awarded her the 2014 Melita Hume prize. Like Berry, Blakemore has a penchant for medical men, however whereas in Berry's poem 'The Incredible History of Patient M' it is the doctor who 'bites and leaves a mark', in Blakemore's poem 'licking future doctors' she draws first blood: 'you are an animal/ you're instinct was to eat him'. These vampire like tendencies also leave teeth marks in 'indie':

   I cannot think of
   a new form of closeness

   that does not involve
   the mutual ingestion of blood

When she's not devouring human flesh Blakemore is often having her own flesh devoured, 'naked and shaking -/down in the bright and blood-red leaves'. The twisted, ever-shifting relationship of predator and prey adds to the fervour. Sex is an important subject for Blakemore, she sings the body electric, unafraid to write about the erotic in an unguarded way, unafraid to leave herself exposed. Her poetry seems to be informed by the feminist ideas of the emancipation of the body, she has the power over her own pleasure, yet she is willing to give up that power if it's worth it.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of Humbert Summers
is the beautiful shape the language sometimes takes, descriptions and metaphors are often very sweetly formed. One of the earliest poems in the collection 'you envied the stars their height' opens:

   the day folded:
   like a cabbage white closing its wings
   on a windowsill

It is in moments like this that Blakemore is at her best. The tendency to fight for attention is not necessary when attention has already been won by the skill of the writing.  Blakemore was never going to be a boring poet, her savage flippancy and razor sharp intelligence propel her miles from the mundane. Now that she's proved her school teacher wrong, the challenge for her is to get better and better. I'd like to see her take greater risks with language instead of content. I'd like to see her strip her poetry down to its bones and jar the senses. Whatever she does next, it will be a joy to watch her bloom.

       Charlie Baylis 2015