Was It for This by Hannah Sullivan; Toys/Tricks/Traps by Christopher Reid; This Afterlife: Selected Poems by A E Stallings - review by Stephen Knight

Stephen Knight

Home Truths

Was It for This

By

Faber & Faber 112pp £12.99

Toys/Tricks/Traps

By

Faber & Faber 96pp £14.99

This Afterlife: Selected Poems

By

Carcanet 240pp £15.99
 

Hannah Sullivan’s poetry is exceptional in the specificity and candour with which it draws on autobiography and retrospection. Was It for This, the follow-up to her T S Eliot Prize-winning debut, Three Poems, is a second instalment of life writing, its title pointedly taken from the opening of Wordsworth’s two-book version of The Prelude. In three long pieces, Sullivan considers new motherhood in the shadow of Grenfell Tower, contemplates reaching the midpoint in her life as she turns forty-one and returns to subjects explored in her first book: her time in New York in her twenties, the death of her father and the birth of her first child. Rented, bought or inherited, the home is a key motif, most troublingly in ‘Tenants’, where the theme in places seems to resist poetic treatment (‘Before the fire, the firemen weren’t informed/That rainscreen cladding might be flammable’) but which closes with the devastating image of ‘sprinklers turning in the garden squares’.

‘I wanted all of it again to do again,’ she says twice in ‘Happy Birthday’. The granular detail of her writing is a clutching at the moment, or a desire for the restoration of the past. The result

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