Posts in Writing Squad Reviews

"It’s hard to describe the experience of reading The Devastation"

Posted Thursday 7 March 2019 by Writing Squad in Writing Squad Reviews

Melissa Buzzeo – The Devastation (Nightboat, 2015)

In the latest in a series of books by members of the Writing Squad on what book most influenced them, Dominic Leonard writes about a book that does not end with the page...

Buzzeo DavastationIt’s hard to describe the experience of reading The Devastation. It is a long (nearly 200 page) prose poem in several sections, tracing the end of a relationship through its reflections, difficulties, freedoms and relations, using the ongoing metaphorical dynamic of a slow, out-of-time sea-wreck. Refuse builds on the ocean floor as the fragments of what was once intimate connection is thrown down there, left to float away. The poem seems to disregard itself in the act of writing; it is a book, like Bhanu Kapil’s Ban en Banlieue, largely about the inability to write in the face of violence and pain.

I first read this book in the frantic weeks leading up to my undergraduate dissertation submission, and despite its intensity it became a remarkably calming presence in my life – I continued to read it through revision for my finals and into summer. Looking back through it now I can remember the experience of first falling into this book; it is difficult and disorienting, like being lost at sea. The lines often don’t line up in a way that makes immediate sense; M. NourbeSe Philip describes it as a ‘liquification of language that simultaneously drowns yet buoys us up.’ The accumulative effect is one of being utterly adrift from the moors of language:

‘Death to death water to chatter. The recovered chemicals the charter. / Catheter charter / Heart / Beat.’

The book gestures outwards, indicating that it does not begin nor end with the page. Buzzeo’s dynamic use of the line and of white space challenge the very parameters of a book, both literally and metaphorically. The second part of the poem, ‘An Object,’ is one page, on which the poet promises that if she could, she would break off a piece of The Devastation and give it to the reader: ‘Not like a text, like an object.’ I tore most of the page out, and keep it in the back of a notebook.

Dominic LeonardAbout Dominic Leonard

Dominic studied English in Oxford and is now studying for an MA in Postcolonial Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds. His poems and reviews have appeared in Poetry London, Oxford Poetry, The Scores, amberflora, Zarf, and elsewhere. In 2018 he won the Eugene Lee Hamilton Sonnet Prize, was the runner-up for the Jane Martin Prize, and a finalist for the Hollingworth Prize.

Dominic’s pamphlet love, bring myself is published by Broken Sleep Books.

‘Even the night took sides.’- Review of Kingdom of Gravity by Nick Makoha

Posted Friday 1 February 2019 by Writing Squad in Writing Squad Reviews

Kingdom of Gravity"In early November Jay rang me up for our semi regularly scheduled poetry recommendation calls. ‘You have to read Kingdom of Gravity!’ he urged me, ‘Let me just read you a few lines and you can make the call then.’ So, he flicked to a random poem and read the following lines,

‘When the hills were on fire,

There were no angels to guide us.

Only the equator was able to divide

The land equally. Even the night took sides.’

Even the night took sides?! EVEN THE NIGHT TOOK SIDES! That line convinced me to buy Nick Makoha’s debut poetry collection, which I have not been able to put down for three months. Kingdom of Gravity does more than make music from the ruins of Ugandan politics and history but speaks to a peoples unbound by simple borders. Makoha somehow becomes a mouthpiece for the dead, the forgotten, the survivors and those who find themselves in ‘a country where they do not know your name.’

It is almost cinematic in the way it manages to weave together narratives from such diverse perspectives evoking a world somewhere between nightmare and reality. Bordering lyric, prose and in some ways oral history, Makoha somehow creates a collection that could easily sit in an archive somewhere the way it deals with topics of authoritarianism, humanity and mortality in Ugandan politics. These are the testimonies of soldiers, priests, politicians, children and in some ways the very earth itself.

"These are the testimonies of soldiers, priests, politicians, children and in some ways the very earth itself"

As a product of the Ethiopian diaspora, Kingdom of Gravity send me crashing back down to the soil I was uprooted from with the force of its vivid imagery and emotive language. But it’s not even its technicality that is so impressive but its ability to capture those tense moments that can rarely be described in words. Kingdom of Gravity is the silence of memory, the one hushed by a generation of AK47s, those lost moments when languages fly around the room just out of reach. It’s that feeling I get when the wheels hit the tarmac at Bole airport. It’s the place we never got to call home.

"Kingdom of Gravity is the silence of memory, the one hushed by a generation of AK47s"


Fahad Al-AmoudiFahad al-Ahmoudi is a Spoken Word Poet studying History at Durham University. He has performed at venues across the UK and Ethiopia and is currently the captain of the Durham University Slam Team. He is also the lead writer and vocalist for a spoken word band called The Poetry Experiment.

@freeformfahad and @thepoetryexperiment

It Takes Guts: A Story Of Love, Hope And A Missing Bowel By Evelyne Brink

Posted Monday 14 January 2019 by Writing Squad in Writing Squad Reviews

It takes guts: a story of love, hope and a missing bowel by Evelyne Brink"I have a condition that would be best characterised as intestinal failure. Leaving hospital, after six months as an inpatient and no longer able to eat or drink, I was desperate to find someone whom I could relate to regarding my condition. That is when I stumbled upon this book.

The author’s child, Tuffel, was born without a small bowel – meaning that he has to be fed into his veins through a picc line (which is like a long term cannula like you would get in hospital to have a drip through).

Having never met him or his mother, I gained a strong affinity with his story and trials, a connection so strong I couldn’t quite believe I only knew this family through these pages.

Hannah HodgsonEvelyne reminds me of my own mum, who amidst the chaos going on in our lives had the same strength and positivity shining through as had been described in the chapters of this book.

I come from a very traditional and stoical background, and so at first it was difficult for me to write about my experiences – but this book was my first step towards granting myself the permission to write about this subject and allowed me to recognise that you can write about the good as well as the bad.

This mother and baby helped to make me feel comfortable in my newly diagnosed skin.

I come back to It Takes Guts often, reminding me that love and humour are still important, even in the darkest of situations."

About Hannah

Dear Body Hannah HodgsonHannah Hodgson’s poetry pamphlet, ‘Dear Body’ is published by Wayleave Press at the beginning of 2018. and has been described as “a moving and salutary poetry collection, the poems precise and controlled, expressive without excess or sentimentality.” and “written with an expressive cathartic tone, a unique and wit-ridden perspective and a resilient refusal to be overcome.”

Hannah has also been published by Acumen, Poetry Salzburg, Under the Radar magazine and has won many young poets network competitions, with a range of my poems available on The Poetry Society website.

As well as visiting school to talk about alternative life routes to university, especially for those experiencing health issues, Hannah has run poetry workshops for The Reading Agency and has been blogger in residence for he Kendal Poetry Festival and The Words by the Water.

Through her YouTube blog she acts as a patient advocate, hoping to give a window in to what life is like as a young woman whose life has been drastically changed, but not defined, by disability and Illness.

Link to YouTube blog:

Link to site:

"The world is a strange and terrifying place": James Varney reviews "Dressing" by Michael DeForge

Posted Tuesday 4 December 2018 by Writing Squad in Writing Squad Reviews

"I first encountered Michael DeForge in issue #7 of his comic series, Lose, and it was revolting. Flesh may as well be jelly in his illustrations; bodies flow from one shape to another, and his longer stories feature grotesque and beautiful physical transformations, or slow but inevitable bodily degradation.

Dressing coverDressing is a short story collection. The stories are all comics but aside from including images and text they range in style and form wildly. More than once, I have handed the collection to someone and seen them amazed to know the whole thing is the work of a single person. Deforge will return to writing and illustration styles he has used before but has the ability to adapt his style for the story he is telling. This means we find abstract lines and colours accompanied by sentences of prose, in All of My Friends, Up High, in a Jumbo Jet, in the same collection as the simple, expressive figures and visual storytelling in the panel-comic Mars is my Last Hope.

The startling thing about Michael DeForge’s writing and creations is that in amongst stories of mermaid-based dot coms, flirting fish, leaping millions of miles in one bound, he retains the ability to recreate the tangible, skin-tearing awkwardness of human interactions. Someone’s face may melt away into a shapeless lump, but the tension in the story comes from their parents cutting off communication, their milk mysteriously curdling. Bodies are frequently an inconvenient detail of DeForge’s work – he deviates persistently from presenting naturalistic human characters. And the result is stories where changing emotional states are as important as morphing physical ones.

Christmas DressingIn Dressing, DeForge writes about anxiety, relationships, depression and alienation with the sense of a hand held out to you, which rather than taking your hand, strokes your elbow. The comics in Dressing end suddenly – you turn a page and there is a new story, the last panel you read becomes the final panel and suddenly is transformed. You’re forced to make sense of it. And that latent finality is something I see in the small mysteries of life, moments that are suddenly retroactively given significance: the last time you hung out with a partner before they dumped you, the morning you woke up before discovering someone had died.

My favourite by far is My Sister Dropped Dead From The Heat, a scrappy and brutal comic in eight panels, ‘Drawn on a flight between Oakland and Las Vegas 08/10/2014’. It feels like an idea thrown down with force and exemplifies what I love most about DeForge’s work. DeForge’s characters are abject. They are at the mercy of both their own unreliable flesh, and the cruel rules of social interaction. The world is a strange and terrifying place, and so is your own body."

About the reviewer

James VarneyJames Varney is a writer and theatre maker based in Manchester. He has written for Le Monde, The Real Story, Exeunt and The Stage. He is currently developing Prince Gorge, a long-form poem and gig in which Prince George of Cambridge grows up to become a Queer cult leader. He maintains a blog of cultural criticism at and tweets @mrjvarney.

Event Boundary, a dramatic monologue written by James, was performed as part of My Uncle Who Works For Nintendo, a night of new writing inspired by playground rumours, urban myths and creepypastas at The Peer Hat in Manchester, Wed 25 October.

James is one of the featured writers in The Last Christmas, a collaboration between Writing Squad writers and Composers from the No Dice Collective, at the Anthony Burgess centre, Manchester on 7 December

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