Shortlisted for The Seamus Heaney Centre Prize This sharp and unpredictable collection opens in the Cold War. Berkeley’s father was a V-bomber navigator, a conflicted inheritance of pride and guilt which informs the opening poems. While parents struggle to keep life normal, the secrecies and occluded horrors of the period play out in vividly imagined children’s games. One locus of memory is a ruined mansion, sliced into many apartments, through which the adult narrator looks back on the past unsure of what really happened, only that the child did not understand.
The second part of the book develops the theme of shared humanity from the Warsaw fishermen of the title poem to a hi-tech dystopia of the near future, by way of a dissolute Norwegian, a traduced Baudelaire, a contemporary woodwose, and a petrolhead on the A1M.
The array of voices – boastful, baffled, sardonic – employs Berkeley’s experience as a poetry performer with The Joy of Six. In poems that frequently wrongfoot the reader, the Empire shrinks to an opera audience, the Royal Family is reduced to waxworks, and Cambridge finally gets its ecological mass transportation system. Obliquely political, this debut collection takes a sideways look at modern England.
‘Anne Berkeley's poems manage to seem unnervingly direct while coming at you from the most unexpected angles. Whether evoking a childhood lived in the shadow of the Bomb or the skewed reality of a waxworks museum these poems take a clear-eyed look at the world in all its strangeness.’ —Matthew Francis
‘Whether via sound-effects ("the swallowing blue of a million delphiniums"), exact images ("the wall was speckled green, like ice-cream in the gutter") or that assurance with facts that convinces a reader ("gold a micron thick laminates the glass"), Anne Berkeley's writing has immediacy. She says it, you see it.’ —Sheenagh Pugh