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Miss Havisham, Sharon Tate, the Hitchcock Blonde, the Woman who Became a Sofa: all lovely phantoms with stories to tell. This is poetry that tests the boundaries of acceptable subject matter, exploring obsessions (the Manson Family and the death of Sharon Tate, lovers and daughters, family secrets) and the obsessed (Hitchcock and his leading ladies, Miss Havisham, rural weirdos and local heroes).
Here are “still lives” that seem fixed by choice or circumstance, but draw you in to the mystery and ingenuity of the limitless moment. The enviable lives of the rich and famous, movie stars and Beverly Hills residents, are shown to be just as fixed and circumscribed, but a lot less secure.
Transformation or escape is possible, sometimes with the help of a little magic, a criminal act, or the blind leap of faith characteristic of those in love. Not all transformations are to our taste: be careful what you wish for, lovely phantoms.
‘Jo Colley has no fear of looking into the mirror: her poetry reflecting uncomfortable truths about glamour and sexuality: attraction has a dagger in it somewhere and danger fosters courage and lies. Weeping for the Lovely Phantoms warns of the liability of pain, of an uncle’s ‘secret’ that blossoms into a threat, that foreshadows a fascination with ﬁlm noir and brittle heroines. What is born is the same mischance that brings the assassin, what is misshapen the horror of the Manson Family and the emotional trapdoor under our feet. Her poetry sparkles, fizzes with provocative wit, and drives straight to the edge, to the territory she has made her own. She is a thrilling, audacious poet, her language playful, exotic and rich, and she holds her nerve.’ —S.J. Litherland
‘Each poem a cinematic journey, storylines, characters, plot, style, atmosphere – music and lighting, but also temperature and smell ... such great choice of subject matter, just my cup of coffee – reminds me of Edward Hopper and Joyce Carol Oates, both of whom I love.’ —Francesca Beard
‘Weeping for the Lovely Phantoms provides us with an intimate theatre in which Jo Colley’s poetic personas can tenderly act out the unpicking of their labyrinthine back-stories. Actually, on reflection, it’s not a theatre, nor a cinema for that matter; it’s more like she’s recreated a claustrophobic front-room or a bed-sit with a tiny little telly firing out a deluge of crackling, strobe-light movies and dark, late-night stories to a legion of insomniacs.
Colley’s poems inhabit recognisable but sometimes distorted landscapes, uneasy landscapes infested with the manifold ghosts of the unresolved and unrequited. Her carefully crafted stage-sets have walls that sweat with the miniscule detail of well-leafed nostalgia of self and family. They have carpets which are sticky with the familiar classicism of pop mythology and the spilled blood of broken hearts. They are both interesting and acutely believable, obsessionally observed and tangibly precise and whether topographical, physiological or emotional, these landscapes are laden with film noir shadows and a hybrid fairytale-hitchcockian menace.
This collection is confession and denial in equal measure – a platform for celebration and lament, songs aof love and hate, it is simple and complex, it is both bravely intimate and sufficiently distant, almost every stanza seems daubed with a suggested menace but her writing is never without a sense of hope; this book is a requiem for the phantoms of our pasts but also a celebratory hymn for a surviving congregation unquestionably wounded by history but remaining stubbornly optimistic.
Colley reports through eyes ‘that know about salt’ and the dynamics of tears and yet she paints a world ‘where hope and disappointment balance the scales’. She strides from the familial and domesticity of autobiography to the popular mythology of Cielo Drive and the Manson Murders or the icons of the glorious technicolor but these supposed tangents never really dislocate the reader’s attention from the fact that this whole collection is a beautifully tender confession, a plea for absolution of sorts or at the very least a worn on the sleeve dialogue of self-awareness. Either way, these are poems that will lodge themselves ‘like nuggets in your throat’.’ —Paul Summers