At the weekend it was a real pleasure to share details of the Sunday Times Charlotte Aitkin Trust Young Writer of the Year Award shortlisted books in a post you’ll find here. I’m thrilled that every one of those books is on my TBR and today I’m sharing my review of one of them – My Darling From the Lions by Rachel Long. My enormous thanks to Zara Gillick at FmCM Associates for sending me a copy along with the other shortlisted books.
My Darling from the Lions is published by Picador and available for purchase here.
My Darling From the Lions
Rachel Long’s much-anticipated debut collection of poems, My Darling from the Lions, announces the arrival of a thrilling new presence in poetry.
Each poem has a vivid story to tell – of family quirks, the perils of dating, the grip of religion or sexual awakening – stories that are, by turn, emotionally insightful, politically conscious, wise, funny and outrageous.
Long reveals herself as a razor-sharp and original voice on the issues of sexual politics and cultural inheritance that polarize our current moment. But it’s her refreshing commitment to the power of the individual poem that will leave the reader turning each page in eager anticipation: here is an immediate, wide-awake poetry that entertains royally, without sacrificing a note of its urgency or remarkable skill.
My Review of My Darling from the Lions
A collection of poetry.
My Darling from the Lions is not always an easy read. This is because Rachel Long is unafraid to present her poetry with shocking images, forthright language and brutal truth. I found the collection disturbing and though provoking, not least because there is a feeling of personal honesty that made me feel I had been given an intimate insight into the world of a woman I’ve never met. There’s also humour, affection and gentleness so that this collection feels well balanced, nuanced and engaging. The characters presented by Rachel Long in her poems are vibrant and real, woven into her words every bit as much as I suspect they are woven into her life. I loved meeting her mother particularly.
There’s a fascinating variety in the presentation and structure of the writing. The repetition of Open throughout the first half of the collection with its slightly changing format and pronouns made me realise how interpretation is everything, how we adopt different personas for different audiences, so that My Darling from the Lions has the ability to teach the reader as well as entertain them.
Whilst I found some of the poems challenging, unsure if the meanings I derived from them were the intention of Rachel Long, I found the themes in My Darling from the Lions absolutely universal. The role of women, sexuality, relationships, matriarchy, love, challenge, race, society and so on are as tightly threaded into the poetry as the personal stories behind them, so that they resonate completely with the reader. Here we uncover what it is like to be a person of colour, a female and, curiously, an outsider who also belongs completely. I found this aspect of Rachel Long’s writing fascinating.
My Darling from the Lions is a startling collection that doesn’t give up all its secrets easily. Rather it needs, and deserves, several readings and much thought. I fear I have only scratched the surface of Rachel Long’s writing and I’ll be returning to this anthology again and again to learn more about what it really is to be My Darling from the Lions. I really recommend exploring it for yourself because it’s fresh, exciting and intriguing.
About Rachel Long
Rachel Long is a poet and the founder of Octavia – poetry collective for womxn of colour which is housed at The Southbank Centre, in London. Long’s poetry and prose have been published widely, most recently in Filigree, Mal, The White Review, The Poetry Review and Granta.
Her debut poetry collection, My Darling from the Lions, is forthcoming from Picador in August 2020.
You can follow Rachel on Twitter @rachelnalong.