David Tait, The AQI
Beverley Bie Brahic, The Hotel Eden
Niall Campbell, Noctuary
(Bloodaxe Books, 2019)
Kate Behrens, Penumbra
(Two Rivers Press, 2019)
The AQI is the Air Quality Index which records levels of air pollution in China, where David Tait works. The opening part of this powerful collection is positively disturbing:
A text from the embassy: the air today will not be good,
If possible I should stay indoors.
If possible I should wear a mask.
In ‘Smog’ the invasive poison is everywhere, driving the poet to wear a face-mask and sit next to an air purifier, while those outside have lungs ‘like the bottoms of an hour glass’. Tait captures the visual effect with an image in a later poem of the city as ‘vague as Monet’s London’.
There is another hazard: this is a surveillance society. Day to day living involves harassment; the men in light blue tunics hover. When the poet is drawn to a crowd who are watching a distraught man on a pagoda roof, ‘The police keep asking to look at my passport. They keep checking my phone for a camera.’ ‘Why that Building is Red’ reveals a building with a sinister purpose; ‘Two Vans’ suggests something even worse.
Life here is a weird combination of the futuristic and the traditional. The future is accelerated in poems such as ‘Window Cleaners’, with its empty office blocks, and ‘The Traditional and Virtuous Green Zone’, where tradition is the creation of a morning’s work. ...
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