It's not often that I read a collection of poetry and think that I'll keep it by me, but such is the case with this exquisitely painful work by J. Archer Avary, who spares us (and themself) nothing in this wide-ranging chapbook.

I winced at the poet's descriptions of British life. Avary has the outsider view of us Brits at play, in the pub and on our holidays. This collection juxtaposes this view with the poet's painful reflections on being sacked, solitude in a hot tub, the horror of relationships but also their felicities. Avary is in total command of the language, especially metaphors. 

'Three Horses at Kiln Pit Mill' put me in mind of another favourite poet of mine, Edwin Muir; also adept at capturing the strangeness and unknowability of other creatures and ourselves. This collection runs the gamut from funny to bleak. And thank goodness for the funny. The bleak would be impossible to bear, yet it's the laughter that dies in the throat. It feels like a whole life is captured here. The title would imply that it's all nonsense. It very definitely isn't. The most devastating poem was 'Cactus Daddy', a reflection on the poet's parenting style that had me catching my breath.

Check out the excellent Back Room Poetry to see if there are any copies of 'Total Rhubarb' left. And while you're there, check out the other titles. You won't be disappointed.


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