Family Instructions Upon Release

“I have no words.”

This is so often our response to grief and loss, when dealing with it ourselves or  consoling others.

Elizabeth’s father took his own life in 2012. Unable to find words of her own to write about what had happened, Elizabeth took them instead from the 2006 Penguin Classics edition of Twelve Angry Men, a play she and her father attended together when Elizabeth was a teenager, and combined these with the New Zealand Government’s ‘Fact Sheet 4 – Suicide and Self-Harm’.

Armed with this limited dictionary, she was able to write poems that are by turns mournful, angry and searching. The cumulative effect is surprising in its narrative drive and cathartic power.

Even if you are not a poetry afficionado, you will find much to compel you here. This original and moving collection of poems will stop you in your tracks and the sheer power of their words will make you take a deep breath and consider all the things that are important to you in your own lives.

Genius has often been born out of suffering and it could not be clearer that the suffering here has allowed a work of great beauty to come to fruition.

Elizabeth’s suffering is exact, but it is never so personal that it wouldn’t resonate with people who have experienced their own losses in entirely different circumstances. The blending of her two sources is perfectly done, allowing two such dissonant sources to come together and create something original and beautiful out of such different spheres.

Even the angriest of her poems are love distilled into grief and an outlet for her pain. The concrete emotions are all the more powerful for being expressed in this artistic way, allowing the feelings and the factual to sing in harmony. This allows the words of the rather more factual manual to combine with the impassioned language of the text and come together to make something which resonates so much more powerfully than a mere sum of its parts.

As a teacher of poetry, there was much here that I could see being used to think about the way we teach poetry. If our students are to see it as being ”the best words in the best order“ Then there is much for them to think about here. The way that restraint can be balanced with the raw expression of pain is perfectly encapsulated here and I feel that the originality of these poems construction could lead to hours of discussion and evaluation.

Im so glad that Anne Cater invited me onto this blogtour. Its been a long time since I picked up a book of poetry thats made such a powerfully unexpected impact on me and its made me want to spend more time reading diverse poetic voices across the rest of the year.

If you fancy something completely different that will make you think as hard as it will make you feel, then this is definitely the book for you. I recommend it unreservedly and will definitely look out for more of Elizabeth’s writing moving forwards.

Writer On The Shelf

Elizabeth Kirkby-McLeod’s work has been featured in takahēLandfallPoetry New Zealand Yearbook and the NZPS 2018 anthology. She was longlisted for the 2008 Six Pack 3 anthology and her poem ‘Her Warning Signs’ was Highly Commended in the 2018 International Poetry Competition. Elizabeth also reviews poetry and produces the NZSA Oral History Podcast series.

Buy yourself a copy here


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