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Saturday, 11 May 2013 00:00

Reaching for My Gnu: Poetry By Anna Chen

Andy Croft
(AAAAGH! Press, £9.99, e-book £1.99)
by Chris Searle

Fire Words, the national anthology of school students' poetry I compiled some time ago, included two incendiary poems written by a young teenage Hackney poet called Anna Chen.

I remember well the impact that the first verse of one of these poems, Triumph, had on me. It began with these four lines: "The world hears Wall Street wailing,/It's slipping down the charts,/That sound of snapping concrete/Is tycoons' breaking hearts."

I recall my amazement at the power of words from one so young and her consciousness, command of rhyme, alliteration and rhythm.

So reviewing the same poet's collection Reaching For My Gnu some years later is like a strange rendezvous of language, wit and the imagination.

All these three are here in huge abundance, originality and insight in Chen's "nowtimes" poems.

She fully integrates the movingly personal, the vibrantly social and the diabolically political.

Her extraordinary testimony Ode To A Detox On Returning From St Ives is a piercing series of moments of understanding about ageing, Bag For Life exposes the fortunes and mildew behind the history of Tesco and its owners, while Credit Crunch Suicide starkly contrasts those who have millions and those who have nothing in 21st-century Britain.

Her rhyming is frequently quasi-Byronic, full of surprise and acerbic invention and her images, in their oft-times grotesquerie - as in poems like Orange Tone - carry a similar visual revulsion as those brilliantly caricatured by the Morning Star's cartoonist Martin Rowson.

But the most compelling poem in this collection is Big Society: On A Conversation In The Foundling Museum. "We grow poorer and yet/we birth millionaires like stars in a nebula," she declares and her final message shines out for us all: "You who are going under, heal/Take back from those who steal./Rise to the light of the sun."

Burning words, full of life and truth.

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