Book Review: Beside Herself, by Chris Price

Available from bookshops on 21 March 2016.

cv_beside_herselfChris Price’s forthcoming collection, Beside Herself does wonders for the imagination. The mask-like face on the cover evokes the masks used in Greek Theatre; tragedy, comedy and tragicomedy all taking their turns to appear. A playful atmosphere is created throughout the book, where these different styles merge together and flow from one to the other.

There are moments where the poems skip off the tongue and reading them aloud adds a new level of enjoyment to the page. In ‘Trick or Treat’ we are given rhyme after rhyme, hold or sell / kiss or tell / stare or blink / hood or wink – / then / it’s / my air-guitar / your whammy-bar. ‘Antipodean’ plays with opposites and other contrasts, I am the wrong / way round, my north, / your south, my up, / your down, your Krone / my Crown. These poetic moments are not only enjoyable to go through, but they bring a lightness to the poetry, a comedy of sorts.

In contrast there are some more serious moments that balance out the more light-hearted pieces. ‘Paternity test’ starts out with the lines Here is how it is: / if I cannot kill you / I will kill myself. / As I cannot kill you / I will kill myself. Price easily exchanges one mask for the other, moving from comedy to tragedy between the pages, but it doesn’t feel forced, more like a natural progression that goes back and forth. This movement keeps each poem fresh, and as you continue to read, more and more voices and characters appear.

Perhaps the most interesting characters, and one that is given a lot of space, is the medieval thuggish Churl form the long poem ‘The Book of Churl.’ This poem spans twenty-eight pages, dealing with the life of this strange figure from the past. He is not like the knights commonly found in medieval literature, carrying a cudgel instead of a magic sword or lance, and his princess turns out to be a girl he finds in the forest at night. If he were a hero, something / would happen now. Instead, he lives / a long unhappening. Unadventure, / unbirthdays, unrest. But his ‘unheroicness’ is endearing in a way, and his character sticks out and feels whole, and the drawing that follows the poem seems to capture his essence.

The drawings by Leo Bensemann that bookend the different sections of Beside Herself really help to give even more character to the pages. The figures come to life in the words, both directly and indirectly. It is a refreshing collection, a good mixture brought forth by the different masks, the different voices and characters. At times it is fun and light, at others serious and intense. But above all it is an interesting study of the different personae created by Chris Price.

Reviewed by Matthias Metzler

Beside Herself
by Chris Price, drawings by Leo Bensemann
Published by AUP
ISBN 9781869408466