Butcher by Natasha T. Miller
Published by Button Poetry, 2021
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This collection of poems centres around Miller’s attempts to navigate grief after the loss of her brother, her mother’s alcoholism, and the everyday struggles she faces as a Black, queer woman in modern America.
Miller’s experience as a performance poet and activist really shines through, even as her voice is condensed into text form. There’s a directness to her writing style that makes the pieces at once approachable and impactful. There’s no hiding behind complex rhythms or elaborate imagery here; the themes laid bare with gut-punch clarity. Given the scope of the topics at hand – racism, homophobia, love and loss – I’d argue they’re all the stronger for it.
The poems are divided into a few sections, named after different cuts taken from the body of a cow. Beyond the obvious raw, brutal connotations, this initially suggests the idea of breaking ourselves down into constituent parts; acting as metaphorical “butchers” so we can cut away the viscera and confront the very “meat” of our lives. The device/imagery isn’t used to any real effect, however, and ends up being somewhat superfluous. It’s the one area I felt would have benefitted from a little more depth of exploration.
Still, the immediacy and power of Miller’s words are sure to resonate widely, and I’m glad to have discovered her work.
Thank you to the publisher for a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
No Shame by Tom Allen
Published by Hodder & Stoughton, 2020
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Tom’s wit, warmth, and honesty shine through in this charming yet poignant memoir. It centres around the idea of shame, with Tom sharing formative moments from throughout his life in which he was either cowed by the shame inflicted upon him by society, or when he actively defied it by embracing his own path.
It’s a book about his journey to self-acceptance, particularly his long struggle to come out and feel comfortable in his own skin. Whilst nothing hugely revelatory, this means it does serve as a lovely “I see you” to anyone else who may be wrestling with internalised shame for simply wanting to be themselves.
There’s also a particularly nice focus on the importance of good teachers in providing safe spaces for children to explore their identities. (Big love to the drama teacher who encouraged Tom to see through his plan to perform a dramatic monologue in full drag at his school show; providing him with a dress and wig, and even helping him with his makeup. ❤ Especially considering this was during the time of Section 28, meaning it could have cost her the job, it’s a lovely tribute to the key role of good allies in nurturing queer youth.)