Review: Peninsula

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This is the first year in which the English Department at Durham University has published an anthology of student writing. This anthology, Peninsula, is a collection of poems and short stories written by postgraduate students, some of whom are on the Creative Writing MA/PhD and others who are on the Literary Studies MA/English PhD programmes. As well as containing pieces that are exclusively student written, the anthology has been edited and managed by students in collaboration with Egg Box Publishing. 

These poets are unafraid of innovation

The anthology begins with poetry and the poems included are all incredibly impressive. All the poets appear to have a strong grasp on the poetic form and its intricacies, using enjambment, assonance and caesura to glide us through their poems. Josh Allsop’s ‘Spiral after image’ is a superlative exercise in the art of imagery and enjambment. Lucy Atkinson’s ‘Rose-tinted’ is a beautiful poem, combining visceral imagery and flowing verse to carry a great sense of feeling. Laura Day’s ‘Magnolia Walls’ is similarly beautiful and incredibly thoughtful. Cassidy Harvard Davies’ ‘Monkey Bars’ is breath-taking: jarring and crisp and her other poem ‘Winter on the Isle of Wight’ was one of my favourites in this collection, with its delectable use of imagery and gorgeously well-written lines. In fact, all the poems in this collection are beautifully written, with excellent ebb and flow. These poets are unafraid of innovation and playing around with form. Victoria Penn’s ‘The Changeling’ feels as wild and captivating as a poem as the ‘wild girl living inside my head’ whom it describes, another of my personal favourites. The poetry section closes with two poems by who professionally guides the reader through this verse and captures them by the heart with gripping lines, such as ‘The futile garden has a futile man/ when he sees me he becomes who I am.’

The anthology then moves onto its prose section. The feeling of the collection hence changes, but the level of talent does not. The first collection of prose works comes from and her ‘Album of Written Photographs’. Arndt takes clips, snapshots if you like, of places she’s been on specific dates and vividly paints a picture for the reader. These written photographs take us on a journey of inner (as well as outer) exploration and carry the use of setting to a new high, allowing the reader to breathe in the salty sea air of Scarborough or gaze at vacant Roman ruins or indeed to feel the wind on our cheeks and gaze at the familiar skyline of Durham in the beautiful Wharton Park. 

Similarly, Theo Breet’s ‘Wither; Ruminate’ invites the reader to join the speaker in their ruminations, gliding expertly through ponderings on poetry, language, decay, life, death and beauty. Breet’s thoughtful and intelligent prose is one of the highlights of this anthology. One must pause after reading this story to dwell, if only for a second, on the pure talent which produced it. 

Matthew McKenzie’s ‘Rainbow States’ spotlights a father-son relationship told from the perspective of the child. The story is in equal measures turbulent and charming and McKenzie appears to have mastered the authorial voice. Through the foggy lens of childhood, we capture the rawness of the father-son bond and the danger lingering outside of the dialogue. McKenzie explores the intersection of identity, of race and sexuality, of family and belonging, in a compelling and expert way.

One must pause after reading this story to dwell…on the pure talent which produced it

Imogen Sharpe’s ‘An Old Song Playing in Another Room’ is a romantic and charming story, of love, of superstition and of fascination. Sharpe paints a lucid picture of a young couple slowly learning about each other, of a lover besotted with their beloved; another of my personal favourites. James Shiers’ ‘Do Not Refreeze’ explores an affair from a complicated and fresh perspective, exploring domesticity as well as the dizzying nature of passion and love. 

This anthology ends on a grand crescendo with You (Helen) Wu’s ‘An Accident at the Underground Railway Station’, a tale which winds through the inner consciousness of a young man facing a crisis in his career and thus descends into darkness. This story is excellently written and plotted and its ending squeezes your heart dry.

This collection is a commendation of Durham’s incredible English Department, whose students bubble with creativity and potential as writers, already mastering the written form. If you would like to purchase a copy of Peninsula (which I highly recommend you do) use this link.

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