It is rare to find a collection such as Never Never Never Come Back. One that is wildly varied and still feels cohesive; like the work of a single author. Irving really flexes her skill with her first collection. The different styles and methods of writing are apparent and she manages to make each one her own. What is troublesome for me is that the numerous branches leading out of the book make it hard to talk about collection without making general sweeping statements about its goodness, so instead I’ll just highlight a couple of my favourites and go from there.
Yosemite Sam is constructed entirely out of quotes from the titular Warner brothers character. It’s a poem that starts with the frustrated determination of the gun-toting cowboy, which morphs into an almost existential sadness. Recipe for a Saint is exactly that. A set of tercets that spell out just how to make a saint. It conjures up the kind of religious zeal that made people pull the fingernails out of martyrs upon their death so as to have a religious symbol to hold on to. The Girl Who Rides Robots is a prose poem with a narrative that is reminiscent of Donald Barthelme. Beyond the considered choice of words, it is plainly and simply a brilliant story.
It is safe to say that Irving is well read, but more than that also. She is clearly well read, well watched, well listened, well assimilated. She has taken in so much and she exercises this depth of knowledge with each poem. Therein lies my only issue with the collection. Irving’s work draws on a multitude of esoteric sources that I just don’t know enough about. I know that poets are generally divided on the inclusion of notes, but in this case I think they are essential. Irving’s creative imagery draws the reader into compelling narratives that one can’t help but want to know more about. There are notes, but only for four poems. Essentially what I’m saying is ‘give me more, Irving!’
Kirsten Irving is a London-based poet, editor and voice actor. She is one of the founders of the experimental poetry press, Sidekick Books, and is one half of the creative superduo behind cross-art publication Fuselit.
Never Never Never Come Back is published by Salt and is out now.
Review by Nick Murray