Published 2016 by Big White Shed
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Synopsis (from the blurb):
These poems are poems about running away from boxes.
How music is the greatest thing in the world but it sometimes bites you in the arse.
These poems are about places, places everyone knows, but some haven’t been to for a while, or never, but everyone knows these places.
I first met Neal through a mutual friend, and it was quickly established that we both love Totoro.
It would be a while since I saw Neal perform for the first time, and as I write this I’ve seen him do so a few times. I bought this book and reading his poems was a different experience entirely and it allowed me to consider each word I was reading.
From knowing Neal in real life, it is easy for me to see him in his poetry, but I know that if someone who has never met him reads this collection, they would still finish the book feeling like they know him.
This chapbook touches on themes of identity, music, mental health, family, and speech. Neal has a certain way of phrasing his feelings that are obviously considered, but reading them still feels like Neal is right there talking to you, telling you his story.
He plays with form, and the way the words appear on the page say as much as the words themselves. Some poems include gaps between words, some poems move across the page, and others are more conventional.
My favourite of the collection is ‘Box’ and that’s because I’ve seen him perform it, and Ii would never tire of hearing it.
Other hits include ‘squiggles’ because it proves that even when somebody says you can’t do something, you can. ‘Net’ because of the way Neal his incorporated what it is like to have a stutter, and the way this is shown on the page. And ‘Self care’ because of this line:
“Kicking leaves in an autumn forest then realising you are the leaf.”
Some of music references go over my head, but that’s only because I’m not a big listener of music, and my taste isn’t varied. I can’t appreciate the more nuanced referenced but I can appreciate Neal’s love and passion for the bands he listens to and what they mean to him.
Read this collection and it will make you want to grab your headphones, stick your favourite album on (or create a playlist of your personal classics), grab a bike and go racing through your life one song at a time, while being reassuring that even though things can be difficult, in the end it will be alright.