Gradual Reduction to Bone, Kali RichmondThe jacket is white with four lines of images. They look like specimens, well spaced, the same four in each line but in a different order. So there's a leaf, an ammonite, a crow and something tear drop shaped. All are drawn in black ink. The title and author's name are inside a rectangular box, placed almost like a label in the top third. It is outlined in lime green, and the text inside, which is centred and in small caps, is the same colour. The title spreads over two lines. The author's name is below it. All text is the same size and format.

NinePens, 2021     £7.50

Unsettling detail in 'The crows are in the river'

Kali Richmond’s debut pamphlet has a distinct love of the gothic that had me thinking of Macbeth and Angela Carter — fairytale vibes of old pagan Britain. By considering a single poem closely, it's possible to see the way the poet works. In ‘The crows are in the river’, for example, the poet builds a vivid scene, adding layers of new information with each couplet.

Eco-poetry can sometimes feel overly preachy, or so ‘slant’ that it’s hard to understand quite what is intended. But here, there’s a clear picture of Nature overlaid by human fingerprints. Mother and child walk across a bridge where they see dead birds in a river:

How sweet to be four, if we plunge into the abyss
he says we’ll regenerate at level one.


All the while the corvids are gathering, cackling.
All the while they lament their lost.

It’s unsettling how humanity’s place darkens this poem. Not the two figures so much as the marks of industry, and the ‘trinkets of dog shit hanging from low branches.’ There are references to a car, to buying ‘plastic-wrapped crap.’ Litter and pollution are only alluded to, but they’re an unmistakable blot.

It is clever writing, vividly told yet with gaps for the reader to intuit and think for herself. The atmosphere is painted with a strange beauty. I felt the cold seeping from wet stone, the shadow of the fort, the chill of the river running beneath carrying its dead. And there’s the added layer of the tug-of-war, tangled mix of love and frustration which goes to the heart of parenting toddlers.

Humans are part of this world — maybe the best and the worst parts — and Richmond’s writing is both thought-provoking and lyrical in the way she invites us to explore such an idea. It is distinctive, lyrical and relevant.

Zannah Kearns