Ragged Rainbows, Julie McNeillThe jacket is a pale yellow, and plain, no images. All text is black and centred. The title is in the top two inches, in lower case with first letter cap. Then the author's name, somewhat bigger and also lowercase in the centre of the jacket. At the foot of the jacket the publisher's name: DREICH IN small black caps, then 'Chapbooks' in italic lower case.

Dreich, 2022    £5.00


There’s a lot in these poems to which I couldn’t relate. I’ve never considered the possibility I might smash through a glass ceiling and — while I’ve worked in bars — I’ve never had my boss, a friend of my father’s (as in the poem ‘Independence’), lift

my top up over
my face, so his friends
could see what a teenager’s
tits looked like

But yes, I do know what it’s like not to be able to power-down, and not to be able to sleep when I desperately want, and need, to sleep. And yes ‘My insomnia looks a lot like / loneliness / at the bottom of a stone cold / 2am tea run.’ It even

as habit
and shape shifts into

And there’s a lot else in Julia McNeill’s poems that I suspect will keep even the best sleeper awake. There are the numbers that keep on growing in ‘Even the rainbows’, for example:

the scales swinging in all
the wrong directions. Others

like bank accounts, seem to flatline
with no sign of revival.

And surely most of us will struggle to sleep; will toss, turn and feel helpless after reading ‘Rohingya’, in which

A boy’s broken
face headlines the crowd.
Tear stained,
palms open,

for someone
to complete
the handshake
and lead him home.

And instead of counting sheep, might we lie awake counting the miles we drove this week when we could have caught a bus or walked? Or, like the narrator in ‘Smile, Greta,’ be haunted by the number of times we chose to eat a certain food:

We’ve got four different
coloured bins,
and I’m counting
red meat sins
in my recyclables.

These are poems that will not just keep you awake but will awaken you to the way you live and its consequences. Don’t lose sleep in vain — adapt, alter, change.

Sue Butler