Gung Ho!, Nicole CarterThe jacket is dead plain, a kind of pale linen-y brown. Text is black and centred, first the title in fairly large italics in the top third. Author's name in slightly smaller plain lower case in just about the centre of the jacket. Towards the foot of the page is the publisher's logo, also centred: a black circle with 'Dreich' inside it and a cartoon character holding an umbrella over his/her head.

Dreich, 2022   £5.00

Poetry and exercise

The poet, a fitness instructor from Edinburgh, writes in a way that is energetic and preoccupied with exercise. This comes through in both subject matter and form.

Gung Ho! tells the story of the speaker’s journey from ‘School Days’ through a mental health crisis and finally to qualifying and ‘Working as a fitness instructor’. Throughout, it is exercise that frames the poetry and the narrative. The language of physical exercise is used to describe the speaker’s struggle with mental illness. In ‘Must escape’, for example, hypermania is shown through a compulsion to move, with regular recurrence of the words ‘Running’ and ‘RUN’.

However, it’s also exercise that offers the speaker her redemption. In ‘Precipice’, for example, a suicidal moment (‘August 1996 / So close / Pulled back from the edge of the roof’) is contrasted with ‘My first abseil / With the rehab outdoor group.’ In ‘Triumph over adversity’, the speaker describes how her ‘teenage years were fraught with’ ‘alcohol, cannabis, bad behaviour’, and how she ‘achieved’ her ‘triumph over adversity’ by ‘study[ing] a few fitness courses’.

Energy and movement are reinforced by the form. With very little line-end punctuation, the poems move fast and don’t pause for breath. In ‘Cliffhanger’, for instance, the poem is punctuated solely through line breaks. This lends the text a sense of breathless suspense as it tells the story of two suicidal friends climbing ‘a crag on / Arthur’s Seat’:

A foot from the top
I had a choice
Let go and die
Or let him help me up
Looking down
I realised
Death at this time
Would be too painful

Through this motivational and fast-paced approach, Nicole Carter uses the platform of her poetry to raise awareness of the links between exercise and mental health. These are highly charged poems, designed to get their readers as out of breath as a workout might.

Isabelle Thompson