Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Home

Purple and black cover, with an image of a purple, open hand. Title lettering in white caps top right hand cornerCritique of the Criminal Justice System, Bibi June Schwithal

Stewed Rhubarb Press, 2020   £5.99

Heavy or not, he’s my brother

The scholarly-sounding title of this pamphlet made me wonder what sort of poetry it might contain. When I looked inside, I found the poems themselves had similarly formal titles: ‘Ironic Process Theory’, ‘The Manifestation of Early-Onset Survivor Guilt’, ‘The Principles of Transformative Justice’. But, in fact, these poems are anything but dry.

Bibi June Schwithal is a non-binary poet, originally from Amsterdam. They wrote these poems in response to their brother’s imprisonment, and the pamphlet is dedicated to him. The poems make a powerful plea for the abolition of prisons, but also explore the poet’s relationship with their brother. Despite shared parentage and early schooling, their respective lives went in very different directions, as the title poem explains:

i got an education
and you served a sentence
i write poetry about the nuances
of class and gender

speak fluent revolution
with my free mouth
while you keep your head down
and pay the price

The 1969 Hollies’ hit, ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’, came into my mind as I read the poems. The lyrics of that song have always made me feel vaguely guilty — a recognition, I suspect, that my willingness to support friends and siblings through their most challenging times has often fallen well short. Several poems in the pamphlet acknowledge such discomfort:

I am in London,
        visiting,
I stumble over questions like
‘Do you have family here?’
I’m   just a tourist, here.
He’s        a prisoner.
I do not go to visit him.

The poems are ruthless in their self-questioning. In ‘Eyewitness’, for example, we hear two voices. The poem describes childhood memories, but after each recollection, a second voice interrupts to question its accuracy: ‘Are you sure that’s how it happened?’ ‘Are you absolutely certain?’

In the final poem, ‘Footnotes’, the poet admits:

                                                                            So many
of my friends don’t know your name. What does that say
about us, and about shame?

These are political poems certainly, but deeply personal. They are written out of love and ring absolutely true.

Annie Fisher

Join our mailing list

This list allows subscribers to receive automatic email notifications about new OPOI reviews and poetry pamphlet news posted on Sphinxreview.co.uk. Just enter your email address below and check the small box for email notifications.

 

Please confirm that you would like to hear from HappenStance Press via:

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please visit our website: https://www.sphinxreview.co.uk/index.php/privacy-policy.

We use Mailchimp as our email list platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.