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Review: ‘Now you can look’ written by Julia Bird and illustrated by Anna Vaivare

Review: ‘Now you can look’ written by Julia Bird and illustrated by Anna Vaivare

Review: ‘Now you can look’ written by Julia Bird and illustrated by Anna Vaivare, published by The Emma Press 

A review by Caitlin Miller

I must confess that I’m already an avid reader of Emma Press pamphlets, having been captured by their unique and beautiful illustrated poetry books from the start, so to have the chance to review one of their books was a no brainer. Yet even so, ‘Now you can look’ surpassed my expectations both aesthetically and creatively. 

The ingenious blurb on the back of the lovely book sets the tone, tantalising the reader with lines such as ‘This is a tale you can read three ways.’ Actively engaging the audience from the start, the book contains an element of theatre and dynamism that is amplified by Anna Vaivare's delicately constructed illustrations.  

I did indeed read the poems (at least) three times, each time the words and images evoking new dimensions to what is essentially the story of a post World War 1 woman artists coming of age. 

Beginning with her childhood and taking us on a sensory and emotive journey through adolescence and onwards to her role as a wife and mother, Julia’s poems sparkle with wit, intrigue and richly captivating imagery. 

Although there are few first person narrative poems and she is often referred to as ‘the artist’, ‘our girl’ or ‘the wife’, the sense of this woman’s voice (who remains unnamed) burns through the pages. Perhaps this sense of voice is so potent because she is being portrayed by a woman, (the excellent poet Julia Bird) and thus the poems are ignited with an authenticity and fiercely female point of view.

Anyone who enjoys historical drama, has an interest in Modernism or vintage fashion and art, will delight in drinking up the vivid, sensual imagery omnipresent throughout the poems. 

This element to the work is only amplified by Anna Vaivare’s pretty and quirky illustrations, which appear like complementary treats as the poems unfold. 

There is also a sense of the poet (Julia Bird) using her gifts to bring untold or forgotten stories to life. Of stories of women who may have been sidelined or not as celebrated as their male counterparts in the past having a chance to be centre stage, their experiences lacing the poetry with both feminism and cinema. 

A memorable poem ‘She stands in the bedroom doorway wearing his gift, saying don’t look yet’ sizzles with subtle eroticism and daring, celebrating the sexual flowering of the artist woman, and by proxy female sexuality. Other poems evoke the nuances of married life and relationships, the life of the rebellious artist, as well as the societal after effects of World War 1. 

There is both continuity and variety within its pages, a pleasing sense of narrative as well as surprising dashes of experimentation, in poetic form, lineation and lexis. 

In fact, although the poems are written within a historical setting they are thoroughly contemporary and ground breaking, perhaps in homage to the painters and poets of the post World War 1 Modernist movement. 

A must read (and perfect stocking filler) for anyone interested in contemporary poetry, history, fashion and art, this unique gem of a book continues to beguile, entertain and provoke thought on the role of women and art, long after the first look. 

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'Now You Can Look' is available to buy on the Emma Press Website here.

Julia Bird grew up in Gloucestershire and now lives in London where she works as a poetry promoter and live literature producer. She has published two poetry collections with Salt: Hannah and the Monk', 2008 and 'Twenty-four Seven Blossom, 2013.

Anna Vaivare is an illustrator and architect who lives in Rīga, Latvia. She has illustrated two children’s books and was awarded the Jānis Baltvilks Prize for Book Art for her work in Forage for Porridge (Liels un mazs, 2015), a collection of poems for children by Leons Briedis. She also draws comic strips. You can find more of her work on her website annavaivare.lv 

The Emma Press is an independent poetry publisher based in Birmingham, UK, and dedicated to producing beautiful, thought-provoking books. Follow Emma Press on Twitter @TheEmmaPress

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