At the launch of Janine’s new book she reassured those worried about it not containing enough hating of Tories that their concerns were unfounded. And I want to reassure readers that the polemical potency of the poetry is not poorly presented.
Janine’s on-stage delivery is what first made her poetry for me. A lot of her poems use repetition, or rhyming structures that make them fun to listen to, often building up to a joke at the end. Poems like ‘Being normal’, ‘Beach body’ and ‘Once upon a Tory time’ stand in a tradition of poking fun at authority and social norms. They’re popular with listeners, or at least with me, which is in no small way because of Janine’s skill with structure. There are also poems, like the ‘Haiku Dreams’, which are punchy, funny ideas that are just very well executed.
You can tell the fun Janine is having with form in poems like ‘Reflection’ and ‘IDS’, a poem in the voice of Iain Duncan Smith made up almost entirely of words beginning with I, D or S. Alongside the comedy are poems with a more sombre, or embittered social commentary. ‘The error of her ways’ and ‘Taking refuge’ are about domestic violence against women and the lack of options for those attempting to escape it. ‘Officer Slager’s defence’ is unapologetically candid about the naked racism of the American police and legal system. Short poems like ‘How low can they bow’ and ‘Gallipoli’ are angry enough to spit about the hypocrisy our society and politicians revel in when commemorating war and its victims.
My favourite poem in the book is ‘Unpublished author’. At her book launch Janine told me that her aim was to get people who are into politics interested in poetry and people who are in to poetry interested in politics. I think ‘Unpublished author’ does that best. It’s a moving poem about the way our busy lives can render each of us “an author of several unpublished books”. It’s an indictment of capitalism’s tendency to squeeze the energy and creativity out of us through work and drudgery, told in a personal and human way.
The 3 Rs is a very human book. That may sound strange; it was, after all, written by a human, but poetry can get lost in itself. Poets can become pretentious observers and commentators. The 3 Rs rolls its sleeves up and gets involved in the world. It laughs like we all do, sometimes cynically, sometimes with scorn, sometimes just for fun. It cries, is angry and frustrated. It tells stories that many of us know, but may not be used to reading as poetry.