Emma Lee comes to us as Reviews Editor with extensive experience.
As well as being a regular reviewer for The Blue Nib, Emma also reviews for The High Window Journal, The Journal, London Grip and she is recent recipient of ‘Best Reviewer of Literature’ in the 2019 Saboteur Awards.
Emma’s own publications include “Ghosts in the Desert” (IDP, 2015), “Mimicking a Snowdrop” (Thynks, 2014) and “Yellow Torchlight and the Blues” (2004) with “The Significance of a Dress” forthcoming from Arachne in 2020.
Emma does not believe in the division between page and stage poems: “poems should work both on the page and when read aloud” She point to performance poets, such as Vanessa Kisuule and Dean Atta and makes the point that their work when read on the page is as strong as when it is performed on stage.
Emma has performed her own work at The Poetry Cafe in London, all three Leicestershire universities, at LCFC, the Jam Factory in Oxford, Hatherley Manor in Cheltenham, amongst other venues.
What do you hope to achieve during your time at the Blue Nib?
The Blue Nib is a relatively new magazine so it would be great to see it on publishers’ lists as a place to regularly send publications for review. I also hope to enhance The Blue Nib’s reputation as an outlet for incisive, perceptive honest reviews that get to the heart of a publication.
What type of books are you hoping to find in your submission pile?
I have no prejudice against self-published books and am happy to receive them for review. I like writers and poets that trust their readers and don’t tell them how to think or try to guide their readers’ responses.
As a reviewer, I will be looking for books that want to enter a dialogue with me as a reader rather than broadcast at me. Books that demonstrate skill and craft and are thought-provoking. Books that offer a reason to re-read them.
What type of books do you not want to see in your submissions file?
Books that are merely elegant words on paper with no depth; having read them once, there’s no reason to go back to them. A series of epigrams, with or without illustrations, does not make a book.
With poetry, I like form (traditional or free verse) to grow organically from the poems. I don’t want to see a poem straightjacketed into a traditional form such as a sonnet when the poem doesn’t work as a sonnet. I don’t want to see rhyme dictating the poem’s direction. I’m wary of misery-memoirs, particularly where the writer doesn’t have a track record, because such books can be cathartic for the writer but closed to a reader. It takes huge skill to write from trauma in a way that engages with a reader.
What would turn you off a submission?
When reviewing I don’t comment on presentation because an advance review copy may not be how the final book looks, but I do like books that remember a reader needs to read them, so indecipherable typefaces, too small or blurred print or images that overlap text and present obstacles to the reader. If you’re going to make the reader work that hard, the writing had better be worth it.
It am immediately put off when I see poems titled or subtitled ‘a sonnet’ or ‘a sestina’. A reader doesn’t need to know whether a poem is a sonnet or not. An experienced reviewer doesn’t need to be told a poem is a sonnet. A poem’s form is important when writing it, but a reader isn’t reading a book to write a critical essay afterwards so they don’t need to see the poem’s scaffolding. In fact, I’d argue a sonnet is more successful if the reader doesn’t initially notice it is a sonnet but only picks that up on a re-reading.
I’m wary of poetry or short story collections where every piece has been previously published in a magazine or anthology. I want to see new, unpublished stories or poems within. Including only previously published work, suggests to me that the writer or publisher is nervous of reaction and lacks confidence in newer work.
What do you see as a reviewer’s main responsibility to an author?
Reviewers should be fair to authors and strive to understand what the author is trying to achieve. Ideally we’d all be prejudice-free, but we aren’t. I think I am aware of my own prejudices when reading a book for review, so I try not to let the author’s previous publications or other reviews/back cover blurbs sway my opinion.
As a reviewer, it is fine for me to dislike a book; I am not always the target audience, but I still need to still give a flavour of the book and allow potential readers to know whether the book is for them or not.
What do you see as a reviewer’s main responsibility to our readers?
As a reviewer, I am aware that the reader puts their trust in me, many will buy books on a reviewer’s recommendation and that is not something I take lightly. The reader needs to know what to expect, has the author achieved their intention, what are the book’s strengths and weaknesses, reviews need to write not only about style and craft but also give a flavour of the content of the book.
As a reviewer I understand that hyperbole isn’t helpful to a reader. If I love a book, a reader needs to know why. Similarly, if I hate a book, the reader needs to know why.
However, I remain mindful that readers may have different tastes and what they love, I may dislike and vice versa.
Back in my music reviewing days, there was a music journalist and every time he hated an album, I’d rush out and buy it. Every time he loved an album, it went straight on my ‘never buy under any circumstances’ list. We had very different tastes, but, because he was consistent and able to explain his opinions, I would still read his reviews and know whether I wanted to listen to the album or not.
What makes a book really shine in your opinion?
Books that really shine pass the “Would I re-read this again?” test. They are books where the form and pace of the story or poems have grown organically and seek to communicate with a reader. There is a marriage of form and content so the scaffolding doesn’t show and readers focus is on the writing itself.
The most memorable books will give a sense that they couldn’t have been written any other way. They have rounded characters, offer insight into their character’s situations and provoke the reader to see something differently or to think about what they’re reading and why it’s been written that way.
What have you read recently that struck a chord with you and why?
I loved Patricia Smith’s “Incendiary Art” (Bloodaxe Books), a substantial collection that demonstrates the poet’s skills, not only with poetic forms, but knowledge of her craft, the imagination and compassion she writes with.
“Incendiary Art” includes prose poems, ghazals, sonnets and sestinas, each poem’s structure relating to and exploring its subject. The poems are contemporary and their concern remains with current issues but with a demonstrable inclusion of context and history. Patricia Smith was Pulitzer Prize finalist and is an award-winning poet thoroughly deserving of her acolades.
I thought Raymond Antrobus deserved his Rathbone Folio Award for “The Perseverance” (Penned in the Margins) for the way he explores his heritage and D/deaf experiences with compassion and seeks to communicate with, rather than preach to, the reader.
I enjoyed Julia Copus’ “Girlhood” (Faber and Faber) because she had a light touch and conversational style that communicates but also shows her deft understanding of craft and structure, and Ruth Stacey’s “How to Wear Grunge” (Knives, Forks and Spoons), which is a look back at teenage years without nostalgia and contains a search for a girl which gives the pamphlet a framework so it lacks indulgence.