What is the Polari Prize?
The Polari Prize is the UK’s only LGBTQ+ book prize. This year, I was delighted to be contacted to be offered books from the shortlist to review. There is a childrens and YA category as well as a first book prize along with the main prize. Founded in 2011, this year is the award’s eleventh year. Founded by author and activist Paul Burston, the awards celebrate LGBTQ+ books, fiction and non-fiction. This year, the awards will take place at the British Library on the 15th November.
Poetry seems to divide people between those who “get” it and those who “don’t”. Maybe it’s the way poetry is taught in schools or maybe it’s because we aren’t presented with the form in our everyday lives. Rocksong is one of two poetry collections on the Polari Prize shortlist, the other being C+nto & Othered Poems by Joelle Taylor. (Interestingly, the only non-fiction book on the shortlist, Valentine Ackland: A Transgressive Life by Frances Bingham, is about a poet.)
Rocksong’s poems felt very accessible and raw. Words have tumbled from the poet in a way that transports the reader to the experiences of an Iranian poet growing up in an oppressive regime.
The first section, BASS (Songs of Home) particularly takes us to a world where queerness is very much not allowed. The opening lines of ‘The Wicked Capital’ grabbed me.
Tehran means reading never-ending Russian novels under my duvet,
Glitterless gay parties until the morning Azanm until the birds scream,
We all have our own Tehrans, where we hide our identities under the duvet covers.
The future is queer
Throughout the poems, there is a hope. Golnoosh uses her imagery to say that, despite the hardships, there is always hope. The closing of the book has a queer manifesto. It reminds us of how far we have come but how much brighter the future will be.
Be patient, my love
the fire of us will escape from
this dungeon and explode their hollow buildings.
Be patient and behold:
Watch us burn.
Would I read more?
Because of timings and editing work, I simply don’t have time to review, in depth, all of the books on the shortlist. Maybe, in time, I will but by reading a short section, I thought I would be able to ask myself if I would want to read more of this book.
I have dipped into and out of the Golnoosh’s collection since the Polari Prize delivered the books to me. They are accessible and easy with a voice that speaks so clearly.
I wouldn’t normally pick up a collection of poems like this but am so glad that this has made it the shortlist. Golnoosh’s collection is certainly going to stay with me and is something that I will definitely be returning to.
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