Books From The Pantry: Survivalism by A. K. Hepburn: Reviewed by Giles Turnbull

A.K. Hepburn’s poetry pamphlet, Survivalism, leaves you in no doubt that these poems are deliciously dangerous. The very first lines of the first poem alert the reader to the inescapable intrusion of shadows under the trees:

Lauren was a pianist.
I could tell that from the way
her fingers played the protrusion
of my hip bone, sprawling on the
ignoring something threatening
brewing just below the horizon.

Poets have always battled with matters of life and death. In the poetry of Ted Hughes, crows are symbolic of creation. In ‘The Crow People’ Hepburn gives us her take on crows:

The crow people
Walk upright,
Smudgy charcoal outlines
On grey concrete

To me this reads like a picture of a city full of commuters who:

Leer and gape,
Gaudy faces open
In mockery

evoking a scene similar to that in part 1 of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land:

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,

I had not thought death had undone so many.

By the third poem, ‘Coracle’, we have images of dead animals and dead trees:

He drifted up the spine
of the Pennines.
Peaks jutted from the water
like the vertebrae
of a long-dead whale
breaching the surface
an English sea,
breaking over the
skeletons of old oaks
littering the sea floor.

A few poems further on and we find pianistic Lauren again. This time it is ‘On the Coldest Night of the Year’, with the:

electricity off, fractals
forming inside the glass.
Outside, it’s eighteen below


Lauren’s fingers glide
through a Nocturne, until
they’re too blue, too numb
to wring out another tune

the last notes of this poem bringing with them further death.

As we get to the title poem, Survivalism, we have almost become accustomed to the world being none-too hospitable. I was reminded of The Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins. In that book, Katniss Eberdeen risks her life to salvage a bright orange backpack which contains a ‘half-gallon plastic bottle with a cap for carrying water that’s bone dry’ amongst other things. In this poem our survivor also has a knapsack and a:

Water bottle, leaching
chemicals, probably

There are, appropriately enough, 13 poems in this pamphlet, beginning with ‘Before’ and ending with ‘Apocalypse, Then’. If you enjoy your worlds dystopian, as I do, you will love them — it may be wise to wear thimbles on your fingertips whilst reading, lest turning the pages slices them clean off.

Get your copy of Survivalism

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