Who says you can’t play songs about death on hospital radio by Caitlin Thornley is witty, honest and incredibly well structured. Thornley’s voice is reminiscent of Armitage and Duffy as she writes, almost conversationally at times about places and moments typical to England or Britain. ‘Roadtrip’, one of my favourites in this collection for its wit and profundity, is a perfect example of this as Thornley writes about taking a wee at the side of the M25 and flashing her ‘bare arse’. The real life Thornley writes about and then transforms into commentary on life and its meaning, is superb.
Caitlin Thornley also has a brilliant understanding of structure and expression. Before reading the collection, Thornley reminds you her words were written to be spoken; this is where her talent lies. The nuanced expressions, the use of rhythm and broken rhyme, the use of punctuation (which can be a rarity in modern poetry collections) and the mastery of sound mean every poem in this collection will sound as it should; emphasis will always be placed where the poet desires and each story will be told with the lifts and falls imagined by the poet. This is what impressed me about Thornley – it proves her talent as a writer, as a manipulator of language and as a storyteller. Thus, this collection is an absolute joy to read as she has written it always with the reader in mind and how they should and will receive her words.
I adored the illustrations throughout too – they subtly take you on a journey which searches for life’s meaning (albeit unsuccessfully in Thornley’s own words). Alongside the poems we are given an insight into a narrative which has no end because a search for meaning does not end. There isn’t a finale of hope – Thornley is honest and reflects on how we must always be learning, always be changing and always be growing older.
I will end this with a few of my favourites: ‘Sixteen year old politics’ is sublime, ‘Universal’ reveals the maturing and blossoming poet within this collection, ‘Yes, I know what you mean’ is beautiful in its simplistic hedonism, and ‘Wokingham, Berkshire’ is a phenomenal poem which explores nostalgia and loss.
In short, Who says you can’t play songs about death on hospital radio by Caitlin Thornley is an impressive debut by a young, British poet.