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Alice Hiller introduces guest reviewer Natalie Linh Bolderston

harana poetry has always been an act of community. As Kostya Tsolákis revealed to me ahead of its first issue, our founding editor first conceived of it as a space where poets writing in English as an additional or parallel language could meet and become visible. That community began to go live when Romalyn Ante and Kostya planned harana poetry together in the summer and autumn of 2018. It started to grow when I asked to come on board as the reviews editor, with a view to broadening discussion about what it means to create work within a multilingual consciousness, and make the process of poetry more open.


Reviewing is integral to poetry. It is a means of opening up what has been said to wider audiences and allowing poets to know that their work has been heard. It has always been the harana poetry team’s intention to share the space between different voices. It is a real joy to hand over the reviews for our third and final issue of 2019 to Natalie Linh Bolderston, whose poems featured in issue 1. Her stunning debut pamphlet The Protection of Ghosts was published by V. Press and has been reviewed widely.


L Kiew, Isabelle Baafi and Romalyn Ante will all be joining as reviewers in 2020, with others to be announced. I wanted to bring these voices on board because they are poets whose creative work, and critical judgements, are ones I turn to, and which nourish and guide me, in my own life as a writer and reviewer. They are also poets of colour, whose voices have traditionally been underrepresented in UK reviewing. It is therefore particularly meaningful to all of us on the harana poetry editorial team that we should be part of the project of working to change this.


Below is a short conversation between me and Natalie Linh Bolderston, which I hope will encourage other potential reviewers to get in touch with us as we move into our second year. We are keen to give space to all voices interested in working with multiple and parallel languages and language systems.


Alice Hiller: Natalie Linh Bolderston, you were originally published as a poet in the first issue of harana poetry earlier this year. We now have the great honour, and pleasure, of welcoming you on board our reviews team. What made you decide to contribute your time and creative energy to formally exploring the works of other poets?


Natalie Linh Bolderston: I was looking for a way of contributing to the poetry community, raising awareness of other poets’ work, and letting them know that their poems are being read and celebrated. Writing reviews felt like a good place to start, especially since I plan to focus on collections that are not already widely written about. My own collection has now received a few thoughtful and generous reviews, and it means a lot that the reviewers chose to spend time with my words. I’d like to be able to make other poets feel seen and valued in this way.


AH: I believe these are your first published reviews since university? How did you find the experience of putting them together?


NLB: I found it quite hard. It’s been a couple of years since I did any critical writing, and I feel out of practise. It’s a skill I’m working to redevelop – it felt challenging but satisfying to use the analytical side of my brain when I was writing the reviews.


AH: Could you say something about your process, to give an insight to other readers who may also be planning to write reviews?


NLB: To begin with, I read the collection I’m reviewing from start to end to get a feel for the overall ‘arc’ of the book. I then read it again more closely, looking out for recurring images and themes and thinking about the various reactions that these provoke. I use colour-coded sticky labels to mark the poems that I wish to come back to, with accompanying handwritten notes on how these link with other poems in the collection. I then write a plan on my laptop, laying out the structure and order of my review and the quotations that I have decided to use. The review then grows from there.


AH: Diaspora, Volume L, by Ivy Alvarez, and River Wedding by Amlanjyoti Goswami, are both collections that were sent to us by readers of harana poetry. Goswami was also published in issue 1. Had you known the work of either poet before this?


NLB: I hadn’t, and I’m very grateful to have been given the opportunity to read them. As a UK-based reviewer, I think it’s important to read work from international poets and publishers, especially those that get less coverage in the UK. It broadens your scope as a reader and helps stop the poetry community getting too insular.


AH: Both Alvarez and Goswami show cultural and geographic identity as a place of growth for creative identity, and a means of finding, and claiming their unique voices. This is also an ongoing dynamic in your own work, Nat. Was it interesting for you to explore a similar dynamic within the process of other contemporary poets?


NLB: Yes – in Goswami’s work, the themes of family, ancestry, and journeys particularly resonated with me. I think that the ‘searching’ quality of some of his poems is something that comes up a lot in my own work. Alvarez’s strong sense of place is also something that I connect with. I love how she hones in on her settings, which include markets, promenades, rivers, and the home. My poems’ settings also tend to be quite distinct – for example, I’ve written about my family’s previous homes in Xiamen, Sóc Trăng and Saigon.


AH: Finally, will you be doing more reviews for harana poetry?


NLB: I’d love to. I’d particularly like to focus on poets of colour who are at an early stage of their career and/or whose work has not been widely reviewed.


AH: Thank you Nat. Given that it is difficult for us at harana poetry to be fully aware of international publications, we warmly encourage our readers to keep on sending work in, either as published volumes, or as PDFs of finished texts for review. If sending PDFs, please include publication details.

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