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Black Country Paperback – 7 Aug 2014

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Product details

  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Chatto & Windus (7 Aug. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 070118857X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0701188573
  • Product Dimensions: 13.6 x 0.7 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 39,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Black Country is an extraordinary debut...rooted in place. When you close the book, you can still see the Black Country in your mind's eye, as if all the poems in it were coming together to form a continuous landscape, a single yet varied view. These poems need to be studied slowly yet there is, as one reads on, a sense of gathering speed, a flightiness, a readiness to soar... She writes, in the best sense, on a wing and a prayer. What marks out this writing is its sparing but assured use of Midlands dialect. This is writing of warmth, maturity and intermittent eroticism. Liz Berry knows her own flight-path, that is for sure." (Kate Kellaway Observer)

"Superb... a sooty, soaring hymn to her native West Midlands, scattered with words of dialect that light up the lines like lamps. Expect to hear a great deal more from her in years to come." (Guardian)

"This is as writer I'm thrilled to discover -- someone who takes pride in the Midlands... turning ordinariness into something direct, tender and beautiful." (Bel Mooney Daily Mail)

"Liz Berry is an extraordinary poet: passionate, precise, moving and deeply real. The voice and heat of the Black Country are here, the old tenderness and the complex strands of identity, the humour and the music." (A.L. Kennedy)

"These are poems of great vitality and charm. Seasoned with the dialect of Liz Berry’s home territory, but with a linguistic and lyric freshness independent of that, they offer nourishment – right bostin fittle, in fact – to readers hungry for the real thing." (Christopher Reid)

Book Description

The incandescent debut from Liz Berry. Winner of the Forward Prize Best First Collection 2014, and a Poetry Book Society Recommendation.

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Dudleian on 24 Aug. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Black Country is Liz Berry’s first full poetry collection and it leads off with “Bird” in which the poet is transformed. The choice is appropriate for a first collection as "Bird" is one of those statements of poetic intent that poets write early in their career, laying claim to their domain:

I raised my throat to the wind
and this is what I sang…

It is also an appropriate statement of intent for the collection: birds roost everywhere in its pages - starlings, throstles, wrens, sparrows, swallows, larks, pigeons filthy with petrol - in poems ranging from the documentary Grasshopper Warbler to the fantasy of The Year We Married Birds.

A lot of the early poems are written in the persona of Berry's younger self and have a wonderful, ferocious energy. Her use of dialect and phonetic spelling fully justifies the title of the book. I think that dialect is technically hard to pull off in poetry: it often feels like the poet is stretching for an authenticity or a connection that they do not have the rights to, even when that is not the case. Everything in Black Country is earned and unaffected. Berry has lived and breathed these words, or if she hasn’t she’s such a damned good writer that it doesn’t matter. The book switches effortlessly between poems in “pure” English, poems spotted with local cant, and poems larded with dialect like Sow, without any obvious change in quality or authorial control.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By K. Golding on 5 Oct. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I resisted buying this even after loving a poem I had read from it somewhere as I am wary of the disappointment that often follows the purchase of well-reviewed collections by creative-writing graduates. And I have spent a lifetime trying to keep my accent 'in a box beneath the bed,/the lock rusted shut by hours of elocution/how now brown cow' - a West Midlands accent is not regarded very highly, something Berry wants to change. She wants to make the

'vowels ferrous as nails, consonants

you could lick the coal from'

- the whole Black Country culture which was the backbone of British industry, a subject for poetry. I was unable to resist, anyway, and am delighted that I bought it, and that Berry has just won the Felix Dennis Prize for it, which suggests that the voice has travelled (though the judges' agenda appeared to include the desire to spread the love of poetry to the masses - not that I'm quibbling with that).

So - there are strong 'dialect' words here, requiring on page transition for the uninitiated. There are lots of references to Midlands life, which seems to be carrying on just as it did when I was a girl, many years ago - Berry has the poetic skill that allows her poems to be firmly rooted in place and yet to transcend both time and place, as in the brilliant Christmas Eve, when 'the Black Country is tinselled by sleet'. The collection opens with a poem called 'Bird,' the bird we have to become to leave our (wren's'! in-joke) nest and find our voices and fly away, and birds fly throughout, allowing access to the unknowable, letting the imagination soar. A fairytale magic pervades many of the poems - I was reminded, oddly, of Chagall.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By ACB(swansea) TOP 50 REVIEWER on 20 Aug. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Liz Berry's first collection of poetry opens with 'Bird', a recurrent theme of flight throughout her work. The emotions resonate with her inevitable movement as a girl when ' nothing could stop me' and her mother's voice chorused, 'Tek flight, chick, goo far for the winter. So I left girlhood behind me like blue egg and stepped off the window ledge'. Liz Berry carries her poetry through her experiences from childhood to those of an adult. Her phrasing moves from straight lines to those encompassing her roots. Having to cope with school that taught, 'English', is emphasised in her box beneath the bed. 'I wanted that box, jemmied open to let years of lost words spoil out - bibble, fettle, tay, wum, vowels as ferrous as nails, consonants you could lick coal from. I wanted to swallow them all: the pits, railways,..back to where you were born pigeons fluttering home'.

Liz Berry's 'Black Country' poetry is exceptional, incorporating a community dialect into her delivery. The result is a success for the writer and a joy for readers from whatever background. It is a particular delight for my Dudley family. Highly recommended, as are the still obtainable 'Black Country Night Out' recordings with Harry Harrison, Jon Raven, Tommy Mundon, Brian Clift and the inimitable comedienne Dolly Allen. Wholesome but far less poetic than Liz Berry's delicate and poignant lines.
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Format: Paperback
I'm not a Blackcountryman, but I was married to a Black Country wife, and Liz Berry speaks for her - and her parents, both born over a hundred years ago, and her relationship with them and their world. What she speaks in isn't the Black Country language she draws on but the English of her schooling - this is honest, too, because it's the tongue in which she addresses her individuality. It's a difficult task - the only writer I know of who attempted anything like it is DJ Enright, who, as a Leavisite WEA lecturer, approached parts of West Bromwich (Swan Village, for example) in almost the same way, but the post-forties rhetoric he used, which almost seems to telegraph that he is expressing feelings he thinks he ought to have, resulted in some pretty bad poems. In his later work he sometimes writes easily in the speech rhythms of and exploits the poses and tricks of the natural Black Country story-tellers he would have known as a child, and later, about things that on the face of it have nothing to do with the Black Country but seen through Black Country eyes and heard through Black Country ears - his well-kown "The Quagga" is a marvellously wry example of this, and can only be really understood as a Black Country poem. But these story-tellers were male, and drew on an accepted family or social status understood by their audience. Liz Berry can't do more than evoke that world, which is dying, and it's hard to see where she might go from here. But it will be exciting to see where she heads. I hope she gets there with her sensitivity and her sense of her roots intact.
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