Sophie Sparham: Please Mind The Gap – book review

Sophie Sparham Please Mind The Gap book coverDerbyshire poet, author, and spoken word artist Sophie Sparham completed a creative and busy 2017 with the release of a debut poetry collection Please Mind The Gap, at the start of December.

The collection snarls at injustice, while preaching the peace of self-love, it is politics and it is personal, a scream, a whisper, a wake up call and a comforting salve. Like other work by Sparham across this collection she writes without boundaries and doesn’t just call out inequality but eloquently and emotionally challenges individual and societal behaviour, recognising the rot but forever with the hope of redemption.

Those themes will be of no surprise to those who know Sparham and her work; identity, equality, politics, society, religion. These are big subjects but handled in a down to earth and accessible way; this is not poetry for the elite to study in sterile classes, but for every day utterance in Derbyshire’s own tongue. That reflection of place, of the stories of our city, are recognised by Sparham in her acknowledgments where she writes, “Derby isn’t a pretty place, it’s gritty and grey and run down, but it’s where I’m from. And despite it’s grittiness, it’s the people that make the city and the people have stories; stories which must be told and remembered.”

Those stories are not the ones most would consider giving the accolade of civic pride. The stories told here are from a class that most in power would rather forget exist, they are the stories of the downtrodden, the addicted, the abused. They are the stories of those who refuse to be crushed, but forge their broken pieces back together to become a stronger form. They are the stories of those who dare to step beyond the boundaries other’s set them. In Not Your 9 to 5 Sparham espouses this reappraisal of expectations, “But don’t fear the sun, Get burnt, learn and know, Paved roads are safe to walk, But I’ve never seen a flower grow. Those that don’t reach the peak, Can still see the sky, Success means the paths that we chose to explore, Not how high we climb”.

These is no sugar coating on the words in this collection, nor shying away from the subjects covered, but more than once it tells dark stories with a sweet hope for sunshine. Sometimes blunt, but without the intention to shock for shocking’s sake through these poems Sparham begins to tackle some of society’s remaining taboos. In Should I? it meets with the moment in its appraisal of ingrained misogyny while telling the tale as old as time of how women have been held to double-standards, shamed for their power. The rhythm becomes less about the beat of poetry and more about the incantation, a call to those who know, a warning to those who don’t. “Because when I say me, I mean us, And when I say you, I mean nation, And when I say little, I mean often, When I say personal experience, I mean a herstory of objectification”.

Openly and honestly reflecting experiences of mental health, of feminism, of class, gender, and identity this is a collection which isn’t waiting for permission to speak, and isn’t skirting around any edges. The foreword by acclaimed poet Professor Benjamin Zephaniah gives a sense of the importance, the creativity, and the integrity, to be found in the collection. He writes, “I am delighted to introduce Sophie Sparham to the wider world through this debut collection. She has a unique and distinctive voice, and has some very important things to say. I am sure she will shine in the years to come and her talent will carry her far. I hope that you, the reader, connect with her messages, feel her flow, and find meaning in her intelligent and creative verse.”

The metaphors of the sea, of war, of body as kingdom invaded, defended and self-ruled are used throughout the collection in a creative, thoughtful and thought-provoking way. Not over-used nor hammered home this is a collection for those who have feet walking to the steady pound of the day-to-day but who have heads in clouds and a belief that they can be part of a different, maybe a better, way.

Sophie Sparham‘s poetry collection Please Mind The Gap, edited by Jamie Thrasivoulou, is out now and available from Sparham’s website or from Amazon. Snow In Hell, a novel by Sophie Sparham, is also available now as eBook or paperback.

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