My first collection ‘Hard Drive’ is published by Carcanet in June 2023.
Here are some endorsements from poets who kindly read my manuscript.
“This is a heart-stopping debut of real emotional force and poetic intelligence. Paul Stephenson approaches the elegy through a kaleidoscopic, inventive, and genuinely moving use of form. The disorientating world of grief is captured with a blade-like precision, and yet Hard Drive is also full of hard-won light. Stephenson looks death in the eyes, and holds his nerve like few others.”
“Like Douglas Dunn’s Elegies, Hard Drive is a masterpiece of love and grief. A brilliant and innovative formal poet, Paul Stephenson here applies his great gifts, with heart-breaking clarity and bravery, to the most unfaceable of subjects. The result is poetry of great impact and generosity which, by looking unblinkingly at every aspect of grief, allows us to know our own. The collection is a beautiful hymn to the human capacity for love and, like all great poetry, makes us feel less alone.”
“Paul Stephenson’s debut collection is a wonder. He engages with the subject of grief with wit, intelligence and tenderness – and has imbued so much life and colour into the memory of someone who has passed. This is poetry for anyone who has ever lost someone. Warm and touching, this is poetry that celebrates and mourns those deep connections that we make in life.”
“Bereavement is the saddest club to which to belong, the saddest territory to annexe. No one is ever prepared for stepping through this portal of loss. These meticulous and attuned poems spare neither reader nor the poet, nor should they. This collection is a stoic and grounded narrative telling of deep-rooted love and loss, of witness and grief. Grief is cast here as praise and loving appraisal upon the death of a life partner. With mordant and exact wit, with compassion and insight, this poet turns a wry and observing eye and sensibility upon regions of fathomless loss. Formally varied, adept in their imaginal reach, the poems honour life at every juncture, even as they mourn a life and a world thrown into sharp focus by the pitiless light shed by death. Equipoise is achieved throughout between personal and official dimensions of a death (these booby-trapped with forms and documentations). Paul Stephenson brings all the tender mechanisms of language to sustain the weight of grief: this is an extraordinarily moving and accomplished collection which I know will command the attention it so richly warrants.”
In anticipation of the book a few poets have been kindly commenting:
“Paul Stephenson’s poems invariably combine a zest for language with layered insight and a kick in the emotional ribs. In other words, his first full collection will be the real deal.. “
Matthew Stewart, Rogue Strands
“You know how they say ‘long awaited’ – well this one truly is.”
Feedback on the book from the first few readers:
“I have just finished reading your book and was completely blown away. Such a beautiful, unique and important book. An exploration of death and grief is an enormously difficult thing and I thought the range of forms and techniques brought a different facet to the events and emotions and the recording of details that perhaps normally go unnoticed or unrecorded were utterly individual and moving. It is a book I shall return to many times I know and I hope it gets the recognition it deserves.”
“I have just read Hard Drive cover to cover. It’s bloody brilliant. I didn’t read the back cover before I started – I just jumped straight in, so it was quite a shock – even from the first poem, and then progressively more so over the first few. So well put together as a collection and incredibly moving throughout. Absolutely wonderful poetry.”
You know how sometimes you read a book and you can’t put it down. Either you’re moved, exhilarated, or – worryingly for my neighbours – screaming out loud because you love the poems so much? Paul Stephenson’s debut collection Hard Drive, released in June through the always brilliant Carcanet, is just that book. It’s a complex book; written after Paul’s partner suddenly died, it looks at grief, loss, and the bureaucracy of death – something that can often be unfairly complicated for queer people. The poems are just so powerful, whether documenting the bone shaking devastation of losing your love or grief’s ability to surprise you at the most unexpected turn.
And there’s incredibly tender and funny moments too as Paul looks back at the early days of their relationship, the messy and often tumultuous period of early love, the building of a life together. There’s a great poem titled “When We Were a Jackson Pollock” that uses the great abstract expressionist artist as a cipher for queer people creating their relationships outside of formal boundaries.
“so you and me might stand it upright hang the dizzy drips and flicks
to fill a wall ceiling to floor with the now the instant
being taken by the automatic the unthinkingness of us.”
I love that poem so much; the abandon of those first few days of new love is so exciting, where the blank canvas in front of us all could be filled with anything. There’s a real exuberance to Paul’s writing as he celebrates “our colours” splattering all over the canvas.
“not thinking for a moment or holding back”
Gah! So good.
As much as I love “…Jackson Pollock”, the poem I’ve picked as the Poem of the Week is “Grief, It’s Not What It Used to Be”. It’s clear eyed in its depiction of the undulating power of grief and is packed with such incredible imagery that I found especially powerful. And the underlying realisation that grief doesn’t disappear, that you don’t ‘recover’; grief is always there in differing forms, often infuriatingly so. I found it especially moving and hope you do too.”
Ben Townley-Caning, Fourteen Poems