Selfie with Waterlilies


‘This won the Paper Swans Press Poetry Pamphlet Prize 2017 (not the only pamphlet competition the poet has recently succeeded in!). Many of the individual poems were successful in competitions judged by people as various as Ahren Warner and Clive Wilmer. So if you have any faith in the anonymous, peer-reviewed process (as close to objective assessment in poetry as you’re going to get), this is the collection for you’ (Tim Love at Litrefs, October 2017, read the whole review here).

‘If his previous two pamphlets demonstrated his multifaceted control of tone, structure and theme (Those People) as well as a knack for unsettling the reader to great empathetic effect (The Days that Followed Paris), his third pamphlet, Selfie with Waterlilies (Paper Swans Press, 2017), shows an emotional honesty that goes far beyond the mere truth.’ (Matthew Stewart at Rogue Strands, November 2017, read the whole review here).

‘Another big favourite of mine from this year in the pamphlet form was Paul Stephenson’s Selfie with Water Lilies. As in Paul’s previous pamphlets, Oulipo-like games, patterns and constraints structure many of these poems. Sometimes the effect is humorous, as in a poem about Alan Sugar that uses the word beetroot at the end of every line, but in others these surface effects provide a way into talking about more difficult topics, particularly the bereavement that dominates the collection. These poems don’t emote, but find a way to pattern language so that the reader finds their way to emotion, which sidles up as if from just outside the field of vision. This writing feels like a kind of magic trick, but I never feel hoodwinked reading these poems. The poet wants to lead us to something true. I think Paul is one of the most interesting people writing at the moment and it really is time someone offered to publish a full collection by him.’ (David Clarke at A Thing for Poetry, December 2017, read the whole review here).

‘Stephenson takes a more-than-usual delight in language, and this comes through in all sorts of ways: his use of internal and half-rhyme, imaginative repetition, knowingly deployed cliché, shaped poems, punning and other word-play; and it seems to me that he uses this delight as a distancing mechanism, a way of stepping back from the objects of his poems in order to take a clearer look. Perhaps it is this stepping back that brings him a step closer to us. […] These poems not only reflect a globalised twenty-first century, they also create a sense of personal dislocation, a jitteriness, an inability, perhaps, to settle down; here the speaker’s movement in the world reflects a life thrown into turmoil by death. But the travel in these poems is juxtaposed starkly with the stillness of poems […] So, at the heart of the pamphlet there is both movement and stasis; maybe it’s the reality of the former and the yearning for the latter.’ (Chris Edgoose at Wood Bee Poet, May 2018, read the whole review here).

‘This poet enjoys high jinks. The title poem alone demonstrates that fact. It’s a series of statements arrayed across a double-spread, like waterlilies floating on the surface of a pond. Each ‘lily’ (or floating leaf) is a verbless descriptive phrase starting with ‘Me’. For example, there’s ‘Me attempting to sell’, ‘Me an impression’, Me portraying me’. What’s going on? Perhaps it’s a send-up of the poet’s role, complemented by visual shaping: the lyrical Me gone nuts. All poems are, in some sense of other, ‘selfies’, and if all of the texts here do, in one sense or another, reflect their author, we see a man who takes the full measure of both effect and meaning, while … having fun. Because from one page to the next, he is doing an astonishing range of things — a virtuoso performance.’ (Helena Nelson, Sphinx Reviews, early 2019).

You can order a copy here.

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