Review of ‘The Migraine Hotel’

I’ve finally finished reading Luke Kennard’s collection ‘The Migraine Hotel’ and I think it’s definitely worth a review. It’s a combination of verse and prose-poetry, and, as is stated in the blurb, the prose poems function like ‘grouchy comic monologues with unreliable narrators’ – a style which becomes thoroughly engrossing. I’ve been highly dubious of prose-poems in the past, but I confess that was partly because I hadn’t really been exposed to many, and the ones I had were not works that had inspired me.

Having finished Luke Kennard’s collection however, my stance has changed. I enjoyed the monologue style of the prose-poems, and it lends itself ideally to the comic and satiric, which Professor Kennard has utilised to the full. Particularly entertaining is the recurrence of certain narrators, or characters, throughout the collection. For example ‘The Wolf’ not only crops up in two poems, but also frequently features in the ‘notes’ to shed amusing light on poems, or even the motivations behind the poems (often in a very meta-poetic vein).

The Wolf (which I’m focusing on a little in my review as it seems quite a core part of the collection) is brilliant, acting almost like the dark voice in the poet’s own head; it observes, philosophises and generally makes the comments we would all desperately like to voice out loud but find ourselves too socially constrained to.

But there are other voices in the collection too of equal brilliance. With the title ‘The Migraine Hotel’, one almost feels like the book is a collection of the voices of the people staying at this nightmarish residence. This sense is elevated with prose-poems like ‘Four Neighbours’, in which a man devotes a stanza to describing each of the men on his floor. The descriptions of his ‘neighbours’, of course, only end up revealing (and describing) the narrator himself, which proves an insightful twist to the poem.

Probably my favourite of the collection, is ‘The Six Times My Heart Broke’, a highly surrealist and intensely comic piece that yet leaves the reader with a tragic sense of something utterly missed. It moves from stanza to stanza, each one describing an occasion on which the narrator’s heart broke, and each one more ridiculous than the last. By the third stanza a strange momentum builds and each occasion of the heart breaking follows on from the last in a delightful manner. Though I would love to expand on the poem, I feel the comedy and humour arising from the ridiculous sequence of events that becomes the very literal breaking of his heart, would be lost, and so suffice to say it is well worth a read!

Overall, the collection is laugh-out-loud funny, entertaining, and here and there streaked with tragic veins. There is an immense feeling that by the end of the collection, in which the writing becomes increasingly self-reflective, the poet is almost laughing at his own satirical nature, which in itself is comic, as well as a little disturbing.

It is not the poetry I am normally accustomed to: I’m a big fan of form, lyricism, and the reworking of classical genres into contemporary fittings and styles. But this collection is hugely innovative, well wrought, and enjoyable. Many of the poems will also probably merit one or two readings to fully appreciate their depth, which is the mark, if any, of truly engaging poetry.

Thanks for reading,

If you want to hear more of Joseph Sale’s opinions, reviews, and rambles, then you can follow him here, and on Twitter at: josephwordsmith

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