“The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power. -Toni Morrison ”
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About Rachel Long
Rachel Long is the founder of Octavia Poetry Collective for Womxn of Colour, a ‘fiercely community-minded’ collective formed in direct response to the lack of inclusivity and representation in literature and the academy. Her debut collection, My Darling from the Lions, was named a Best Poetry Book by The Guardian, and shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize, the Costa Poetry Award, the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the Jhalak Prize. She is also co-tutor on the Barbican Young Poets programme and Poetry Fellow of University of Hertfordshire.
Through deft and vivid storytelling, Long wastes no time in immersing readers into her world. She consistently invites us into moments so intimate you almost feel like you’ve stumbled into a room you shouldn’t be in, and yet her sharp wit and wise insight reassures us that we have permission to stick around.
Her recorded reading of ‘Sandwiches’, a brief but powerful journey through the excitement, fear, joy, pain and absurdity of girlhood, expresses a soft but persistent yearning most listeners will be able to recall from their own struggles through puberty. Like so much of her work, this poem allows us to experience the sheer intensity of the moment through Long’s eyes, as she evocatively captures details that allow us to touch, smell and taste the narrative.
Long is highly skilled in expressing a great deal with as few words as possible. ‘Car Sweetness’, an appetizing morsel of a poem, manages to reveal deep feelings of both love and grief all at once. In fact, this dichotomy of light and dark, comedy and tragedy, joy and pain is a theme throughout all of Long’s work. Whether she’s exploring family dynamics, sexual awakenings, modern culture, femininity, or all of the above, she consistently finds ways to surprise us, to catch and trap us between a laugh and a sigh.
While ‘Jail Letter’ invites us into another personal moment, Long wrestling with her frustration as her mum braids her hair, it also provides emotional insight into the pains of navigating one’s black identity in childhood. “ ‘Ungrateful! Look at you, beautiful as Winnie Mandela!’ / I don’t know who this is / but it doesn’t sound like someone Ben Clark will fancy.” This poem speaks to the difficult bind so many young women of colour find themselves in while growing up in Britain. It is this political consciousness, combined with Long’s knack for total immersion, that allows her work to speak such volumes.
One poem that particularly stands out in this collection is ‘steve’ - a rapid fire poem which confronts us with the blunt reality of internalized racism. Long’s choice to abandon punctuation and utilise awkward enjambment makes the poem uncomfortable to read, as it should be. “steve was the black one mum / must’ve bought him for us we / wouldn’t have asked for him / he was ugly of course he fancied / princess barbie but princess barbie’s / blue sparklies were strictly for ken” The childish language only adds to our unease, as we bear witness to the brutalisation of a black doll that the young narrator holds such hostility towards. It is the kind of poem one hopes will be in a secondary school syllabus one day. It seems both just and correct that British teenagers should have the opportunity to write essays upon essays on its form, its voice, its power and its pathos.
Long’s voice is all at once urgent, insightful, hilarious and astute, and this collection entertains as much as it devastates.
Recordings made on 24th September 2021 at Spiritland Studio, North London. Photograph by Amaal Said.
Poems by Rachel Long
Books by Rachel Long
Shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize - My Darling from the LionsPrize website
Shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award - My Darling from the LionsPrize website
Shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection - My Darling from the LionsPrize website
Shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize - My Darling from the LionsPrize website