Contemporary Poetry |5| Emily Berry

Emily Berry grew up in London. An Eric Gregory award winner in 2008, her debut poetry collection Dear Boy (Faber and Faber, 2013) won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2013. She is currently working towards a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of East Anglia.

‘Distance’ and ‘closeness’—whether physical, emotional or temporal—were the two main themes that I took away from the poems collected in Dear Boy. Both of these subjects seem to preoccupy Berry, popping up in the majority of her poems in one way or another.

She tackles the subject of ‘distance’ most knowingly in the poems concerning her absent lover, particularly in Letter to Husband, Love Bird, and Zanzibar. In these poems Berry uses the structure to add extra significance, leaving spaces between the otherwise prosaic and fragmented sentences that speak of longing.

‘Closeness’ is dealt with in a very physical manner, both tenderly and firm. The poem A Short Guide to Corseting details how the female speaker is bound into smaller and smaller corsets, positing that:


Pain is the spine of life. It holds you up.

—A Short Guide to Corseting, Dear Boy

The poems Shriek, Sweet Arlene, and Arlene’s House are suggestive of a more sinister ‘closeness’, the somewhat monotonous way in which they read only adding to their nightmarish qualities.

Berry’s propensity for sentimentality is scattered throughout Dear Boy and only very rarely does it run the risk of becoming irritating. The abundance of sentimentality means that we are more taken aback when we come across poems that are in any way blunt. The most notable example of this is the poem Her Inheritance, which deals with the poet’s sorting through her deceased mother’s belongings.

Dear Boy contains poems that display humour (Our Love Could Spoil Dinner), heart (Everything She Does is Not Her Fault), insight (Nothing Sets My Heart Aflame) and plenty more. To have published her debut collection with Faber and Faber could be seen as both a blessing and a burden for Berry but given the quality present in Dear Boy there is every reason to believe that she is at the beginning of a long and successful poetry life. Get yourself a copy and join her on the journey.