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joolz sparkes

writing, reading, being

The reviews are in…

Poetry books, especially those published by small indie presses, are never going to sell hundreds of thousands of copies, so every single reader is precious. And you can’t wait to see what those readers will make of your poems. The hope is that something, somewhere within your work, maybe just a word or a phrase, or even a whole poem will connect deeply to the living beating soul of another human being.

So it’s with trepidation that you ask for reviews by trusted sources, not only because you need good PR and not a roast, but mainly because being reviewed helps you to understand what it is that you’ve brought forth into the world.

Seeing your poems through somebody else’s eyes is an act of severance. The words and thoughts are no longer yours, but now belong to someone else to do with what they please. I can’t imagine the jeopardy involved for theatre productions who can be shut down by bad reviews. At least with poetry, it’s not money that’s at stake, only the writer’s heart.

Since its launch in late October 2022, Face the Strain has been endorsed by brilliant poets (more of that in another post), kindly raved about by friends and family (more about that in another post) and reviewed insightfully by two excellent reviewers – Hideko Sueoka and Emma Lee. The reviews are both really good reads.

The reviewers and reviews

Hideko Sueoka is a poet and translator living in Tokyo. Her translation on photography Shigeichi Nagano-Magazine Work 60s was published in 2009. She was the winner of the 2013 Troubadour International Poetry Competition and her winning poem was highly commended in the Forward Prize 2014. Her debut poetry chapbook was published from Clare Songbirds Publishing House (New York State, US) in 2018. Her recent poems were included in online magazines Harana PoetryamberfloraPorridge Magazine and anthologies such as Arrival at Elsewhere curated by Carl Griffin (Against the Grain Press), and Stay Home Diary Zine (Bitter Melon Press).

She reviewed Face the Strain for her blog CHEERFUL NOISE as in a poem: joyousnoise0509.blogspot.com she says:

This pamphlet FACE THE STRAIN is written by the Londoner poet Joolz Sparkes, born and raised in the UK. As in the poetry book London Undercurrents (written with Hilaire), the verse stage in the pamphlet is set in London with love and hate. The title serves as a metaphor for Sparkes’s daily life there as a working woman. I, as a freelance translator, can strongly sympathize with her works and feel keenly what she is fighting in society.

The collection covers various forms, i.e., formal poem (‘We’re trying to stop, honest’ with rich cacophony) to concrete poem (‘No title’ with irony). Through it, the current social issues such as diversity and gender are expressed with her own lyricism. From that perspective, it includes works that could be described as political, reiterated as in the previous book.” Read the full review here



Emma Lee is an award-winning reviewer and is a poet herself. Her collection “The Significance of a Dress” will be published by Arachne Press at the end of February 2020. Her collection “Ghosts in the Desert” is available from Indigo Dreams Publishing. Her pamphlet Mimicking a Snowdrop” was published by Thynks Press in 2014 and her full-length collection, “Yellow Torchlight and the Blues” has been published by Original Plus.  Her poems have been nominated for the Forward Best Poem Prize, broadcast on BBC Radio, prize-winners in competitions and widely published in anthologies, magazines and webzines.  Her short stories are also widely published and she was one of the editors for “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge”.

Emma reviewed Face the Strain for her blog Emma Lee’s Blog, she says:

“Face the Strain is a lyrical exploration of life under patriarchal capitalism as we emerge from the pandemic. Personal actions become political, although individuals are rendered powerless against large conglomerates and politicians in lobbyists’ pockets. Sparkes pulls no punches. The world is looked at through a critical lens, which particularly examines societal attitudes towards the powerless and vulnerable, and the extra loads of caring, parenting and household management that fall on predominately on women. The tone is spare and direct, making the poems’ intents clear and targeted.” Read the full review here

Appetite whetted and ready to face the strain? You can buy a copy here or directly from me.

Against the Grain Showcase, a glorious way to end 2022

There’s something magical about meeting poets in real life when you’ve only interacted with them online. I’d exchanged tweets and emails with Joanna Nissel and Sarah Mnatzaganian, and had shared an online launch with Luciana Francis, but hadn’t met them yet in real life. So it was an absolute joy to read alongside them at the Against the Grain Showcase at the Torriano Meeting House in December last year.

We were all published by Against the Grain Poetry Press in 2022 and wanted to do something to celebrate. Joanna and I had chatted about the possibility of the four of us reading together for a group launch, and before I knew it, Joanna had found the venue and taken on the lion’s share of organising the event. Thank you Joanna! Superstar.

It was a cold, grey winter’s day but Kentish Town burst into green, blue and red – the vibrant colours on our book covers, thanks to the crisp and cool house style of ATG pamphlets.

Sadly, Luciana couldn’t join us, so the three of us spent more time chatting to our wonderful audience before the reading and during the break. Mulled wine, generously supplied by Sarah, was supped, poetry was read, our books were launched and books were sold. The heating may not have been on due to the cost of living crisis, but the warmth of meeting Sarah and Joanna, and our publishers Jessica Mookherjee, Karen Dennison who came along to support us, was palpable. It was the first time I’d properly met Jessica in real life too, as we held our editorial sessions via zoom…so it was really special to be able to give her a hug and thank her properly for all her guidance and support.

There’s also something magical about the audiences that come along to book launches too. It tends to be a real mix – family, friends and poets; people from all the significant areas of your life. Friends such as the wonderful poets and writers Hilaire and Nick Rogers, designer Suzanne Mullins and fine artist and video artist Mark Watson, aka @Diz_Co . Mark very kindly filmed me reading and made this great edit of O World Who Shall We Be Now? If you like the poem, you can buy the book here.

Anthology launch – short story reading

Fancy some unpredictable, fearless, bright, dark, innovative poetry and writing? Then step up and watch this recording of one of the international online launches for Great Weather For MEDIA’s latest anthology Arriving at a shoreline, here.

What a joy to be part of this event, and anthology. Brave, thought-provoking, brilliant, and life-affirming poetry from readers from around the world. There’s a short story from me too. It’s called How Our Fortune Tamer Learnt To Fly A Paper Aeroplane and is bonkers. If you like it, and all the poems you hear on the recording, you can buy the anthology here.

And why not submit your own pieces of fearless work to the Great Weather for MEDIA here.

Against the Grain Showcase Dec 10 book your tix

Join us for a celebration of poetry from the last year with the four poets published by Against the Grain Press in 2022: Sarah MnatzaganianJoanna NisselJoolz Sparkes, and Luciana Francis.

Expect readings from each poet with time to mingle and chat afterwards, as well as purchase the pamphlets should the urge strike you. Pamphlets may be purchased with cash or via PayPal only.

Standard tickets are £5. A pay-what-you-can donation ticket is also available for those on low incomes (inc. students, retired persons etc.). Book here

A glass of wine or orange/apple juice is available with every ticket.

We regret that the toilets are not wheelchair accessible.

The Poets

Sample poems from each pamphlet and longer bios are available on the Against the Grain website.

Sarah Mnatzaganian – Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter, Winner of the Saboteur Award for Best Poetry Pamphlet.

‘The Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska sums up thus the qualities that characterise a talented poet: ‘A genuine sense for what’s better or worse aesthetically, what’s more or less important, what works, or doesn’t, and why’. Sarah Mnatzaganian has all of that. It has been a pleasure, over the last few years, to see her develop from a promising poet into a very accomplished one. This collection includes several loving poems about family, with characters who come alive on the page. Her poems about children leaving home will bring tears to some eyes. And she writes so deliciously about food that she makes me hungry. I hope her pamphlet will get the attention it richly deserves.’ Wendy Cope

Joanna Nissel – Guerrilla Brightenings

‘Joanna Nissel’s poems in this exciting debut pamphlet are as fresh as a winter wave on Brighton beach. She conjures up imagery that is infused with colour and hope, using the seaside town and its accompanying seascape as her bedrock, while simultaneously tackling tough subject matter like first love, death, lockdowns, societal conflicts and the chaos of social media. As a result, the poems shimmer, sparkle and draw you in, the impact of each one building like an incoming high tide until we the reader feel like we are crunching on the pebbles and wading into the sea with her. As Nissel says: “every morning/ the beach/ teaches me something new.” It’s a thrill to walk the pebbles alongside her.’ Ben Townley-Canning

Luciana Francis (neé Saldanha) – Travel Writing

‘These delicate and thoughtful poems offer moments of quiet wonder, taking in memory and motherhood, elsewhere and home. Although the “sad museum” of the past and of exile is often there, the poems can’t help but find solace in the beauties of the natural world and in the constancies of human relationships.’ Katherine Towers

‘These sensory poems explore connections, both made and lost. The act of uprooting and resettling are tenderly depicted as Francis spans oceans, skies, and the intimate trappings of the domestic space, proving that “all we need is a touch/to bridge the distance.” Rebecca Goss

Joolz Sparkes – Face the Strain

‘In one potent volume, Sparkes offers up a poetic manifesto for the state of the nation. Here, the personal is political, but the political is political too. Through a wide and unforgiving lens, we are invited to view everything from private loss, to social inequities, to society’s betrayal of the powerless and vulnerable, to the appropriation of women’s bodies. A thrilling and disquieting read.’ Jacqueline Saphra

‘Joolz Sparkes is a poet who sees the humour and the horror of the world. Face the Strain is at once tender and intimate and unapologetically political. No punches are pulled in this small but mighty body of work.’ Dean Atta

Face the Strain, well and truly launched!

We zoomed (where I became a polar bear in a hoodie), we read IRL (no avatars, just real people), and we launched my poetry pamphlet Face the Strain, published by Against The Grain Poetry Press out into the world!

Thank you to everyone who attended, to Luciana Francis who launched online at the same event, and to guest readers Hilaire, Charlotte Ansell, and Katie Griffiths who read so beautifully at Ink @84. And thank you Jess, Abegail and Karen.

Please do order your copy here or from me directly. And look out for more readings coming up.

Beautiful books in the post

Thanks to Karen Dennison and all at Against The Grain Poetry Press, a box of wonderfully green and spiky poems arrived in the post. I love the way the book looks and feels, and want to keep all of them…but that’s no good, we must send them out into the world. Buy yours here or from me directly. They pop in the post really easily.

Two launches for Face the Strain

Hope you can join us!

Arriving at a short story

I was given a prompt in a Malika’s Poetry Kitchen workshop and for some reason what I started writing, it refused to be a poem. The very strong voice of a main character was gifted to me by the writing pixies, and off went my pen into continuous prose. The resulting short story – How our Fortune Tamer learnt to fly a paper aeroplane – seemed pretty bonkers to me, but I loved the anarchic protagonist, a real anti-hero who behaves more and more badly as the story progresses.

I knew it might be difficult to place this story among less adventurous publishers, so I submitted it to the wonderful Great Weather for MEDIA anthology call out. Great Weather for MEDIA aren’t scared to publish what others may think of as brave writing or strong content. Maybe it comes from their founding members living and working in New York, a city where anything goes? Maybe other publishers are just way too conservative for their own good? Whatever the reason, Great Weather said yes to my crazy short story and I am extremely proud to hold my contributor’s copy of Arriving at a shoreline in my hands. You can order your copy here – it’s chocabloc with brilliant poems, compelling stories and indepth interviews from over 70 international contributors. Don’t miss.

Launching pamphlets by Luciana Francis and Joolz Sparkes

Against the Grain Poetry Press

Please join us Saturday 29th October at 3pm on Zoom. Eventbrite link for tickets https://ATG-Sparkes-Francis.eventbrite.com

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