Adrian Mitchell. The Shadow Knows: Poems 2000-2004. 2004. Bloodaxe Books. UK

Review by Theresa Wolfwood. Director of the Barnard-Boecker Center Foundation, Victoria, BC, Canada.

The blurb on the back cover says that Mitchell is “restoring a radical, subversive voice to the public face of British poetry.” For that he is most welcome! Mitchell is a skilled and imaginative poet, creating humorous works about sacred cows and searing indictments of war, greed and violence.

It was the mainstream media’s mania for royal hagiography that gave the magazine, Red Pepper, the idea to anoint a shadow poet laureate who could speak to and for the people. I’ll always remember Hilary Wainwright, editor of Red Pepper saying at the World Social Forum that action creates ideas. The act of creating a shadow poet laureate has poured Mitchell’s ideas, imagination and insight onto these pages.

Much of Mitchell’s poetry sears in its heated exposure of the horrors of war and violence, as in “To the pre-emptive Air Forces “:

…You are Jack the Ripper on a surgical strike.

And the deceptively sing-song Back to the Happidrome about armaments and war:

“..Tear the face off the human race–
with British Aerospace
it gives employment…”

One poem that stays with me is a classic haiku, a form usually associated with cherry blossoms, but this one, National Pride Haiku, says:

if smacking children
were an Olympic event
England would take the gold

Not all his poems are about violence and stupidity; many are full of love and joy, celebrations of friendship and natural beauty. Even activists who don´t normally read poetry can enjoy the insight, satire and beauty of Mitchell’s work.

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Theresa Wolfwood

Theresa Wolfwood is a writer and activist in Victoria, BC, Canada. Her poetry collection: Love and Resistance was published by Smallberry Press, UK. She serves as the director of the Barnard-Boecker Centre Foundation (BBCF), Canada.

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