Brutal and tender, earnest, erotic and impetuous, A.K. Blakemore’s poetry has earned her a following and a fierce reputation. With themes of youth, sex, drugs, drink, violence, womanhood and intimacy, her writing is direct and defiant. While her techniques and interests could group her in with other writers of the post-internet age, her style is all her own and already unmistakable.
Blakemore was born in London in 1991. In an interview for Artefact she explained that her teacher challenged her to write poetry when she expressed frustration with "rubbish" as a student. Success came quickly, with Blakemore named a Foyle Young Poet of the Year in 2007 and 2008. In 2009 she was featured in the anthology Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century (Bloodaxe). Her first single-author publication came in 2012 when Nasty Little Press published her in their Intro series. It announced a seemingly fully-formed style; simultaneously playful, dark, sexy and unsettling:
was due to a clerical error
we find there is nothing to do
but fuck quietly in his frosted beard […]
Some of the poems in Amy's Intro were also included in her first full-length collection. Humbert Summer won the Melita Hume Poetry Prize 2014. Judge Emily Berry stated that "The[se] poems seem to speak for a generation bored of its idols, somehow turning disaffected youth's trademark ennui into something altogether more celebratory." The collection, published by Eyewear in 2015, contains poems written between the ages of 16 and 23. It revels in youthfulness, stating in the title poem, with indeterminate irony, "you're old, / you won't get it". The book opens with 'sick of the beats', showing its aversion for respecting one's elders – even those whose work most directly seems to have influenced one's own. The Beats sense of immediacy and directness, blending of high and low culture and preference for the urban all chime with Blakemore's own writing, along with distastefulness wielded like a weapon against the apathy of decency:
you bitch of bad taste
are vital to America
where someday only the sea
These poems are also determinedly contemporary. Blakemore has said, "I feel like a lot of the time you can read a poem by a contemporary poet and they deny ever having seen 'Friends'. I kind of hate that." The delightfully outrageous title ''you can put it anywhere' is surely a reference to Cruel Intentions and there is a poem called 'Ross and Rachel as invertebrates'. Pop culture also seems to have influenced the idea of self-presentation as a part of the poetry as a performance, a lesson learned from Bowie and Morrissey and perhaps from Blakemore's former day job as a model. In 'ars poetica' it is personal relations that are raised to an art form and then plundered for material:
know that i am serially unkind
to those who love me
because i am young, have flame
in my skin and believe
that these people
exist in infinite supply –
going down might earn you
at worst an anecdote in five years, at best
While there is a great deal of sex, drink, drugs and violence in Blakemore's work it is not really these that are shocking; far more disconcerting is the conspicuous disregard for you as a reader. Most of these poems are short, to the point of being curt, and full of jumps and elisions which will leave the reader disorientated in a world where they are not made to feel welcome. Blakemore has said that being confrontational is a way to avoid making boring poetry. But there is also behind it, I believe, a distrust of civilised society with its practised but hidden nastiness: "buy the milk. make the bed. knowing where to find and how best / hurt each other – it's what grown-ups do – " ('patterns'). Perhaps the most startling (and affective) aspect of her work is its potent imagism:
neither pre- not post-proletariat,
mouthless, but not unlike
Nico. soft pussycat
washing her hair
in the swamp of ages –
Her trademark trick is to use images that are powerful on first reading but seem to disintegrate under further scrutiny. As if to say "I am going this way, come if you like but I will not wait for you".
In 2016 she published a 16 page pamphlet with If a Leaf Falls Press. pro ana had a run of 24 copies and seems to be partly based on the controversial websites where (mostly young female) anorexics share tips and tricks for losing weight, suppressing appetite and evading discovery and treatment:
goal weight: disposable plastic champagne glasses
By appropriating content from these forums and creating delicate, elusive poems from them, Blakemore risks further spreading and glamorising their messages and eating disorders. For her, it is a political act to look more closely at the darker side of our natures, to uncover rather than try to ignore the nasty impulses, our contradictory and problematic desires – even if we may be uncomfortable with what we find.
The same drive can be detected in her latest collection. Fondue was published by Offord Road Books in July 2018. Take, for instance, 'when my boyfriend spanks me my inner feminist weeps':
i hate poems where something is realised
on a holiday on a rope swing
i realise nothing
and do so hate to explain
i know i don't deserve to be hurt
Blakemore's style remains imagistic, enigmatic and spiky, but this collection has a clearer through-line and its unabashed feminism is signalled in a recent manifesto, first published in The Poetry Review:
If you are a woman, writing about your experience of being a woman, you are part of one of the most avant-garde literary movements there has ever been. Everything that happens in this poem is entirely your fault.
There are cameos by several radical feminists here and examples of male-perpetuated violence and abuse, but this is a more nuanced exploration of gendered power and agency. In 'storyboard for a conceptual horror movie' we are made to think about the way violence towards women is fetishized, the "he sees" reminding us that although we do not see the director his is the vision we are party to. But male power and violence is not the only problem. All love seems to come with a side-helping of coercion, take 'house cat':
hey little one
how dare you walk away from me
like a very calm torturer,
laying out my bijou implements
i think my lover
should be a little tree.
And then there are our urges to self-destruction:
i don't know why they chose
such a pretty corpse for the packaging. twenty-three,
a stroke, maybe, and a smile that says
he'd do it all again.
Much of the violence here is situated in a more rural setting and there are also poems that seem to step out of Blakemore's usual urban, multicultural territory, into the problems/problematics of the provinces. In 'southern gothic' "union jacks sinuate on satellite dishes":
and just enough blue sky
to make a noose.
In just a few sparse lines she draws in issues of nationalism to the many concerns already at play in this ambitious collection. In Fondue, Blakemore asks if it is possible to love and be loved, to desire without hurting, to accept and celebrate our natures… and much more. Solipsistic, cruel, pushing the reader away at every opportunity, Blakemore's poems somehow still transfix the reader. It's an appropriately perverse technique for what seems to be an impossible task: to capture youth; to distil the fleeting; to speak the unspeakable; to be true to life and truly alive.
Amy's Intro, Nasty Little Press, 2012
Humbert Summer, Eyewear Publishing, 2015
pro ana, If a Leaf Falls Press, 2016
Fondue, Offord Road Books, 2018
An interview in Artefact
The poet's manifesto The flower is forever my captain
PODCAST: Lunar Poetry
VIDEO: Poetry London