Publication date: 21st April 2022
DCF: Poetry Collections
In You have no normal country to return to, Tom Sastry explores questions of national identity and ‘the end of history'. A blistering, bleakly funny and timely second poetry collection, following his Seamus Heaney First Collection Prize shortlisted debut, A Man's House Catches Fire.
By turns crisply satirical and questioning, You have no normal country to return to ranges across the legacies of Empire, postwar migration and the current crisis in English identity. Sastry’s precise, brilliantly attuned poetry asks how the times we live in and the tales we tell about them affect us; how our emotional landscapes are shaped by national myths and the more personal stories we tell about ourselves. It is a book about illusion, and discovering, again and again, that what was once taken for granted was never really there; a guidebook for an age of “enchantments collapsing on themselves”.
Praise for You have no normal country to return to:
“Tom Sastry’s You have no normal country to return to is an incisive, witty, surreal, truthful look at the ignoble game of history, the tools of power’s self-preservation, and our personal and collective myths. With an enlivening commitment to authenticity, Sastry asks who owns the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, documents experiences in ‘proximity to whiteness’, and explores the psychosocial effects of living in a country frightened of its prey. This fascinating collection bears witness to the absurdity of the structures within which we must try to become, and the absurdity of the task itself: ‘I am the heap of stricken words unable to form themselves’. Smart, funny, challenging and, against all odds, hopeful. An essential, irresistible read.” – Amy Acre
“In his second full collection, Tom Sastry confronts national identity (including his own ‘dual heritage’) and the thorny issues of Englishness and Empire. These lively new poems carry their burdens wittily, self-deprecatingly. Many have a strong narrative and dramatic impulse – Sastry is known for his fine performances – whether we are hearing his own voice, an anonymous chorus ‘Searching for the Last Word’, a monologue by Queen Victoria, or what the poet’s hair had to say to him during lockdown. England itself speaks too. Sastry wryly imagines it transfigured, ‘out on the street, your street/wearing loud colours and a friendly smile/head tipped back as if to catch the spray/voice fizzing like sorbet/around the delicious word yes.’ There are explorations of friendship and family, philosophical moments, trips into psychic space and cyberspace, some lyrical outpourings and a brilliant riff on Cinderella. Fairy-tale, dream, moonshine, gods and ghosts are for Sastry as crucial as history (‘the mirror in which I see myself’), but he never forgets his readers and I was especially impressed by the poet’s ear, his mature control of line and tone. This is a collection perfectly attuned to our times, with much to say about ‘England’s dream of itself’ and ‘how England dies’, as well as hazarding one or two guesses about its future.” – John Greening
“Tom Sastry unmasks the many personal and socio-political crises of identity engulfing post-Brexit, post-lockdown Britain – its battered illusions and tentative hopes. Sastry has an enviable gift for language, imagery and ideas that are simultaneously arresting and precise, and remind us that the apparent stillness of any present moment is held within ‘a little nest of wars’.” – Rob A. Mackenzie
“It’s tempting to use words like ‘timely’ or - God forbid - ‘important’ to describe this collection. After all, it explores identity, politics, nationalism, race and other Big Zeitgest-y Subjects. But even as he tackles these issues, Tom Sastry resists grand simplifying narratives - in fact, he is often actively suspicious of them. Instead, he focuses on the complex, knotty stories beneath the buzzwords, approaching the global, the domestic and the deeply personal with his customary off-kilter observation, acidic humour and gentle bemusement. He is simultaneously an incredibly precise poet and one who revels in ambiguity, always favouring an inquisitive prod over a bombastic statement. This collection is confirmation, not that we needed it, that Tom is a unique and - yes - important voice in British poetry.” - Stefan Mohamed
Tom Sastry has been described by Hera Lindsay Bird as a “magician of deadpan”. He was chosen by Carol Ann Duffy as one the 2016 Laureate's Choice poets. Since then, his poems have appeared in The Guardian, Poetry Review and he has been highly commended in the Forward Prize. Tom’s first collection A Man's House Catches Fire was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Prize. His pamphlet, Complicity was a Poetry School Book of the Year and a Poetry Book Society pamphlet choice. Tom lives and works in Bristol.
What to do when everything goes up in flames? Summon up Tom Sastry’s poems, with all their elegant, satirical and hurt-quenching power: here are nightmares and fairytales, museums full of regret, misenchantments and magic for dark times.
The Nine Arches Press blog features poems from many of our poets, as well as interviews and articles.