REVIEW: Nicotine and Napalm – Love, Loss and Bad Romance

S&C Community Reporter Rosy Bremer reviews Emily Priest’s first published volume of poems and prose, which takes a fresh, young look at age-old themes of love, loss and bad romance. Emily’s book launches in Portsmouth tonight, 1st July 2019, at the Emporium Bar at 7.30pm (details below).

Emily Priest’s precision with the pen and a pithy phrase is impressive.

In His indecision is killing me she tells us in just one line all we need to know about the kind of man an attractive young woman in her early twenties has to deal with: ‘He changes his mind as quickly as I open my legs for him’, she writes.

The young woman as a victim, an exploited sex object? Partly, but not entirely. Priest is a gutsy, feisty fighter in the ring of the battle of sex between the sexes.

In one poem she declares ‘I am not your good girl’.  She lashes back at expectations that she should suppress her voice and thoughts as a woman and concludes this long poem with a final, definitive No; a vital, essential word which women would do well to say over and over again. This small, strong word to me recalls the powerful feminist chant ‘No means no and yes means yes’.

Again, in Don’t make him powerful, she perfectly puts in perspective a painful episode by stating ‘He was just human like you or me and I don’t need to survive something that weak’.

This strength of the young woman seems hard won, and at times Priest shows us another side to her emotions.  In Masochist’s Prayer, I am reminded of Sylvia Plath who wrote that ‘every woman adores a Fascist‘.  Priest’s Masochist’s Prayer begins with a declaration that ‘I want to be broken, I want to be punched, whipped and beaten, I want to be bleeding’ and it charts the internal and external conflict between needs, wants and the reality of what intimate relationships can become.  ‘I want to be alive, I want to be breathing, running and swimming, I want to keep fighting’ she states later on in the poem; thankfully it is this want that wins out, even when the poet realises that in the game of love, ‘I was not winning at all’.

Her voice can at times be wistful, as in When winter comes, a beautiful three-page musing on the past, present and future of a relationship begun in summer.  It is a rich and sensuous piece that perfectly captures a daydreaming mind.  The long, descriptive sentences are interspersed with short, sharp phrases ‘I cannot concentrate’, ‘My mind moves in fast forward’, ‘I stop writing’; an experience we can all relate to.

Priest is an accomplished writer and some of her poems seem intensely physical. Those three words that killed us is such a poem.  Here, the poet describes ‘A bullet on my tongue, that deadly gun, ready, waiting’.  The poet objectifies herself in this poem, seeing her mouth as ‘a smoking barrel’ when it releases the words ‘I love you’.

Her work, which has a visceral, physical quality, seems at times made to be spoken aloud and I believe Priest is as accomplished a performance poet as she is on the page. Check out her visual poetry video The Currency of Flesh below, a collaboration between the poet and artist Harry Pages.

Come along and see Emily Priest in action at the launch of Nicotine and Napalm on July 1st from 7.30pm to 9.30pm at Emporium Bar or buy the book here.  With free entry for all and a full line-up of other performance artists, poetry and a night out in Southsea rarely gets as good as this.

Follow Emily Priest on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to find out about her latest writing and performances.