(2019) Maz Hedgehog, Dog Horn Publishing, £5.99, pbk, 32pp, ISBN 978-1-907-13386-2
This glorious chapbook by Manchester poet Maz Hedgehog riffs upon classical literature and folklore, particularly the English epic poem, The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser. This is not a translation or adaptation. The poet writes entirely original poems focussing on her own fictional creations, but weaves in deft allusions, and lets the older material serve as contrast and counterpoint to the poems herein. By beautifully but decisively interrogating British constructed history, the poet asserts the place of black queer perspectives and viewpoints within British cultural identity. Vivat Regina works as an exposition of a striking woman, an exploration of duty and freedom, and a rich fantasia of magical beasts and beings.
Drawing on inspiration from a variety of sources, particularly the work of Romantic poet, John Keats and fantasy writer, Neil Gaiman, Maz Hedgehog’s Vivat Regina owes its biggest debt to Edmund’s Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queene, and when I say epic, I do mean epic as Spencer’s 16th century poem is one of the longest poems ever written and was published in six parts, recounting the adventures of several knights, and through them examining themes such as justice, chastity, temperance and courtesy, and featured dragons, witches and wizards, along with all sorts of political and romantic entanglements. So impressed was first Queen Elizabeth with it that she granted Spenser a pension of £50 a year. Maz Hedgehog has not enjoyed similar largesse from the current Queen Elizabeth, but this themed collection of poems was one of three winners of the Superbia Chapbook Competition, funded by Manchester pride.
Like, Spenser’s epic, which can be taken on many levels, Hedgehog’s Vivat Regina can be approached from different directions. Is it set in the past? Is it a myth or a legend? A simple faerie tale? Or is it about someone from the present escaping into another world, a world of forced marriages and honour killings? Of gang violence? Where a woman possessed the power to enter a world where things are starker, yet more honest, more true? Vivat Regina starts with a prologue, written as prose which could easily have taken the shape of several poems all by itself, and been a standalone part like the other sections of this chapbook. Anyone who struggles to write poetry and sometimes uses the 'found' poem method to kickstart their writing - usually by taking some text and rearranging it as a poem or using certain words from the text to form a poem, would have a field day with this prologue where we are about to enter Her dream. The price? Well, nothing much, all she asks is your name, some of your marrow, and your children.
Her dream is told in three parts – 'Her Ascent', 'Her Reign' and 'Her Fall'. In the first part a King waits, worn out and occupying a decaying palace that would not be out of place in Sleeping Beauty, and into his world comes a new queen, escaping a place of concrete and blessed bullets. She will have her followers and transform the land, but there will be rebellion and battles and death, though in the end can you really kill a song, a memory, a dream? Small in length but big in scope and imagination, Vivat Regina heralds an exciting, new voice in the world of speculative poetry. As someone almost said in a Star Wars film, “I’ll follow her career with interest.”
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