Llama On The Loose by Nina Telegina

A review of the poetry collection Llama On The Loose by Nina Telegina.

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Llama On The Loose by Nina Telegina dives straight into the contemporary discussion of poetry in the introduction, Telegina invites the reader to question what poetry is and how the definition of poetry can be broad – much broader than perhaps initially thought. She rails against the pretentious, puritanical view of poetry and argues that poetry is useful when it is related to and contributes positively to our lives.

This book is experimental, and slightly different to a standard debut collection. Telegina has divided the collection into three sections; stories, dramatic monologues and poems. This arrangement of her poetry suits Telegina’s performance style, and if her live performances are anything to go by, performance is a big part of this poet’s work. With this layout Telegina invites us to consider her writing as theatrical pieces, to imagine someone reading them, rather than the poems being static text on the page.

Telegina writes about subjects that you wouldn’t traditionally want to write about with gusto. For example, under her attention farts become a multi-faceted subject worth exploration. In the poem ‘The Flight of the Mighty Fart’ farts evolve into a metaphor for corrupt politicians. This is just one example of the way in which Telegina takes a seemingly innocuous subject matter and turns it every which way to wring maximum meaning from it. This is a skill that not all poets practice but when seen it’s a pleasant marker of a curious poet.

‘Hercules’ is another poem that takes one subject, in this case the character of Hercules, examining it until it renders multiple meanings. The character of Hercules evolves throughout the poem to make points about the fast pace of modern life and the problems of wage labour, to name just two points. Telegina is not afraid to use humour either, and many of her poems are as funny as they are poignant. Like the aforementioned poem, characters seem important to Telegina as a ‘way in’ to her writing, be they Jesus or a deranged llama. Putting herself into the shoes of unlikely character is a theme of this book, as seen in the poem ‘The Poem of a Lion Who Has Just Eaten a Hunter’. This poem also touches on another idea running through this book; ecological concern.

Like many poets, Telegina gives a voice to those that don’t often have a voice. Telegina is a poet interested in characters, personal stories, personas. She wants to know how extreme lives and circumstances came to be. In this book she has put thought into how her poetry is to be performed, this can be seen in her poem ‘The Llamiad’, and there is often an overlap between poetry and different disciplines, such as acting.

The central poem within this collection and its heart, ‘The Llamiad’, is about far more than is suggested on the surface. It is about the marginalised, problem children, and thought processes. It is essentially a thought experiment. In this book Telegina encourages the reader to join them as an equal on a journey of wonder where one is lead to nuanced meanings and conclusions with a playful, exploratory approach. She is a philosophical poet, building her poems block by block and guiding us to limitless interpretations by beginning at simple starting points.

Setareh Ebrahimi performs regularly, and is a poet working in Faversham, Kent. She is the author of In My Arms from Bad Betty Press.

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