In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Short Cuts: Harry Goes Rogue

Jonathan Parry

On Hera Lindsay BirdStephanie Burt

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.

Poetry​ from New Zealand right now often reflects the nation’s sense of itself: friendly and co-operative, gently ironic, quiet or reserved. This style has something to do with population size (4.7 million: smaller than Scotland, Ireland or Minnesota), something to do with the vicissitudes of talent and publishing, and something to do with the country’s pre-eminent creative writing programme, founded and run until 2013 at Victoria University in Wellington by the understated, reserved and deftly ironic (and also terrific) Bill Manhire. New poets who got, and deserved, wide notice most recently have usually been performers as well, for example Tusiata Avia, whose bold work also articulates her Pasifika and Samoan identity. She, too, studied writing at VUW.

It is another kind of irony, then, that the most talked about by far of the books of poetry published in New Zealand last year was neither reserved, nor civil, nor understated, nor overtly tied to the place, even though its 29-year-old pakeha (European-descended) author holds a degree in writing from Victoria University. Hera Lindsay Bird’s first book, also called Hera Lindsay Bird (just published in the UK by Penguin, £9.99), begins with a scene of helplessly comic dismay:

To be fourteen, and wet yourself extravagantly
At a supermarket checkout
As urine cascades down your black lace stocking
And onto the linoleum
Is to comprehend what it means to be a poet

Once you get over your amusement, or disgust, or titillation, you might decide that Bird is right: this kind of shaming event is like poetry, if your idea of poetry mingles the voluntary with the involuntary (the daemon, the imp, the spirit, the all-too-full bladder) to reveal unacknowledged parts of the self. Of course it does; but who else would put it that way?

‘My friend says it’s bad poetry to write a book/And I agree with her/I agree with her … … … … in principle,’ Bird says: she makes only minimal compromises with the formal demands of ‘poetry’ as she has known it, coming as close as she can on the page to the ‘poetry’ of late-night tweets, of scrawls in the margins of YA novels, except that hers stand up well when reread. Bird gets those ellipses – she gets, as well, her defiant, uneven, diary-entry rhythm – from the American poet Chelsey Minnis, author of Poemland and Bad Bad. Like Minnis (to whom she dedicates her longest poem), Bird could fit well with the feminist project that two other American poets and critics, Lara Glenum and Arielle Greenberg, have named the Gurlesque, whose rude self-exposures strike back against patriarchal tastes and rules.

Unlike most of her verse models, Bird can sustain a comedy routine: for every teaspoon of the avant-garde in her work, there is a tablespoon of Sarah Silverman, telegraphed in titles that ‘deface’ canonical writers (‘Keats Is Dead So Fuck Me from Behind’) or ‘elevate’ pop culture ephemera (‘Monica’, named for the character from Friends). I put ‘deface’ and ‘elevate’ in scare quotes both because Keats (who wrote ‘What shocks the virtuous philosopher, delights the chameleon poet’) may have had nothing against getting fucked from behind, and because Bird’s five-page, much-shared-on-the-internet ‘Monica’ doesn’t make the sitcom any better. It might, however, make your life better, if you accept its monitory advice:

although I believe there are ways that love can endure
It’s just that statistically, or
Based on personal experience
It’s unlikely that things are going to go well for long.

Part of Bird’s aesthetic – or, if you prefer, her shtick – involves lines that sound juvenile or incompetent at first, and perhaps later too. Another part involves overt bids for attention: ‘Children Are the Orgasm of the World’. This is our language, the poems say, with a nervous, nitrous-oxide giddiness; ‘Bill Manhire’s not getting any younger.’ The poems refuse not only familiar traditions of craft but also serious Public Speech on Big Issues, of the kind that poets on the political left have long offered as alternatives to craft. Society may be saved or damned by civic action, but not by poets writing poetry, which is (Bird says, in her most sarcastic tones) ‘like something that cannot be said but must be said … and in being said/slows the rapid expansion … of the prison-industrial complex … /It’s like your family commissioning a shrugging angel headstone.’ Poetry ‘should be like tits at dawn …/or a million trees in winter …/But it’s like setting the planet on fire … by letting your kite fly too close to the sun.’

Hilarity in Bird may tip over into a kind of anything-goes despair at the fragility of all human constructions (this even though the collection went to press before Brexit, before Trumpism, before the 2016 round of New Zealand earthquakes). She calls another poem ‘The Dad Joke Is Over’: it asks what happens ‘when a great civilisation is too prosperous for too long … & ventures into the uncharted space beyond what is … funny’. In that space ‘there are dad jokes, and they can’t take the heat.’ By testing, and mocking, and punching holes in all the things that enter the frame of her poetry – ‘poetry’ itself, of course, among them – Bird finds out what resists, what can take the heat. Among the survivors are erotic satisfaction, wordplay, camaraderie, and a sense that the abandon of adolescence may be carried forward peaceably into the putatively adult world:

O Anna
Neither our love nor our failures will save us
all our memories
like tin cans on a wedding car
throwing up sparks
like pumping the dog’s anal glands
on our first anniversary
or lifting your bedpan
through an inner-city hospital
or back before all of it
when we first fell in love
the heart like a trick candle
on an ancient, moss-dark birthday cake

This poem, ‘Daylight Savings’, anticipates an erotic friendship that may survive into a shared old age; the poet and her friend, like runaway horses, must ‘jettison the manky quilts/of our foremothers/still laughing at the reins’.

It would be easy for a hostile reader to call Bird sentimental, or excessive, or insufficiently self-critical. But she is never boring, she’s sometimes concise (one imagines the shocking quips she has cut out), and that hostile reader would miss an important point: Bird’s faux-naive moments, her rambles and her rudeness, say we need not seek permission or precedent in order to feel what we feel, and to say what we feel. ‘There’s something about putting your most hideous mistakes and personal failings and the worst parts of your relationship on paper that somehow makes those parts of your life even more palatable,’ Bird told a New Zealand newspaper (note her ‘even’). The same newspaper asked whether she, like other young women, put too much of her life online: ‘The people who seem to have a problem with oversharing are, well, let’s be honest, it’s older men, isn’t it? But it’s not for them.’

The real problem with most poetry that sounds amateurish – the reason ‘amateurish’ is, usually, an insult – is not that it sounds uncontrolled, but that it sounds boring: we can usually guess what comes next, or else it’s so chaotic we don’t care. In Bird we can’t guess, and we do care; at her best she has, too, the retrospective rightness, the introspective discovery, more usually associated with obvious craft (like Manhire’s!) or self-control. She also uses comedic excess to make political points, for example, against bisexual erasure; her poem ‘Bisexuality’ (a sequel of sorts to Frank O’Hara’s ‘Homosexuality’) concludes:

Not the well of loneliness, more like a water feature
But a tasteful one, with a hidden power supply
You look out over the hills and the rows of red houses
And worst of all, you don’t even like softball!!!

Bird’s bisexuality rejects, at once, heterosexual family norms (queued-up houses), lesbian self-pity (The Well of Loneliness) and butch stereotypes (softball). Also ‘it just … comes over you, like an urban sandstorm/When a fish crawls up onto land? – that’s bisexuality.’

If bisexuality is ridiculous, the way rows of exclamation marks are ridiculous, that’s because sexuality in general is ridiculous: why do we spend so much time and energy trying to put things inside other things, or to make sure that skin comes into contact with skin? Explicit defences of sexuality also come across as slightly ridiculous, or as profoundly indecorous, ‘like flicking someone’s bra-strap at a coroner’s inquest’. Bird’s poem continues: ‘The official theme of this poem is/The official theme of all my poems which is/You get in love and then you die!’ The solecistic ‘get’ works better, because it gets more attention, than the expected ‘fall’ would.

If there is a Sarah Silverman in here, and a Bill Manhire, and a W.B. Yeats (‘What can I but enumerate old themes?’), there is also a Wes Anderson: Bird writes to be loved, to fold what is embarrassing about her temperament into what is winsome, what’s cool or cold into what’s intimate and warm. ‘What’s the point of saying new things?’ another poem begins. Perhaps we seek only ways to make old things sound new. All Bird’s poems might be carpe diem poems too. Yet some of her feelings may be new: the feeling of having shared all your feelings online; the twitchy anticipatory regret and delight of waiting for people to like your updates; the vertiginous feeling that there are no rules, no shame, no guilt, in this new world. And some of Bird’s vehicles are new too: who else would compare her poem to ‘a chastity belt made of bottle caps?’ Who else would call her own poetry ‘a bad, adorable crime/Like robbing a bank with a mini-hairdryer’?

Poetry is, Bird concludes, ‘a premature ventriloquism’, a means of ‘pushing a pork roast in a vintage pram’, ‘a ransom note with no demands’. By the end of Hera Lindsay Bird we have seen, if not what poetry is in general, then what it does for Hera Lindsay Bird: its drive to entertain, its hopeful wrongness, its war on decorum, its distance from inherited restraint, and even its essential helplessness. We have also seen – it’s part of the reason this book succeeds and is an aesthetic success so often, as well as the reason it’s a hit in New Zealand – a difference between Bird and most of her American parallels (Patricia Lockwood excepted). Young Americans can write, if they wish, for readers of their own cohort and their own tastes, in Brooklyn and Oakland, for the coolest few thousand among America’s 323 million. Though her poems circulate online, though her digital generation grew up able to text across the globe, Bird writes from and for New Zealand. Her poems make sense to people who are not like her.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.