Surge by Jay Bernard

5/5 stars

I am not a poetry person. I can appreciate it, sure, and I dutifully read what my English major required of me, but it’s not a medium I find myself tucking into often. But when I heard about SURGE and its exploration of systemic racism in Britain, I thought it was worth putting my prejudice against poetry aside.

And wow am I glad I did–Bernard’s work is a fantastic collection, inspired by some of the darkest moments in contemporary British history.

The New Cross Massacre in 1981 was a suspected arson case of a house in South London hosting a birthday party, with the blaze killing thirteen young Black people with no investigation or action from police. The Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 was a catastrophic demonstration of systemic racism in Britain, with a council house block going up in flames due to dangerous cladding design, with 72 resident deaths, mostly poor and BAME people, in one of the richest boroughs in the country. Bernard’s work explores their identity as a Black, queer, British person through the lenses of these disasters, and the work that still needs to be done to address racism in Britain.

It has been an interesting year to be American in Britain, especially with the global reach of the Black Lives Matter movement. With BLM presenting as a US-centric movement, the response among Brits can be varied, and British people in my observation can be… hesitant to admit that systemic racism and police brutality are just as pressing an issue in the UK as they are in the US. For evidence, just, uh… look at any Daily Mail cover that’s been published in the last decade. Just… yeah.

Bernard’s work is searing and illuminating, exploring the manifestation of Black identity in Britain and the collective trauma of racism. And as a poetry work, it’s a fast read that packs a big punch. Even as a medium that can be difficult to crack, Surge is a stunning collection of poetry that speaks to an important cause.

SURGE on Amazon:

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