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Guardian First Book Award reader nominations: Precocious by Adam Lowe


The call for reader nominations to find a 10th title for the first book award longlist produced 11 eligible books. In the latest report back from our panel of reader reviewers, R042 and Goodyorkshirelass look at a poetry debut that wears its heart on its sleeve

R042 writes:

I came to this book on the back of reading Sarah Jackson's Pelt and felt it was a little underwhelming. Quite why was difficult to define at first - "FriendRoulette" was a fine playlet that I was very impressed by, but the remainder of the collection largely didn't live up to the standard this set.

"Precocious" is a good title for it; it wears its heart and its argument clearly on its sleeve, but what's missing is the enigmatic, uncanny mystery of the Jackson collection. It is difficult to avoid comparing the two given I read them back-to-back, and for this I apologise (since comparison is invariably a less useful form of criticism). There is much less in the way of ambiguity - while there is playfulness, and a confrontational tone (especially in "Fruit" which plays cleverly on the word's use as a pejorative as well as any other meaning), it is a lot more explicit and as a result I feel weaker as poetry. It's at times openly didactic - no bad thing per se but at the same time I think this reliance on living up to the anthology's title limits the scope of the verse.

The verse is spiky and at times set in conflict with the reader's expectations and prejudices - and Lowe has a strong and distinctive voice, but ultimately it is perhaps too good at this and the sense of engagement, of being enthralled, that poetry should give (in my view) was lost.

"Precocious" is not a bad collection by any stretch; however, it is not a book I found myself engaging with to the extent I have others, and so I would argue I found it less effective.

Goodyorkshirelass writes:

A vivid picture of emotions, deeply felt, but with a clear-eyed view of the ways we humans live, love and sometimes betray. In "Traces of Invasion", the first line "I started with your sock drawer, looking for clues" tells us all we need to know about nagging suspicion in a relationship, before ending with the damning fall of the polaroid, "like it was buried treasure". Acerbic humour peeks through in Mary, who declares "This time I'll rely on a real man" and demands "a shy child, all burps and cuddles; flesh, not thorns", ending delightfully with "Next time, try Madonna"

The final lines of "The Ways I Might Love You, Given a Chance" are powerful in an understated way:

but I might just be me loving you,
with the bills and the shopping
and sod all on TV

Get involved

If you have read Precoious, add your review to the book page and have a say in the final selection. The 10th title will be announced at the end of July.

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