A rising star of contemporary British poetry reflects on race, culture, memory, and identity in his first full-length volume
Using long poems, ekphrasis, and ruptured forms, RENDANG is a startling new take on the self, and how an identity is constructed. Drawing on his Anglo-Indonesian heritage, Will Harris shows us new ways to think about the contradictions of identity and cultural memory. He creates companions that speak to us in multiple languages. They deftly ask us to consider how and what we look at, as well as what we don't look at and why. It is intellectual and accessible, moving and experimental, and combines a linguistic innovation with a deep emotional rooting.
"The Hanged Man"
He bought a seeded loaf and two ripe and ready avocados
and left them in the hallway, and at lunch the next day went
to Chipotle on Charing Cross Road, then back to work,
and afterwards bought a ring doughnut from Tesco
because there were no jam doughnuts.
That night, though he didn't think he was a hoarder,
he started ordering records online and soon he had bought
the whole of Bruce Springsteen's back catalogue.
I hate Bruce Springsteen, he thought. I want to eat better.
The next week, listening to Human Touch, he dozed
and woke to find himself floating two feet off the ground.
Hanging there. His parents were alive and dead.
If only he could keep completely still he could remain
unscattered, forever on the edge of rain.
"Will Harris takes British poetry into new waters: RENDANG is an astonishing debut. These questing poems rend and render, they tear and they give. Slipping between the everyday and the unreal, between crystalline lyric and a roving, essayistic expansiveness, their shapeshifting delves into the self and its precarious foundations... Many are heart-stopping: the kind of poem that makes you put down the book for a while just to breathe."~Sarah Howe, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize
"Harris's poems turn the utterance back to ourselves, opening a dialogue between us, our modernity, the depth of our loss and the weight of our remembering. Where epithets rend memory from the moment, the artefacts of wounds heal themselves through a weft of irony, weaving language into a hard-earned scar."~Sandeep Parmar
"I reject the possibility of narrating any life other than my own,' Harris writes, 'and need a voice capacious enough to be both me and not-me, / while always clearly being me.' To counter those who would approach him and his work seeking easy ethnography, he has taken the notion of the authentic poetic persona ('authenticity' so often being used as a stick to beat poets of colour, or measure them – which amount to the same thing) and flipped it like an empty party cup, "revealing its flimsiness.""~Poetry London
"Harris offers an urgent and moving exploration of cultural identity and legacy, one made all the richer by its unique narrative structure and playful attention to sound."~Publishers Weekly
"The poetry that matters to me is never just self-expression; it expresses our embeddedness in each other. "I" and "you" are markers for that. They hold—with numerous slips and spillages the light and dark speech that becomes us, the manifold quirks and cadences, fantasies and faults. And I don't see this as naively utopian. Any coming together entails a breakage—a loss of wholeness—which can be painful and disillusioning."~Literary Hub
"In his debut full-length poetry collection, Harris – a young British poet of Anglo-Indonesian heritage – reflects on race, culture, memory and identity as he muses on how we relate to the world and to each other, creating companions in his poems who speak to us in a multitude of languages."~Bookseller
"A playful and insightful exploration of contemporary notions of self and society"~Guardian
"Stand out among debuts is RENDANG"~FT
"A rising star of the British poetry scene, Will Harris explores identity, race and the language we use to articulate our experiences of being in the world. RENDANG is Harris' first full-length collection and is a heartfelt reflection of how it feels to fall between different cultures, languages and places"~i-D Magazine
"Will Harris's RENDANG is a sharp and assured debut collection that meditates on the multiplicity of identity, the shaky building blocks that make up a country and the politics of exhibition. It travels from actual terrains – in London, Chicago, Jakarta – to the surreal "purple rock" of "Planet Mongo", and this exploratory curiosity is matched by the collection's formal expansiveness, encompassing accomplished prose-poems, concrete poetry and lyric sequences. Harris suffuses the everyday with a mythic dignity, so that the drunk singing Otis Redding in a pub takes on the tragic stature of Coleridge's Ancient Mariner The collection leans into a vocabulary all of its own, and announces itself as an artefact that will not be dislodged"~Guardian
"Many moving portraits of everyday grace RENDANG develops the blend of wit and eloquence that he showcased in his 2018 essay Mixed-Race Superman The poems in RENDANG span the formal range of a mature poet but it's Harris's playfulness that really impresses. He has the confidence and stylistic mastery to jump between dreams and scenes like a character in a video game If verse is a tightrope, Harris skips along it"~Financial Tmes
"Will Harris's debut collection brims with soul, acuity and playfulness"~Financial Times
"The Air Year may not the subtlest or most ambitious book out this month – that'd be Will Harris's RENDANG"~Telegraph
"RENDANG makes a new aesthetic of confused talk about history and identity in England now. These lateral, witty poems often start like short stories, as Harris draws us into vignettes of vulnerable self-observation. But they end with the aphoristic force of pop songs, where emotion is suddenly pinned, tremulously, in an image or rhyme It's the debut of the year so far'"~Sunday Times
"Harris' RENDANG is dreamy and surreal, almost sci-fi at points, yet firmly grounded ['The White Jumper' has an] epic-frantic-fragmented-narrative-yet-perfectly-described-London-as-center-of-the-universe-life RENDANG is a celebration, not a collection'"~Rhino
"Of these three books, Will Harris's RENDANG is the canniest, and the best To counter those who would approach him and his work seeking easy ethnography, he has taken the notion of the authentic poetic persona ("authenticity" so often being used as a stick to beat poets of colour, or measure them—which amounts to the same thing) and flipped it like an empty party cup, revealing its flimsiness With withering sleight of hand, Harris takes facile expectations of poets of colour and gleefully turns them inside out These poems are disquisitions on the labour of poet-making, the delicate task of constructing a persona both on and off the page in a culture market currently inclined to reduce you to your ethno-cultural background RENDANG is a wonder, and we are lucky to have it'"~Poetry London
"The collection is a series of subtle connections – I'm being invited to careful, considerate work Harris's poems can be lyrical and subtle, sometimes devastating, and then swerve into the surreal These three people – mother, father, grandmother – are integral to the collection's ambitiously complex investigation of identity RENDANG resists a simple reading, because there are no simple questions posed Instead of grand revelation, the collection resists, and invites me into the details, the coincidences, the echoes, to find my own meanings. It asks me to try to piece things together, as they happen, as they are reflected upon. There is so much space for me as a reader to run and jump across, and it's Harris's generosity and grace that lets me in."~Poetry School