Review: Brian Bilston’s ‘Alexa, What is There to Know About Love?’

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Hilariously witty and endearing

Brian Bilston gives us a homely approach to the questions that have puzzled us for thousands of years.

Poetry often has the reputation of pretentious writers twiddling a quill in their study, brewing up farfetched witticisms and flaunting worryingly expansive knowledge of flowers and birds on a laboriously lengthy verse. While I think this image of poets has shifted over the decades, we sometimes need a reminder of the wonders that down-to-earth, lighthearted poetry does for its readers. Brian Bilston’s brand new Alexa, What is There to Know About Love? is an immensely heartfelt collection of poems that make us ask the hard questions about love, but with a giggle along the way.

Bilston has been called the ‘Banksy of Poetry’ and ‘Pipe Smoker of the Year’ due to his otherwise blank profile, only known on Twitter for his profile picture and the poems themselves. With an adoring online following, Bilston has already released some successful poetry collections such as his 2019 Diary of a Somebody and Refugees. However, Alexa, What is There to Know About Love? has arrived at a time where we are in dire need of something substantial to see us through the further months of isolation and social starvation.

Coming in all shapes and sizes, Bilston’s works explore loneliness, infatuation, and Brexit. Just as I was getting to the end of my tether with repetitive lamentations on these very subjects, Bilston gives a friendly and endearing perspective on what we have seen all too much of. His poems surrounding Brexit were unapologetically against the move, having compared it to all of Britain holding hands and jumping off a cliff together, but at the same time, captured the universal sentiment of wanting it to all be over so we can stop having to hear about it. ‘Penguins’ was a favourite of mine when reading the political pieces in this collection, exposing our absurdity and inhumanity towards those stranded outside our coasts with nowhere else to go.

However, the love poems are what grabbed me the most. In a world where we like to think objective knowledge is attainable, where we like to convince ourselves that the world can be wrapped up in a neat Google search, where the wisdom of the heart is stomped out by over-philosophising, Bilston’s honesty towards love was greatly appreciated. A multidisciplinary symposium isn’t going to answer our questions about love and emotions; Alexa will only tell you that love is an abstract noun. Social media seems to be a driving force that forces us to make sincere emotion about love quippy and expedient, as we see in ‘E.E. Cummings Tries Online Banking.’ I felt that the poems captured these feelings better than any essay would have as we saw this process exemplified before our very eyes.

In Bilston’s more emotional poems, such as ‘The Caveman’s Lament’, it doesn’t matter how much we try, how much we try to make things work, you have to be met halfway. These love poems do not try too hard to be profound or clever, the simple rhymes and well-known styles make them easy to read so that the top priority of each poem is the emotional journey that Bilston takes you on. Bilston does not try to impress us with offputting structures and esoteric references to Greek mythology, instead, he invites us to a frank, genuine discussion about love and the ways we express it to each other.

Brian Bilston’s Alexa, What is There to Know About Love? is available via Pan MacMillan.

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I'm an English and Spanish student who just wants people to care about obscure things as much as I do. My hobbies include muffled, unintelligible screaming about theatre, poetry, and film.

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