‘In Search of Equillibrium’

A review of Theresa Lola’s debut poetry collection (Nine Arches Press, 2019).

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Detail from the cover of 'In Search of Equilibrium'. Artwork: 'In the Lonely Hour (I)' by Obi Chigozie.

Reading In Search of Equilibrium is unquestionably difficult. The poems are shocking, not because they trigger something alien, but because they are unsettlingly familiar. Their intense identification with the basic points of humanity activates an equally intense process of introspection; Lola, the current Young People’s Laureate for London, forces us to look at ourselves with precision in those moments when we are at our most vulnerable.

The entire collection can be summarised, in one sense, by the verb ‘process’. We are alert to the processing of a devastating loss, which the speaker achieves through her cathartic act of writing. At the same time, the reader is challenged to process these emotions at a heightened level of intimacy and empathy. The poems are uncomfortable to read, and I found the level of intensity demanding at times. Any hope of reading a gentle, relaxed poetry collection is quickly dispelled in the face of the realities of age, life, and disease. The vulnerability we are expected to emulate as readers is exhausting. If there is anywhere that Lola is less successful, it is these moments that lack reprieve.

The intensity of the poems could easily lead to their integral message being lost, and the collection does teeter on the brink of saturation with despondency. However, I felt that we are not meant immediately to understand the poems, but take our time in processing them, however painful. The poet Anthony Anaxagorou has said that ‘Theresa Lola will soon become one of the most important writers in the UK’, and his emphasis on the need for her poems, not necessarily their easiness to read, stands out. Reading the collection is a draining experience, but ultimately a rewarding one.

‘Process’ embodies a further meaning in Lola’s deliberate inclusion of the language of technology. She transforms the human brain into a computer, processing the indeterminable data of loss and love. My favourite poem from the collection, ‘<h> Cutting Back on Work Shifts </h1>’, is framed by computer- coding language, the angled brackets imploring us to ‘let the computer rest for a minute, exhale, today let silence be your search engine for peace’. I found an ultimately overwhelming sense of closure amidst the collection’s frequently- exhibited grieving: a reassurance that it is alright to cry, to rest, and to feel happy again. At the point where the poems become most painful and tender, Lola, as poet and griever, is able to take a step back and clarify the process with a striking precision. These are elegiac poems for a technological world.

The collection as a whole asks us, with a gentle but unescapable force, to re-examine our comprehension of faith, love, and grief. The title is active – she has not completed her quest, but is still searching for equilibrium and for closure. We are invited to join her in this pursuit, making the reading of her poems a shared experience, as we reflect on what it is to feel love, pain, and grief. This is a collection for those disillusioned by our often-impersonal modern world, and well worth buying if you are looking to question what it is to be human at an essential level.

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