Emily Wills — Reviews


Skilled and strong-minded, Wills offers many kinds of poem in her compelling third collection, Unmapped. She is entirely at home with science: ‘bits of double helix’. Her botanical precision is admirable: ‘marram and thrift’. Yet she is also a chronicler of the dark side of domesticity. With unromanticised and rejected food, ‘potatoes, sullen as damp towels’, anorexia, Wills states bleakly, ‘begins on washday’. Nor does her Girl Guide speaker duck teenage fury, when asked to tie knots: ‘what was the fucking point?’ I relished the bitter humour, in a prose poem, of late night sewing of nametapes: ‘just to prove you’re not the sort of mother who uses the iron-on kind’.

Yet the dangerous ‘Long Lane’ leads to intense lyricism whose half rhymes link like generations:

through treacherous bends,

and the scent of violets, to a son, and so on to my mother

calling into the lane, dusk fallen, the cows already home.

One of Wills’ greatest gifts as a poet is her final surge of phrases, a grace like a lifting wave. Playing with nephews, her speaker recalls being ‘the last to be chosen’ for teams. Yet ‘the last ball […] through forty years, applauds / into my stunned and waiting grasp’. How many sympathetic readers will feel that ball hit home?

from a review by Alison Brackenbury in PN Review 230, July 2016

A poet who has been quietly building her prize-winning reputation since Diverting the Sea, her first collection, came out to serious critical acclaim in 2000, she writes with a confidence and authority all too rare among poets at the moment. And she’s good at endings; that’s rare, too. With breath-taking confidence she collars words and shakes them like a dog, making them new and sharp and surprising, imbuing them with a crackling energy that compels the reader to wake up and think, eliding time and space and perspective dizzyingly. And yet her subjects are such familiar, innocent things… Her territory is our territory, with the disconcerting illumination of poetry suddenly turned on. Intelligent, alert, consistently engaging, Wills is a poet whose talent is to be taken seriously. Unmapped should be on your poetry shelf as soon as you can get it there.

from a review by R V Bailey in Envoi 169, February 2015

Here’s a voice that doesn’t rest contented in its lines; it impels poems forwards, shifting tone and shape to get to grips with things, with its questions of gender, family or ageing, or with the medium of poetry itself. It wrangles with the world with wit and sensitivity, and above all physically. The world should be glad. These poems leave it with value added.

Philip Gross

These are sharp and quirky poems, both of eye, ear and subject material. Scrupulous observation and emotional fidelity make this pamphlet a significant publication. This poet’s richly-explored complex scenes and situations are alight with the exploits of language, shot through with rueful wit and deep human response. Highly-recommended!

Penelope Shuttle

Heartening new poems by Emily Wills who faces up to ‘the sheer drop (that) edges nearer my stuck front door’ with admirable intelligence, humanity and linguistic vitality.

Michael Laskey

Developing the Negative

Emily Wills' first book, Diverting the Sea, was noticed for the way in which her poems look into ordinary things and find their strangeness. This new collection is even more remarkable, in this way and in others. Her poems have a studied informality, and natural good manners; they approach the reader gently and courteously, but very often the after-effect is powerful and even startling. She is highly intelligent, both scientifically and philosophically — a rare combination these days; and her acute knowledge of the things of this world, its quiddity, is also touched with magic. Her work should be much better known than it is.

Anthony Thwaite

I have always enjoyed Emily Wills’ poems, but this new collection marks a very important move forward from her earlier work. It’s economical, exact, exciting writing, and I found that once I began reading I simply couldn’t put it down. Her professional voice has integrated more resonantly now with her voice as a poet, and this new range of reference has given a depth and force to her writing. Her poems are strong and very well-crafted: she has important things to say, and she says them freshly and memorably. This is a collection that will make you think — and it will also give great pleasure.

U A Fanthorpe

These poems are distinguished by the delicacy of the voice and the mastery of craft.

Andrew Forster, Other Poetry

This is a more measured and yet more joyful collection than her first, Diverting the Sea. The title poem has ‘low sun’ and ‘uncut fields’... ‘pale forgetting words’: four stanzas, seemingly simple, yet humming with the unsaid...Wills has a knack of connecting two disparate things, making you see both in a fresh way.

Kath McKay, The North

Developing the Negative represents a significant advance. She takes big themes... and finds a different point of view on the ordinary, a fresh voice to enliven the familiar. This collection confirms Wills as one of the more interesting and accomplished new poets writing today.

June Hall, Acumen 64

Diverting the Sea

Emily Wills' first collection is a gem. She focuses on familiar themes — birth, childhood, old age — with surgical precision, using spare concrete imagery to dazzling effect.

Catherine Smith, The Frogmore Papers

Diverting the Sea … has a substantial set of voices in its clustering of themes and preoccupations emanating from a sensitive standpoint inside the ordinary. Wills has the ability to dwell on people with the loving curiosity of a painter …

Stephen Waling, The North

Readings and Workshops

Thank you so much for coming to Three Storeys to deliver such an enjoyable poetry session. It felt like a masterclass in how to gently facilitate a group. Lovely choice of poems, and a good balance of writing / sharing / reading the poems.

Ros Mulhall April 2022

Thank you so much for reading for us - really good, well chosen poems, warm, well judged introductions. Just what we were hoping for.

Michael Laskey 2010, Smiths Knoll

… thanks again for a lovely reading. You deliver the poems in a confident and measured manner — and they're lovely poems! We certainly enjoyed having you at the Troubadour.

Anne-Marie Fyfe 2009

Emily is not only a professional poet: she's obviously a professional teacher of poets, too. From the two workshops I've been to, I came away with new ideas, material for development, and critical responses to work in progress: enough fuel and encouragement to nourish a whole new phase of writing.

Jane Mace 2008

Excellent tutor — mind expanding

… has made me aware I can write more than I thought I could.

… an excellent tutor having the ability of understanding each individual also giving confidence.

WorkOut With Words workshop participants 2002