“Aidan Semmens is a poet who has always been fearless in confronting the plight of the world with its disturbed ways and this volume is no exception. The mordantly titled Life Has Become More Cheerful is a chilling quote by Stalin after the horrors of the Great Purge in 1938 and sets the tone for what is to come. The first poem announces 1917, the start of the Russian Revolution, and from there follows its aftermath, interspersed with passages from the Book of Revelations. Employing first-hand accounts and factual information, we are taken on a selected tour of 20th-century Russia with a few interconnected diversions on the way. The subject is undoubtedly weighty but there is a restrained lyrical quality to the poetry which prevents it from being oppressive and, as with the best of sombre narratives, there are moments of humour: ‘Heracles found no flavour in the classics / preferring Adventures in Cookery’. Never was a collection more pertinent to our own uncertain times or, as Semmens put it in one of the poems, ‘we infer the future from data about the past / like a dream of meaning / a badly crafted lie’.
An essential read.” —Geraldine Monk
“We might imagine that at certain points in history Russia’s primary export was poetry, then revolution, and that now it’s corruption, or perhaps a more visceral and toxic version of the old enemy—Capitalism. To the loss of the West, scant attention was given to the poetry and by the time the meaning of the revolution was grasped it was, in one sense, over.
Life Has Become More Cheerful unfolds this history in three sequences: the moment of revolution, the emerging shape of its failure and a depiction of the present world in the long shadow of revolution’s incompletion. At each step we are given a poetry which examines the exact pathology of revolution itself conveyed in a series of highly charged, unattributed monologues. A chorus of disembodied voices, caught in the fervour of unprecedented experience, ricochet off unavoidable events and come to speak unbearable revelations. The book is the collective song of these figures, singing of ‘a bitter wind blowing from / Paradise, the end of order.’ —Kelvin Corcoran