Book Review

POETRY MONTH: Rotten Milk by Karina Bush

latest chapbook from one of my favourite writers

September 12th, 2022

I’m a big fan of Karina Bush’s writing, to the point that, many years ago, when my very first book was published, I requested a review from her; I also included some of Bush’s writing in the anthology I edited last year, Scat To Be Poo: An Anthology About Poo. So, yes, I suppose, it could be argued that I picked up this beautifully handcrafted 2021 Tangerine Press chapbook with a pre-made decision (a bias) that it would be a text I’d enjoy. I thought I would enjoy and I did. So, yes, perhaps, there’s not much nuance in that.

One of the great things about the poetry world is that – unless the only contemporary poetry you read is of the best-selling kind – because there are so many of “us” (“us” being poets) and compliments are so rare and rejections are so frequent, it is (usually) appreciated and noticed if you publicly praise a poet online. This means that – unless you’re even less socially functional than I am – it’s easy to end up in contact with poets who you think are doing great work. There’s no such thing as a starstruck poet (because we’re all moonstruck, cuntstruck, cockstruck, sad), so if you want to tell a poet you like their work, do it, do it, do it!

(If anyone wants to do that for me, I’d love a little ego boost because I’m past the point in in my life where I can get that by looking in a mirror.)

This is a really beautiful presented and produced chapbook, which – rare in my experience – has thread, rather than staples, holding the pages together.

Rotten Milk contains 11 new [to me] pieces by Bush, and there is the frank and non-idealised exploration of sex and sexuality here as occurs in her other writing, though this time there is lots too about pregnancy and parenting and fears about both, (hence the “rotten milk” of the title).

As in all of Bush’s publications that I’ve encountered, there’s a great exploration of physicality and the lived experience of being inside a body (which all of us, unfortunately, are, no matter how much we (I) pretend we (I) live here (online)).

Life is an inherently physical experience, it is not solely an intellectual one, and Bush’s writing is writing that makes a great case for railing against those limits of literary expression. Putting ideas and experiences into words can sometimes be (or at least feel like) an intellectualising denial of how language ultimately fails (or limits) us.

All of the poems in Rotten Milk are relatively short, and within Bush’s writing here there is joy, there is sadness and there is also a lot of the wit and wisdom that characterises Bush’s writing; her voice has a great power to evoke the merging lines of melancholy and humour that often accompany tragedy (a great example of this can be found elsewhere in her story featured in Scat To Be Poo).

Rotten Milk isn’t long, but there really is a lot to enjoy here, and underscores yet again the pleasures that can be found (for me) in the type of poetry that I like.

Notable lines/moments for me included:

A second adolescence
Like a temptress
Beckons us

(from ’13’)

There is no tunnel
But the plumbing

(from ‘No Cry’)

Mediocre sex
Taught me
The fertility of death

(from ‘Clot’)

If you haven’t read Bush’s work before, then I’d definitely recommend starting with one of her longer works (50 Euro is a great option!), but if you’re already an aficionado then this chapbook is absolutely worth getting hold of.


Order direct from Tangerine Press via this link is 10 years old! Celebrate by sharing this post – or others – with friends (if you have any), family (if you have any), lovers (which I presume you have because this website isn’t for children), or by donating to the site via the below link so that I can maybe take a day off work some time and enjoy being alive for a few hours.

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