Pretend You Don’t Know Me brings together in one volume the best of Finuala Dowling’s funny, poignant and idiosyncratic poetry from four earlier prize-winning collections, with a section devoted to new poems. It introduces this popular South African poet to a UK audience.
Finuala Dowling’s debut collection, I flying, published in 2002, was an instant success in her native South Africa. Its accessibility, humanity and wit, as well as its beguilingly honest stories of home, parenthood, love, loss and desperation, won many new converts to poetry. The volume went into multiple printings, and won the Ingrid Jonker prize. Dowling’s subsequent collections, Doo-Wop Girls of the Universe and Notes from the Dementia Ward (winners of the SANLAM and Olive Schreiner prizes respectively), consolidated her reputation as an inventive sketcher of the domestic sublime. Her chapbook, Change is possible, sold out at the 2014 Aldeburgh Poetry Festival.
Pretend You Don’t Know Me contains her iconic poem ‘To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair’ as well as Dowling’s tragi-comic cycle of poems on the theme of her mother’s dementia, and the hugely popular poems ‘Butter’, ‘I am the Zebra’, ‘To adventurers, as far as I’m concerned’ and ‘The abuse of cauliflowers’. At the heart of the book are the funny and poignant connections we make with other people, and the lifelong effort to stay whole.
‘Pretend You Don’t Know Me, by South African Finuala Dowling, is a witty and wise collection of new and selected poems. Her sequence about her mother’s dementia is very touching. Elsewhere, these vital works will have you crying with laughter.’ – Jackie Kay, The Guardian (Books of the Year 2018)
‘Her work, already highly acclaimed in South Africa, has proved a rewarding new discovery for British readers. Her technique may appear effortless, and suggest the audience-friendly colloquialism of spoken word poetry, but there is crafted precision in her writing… there’s always an edge of sharp self-awareness to the humour.’ – Carol Rumens, Poem of the Week, TheGuardian.com, on Finuala Dowling
‘Her words shine a light for souls lost at sea. She has the ability to hold vast expanses of human experience in a few lines, and to make it look effortless. That is what made me fall in love with her work a long time ago, and I was delighted to encounter many of my favourite poems from her older collections here. Her new poems – full of loneliness and sadness, but also warmth, courage and fragile hope – continue to satisfy like no others.’ – Cape Times
‘This book collects the South African-born writer’s funny and bittersweet poems, often blending tragedy and comedy within a few lines. The works in Notes from the Dementia Ward, which were written in 2008, stand out for me… Dowling’s take is refreshing and poignant.’ – Antony Clay, Chase Magazine, Rotherham Advertiser [on Pretend You Don’t Know Me]
‘This collection is the South African poet’s first book-length UK publication and, on this showing, it is long overdue… Students of all ages will relish this collection from a truly individual voice.’ – Frank Startup, The School Librarian
Finuala Dowling reads from Pretend You Don’t Know Me at Humber Mouth Literature Festival
In this excerpt from Finuala Dowling’s reading (with Helen Mort) at Humber Mouth Literature Festival on 7 October 2018, she reads five poems from Pretend You Don’t Know Me, three from her sequence ‘Notes from the Dementia Ward’ (‘Protection from Grief in the Dementia Ward’, ‘Widowhood in the dementia ward’ and ‘At eighty-five, my mother’s mind’), followed by ‘Wanting to get divorced #1365’ and ‘I am the zebra’.
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