Serious Justice is the highly anticipated debut collection from writer, translator, editor and musician Jen Calleja.
The collection captures the memories, fears and uncertainties of the millennial generation, attempting to define an unstable and disintegrating sense of belonging. The poems address issues of responsibility, injustice, sexism, revenge, misfortune, forgiveness and regret. They are the poems of an ‘unfinished adult’, nostalgic for a comparatively carefree recent past, and apprehensive at the prospect of an unknown future.
Serious Justice is populated by characters who are ‘paralysed but able to feel’, powerless and imprisoned, but acutely alert, sensitive and aware. Violence and instability sit menacingly on the edges of the poems, threatening to erupt on to the page. The increasingly familiar experience of psychological instability and breakdown is a recurring theme, in a landscape of ‘noiseless monochrome’ which demands creative methods of survival and entertainment.
Calleja’s attentiveness to the subtleties and deceptions of language shows itself in a sharp and playful wit, which energises the poems and expands their sphere of reference. Her punk sensibility and sensitivity to the musical and rhythmic qualities of language grounds the poems in a recognisable and accessible reality, combining the simplicity of the language of song lyrics with a philosophical intensity and curiosity, constantly probing and questioning.
The poems in Serious Justice continually return to the question of identity, and of how one defines and presents a coherent sense of self, skilfully reflected by ideas about translation which run through the collection. The overlapping circles on the book’s cover mirror Calleja’s conflicting but intertwined identities, blurring the boundaries of gender, class, race, language and personality.
Many of the poems are autobiographical, exploring Calleja’s Maltese father’s immigrant background, her mother’s lifelong mental illness and brother’s diagnosis of Aspergers, and the impact of these on her own identity. The effect of these experiences is reflected in a concern for those who are sidelined, misrepresented and deemed a burden in society.
Serious Justice is a striking and prescient collection from one of the most sharp and authentic voices to have emerged from the London poetry scene. The accessibility and directness of Calleja’s language, combined with her ability to perceive the complexity underlying the monotony of daily life, make her a poet to be listened to, communicating in a language that both frightens and seduces us.