The Kentish Rebellion
Shoestring Press, 2022
Order at Blackwell's
“The reader is immediately plunged into this account of resistance in Kent during the Civil War as if hearing a contemporary news bulletin. It is a tribute to Robert Selby’s confident fractured narrative and taut diction that the complexities of this conflict between theological authoritarianism and traditional cultural and economic interests are allowed to unfold so teasingly and suggestively in resonance with (and with allusions to) our own age. One of his major characters, the antiquarian Sir Edward Dering, himself politically conflicted, eventually decides that he simply wants ‘to be left in peace […] to run oasts and orchards’. The climax is, of course, the attack by General Fairfax on Maidstone in 1648 in a drenching thunderstorm. The poem is immensely resourceful in its descriptive range and in its accelerating or staccato phrase-making, and it is never less than kinetically vivid and exciting in its varied formal procedures. It makes the reader think a good deal about the relationship between doctrinaire politics and the private good, because Selby shows very clearly how it could all be happening now: ‘We all must submit to a militant virtue / as stifling as the sin at which it is aimed.’” – John Fuller
“Selby skilfully interleaves modern reportage with history to remind us how bravery and atrocity, serendipity and bad luck, are always the companions of war. Armies clash across a flooding Medway at dead of night and in the freezing cold; ordinary men and women die for their beliefs; politicians stoke ‘hydra heads of rebellions’. The language is spiky, lyric, formal and demotic by turns, carrying us headlong in the rage and turmoil of a society divided against itself.” – Hilary Davies
"Robert Selby has produced a sequence of tremendous historical interest. It is nevertheless – especially in the wake of America’s quite recent insurrection – a timely work that speaks to the conflicts of the present."
- Kevin Gardner, Times Literary Supplement
"The Kentish Rebellion is a rare feat of poetry: a book-length sequence of forgotten history, conveyed in a mosaic of events and personages, cinematic in its high-definition detail, and daringly anachronistic in ways that make pertinent the past [...] Robert Selby’s time-traveling poems are not only a revivification of history but also a salvaging of communal trauma in search of wisdom."
- Dan O'Brien, Los Angeles Review of Books
"The Kentish Rebellion is a meditation on local Britishness through the prism of a radical, anthropocentric past. At times these poems have a cinematic quality in their depiction of violence and at others a heightened but playful lyrical tenor reminiscent of Geoffrey Hill’s Mercian Hymns. Even a simple visual observation like that of blossom on a tree is freighted with polysemic meaning."
- Richie McCaffery, Poetry London
"It’s a splendid statement of purpose, both in terms of Selby’s poetics and his commitment to narrative pace. This is history made urgent; poetry as breaking news; then thrust into incendiary conflation with now [...] I was repeatedly put in mind of the genius of James Ellroy in transporting his audience back to the Forties and Fifties without any loss of contemporary touchstones in his LA Quartet. Which is to say that Selby is a writer of piercing intelligence and grandstanding craftsmanship."
- Neil Fulwood, The High Window
"How many contemporary UK poets actively and regularly engage with history as a subject matter in their poetry? Of course, the answer would be that very few do so, and for that reason alone, Robert Selby’s collection immediately acquires significance. Nevertheless, its importance grows further once the reader starts to worry away at their own consequent doubts over the nature of authority and power over society, accompanied by further questions about identity, about what it means to be European, British, English or even Kentish."
- Matthew Stewart, The Friday Poem
"Selby’s deft and innovative formal verse, his brilliance and subtlety with rhyme (‘riverine’ and ‘reverend’, ‘incapable’ and ‘table’), vivify both his characters and his scenes, continuing the work of his first volume, The Coming-Down Time. That volume, too, was concerned with England in general and Kent in particular, with the past and its relationship to the present. But The Kentish Rebellion is more tightly focused on a single event and reads less like a collection of lyrics than a single, sustained poetic effort that must be read in its entirety, and read more than once, to be adequately grasped."
- Ben Leubner, Review 31
"I found this a fascinating account of the Kentish rebellion [...] The real achievement of the book is to bring history to life."
- Rennie Halstead, London Grip