Review: A Z-hearted Guide to Heartache by Charley Barnes

Discussing love, food, and living with a disability, A Z-hearted Guide to Heartache by Charley Barnes is an moving poetry collection that will take you on a real roller-coaster of emotions. And that’s exactly why I love it!   

Reading through A Z-hearted Guide to Heartache, you can really tell how much emotion and soul Barnes has put into her work. The situations she describes include discussing sex in a coffee shop and people’s prudish attitudes towards the topic, to falling out of love with someone. All written with wit and, at times, deep sadness or a sense of sorrow.  

There are so many poems in Barnes’s collection that I can relate to. She discusses the themes of mental health and body image, both of which I’ve experienced difficulties with in my own life, openly and candidly, using creative metaphors like food and buying a house to show just how difficult both of these can be. Even when discussing these challenging themes, Barnes still retains a quirkiness to her style which gives the reader a sense that they are talking about these with a close friend.      

Through her emotive and moving style of writing, Barnes really sheds light on what it is like living with a disability. One poem in particular is like an open letter to those who has, in Barnes’s own words, ‘ever eyed me suspiciously for using a blue badge, even though my legs are working’ and gives the reader an insight into the challenges faced, not just by living with a disability itself but from people’s attitudes towards it. She uses a sarcastic tone which instantly endears her to the reader and makes you want to stand up to stigmatisation too. Not only that, but you cannot help but admire Barnes for talking so openly about the difficulties disabilities have on day-to-day living.    

Barnes’s use of food as a metaphor for relationships is both clever and emotional in equal measure. Three of her poems discuss this partnership and how seemingly simple things like putting parsnips in mashed potato can give a lot away about a relationship. In the third of these, Barnes describes a scenario in which her legs weaken suddenly, causing her to nearly drop the food she’s carrying, and the other person rushing to save the food rather than herself from falling. Even after reading this particular poem a number of times, you still want the situation to be different, for the other person to let the food fall and help Barnes’s character instead, such is the connection with the reader that Barnes has created throughout A Z-hearted Guide to Heartache.       

The relationship with her family is another theme which Barnes writes openly and deeply about in her ‘guide’. The poems discussing her close relationship with her mother really struck a chord with me – I’m not ashamed to admit that more than once, Barnes’s poems brought a tear to my eye! And I’ve no doubt I won’t be the only one.   

I especially felt a deep connection with a poem in which Barnes thanks her mother for the support she’s provided. And the positivity that Barnes uses in this poem, amongst others, is nothing short of inspirational. 

Written with love, honesty, and a hint of frustration at times, A Z-hearted Guide to Heartache will take you from one end of the emotional spectrum and back again. Charley Barnes has a real gift for writing poetry that make you laugh and cry, and make you crave a pizza!   A brilliant collection and I’m looking forward to more from Charley Barnes in the future! 

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