Of Few Words
By Lucas Howard

Whisky & Beards Publishing
Hardback £15 

Review by Pete Donohue

Dyslexia and Neurodiversity-friendly Poetry

Here is a new poetry collection with a distinct difference. Hastings based Lucas Howard, AKA Lucas the peaceful poet, is a man of many talents: a graphic designer and art teacher in his day job; an experienced poetry slam organiser and poetry open-mic host by night; an interviewer and champion of poets on the internet; and a philosopher and prolific poet twenty-four seven. Of Few Words is a project close to his heart, one that he has been working on for some time, something he told me during its preparation “I have to get absolutely right in order to get the message across.”

This book is a beautifully presented square hardback edition printed on quality gloss paper. The striking graphics, line drawings all painstakingly designed by Howard himself to complement the words on the page, are mesmerising in their simplicity. It’s the kind of artwork you can tell has taken ages to perfect and reach that desired ‘less is more’ effect. Combined with Howard’s mostly shortform and rhythmic poems, one can definitely say that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. And there is very good reason why this poet has strived so hard to produce a work of Aristotelian or gestalt synergy.

Like many of us, Howard is in love with words. Living with dyslexia and ADHD, however, he has always struggled more than those without these conditions to enjoy them to the full. Not to mention the effect of prejudice and ridicule sometimes expressed by those ignorant and unaccepting of neurodiversity within our society. Noticing – from both personal experience and talking to others – that many books are presented in a format some may find daunting, he wanted to create a collection of poetry that was easily accessible to all, including those with dyslexia and other neurodiversity, such as autism, ADHD and dyspraxia. 

Of Few Words runs to 87 pages of actual poetic content encompassing 58 separate poems. These are divided into three chapters headed ‘Words’, ‘Time’ and ‘Feelings’ respectively, representing the three main themes through which Howard experiences poetry. The clipped style of the first few poems reflects the initial unease and anxiety the poet feels in many areas of his life, but as the book progresses, the works become more complex and emotionally revealing – a journey he hopes to lead the readers through too. The premise or main concept of the collection is outlined on page 1: ‘In a place where nothing makes sense, any sense we can make will be our own.’ What better way to welcome each reader into Howard’s thoughts, raw emotions and creative processes in the spirit of all-inclusiveness.

So how exactly is this book more dyslexia and neurodiversity-friendly? Well for a start it’s very tactile, widening the experience of picking it up and exploring what lies within. Secondly the visuals are fairly simple, making them easier to be processed by a wider variety of differently functioning minds than many other books – particularly poetry collections. Howard uses only two colours throughout, standard black for the words and a muted red for the lines of graphics and specific words he wishes to emphasise within the text. Deliberately, there is no Table of Contents, to avoid what Howard calls ‘unnecessary clutter’. We do, however, have wordplay, multiple layers of meaning, and a few instances of words merging into the graphics to create a fun new dimension. Also, each poem title is emboldened and in larger text and the poems themselves mostly have short lines, a decent space between lines, and are formatted for easy visual engagement. This is a book you can flip through until you find a page that speaks to you in a way that suits your mood, or whatever else may be going on inside your head, and then explore further and take from it what you will. 

In a place where nothing makes sense, any sense we can make will be our own

But what of the poetic content itself? Each chapter is quite different. The first – ‘Words’ – examines the very nature of words, along with poetry and poets themselves. Some poems here express wonder and joy, others are more critical and philosophical; all possess an innate humour and there are some subtle nods to mathematical ways of thinking. The second – ‘Time’ – feels more concerned with existentialism and nature, and ends with a very moving love poem. Finally – ‘Feelings’ – delivers exactly what one might expect from such a passionate poet as Howard. These poems are longer and more emotionally complex but delivered to the page with as much accessibility as possible in tackling some very difficult themes. Opening poems ‘Be A Man’ and ‘Model of a Man’ expose the message from certain sections of society that it is a weakness for men to express their true emotions – perhaps one all the more confusing to those with neurodiversity. But Howard does go on to express his true emotions, in spades. The standout poem for me is ‘Mind The Gap’, the longest work of the collection, stretching to eight pages; and if you’ve ever heard Howard perform this live, you’ll already know why. 

Of Few Words is available locally from Bookbusters and Wow & Flutter. Or you can order it through: www.whiskyandbeards.co.uk/lucas-howard-of-few-words

The limited edition hardback is almost sold out but there will be a softback available soon at £10.

Follow Lucas Howard on Instagram; Twitter and Facebook

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