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Improvised Explosive Device

Arji Manuelpillai

"A work of radical empathy ... unflinching, uncomfortable and uncommonly brave"

Rishi Dastidar
a poetry book society recommendation

Improvised Explosive Device is a startlingly innovative exploration of extremism, hate crime and violence by poet Arji Manuelpillai. In this powerful and unsettling first collection, Manuelpillai presents a vision of the contemporary haunted by Melville’s image of the whale – the terror beneath the surface of the sea. His uncompromising focus on violence is laced with gallows humour and the surreal, framed against the mundane detritus of modern life: two boys playing Mortal Kombat; a field of old trainers; the lonely glare of laptop light; a suspicious looking package in the back seat of a van.

The poems in Improvised Explosive Device emerged through research and interviews with academics, sociologists, and former members of extremist groups and their families – from the English Defence League and the National Front to ISIS and the Tamil Tigers. These complex, unnerving texts ask a series of important questions. What drives a person to commit a radical act of violence? How is that violence mediated through screens and social media? And how does the British government police marginalised groups? Improvised Explosive Device is a brave, surprising and risk-taking book; it will change the way you look at the world.

Our price £9.99
RRP £9.99
Please note: due to the recent change in tax regulations, we are currently unable to ship to EU countries.
106 pages
ISBN 9781913850081
Published 24 October 2022
Cover design: Zigmunds Lapsa


Refusing glib analysis and easy answers, Improvised Explosive Device is a work of radical empathy, fuelled by honesty and compassion, both for those stirred to violence against minorities, and those who suffer from it. The poems are unflinching, uncomfortable and uncommonly brave, reminders that life is visceral in its pleasures and its pains, and that for some of us belonging is tenuous, a daily fight to carve a space in which we might be safe, thrive – live. It will make many of us seen, for the first time, and kick us to “speak our truth”. More than this Arji Manuelpillai shows us that the real radicalism is to love, love deeply without prejudice.
Rishi Dastidar

The project of Arji Manuelpillai’s Improvised Explosive Device leans into the mighty disciplines of poetry, sociology, and reportage to formulate an arresting debut which contests the ways we’re conditioned to internalise notions of terrorism, nationalism and belonging. Poems here are bolstered by their proximity to their subjects; formed out of interviews and conversations with people whose stories are either sensationalised or decontextualised. Manuelpillai demonstrates how a poet can artfully draw down into the grit, the discomfort and ignominy of social life to destabilise the public imagination while never forfeiting the virtues of compassion and rigour. What remains is a bold and startling new work.
Anthony Anaxagorou

One of these poems has a line-break segregating the phrase—before we move on—I have to fight. Arji Manuelpillai’s first collection is a ferociously savvy feat of activist scrutiny, that fights racist hate while also questioning why it, those hatemongers, and arguably all of us, feel at present so perennially up for a fight, so dominated by squalls of ire and outrage.
Vidyan Ravinthiran

Arji Manuelpillai assures us this is not an Improvised Explosive Device as he packs his poetry in a duffle bag and invites us to accompany him through the everyday encounters - ‘real’ and ‘pixelated’- that illuminate the sometimes click-fast shift from butterfly-watcher to butterfly-killer but also the slow accumulation of the ‘dark spots’ deposited by hate, the ‘raised eyebrow’ of the CCTV outside a block of flats or humiliation carried as an heirloom. Together, his poems create an exquisitely layered, and moving, exploration of what brings individuals - from very different contexts but a shared world - to acts of violence and war. This collection of poetry is not an IED but it tears down the facades of easy explanations and lays bare what lies beneath as powerfully as if it were.
Hilary Pilkington, University of Manchester

About the author

Arji Manuelpillai is a poet, performer and creative facilitator based in London. His poetry has appeared in magazines including Poetry Wales, The Rialto and bath magg, and his debut pamphlet, Mutton Rolls, was published with Out-Spoken Press. Arji was shortlisted for the Oxford Prize, the Live Canon Prize, the National Poetry Prize and the Winchester Prize, and was runner-up in the Robert Graves Prize. He is a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen and London Stanza, received an Arts Council England award to develop his creative practice, and worked with Hannah Lowe as part of the Jerwood/Arvon Mentoring Programme.

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