The Birds, The Rabbits, The Trees by Briony Collins (Broken Sleep Books, 2023), review by Giuseppina Brandi.
‘I hope you read this one day and find a cold shard of a memory
that, […] you recognise and it cuts you.’ (‘Fantasy’ by Briony Collins)
Just imagine this: What does it mean to write to a mother who will never read what you are writing to her? The Birds, The Rabbits, The Trees (Broken Sleep Books, 2023), is a collection of free-verse poems, twelve of which are letters the poet has written to her mother, one for each month of a year in which she was in an abusive relationship. This book, arguably, represents a search for meaning and truth in a life affected by grief.
Collins’s work, once again (following her poetry debut Blame It On Me’) returns to the themes of abandonment, identity, and pain for the loss of her mother. This time, she uses even more evocative and visceral language, leading the reader through a poetic landscape where life and death merge constantly, where mouths fill with earth and the poet wears ‘death like perfume dabbed on delicate skin’ (‘Petrichor’).
‘I’m in a coffin’, she asserts in November, and the image of the grave recurs through the poems, in line such as ‘The open grave of my mind / Where I meet you every night of my life’ (‘December’). Engulfment and being buried alive is a theme throughout the collection, as in the poem (‘Do I’) in which the poets writes:
‘Our new flat is in the basement
The ground above us
If I shut the window I will die
The ground above me
If I go outside I will die’
There is something in these verses that forces you to hold your breath because what you are reading pushes you to edges, psychological and physical, to stare down into the abyss of grief.
This sensation of being caught up in the vortex of words is amplified by the almost total absence of punctuation, which also contributes to making the dramatic events that follow one another during that year - days, months, seasons - a whole. The lived experience is dense; time is muddled in the narration.
Each month poem takes place in a surreal, imagined landscape of the forest, where ‘Rabbits forage in my black peripheries’ (‘February’) and rush from ‘thickets to us / Thrashing and digging us down until / We are nowhere’ (‘April’). Even if the Forest is not a traditionally welcoming, comforting place, it is nonetheless the place where the poet can, in a sort of way, reconnect with her mum: ‘I wait for you in the forest’ she writes in (‘June’), and again ‘There is no fear in our forest’ in (‘July’). The forest is the place the poet longs to inhabit, the place where the mind seeks refuge when the gap between real and ideal experience is too wide to cope with:
‘I flee to the forest
In the forest opening, there’s a hole
I climb inside to hide’
The absence of the mother is heavily felt and from this absence Briony Collinss draws out a presence; the absence takes shape, crystallises: from 'A vision of your hair' to 'Mane that settles in the dirt', from 'Blue dress on a bone-white body' to that 'copper dream'.
In ‘What a difference a mother could make’, Collins writes:
I’m tired of her being dead
I long for her
Lessons on how to love
How to leave
The season rains her absence’
As we can see, the poet regrets not having had her mother to teach her the lessons of love and life and how this lack fed into vulnerability and a dysfunctional relationship. So, in between the month poems, we meet pieces that tell us the story of the abusive relationship the she was going through, in which she also explores the themes of loneliness and violence. This is not a gentle book but the journey through the enormity of grief, which arrives at a destination, to a state of self-awareness. We hear through the pages the cry of someone who wants to be heard (‘An epiphany against death / I’d live any life but this one’ (‘Epiphany’)).
The loss is transformative, it’s not a question of getting over it or healing. It’s a question of learning to live with this transformation. And in the end of that year the poet goes beyond the forest (‘What is real’) and the rejection of the toxic relationship – ‘I’m going to be okay’ (‘January’). I like how this change is marked out by this sequence:
‘You’ll eat my world alive’ (‘April’)
‘He’ll eat my world alive’ (‘August’)
‘I’ll eat his world alive’ (‘January’)
The Birds, The Rabbits, The Trees is a beautiful, searing and haunting collection of poems that has left an indelible impression on my soul and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Giuseppina Brandi lives in Naples, Italy. She has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literatures, with a dissertation on European Poetry of WWI. With a great passion for poetry, she believes in the power of art and poetry of healing and connect. An autodidact, she has always loved drawing and painting and takes inspiration from natural world and human emotions. Her artwork has been published in Black Bough Poetry edition Sound and Vision, Acropolis Journal and Fevers Of the Mind journal and anthology.
The Birds, The Rabbits, The Trees by Briony Collins (Broken Sleep Books, 2023), review by Rhona Greene.
‘Sometimes my mouth burns
With an unspoken truth
and the words splinter in my jaw’ (‘Charming’)
I am a huge admirer of Briony Collins’ writing and it’s a privilege to read her deeply personal collection The Birds, The Rabbits, The Trees (Broken Sleep, 2023), a follow-up to Blame it On Me. Here is poetry that commands attention and respect for the poet’s courage in exposing her vulnerabilities and lifting the veil on intensely troubling and sensitive subjects, including violent relational abuse, control and coercion, misogyny, toxic masculinity, death, grief and mental distress.
There is nothing faint-hearted about Collins’s work here; it’s as hard hitting as it is poignant and, in fact, she doesn’t ‘give a fuck if it’s the worst thing I’ve ever written’ as she declares in the final poem ‘You know who you are’, a direct address to an abusive ex-partner. In this triumph of a collection, which gives voice to her ‘unspoken truth[s]’, we are lead on a poetic tightrope that spans a chasm between the fragility and brutality of her life-experience.
Arguably, the title The Birds, The Rabbits, The Trees belies the gravitas of the content within; however, the highly stylised and foreboding forest on the cover, designed by editor Aaron Kent, hints towards something rather more dark, haunting, bordering on the dark fairytale or gothic, than the bucolic setting the title might suggest.
‘I m tired of her being dead’
(‘What a difference a mother could make’)
In the first four poems, ‘February’, What a difference a mother could make’, ‘Absent’ and ‘Charming’, we are introduced to key figures in the poet’s life: a deceased mother; a distant, traumatised father and later, an abusive partner who is the very antithesis of ‘Charming’ and is described throughout the collection in predatory terms: ‘his eyes are malice black ’, ‘the stare of a creature hunting’ (‘August’), and ‘a hairy, half-naked stench of a creature/Growling viciously’ (‘Nightmare’) . This importantly reminds us that, often, it is not the mythological monster that is a true threat, but the humans close around us, and the absence of those that might offer protection and guidance in how to cope with such people and navigate such adversity intensifies the fear and danger.
‘You are not here/My dreams grieve you’ (‘February’)
A sense of longing for the mother-figure hovers constantly at the edge of her awareness, where ‘rabbits forage in my black peripheries’ (‘February’). It struck me while reading, that this collection bears many of the hallmarks of gothic writing which deals with similar themes: death, the supernatural, sorrow, fear, loss, isolation and more, often set in eerie landscapes, including the labyrinth woodland. The rupture created by the loss of a mother in particular deprives ‘the young heroine/damsel in distress’ of significant safety and female protection, leaving her vulnerable in a male-dominated environment and an easy target for predators. This is a theme through this collection. The language of the gothic is effectively used to dramatise the tragic spiralling of the poetic figure into despair and entrapment: ‘If I shut the window I will die…If I go outside I will die’ (‘Do I’).
The opening letter/poem of the collection ‘February’, where the mother-figure has been ‘seventeen years in black peripheries’, locates us immediately in the forest - Collins’ surreal, unsettling psychological landscape, where she seeks not only to connect with her mother to cope with her overwhelming grief, ’under the bed, the forest opens/A flicker of light/You?’ but also to retreat further into herself as a means to escape the increasing dangers of her relationship.
‘In the forest opening, there’s a hole
I climb inside to hide/He’ll eat my world alive’ (‘August’)
As the collection unfolds, Collins’ interior and exterior worlds unravel on the pages before us. With blazing finesse she takes us through a tumultuous year in her young life using the device of heart-breaking monthly letters to her dead mother, detailing her toxic circumstances as she suffers not only at the hands of her partner, but also his friends: ‘My boyfriend is shaking me’ (‘March’), she tells her, ‘He says I hit my head on the wardrobe (‘April’) ‘My boyfriend looks the other way/His friend swirls sweaty, cig-stained fingers up my thigh…In a room full of men, nobody speaks’ (‘October’).
.As a reading experience, it is soul-destroying to bear witness to her struggles, her desolation, her fragmentation: ‘I am not there/ I speak to bury myself’ (‘April’) and ‘The open grave of my mind/Where I meet you every night’ (‘December’). These poignant letters are interspersed with further poems, more harrowing, vivid and visceral accounts of the lived reality of her brutal relationship: ‘bile from the pit of my stomach retched into every corner’ (‘Petrichor’); ‘The wall is hard against my skull/sunlight bleached space-blue carpets/Bright Prawn Nebula’ (‘Extra-terrestrial’). ‘I crawl up our walls/Beetle into corners/Scuttle in the dark’ (‘It makes you so sick’). A reprehensible ex-partner thinks it all ‘proper funny‘, tells her she is ‘schizo’ as she suffers a serious breakdown and deliriously repeats the words ‘the birds, the rabbits, the trees’, which seems linked to the request to the mother-figure to ‘Take my hand/Before/I shut my eyes and there is nothing’(‘Notes from the other side’).
The sense of abandonment in these poems is acute and even God is presented as neglectful - ‘God closes his eyes’ to her suffering (‘March’). The immediacy and intensity of her circumstances is heightened by the predominant use of the present tense in her poetry as well as her tendency to use punctuation sparingly, adding to a sense of instability, uncertainty, of someone in danger, in free fall.
There’s a sense of redemption, a shift in the narrative to a sense of empowerment. In ‘Marginal Glosses’ we encounter a poetic voice who has found a new-found inner strength to break through her confines ‘the way mosses bulge in cement’ and to move bravely towards empowerment: ‘I pack his things for him/Proper funny’ (‘January); and finally to the ‘skeletal truth’ until she emerges fully possessed of her own voice and empowered.
I was moved at the very end of the book in the ‘Acknowledgements’ where the writer dedicates the book to herself, for her bravery, for standing up, for putting herself first. Collins unmasks some horrific aspects of human nature and by so doing she opens up a space for consideration and discussion on these traumatic topics. This is a powerfully important work. I urge you to read it and make sure everyone you know reads it too.
Rhona Greene, a Pushcart Prize-nominated writer from Dublin is published in several Black Bough Poetry editions and The Storms Journal and she was shortlisted for the Dai Fry Award. Her poem in Black Bough's Afterfeather gave the edition its name. She also featured in Sarah Connor’s ‘Advent Poems’ and she has work in the Tutankhamun edition.
The Birds, The Rabbits, The Trees by Briony Collins (Broken Sleep Books, 2023), review by Matthew M. C. Smith.
In the much-anticipated poetry collection The Birds, The Rabbits, The Trees, a follow-up to Blame it on Me (a former ‘book of the month’ with Black Bough Poetry), award-winning writer Briony Collins explores the ‘black peripheries’ of memories and dreams, from the experience of personal loss to poems exposing the types of violence and control exacted on women.
The collection begins with evoking her mother who, after death, is imagined to have passed on into mystical realms – the fairytale, mythical, symbolic woodland. Collins’s poem addresses the mother-figure directly - ‘my dreams grieve you’, adding a pithy, yet devastating poignance to a poem, showing how loss can be bound up with fantasy.
Poems act as counterpoints to one another, charting the different, ever-altering states of mind experienced by someone grieving, someone who has lost their mother so young. In another poem, there is a defeated tone where the poetic speaker expresses the tiredness of being consumed by loss and feeling ever-incomplete, culminating in the flatness, yet aptness of phrasing – ‘the season rains her absence’.
The trauma of her mother’s death is reflected in a poem about other family relationships where there is a kind of disassociated distance because of a collective inability to function, a subject explored in the previous collection, also published by Broken Sleep Books. The collection does not shy away from really disturbing poems about emotional and physical abuse, an honest attempt by the writer to expose the violence and control inflicted on women and how these experiences have the potential to be overcome through writing, an act of empowerment.
Briony Collins’s poetry has the ability to affect the reader emotionally in poems, such as ‘Absent’, ‘March’ and ‘Coming out of it’.
There were tears once
Some way of telling
How I used to
Remember this flesh
There’s something of the freedom of her idol, Jim Morrison, in the unpunctuated, free verse of the poems, reminding me distantly of the Lizard King’s The Lords and the New Creatures and ‘Celebration of the Lizard’, beatnik, cult writing at its best.
Insects nestle in the smooth alcoves of my eye sockets
Roots tangle themselves around fragments of my skull
Finger skin is coming undone in wet, white ribbons (from ‘September’)
There are many cool moments in the book, including the resurrection of Morrison’s hitchhiker figure
[The hitchhiker thumbs in the dark] / He’s all yellow eyes and deadlife / Headlights firing into highway nights / He knows: I’m worth nothing / The barren core of a tunnel / [The hitchhiker enters]
I loved this cameo and feel that this should be further explored because there's something super-charged about Collins entering Morrison territory; Collins’s imagery is often sparse, visual and elemental. The woods and the rabbits recur through the poems – a dreaminess that acts as a form of enchantment, making this a collection of many contrasts and talking points. This is an outstanding book that deserves a wide readership.
Matthew M. C. Smith is a Welsh author who has recently published The Keeper of Aeons with The Broken Spine Arts and has also published shorter works, 'Paviland: Ice and Fire' and 'Origin: 21 Poems'.
THREE INDIVIDUAL REVIEWS OF THIS WORK BY RHONA GREENE, GIUSEPPINA BRANDI AND MATTHEW M.C. SMITH!
Book of the Month
2019, Fife, Scotland: Author & Poet Larissa Reid. (Pic by Cate Gillon)
Black Bough Poetry's choice for 'Book of the Month', June 2023 is
ROCK|SALT by Scottish writer, Larissa Reid. Review by Glenn Barker.
The book is available from the poet.
Twitter: Ammonites_Stars ammonitesandstars.blog
Larissa Reid's ROCK|SALT presents a concert of voices; the geology, landscape and people of Fife come to life from her native coastline in the east of Scotland. Reid's 21 poems, in three sections, five of them written in dialect, pulse with the ebb and flow of the land, the sea, and human activity. As part of the ROCK|SALT project, Elspeth Knight has collaborated with the poet to produce a beautiful series of mixed media artworks echoing the themes and content of the poems.
Larissa’s work is profoundly elemental, a very coarse form of harmony in the embrace of a natural drama between the forces of seasons and the soil and salt-air. In ROCK|SALT we become, with her, part of the landscape, able to shift and sway with its stark and complex character.
Through Reid's poetic lens, the land and seascape, all elements, are a marriage of understanding, respect and memory built into the rock; its knuckles, bones and sinews exposed, expressed, scoured and punctured by machine, material and people.
In ‘ROCK|LAND’, ‘Murmur’ we
Turn and twist, quiver and quell, / Caught in the yield and flow / Of croft and shore.
a description that sings through these poems, so solid and grounded in the natural and abrasive rhythms of life, so far removed from the cacophony of the urban landscape. ROCK|LAND ‘Harvest’ serves another hard edge, where
Sweat beads roll as we heave on twisted threads,
Bending sickled sheaves to our will
as the land is forced to human muscle and will.
MINE|UNDERGROUND utilizes an introspective metaphor suggestive of her own mortality, a stone-weight thrown yet too large to be moved by tide; her heart-heaviness refuses to budge, representing a dark night of the soul:
I bore it deep underground / Navigated dark ink / Tripped and cut my soul in the black. / I bled from quartz veins; / Streams of fragmented crystal
In SHORE|SALT - ‘Yoke’ - we are amidst the people, their voices absorbed into the fabric and stone of time, suggesting a sense of heritage, perhaps even a sense of permanence:
His friends jostle and shout / Lining the room’s sea-torn edges, / Adding another layer of voices / To its drunken wood-panelled histories.
Reid's writing is powerful when it focuses on the poetry of the turn of seasons and the passing of time, when generations are in one place, and the tide and people breathe its ebb and flow, again in concert:
It’s reassuring; the continuity, the time, the place; / The map repeatedly routed / As another round of stars makes its way / Across the taut Burntisland sky.
ROCK|SALT is an invitation to become immersed in the raw edges of land and hard sea. Larissa Reid inspires us to connect and blend with the harsh materials of her landscape; to feel its surfaces with her as she inhabits the character and voices of her weathered and fragile-anchored community.
She birthed daughters of sandstone light / And sea shadows; / One turns a wave in her palm, / The other coaxes life from deadened earth; / Once witches, now whisperers.
This is a highly recommended collection from a talented writer.
Glenn Barker, May 2023.
Glenn Barker was born in Worcestershire and now lives in South Yorkshire. He has been published in The Broken Spine, Dreich, Fevers of the Mind, The Wombwell Rainbow and Wildfire Words. He is a contributor to TopTweetTuesday. His Twitter handle is @Glenn_A_Barker
Book of the Month
Paul Brookes ‘These Random Acts of Wildness’ published by Glass Head Press.
£5.00. Contact poet to purchase (links at the bottom of this article).
How do we live with the wildness on our doorsteps and in our hearts? Paul Brookes grapples with these poignant human questions in a touching, meditative, thought-provoking collection of sonnets. He takes a microscopic look at the daily things we do unthinkingly, how we try to tame our environment through cutting grass, ironing clothes, washing pots and binning our waste.
‘We all want the wild to be uniform’ he observes in ‘Lawn Cutting’. Later, he watches dandelion clocks flying over ‘powerhosed driveways’ destined to be ‘uprooted as unwanted weeds’, and even apologises to a sycamore tree for pulling up ‘its young’.
Elsewhere Brookes draws an unsentimental picture of the wildlife around him, of baby birds ‘falling into soft jaws of cats as gifts’ and of a young hedgehog who eats its siblings. ‘I chirp and whiffle, splat out quills and sigh’. In ‘I make a cuppa’, he remembers how his seaman father brought home ‘carved elephants for the sideboard’ and concludes ‘we collect the wild as ornamental/ domesticate, put on a pedestal.’
The poet's style is refreshingly loose and conversational within the constraints of the sonnet, and sometimes veers toward a sly, choppy poetic shorthand. In the childhood poem ‘In Washing Up’, he observes ‘Metal scouring pad wool stings doing pans.’ The very act of cleaning itself is transformed by his imagination. Boldly assuming the identity of a vacuum cleaner, a speaker of one of the poems states ‘I inhale your decay. It spins around/inside me.’ And cleaning, he concludes, may be a sign of a deeper want, reaching ‘places of loss with perfumed polish.'
The sonnets contain vivid poetic images of nature, Swallows as ‘vital/boomerangs spinning back on themselves’, and dove-song ‘fat as strawberries and cream’. The gorgeous graphic art on the cover by Jane Cornwell reflects the mood of the poems, showing a graveyard angel wearing marigold gloves and clutching a duster. Above him are two trees, one dead and the other one leafy, with a human heart shining in its branches.
This collection is about the duality of life - our attempts to clear away mess and the inevitability of its creation through human activity and death in nature. One of my favourite poems is ‘The Surfaces’, a meditation on polishing and our ludicrous expectations of how we can rub away eveything bad. ‘Sanitise life’ it orders. ‘Every deep rub brings out the grain/ let’s dust away death, and begin again’. It is especially poignant to me, whose mother cleaned constantly, with undiagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder throughout her life.
Other human concerns are expressed in this collection. ‘Holgate’ describes bullying at school and its effects on a child: ‘I need to stay silent. Any words break’. Other poems deal with intimacy and grief, with moving tales of local men who died from a lightning strike, war or typhoid.
This is an eye-opener of a collection. Paul Brookes, always a generous, selfless promoter of other poets, has laid bare our daily struggle to tidy up and tame the wildness of our lives.
by Lesley Curwen
Lesley Curwen is a poet, broadcaster and sailor. She often writes about loss and rescue, about the unthinking damage caused by modern lifestyles, and how being close to the sea (in mind or body) can help salve our hurts. She is often on Twitter as @elcurwen. She blogs about poetry, and features other poets’ work on her website. http://www.lesleycurwenpoet.com/
Nine Pens are about to publish a collaborative pamphlet ‘Invisible Continents’ written by Lesley and two poet friends from Greenwich Poetry Workshop, Jane R Rogers and Tahmina Maula.
Link to Paul Brookes reading a selection of his poems.
Paul Brookes is at Twitter @pauldragonwolf1 insta @paulbrookes07 #thewombwellrainbow firstname.lastname@example.org
The Black Bough Poetry book of the month for March 2023, is Eli Horan’s The Mask, originally published in 2021 by The Broken Spine Arts. This book is currently available for a flash discount at £6 posted (worldwide), a pretty astonishing bargain for a work that will burn a hole in your desk but not your wallet, although this sale is likely to be temporary.
Burning is an apt word for this American writer. I’ve read some of Eli Horan’s work before and it’s pretty fair to describe her as a full-pelt, full-tilt confessional writer who wears a burning heart on her sleeve.
We experience, in virtuouso, lyrical works, huge highs and deep lows, depictions of emotional trauma, the adverse circumstances women experience in a male-dominated, brutalised society and an intense focus on the fragilities of selfhood. It’s no wonder, then, that Horan feels a strong connection to the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who is the subject of The Mask, which is a beautifully presented book by Broken Spine Arts. The cover is a stand-out – an immaculate, patterned design – and we are transported to the world of the Mexican artist. Horan describes the book as
a celebration and tribute to my long-time artistic heroine and sister in pain - Frida Kahlo. Each of these poems represents my interpretation of one of her paintings… but even more so - the painting married with my bond with her - our shared meta-narratives - our struggles with identity, men, gender, bi-sexuality, loyalty, politics, aversion to stereotypical roles made by men and society for women to be entrenched in.
Horan inhabits characters in this collection, instilling in them great passion, vigour and sensuosity. In taut, staccato poetic phrases that almost mimic tango-like movements, the readers are drawn into heart and soul of Kahlo and the artist’s immediate world:
Your touch. Your kiss.
Our tongues ---
Which perform the tango each time
We enter the forest;
Each time we dance;
Intertwine; chalice to chalice
Once touching; we are divine.
Will be red - we owe
Elsewhere, there are equally arresting poems, such as ‘My Dress Hangs here’, where the female subject becomes a commodity, a piece of meat, described in almost nonchalant fashion, lending a kind of black humour and surrealism to the writing
Of course it does -at 6am the men
bring my innards from a low truck
with battered rims; they carry them on
their backs into the rear of el restaurante -
they are the parts of animals; I can make out
intestines and other salchicha-type shapes –
they will be cooked to perfection, later,
not resembling anything como mi muerte feo
such a pretty dress - I wear to my
quinceanera - I wear it to meet the gringos
en San Francisco - y ¿por qué no?
They love me like this - Desire me like this –
There’s an explosive, carnal edge to the writing as Frida is overcome with desire for her lovers
Feeling the lick of the jaguar
Her kiss - little fingers of the monkey
I love, I love his kiss –
Straight line from the thorn to my jugular –
A woman’s throat - her pool of nectar
And also below in the Garden - subtle caves
She keeps for you
(‘Nectar of the Gods and a Woman’s Throat’)
In ‘The Mask Vol 1’, we experience a particularly meta moment where one of her characters speaks back to Eli, the writer, another example of where you want to fist-pump the air at Horan’s ingenious approach to really attempting to inhabit characters playfully and turning back from the text, tongue firmly planted in cheek at herself. It’s this postmodern spirit which creates many surprising moments throughout the text.
That feeling when life is ending –
When you know it’s time to go
When your eyes have gone yellow
Cut holes in the retinas, and turn them to blue –
Oh that house; I’ve told Eli to make a new stanza - here
To describe how I have died in that flowering house
The way in which women have flowered in that house –
At 18 - I was punctured in the way a sword enters the bull
And yet I did not die - neither did I die when
You fucked me sister - querido, mio –
See how - I will never succumb to anything
Horan’s poems about Kahlo wisely stop short of overly strong characterisation, which is one of the aspects of the work I appreciated the most. Part of this is an implicit recognition of the fluidity of Kahlo’s identity and the diverse facets of her personality; also, and more importantly, the recognition that any attempts to encapsulate Kahlo as a character, to be too omniscient, is fraught with the potential for inaccuracies and subjective bias; so we have snapshots of Frida, sensory impressions, which become dynamic, flashing insights. This continuous energy through the work is maintained by its bilingualism – the weave of English and Spanish - that feels exotic, sensual and highly-charged, politically .
I love this book and feel that to truly do it justice, I will have to come back to it over a number of years and also know more about this cult artist. Nevertheless, you don’t need to know much about Kahlo because this is a pretty extraordinary and inspiring poetry collection in its own right. The writer manages to convey the essence of the whole person and, in doing so, Eli Horan shows herself to be a writer of incendiary talent with this high-voltage collection. I heard Horan read these poems at the launch night and the emotional aspect of her writing really comes out - it's unforgettable, actually. There's something so gutsy about this writer and her work.
Somewhere, Frida is breathless with a copy of The Mask.
Review by Matthew. M. C . Smith
Nightjars, all the way from the heart...
The new poetry collection, Nightjars, by London-based Z.R. Ghani and Glasgow-based Andy MacGregor, is a unique and memorable collaboration, mesmerizingly beautiful and haunting to the last word.
Nightjars addresses themes of life’s transience, the cost of grief, the loss of relationships and the struggle to keep going. In 'What lies concealed', A.M. writes,
But how can we witness the invisible
when the sun goes down behind the staggered pines
…and nothing I see or hear
will ever be the same again?
And in' Invisible paths', Z.G. writes,
I think of you more often than I’ll admit
when the emptiness has chewed away at the world
With great originality, each poem springs from the one before, as if born together. By borrowing key phrases and images from each other, the authors have written a poetry pas de deux, a word-ballet with each piece lending words to the next in a daisy-chain of imagery and emotion.
Again in 'Invisible Paths', Z.G. writes:
I hear you in the street lamps that come on
to tally up another evening, or in the laughter
of others and I fail to join in
Then in 'Shadow boxing', A.M. writes:
The street lamps that come on
to tally up another evening
stitch a ragged wound of illumination
all the way from the heart
Words echo and repeat and lead the way to the next piece, weaving a moving tapestry of endings and beginnings. There is a richness here, a richness of feeling and thought that flows from piece to piece, dressed not only in beautiful language, but also in depth of experience: love, loss and hope. These are poems about inner landscapes and emotional terrain.
In 'Star-catchers', Z.G. writes:
I have wanted to drop my lantern in the snow,
cover those miles like a sentence across the page,
accept the hum of total silence, as it hurts and heals
And, in 'You said nothing of the dawn', A.M. writes:
Though the morning lies a long way ahead,
I have wanted to drop my lantern in the snow,
to watch its light spill out across the land
and pile in drifts against hedge and wall.
I love this image of the lantern in the snow, searching for life’s meaning and guidance, casting its light in a drift.
I cannot overstate the beauty of the writing in this collection. It is effortless and moving, drawing us into the authors’ contemplative melancholy with elegant phrasing and life-truths: ‘I’ve come to see there is no descent ahead/just the land always rising’, ‘My mind is a mountain/setting free it’s fledgling seeds’, ‘As the night sky unveils its silk road…’, ‘Winged ones land/gently like murmured condolences’. These are words to savor, to reread.
Yes, there are disparate references - churchyards and frankincense, cheap music and even the constellation of a slug (!) - but the threads of emotional resonance and philosophies ring through them, almost as one piece and ensures that, as readers, we are constantly surprised by invention.
The final poem, itself titled 'Nightjars' and signed by both writers, asks the fabulous question, “Is this the Sunday of all my days?” It summons the book’s central themes of life’s impermanence, the pain of losing what one has loved, and the perpetual search for a glimmer of happiness. “The light bows its last behind the spire like a bird…”
This is painterly work, rich in universal truths and masterful in imagery. These are two of our own best poets, clasping hands and running through the trees, writing from their collective hearts and minds. As one, they are music.
–Regine Ebner, January 2023
Regine Ebner is a poet from the Sonoran Desert. Her collection 'Oxidised Pennies' is published by Alien Buddha Press.