Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday 30 July 2016

"Bird Sisters" by Julia Webb (Nine Arches Press, 2016)

Poems from "And Other Poems", Magma, The Rialto, etc, by a poet who's twice been short-listed in the Bridport. There's a chronological sweep to the poems overlaid by recurrent themes. Subjects are often described by recording people's reactions to them. This also applies when the subject is a person - we learn about them by observing their interactions with others. Several of the pieces centre around a family where the Father is strict and religious, the mother negotiating between him and the two daughters - the narrator and an older Alice. There's sibling rivalry and cooperation between the girls. This core family concept is explored using anecdote, mythology, etc. The book begins with "Sisters (part i)" which has 5 sections (some more Realistic than others), each describing a persona/trait. The first begins "This sister is the bones of the outfit", the replacement of "brains" in the usual phrase by "bones" being a hint of things to come. On p.23 there's "Sisters (part ii)" with 6 more sections, an example being "This sister has neat borders,/ she is carefully cultivated,/ an exercise in quiet self-control".

The book's final sequence uses circus personae (freaks and performers) to explore sister-hood (or maybe aspects of self-hood). Father is explored in "Family Values" as "Sun daddy" and is imagined as a horse in "Night Sickness" etc. The mythologising persists at the father's death, the mother's death a cause for more sibling rivalry.

Birds (owls in particular) feature. Owls are creatures of the night. Seemingly quiet and wise, they eat creatures whole, leaving bones. The narrator and other people transform - the sister is viewed as a sparrow and owl (one poem's entitled "My owl sister mistakes me for a mouse")", and "my owl mother" appears. Night/dream imagery is prevalent.

Bees (a popular theme in recent UK poetry) appear first on p.11 and finally on p.66, popping up throughout. On p.13 they are "The bees that sleep inside me". By the end of the poem "I might take flight". That outward movement is replicated in "A Bird Inside" where the initial "I wear a bird inside me" develops into "Today I am blackbird,/ tomorrow I will be all owl"

The most common thematic movement is Confinement/Release - physically in "Thetford Forest", but also breaking free of strict upbringing, situations and definitions by subversion or flight rather than confrontation. Poems end with waking, singing, or (in "Gin Fox", "Bee Mornings", and "A Bird Inside") releasing. More things unravel than ravel.

2 sub-categories of poem emerge from the mix -

  • Prose - The Piano Lesson, The Trap, Lent, Rain, The Callers, Visiting Time, The Miracle. These are family-based, usually involving religion, and use CAPS to emphasise words. I wouldn't call them prose-poems - they're Flash. "Rain" ends with "I WOULD like a doll who can REALLY CRY!" which is a good way to end any text.
  • Lists of definitions - of sisters, water, etc.

Other reviews

  • Gram Joel Davies (The fairy tale quality which many of Julia Webb’s poems possess provides a way into a child’s understanding which could otherwise not be articulated)
  • londongrip (More than anything else in this collection, however, I am impressed by the seven prose poems)

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