Review: The Birds, The Rabbits, The Trees by Briony Collins

Broken Sleep Books, 2023 

The sweetness suggested by the title of Briony Collins gripping collection, is deceptive and swiftly overturned. By the end of the opener, ‘February’, hurt has swept in, as ‘Seventeen years/In black peripheries.’ are recalled. With this, the tone is set for a calendar journey, through a dark year and out again, emerging, blinking into the light. 

Throughout, a gnawing weight of grief and loss is made almost tangible, as Collins stirs a presence out of absence, in poem after poem. A feeling accompanied along the way by stark recollections of an abusive, gaslighting relationship. Collins skilfully presents a sequence of free verse poems that seem to mirror the confusions, gaps and elisions of memory – rarely focusing on the dread or the pain headlong.

An almost total absence of punctuation adds to the impressionistic atmosphere, encouraging readers to slip back and forth amongst the lines, gathering hints and suggestions. However, rather than keeping us from the worst these flickering, dream-like poems, have the effect of bringing the traumas of individual moments – nights, months, whole seasons – closer. 

Here, even as distinct events fade in and out of awareness – as though an old transistor radio is being tuned, clutching after drifting, faint signals – the linked, fragmentary perceptions hit home hard. Smell – in writing, that most overlooked of the senses – is well used, bringing back visceral past moments: as grimy carpets, sweaty, hairy beasts, or the stone-like stench of death, rise with the night.

Sudden panic attacks in showers, dirt or pith under nails, the sting of slaps, fists, humiliations, or the lids of violent drunks, with ‘shark eyes’, create a multi-sensory, trickle of unease, as we read.

Experience after experience is endured and shared, until, at last, the relief of a turn arrives. In the bare hint of a ‘skeletal truth’, we learn the worst will pass. The final few poems feel like a shaking off, a standing up, as a newly defiant tone grows in confidence. The word ‘Pussy’ in its crudest sense is reclaimed, from those men using it to attack and demean women. The serpent-like monsters of dark forest pools are faced. Then, with the last poem, the poet seizes back full control – the title ‘You know who you are’ is aimed at someone else, but could perhaps, also mean the writer, as she asserts her future, realising and relishing at last, her full, enduring strength. 


This review is shared as part of Black Bough Poetry’s Top Tweet Tuesday on Twitter to boost fellow poets. 

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