Poems need head, heart, and soul but this particular Mslexia Poetry Prize-winning pamphlet has an extra ingredient – a feminist kick. Bryony Littlefair is acutely aware of women’s lives and gives us mothers, daughters, grandmothers, friends and colleagues whose adventures or misadventures we become increasingly eager to follow.
Giraffe starts unobtrusively, with ‘Tara Miller’, a memory from childhood about the strange attraction of a ‘bad girl’ friend, then soon moves on to one of our favourite first lines: ‘I’m wondering if my Grandmother has ever said the word ‘fuck’’. We also meet the mother who hides her piano playing like a shameful secret. We overhear workmates, like the woman who, trying to concentrate in a meeting, quietly wonders to herself: ‘Is there a place/ the time goes that women have been/ listening to men? All those hours irrecoverable…’ But the politics here are mostly implicit in the stories told, only occasionally bursting through like an urgent message.
There is a good deal of wit on display, but also a wonderful humanity. There is a beautiful poem where a ‘healthcare assistant’ displays a quiet everyday heroism in treating a nervous patient. There is the meeting between the author and her ‘future self’ where she is warned that ‘it will get harder before it gets easier.’ There is the banal yet sinister viewing of a gift shop, where we feel trapped like the protagonist, looking at odd candles. There are also other novelistic qualities: clarity of language and the use of realism, a feeling for plot and incident, an eye and ear for character. There is a wonderfully off-kilter amusing list of ‘types of poems’ that begins: ‘poem as conspiracy theory/ poem as patchwork quilt’.
Also noted here are the subtle ways that the author indicates character and relationships. Heartbreak can be summarised by one glance at the ‘Lido’. Love can be inferred by the tender description of someone from the back, as they are walking away.
Giraffe, the title and a euphemism for happiness, is a beguiling, beautiful and entertaining debut pamphlet of poems by Bryony Littlefair.