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Giraffe

Bryony Littlefair
ISBN-13: 
9781781724620
Publication Date: 
Monday, December 4, 2017
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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.

 

 

REVIEWS

Review by Flavia, Mslexia

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

These nineteen poems make for an exceptionally innovative and refreshing read. I am besotted with Littlefair’s quirky world and imagery (and ability to come up with the best titles). The driving thrust of the poems in this pamphlet is a search for happiness, that glorious giraffe! Littlefair intermingles themes of loneliness, sadness and joy within the everyday humdrum of life in order to produce these zany, clever and perfectly worded/loaded poems. The humour is particularly startling and unexpected; a backflip in ‘The meaning of employable’, that brilliantly eccentric list in ‘Types of Poems’ are examples. Her poems and imagery are deeply entrenched in place (particularly ‘The town we went to’ and ‘The sadness of giftshops’) but it is her empathy with people, her need to provide voices to the women she observes (including the female ‘I’ persona in the poems) that dominate this pamphlet. The poet portrays the edginess and coplexity of the secret interior lives of a mother, grandmother (“I’m wondering if my Gran has ever said the word fuck/ let the hot little kiss of it escape from her lips/ like a papercut, a slammed door?”), a bullying but passionately affectionate friend, a healthcare assistant and a woman she sees in a bar. Her empathy and sensibility to the people around her portray a poet that is fully awake and aware of the world around her; this is also evident in the depth of her observational skills and her extremely specific (and hilarious) descriptions of these ‘silent’ people (“you look like a telephone/ I've just put down, one of the Old-fashioned ones/ you must set on the receiver with a clunk”; “Like tou’re off to do something tiny but luminous, winning an egg-and-spoon race, maybe”). Her poems are compact little epiphanies; the style conversational like a set of interior monologues. The originality of this collection lies in the details and fantastically bizarre similes (“like an undone shoelace”, “I was like a blunt knife”) which breathe life into Littlefair’s poems and seduce you into seeing the world from her point of view.

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