From the first sumptuous poem, ‘Birthday’ where the protagonist, running at night, thinks of her body as a “nocturnal bloom”, the reader is immersed in the compelling voice of Sarah Corbett. From her first book, The Red Wardrobe, nominated for both the Forward and the T.S. Eliot Prize, we are familiar with the world she portrays, of the childhood spent in rural North Wales, and the first half of this new collection is devoted mostly to poems that re-create scenes from a youth that was haunted by trouble, but also redeemed by a strong attachment to the beauties of nature, particularly horses, and an early love of reading and culture. In poems like ‘Rivers, Roads’ the two images mesh and intertwine, becoming symbolic and strangely evocative.
This poet bravely eschews lightness and irony for a whole-heartedly passionate and intensely physical response to life. Other Beasts differs from her earlier work in that in the latter half of the collection, she moves away from her own personal history and focuses on in-depth and often scary narratives of other lives. In these poems, such as ‘dreaming history’ she closely identifies with survivors of trauma, in this case the horror of a small girl hiding in a trunk while her family is massacred in a war-torn country. In the long poem ‘Testimony’ she inhabits the voice of Joanne Lees, the woman at the centre of the famously controversial case in Australia where her partner, Peter Falconio, was murdered and she managed, although tied up, to escape into the bush. Another sequence, ‘Cuttings’ weaves a week’s worth of international press cuttings together,creating an alternately horrible, sad, funny and odd tapestry of events.
Sarah Corbett was born in Chester, raised in north Wales, and educated at the Universities of Leeds and East Anglia. This is her third book of poems, following the acclaimed The Red Wardrobe (1998) and The Witch Bag (2002). She has published her poems in a wide selection of magazines and anthologies and has read her work at festivals internationally.
Listen to Sarah Corbett read her poem, ‘Killer Whales on a Beach in Fiji’: