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Looking Through Letterboxes
ISBN: 978 1 857545 90 6
Categories: 21st Century, British, First Collections, Women
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Published: February 2002
215 x 136 x 6 mm
Publisher: Carcanet Press
No one else is having your heartbreak.
Your perfect pulsing peach
in scarlet syrup,
your creamy self
Not even when the whole world
is stacked like chairs
and you are milky-eyed
with sleep, honey, chocolate,
blues before bedtime.
Right here, where your hand is,
all yours. A beautiful, bleeding,
sprouting red roses,
picked in two halves
from the heartbreak tree,
It is your prize, you've earned it,
heaved it up
from the wishing well
of your throat,
held its broken body,
treasured it, fed it with tears
the size of cupcakes
and nights like shining spoons.
No one else is having your heartbreak.
Or the way it makes the sound of horses' hooves
if you hold a piece in either hand
and bang it together like a coconut.
Caroline Bird first appears to be a traditional storyteller. But the stories she tells (or conceals) are suspended in a language charged with metaphor, and most of them are built upon foundations which are strangely familiar: fairy tale, fantasy and the bitter-sweet world of romance. The further one reads in her haunted tales, the more remarkable becomes the variety of forms, metres and rhythms she uses, and the clearer their appropriateness to her themes.
The poems can at first appear to be topical, 'Year of the Woman', for example, 'Gothic', 'Dusk and Petrol' - yet the poets take on reality is informed by a paradoxically knowing innocence. Things are not ever as they seem, and the poems bring us closer to how the world 'really' is. They work metaphorically through our expectations and prejudices, those that are encapsulated in cliché and aphorism, which she rearranges and reanimates ('with a step/ in your dance, a forecast for lightning'), or those that relate to the world of childhood ('I came to see if you were ok') where language itself has never quite got a grip. In the poems of Caroline Bird gender politics are starkly redefined, as are the languages with which generations communicate and fail to agree.
Awards won by Caroline Bird Short-listed, 2017 The T.S. Eliot Prize (In These Days of Prohibition) Commended, 2004 Christopher Tower Poetry Prize Winner, 2000 Simon Elvin Young Poet of the Year Award Winner, 1999 Simon Elvin Young Poet of the Year Award Winner, 2002 Eric Gregory Award Winner, 2004 Peterloo Poets Competition (16-19 year-olds) Winner, 2003 Peterloo Poets Competition (16-19 year-olds) Winner, 2002 Peterloo Poets Competition (16-19 year-olds) Short-listed, 2001 Geoffrey Dearmer Prize Short-listed, 2008 Dylan Thomas Prize for young writers
'Her poems burst with linguistic energy.'
Stephen Knight, Times Literary Supplement 'An astonishingly assured piece of work.'
Ruth Padel, Financial Times 'Her poems burst with linguistic energy, and the book is profligate with striking lines and images.'
Times Literary Supplement
'The tone fuses knowing innocence and integrity; some poems are faux naif with a ballad lilt, others are sad, funny surreal; all are studded with fresh imaginative insights.'
Ruth Padel, Financial Times
Praise for Caroline Bird 'Caroline Bird's In These Days of Prohibition is equally pleasurable and disturbing, because it understands the genuinely strange ground on which we must build our thoughts and our emotions. In work of great and frequently comic poise it captures moments of absolute loss of control, and absolute freedom. We recognise that sustained unsettling comic virtuosity is the startling agent by which we engage with such loss, such freedom.'
- W.N Herbert (Chair of the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize Judging Panel) 'Achieves serious funniness by filtering mental illness and addiction through the prism of pop-surrealism.'
Jeremy Noel-Tod, The Sunday Times
'Since she published her debut aged 15 in 2002, Bird's witty writing has been wrongly dismissed in some quarters as lightweight. This brave eighth collection (a slant account of her year in rehab) proves those critics wrong from its first page.'
Tristram Fane Saunders, The Daily Telegraph
'The poems in this, Bird's fifth collection, explode on the page, bristling with a vision of sanity within madness, order within chaos. She has the ability to describe a tortured soul in a twenty-first century manner, bringing humour, contemporary idiom and irony into the work.'
Dundee University Review of the Arts
'The poems of In These Days of Prohibition are disquieting: institutionalised, hedonistic, vacuous and nihilistic. The collection takes a hard look at contemporary society but is, ultimately, uplifting. If Brett Easton Ellis wrote poems, I'd like to think they'd be poems like these.'
John Field on the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize shorlist newsletter
'What an original captivating and spellbinding voice. Bird is fearless like 'the girl who dropped her ice-cream down a volcano and leaped in after it'. Sheâs dangerous and witty too with a rare quality of imagination. This is a wonder, a beautifully written book of poems.'
'A carnival of characters spills out of these poems, chased by paparazzi, doing somersaults and cartwheels with language... Caroline Bird puts us on the inside looking deeper in, under the glittering skin to the place where laughter begins, where mothers are children, where people feel pain and speak in tongues, where tongues are knives and "Someone still has to stay here and die".'
Imtiaz Dharker 'Caroline Bird has always written wise, bitterly funny and intellectually bracing poems.What has developed over the course of four collections is a voice heartbreaking in vision while simultaneously consoling in its constant and inspired invention.'
Luke Kennard 'Bird is irrepressible; she simply explodes with poetry. The work erupts, spring-loaded, funny, sad, deadly - you don't know if a bullet will come out of the barrel or a flag with the word BANG on it.'
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