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Looking Through Letterboxes
Categories: 21st Century, British, First Collections, Women
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Paperback (80 pages)
(Pub. Feb 2002)
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, 2021 The Polari Book Prize
(The Air Year) Winner, 2020 The Forward Prize for Best Collection (The Air Year) Short-listed, 2020 Costa Poetry Award
(The Air Year) Short-listed, 2017 The Ted Hughes Award for New Poetry (In These Days of Prohibition) 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
'Full of surprises at every turn, The Air Year demonstrates Bird's intuitive grasp of language, her fascination with hidden selves, mental health and the possibility of healing. These poems attest to her ability to fuse a distinctive voice with surreal, dramatised narrative that straddles reality and imagination.''Although the collection was published last February...we will likely turn to it in the future when seeking words for the stagnation and embattled optimism of 2020 as a whole.'
Jennifer Wong, Magma
Mary Anne Clark, Times Literary Supplement
'It is one of the most generous and open-hearted books of the year.'
Rishi Dastidar, The Guardian Best Poetry Books of 2020
'The Air Year impressively distills existential truths into its rollicking lines... Bird's writing is both ambitiously expansive and intimate as a heartbeat.'
Khairani Barokka, Under the Radar
'All shiny and exciting... Many of Bird's speakers are in a free-fall of existential despair... searching for a moment of happiness that feels uncomplicated, and can last'
Jenna Clake, Poetry London
'Bird's poetry is undeniably funny [...] Readers will fall in love with [the] writing for her fresh and strange imagery.'
Oxford Poetry Library, where Bird's collection was Book of the Month for September 2020
'As a reader, The Air Year gives me hope that maybe we can write and read our way out of whatever mess is splashed in our faces as we float around this increasingly weird world - as impossible as that seems.
There is no doubt about how prescient The Air Year is - even the title could act as a sobriquet for the pandemic. So, we are left with everything up in the air and, as we sit tight in our homes, we're all just hoping that, if we ever land, there'll be something worth landing on.''Bird is direct about her desires and her shortcomings in her poems, refusing to shy away from the details of sex, mental health, suicide ideation or addiction. At the same time, there is lightness and whimsy in the chaos'
Peter Raynard, The Poetry School
'The Air Year is surreal and satirical but beneath all this levity, lies a candid vulnerability.''Her phrasemaking is sublime... it's superb'
PBS Spring 2020 Bulletin
Tristram Fane Saunders, February Telegraph Book of the Month 2020
'Caroline Bird is a poet like no other, always prepared to shower us in meteors of linguistic playfulness, in a frightening game of hide and seek. We don't always need to understand every explosion of emotion to feel the power and passion. These poems are screenshots, epic movies, ground-breaking nuggets of prose, and something else we can't even find words for. The Air Year is a fantastic, intimate, disturbing and beautiful tour de force.'
Pat Edwards, London Grip
'If for Wallace Stevens poetry was the 'Supreme Fiction', Robert Lowell argued 'why not say what happened?' Bird, however, grabs Confessionalism by the throat to produce a surreal if formally controlled autobiography.'
Julian Stannard, The Poetry Review
'Caroline Bird's is an unquestionably vigorous and original voice'
Suzannah V. Evans, The TLS
'Bird is a master of bleak humour interlaced with wry social commentary.'
'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 in 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'. She's 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 '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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