Poetry Book Society Recommendation
Moving from the violent to the erotic, Conquest describes women questing to rediscover their own desire. Split into three sections, the collection begins in the 19th-century England of the Brontë sisters, travels through the vast continent of the USA, and finally finds the answer to women’s longing in a walled garden in the decorous city of Paris. In America and Europe, the heroines struggle against the conquest of bodies and of place, facing issues like miscarriage, lost love and domestic violence. Consolation comes, however, by discovering their own desires and independence.
The collection begins with ‘My Last Rochester’, a sequence devoted to the Brontë sisters and their struggle to meet expectations of them as women, lovers and wives. The English Gothic gives way later to a story of American immigration in the title-sequence. ‘Conquest’ pans to the wide open spaces of the USA, where pioneering women still quest to satisfy the sweetness of their own longings. Such satisfaction is only unravelled by retreating to a walled garden in the final sequence, ‘The Lady and the Unicorn’.
Original in its use of form, Conquest questions the brutal aspects of Western society, especially violence against women and the colonial mind-set. Inspired by the tapestries at the Musée Cluny in Paris and the artwork of Victoria Brookland, the poems visualise women rediscovering their own pleasures, desires, loves. Bridging the personal and the universal, Conquest offers a compelling vision of healing and consolation.
‘Exploring sexuality and politics with imaginative subtlety, Conquest is a book about pursuit and capture and the things that elude us in the chase… What seems to interest Brigley most about pursuit is what is evaded in the chase. Her poems are full of references to the lost and the untouchable… This is a beautifully disconcerting collection, intelligent in its treatment of its themes.’ – Helen Mort, Magma
'With Conquest, her fascinating second collection, the Welsh-born poet Zoë Brigley explores women's desires, dream and loves… Brigley deepens her expressive range as she explores diverse worlds and a shifting female cast... Via historical and mythic approaches, she highlights the vastness and intensity of women's desire, as well as the delicacy... The formal variety of Conquest serves Zoë Brigley's imaginative quest well, and includes, for instance, the prose poem, the list poem, and a variation on the double sestina. Yet the collection is without ostentation, and poems such as "The Love of a Husband" ("Because he never, ever hesitated./ Because when she shuts a window, he opens a door.") and the intricate "The Blue Rose", in memory of her English grandfather, are as heartfelt as they are beautifully judged.' – Moniza Alvi, PBS Bulletin
‘Everything is threaded together using as inspiration the Brontës’ letters and artifacts, amongst other things, and the shared experience simply of being a woman… In this beautifully formal, excitingly imagistic and thoughtful collection, Brigley connects her story to theirs, to the story of all women across the centuries.’ – Afric McGlinchey, Orbis
‘Conquest is a fascinating study of women’s sexuality.’ – Pascale Petit