Poetry Book Society Recommendation
Zoë Brigley’s third collection Hand & Skull draws on early memories of the Welsh landscape and the harshness of rural life as well as on her later immersion in the American landscape and her perception of a sense of hollowness in particular communities there. Other strands include the horror of violence, especially violence towards women, contrasted with poems which offer comfort by working as beatitudes or commentaries on life as it exists now, seeking a way of being that is more beautiful, often in relation to her children. There are also epistolary poems, letters to or from real, imagined and remembered women like the artist Georgia O’Keeffe, Thomas Hardy’s Tess, and Edna Pontellier from Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.
'The poems in Zoë Brigley’s Hand & Skull are strange-making, unsettling, and thrilling in their originality. Here Brigley bravely confronts what it is to be a woman in a world that sees women as prey, the “tautness of fear” enacted in the tautness of each line, each word. Like Georgia O’Keeffe, whose work permeates the book, Brigley explores landscape and the body, often braiding the two: ‘I don’t know/ it now, but I am about/ to bend. The snap of a branch, or bone/ under a human hand.’ Hand & Skull is a brilliant book – and proof that Zoë Brigley is one of the best poets writing today.' – Maggie Smith, author of Good Bones
‘Hand & Skull examines the complex relationships between human and nonhuman lives as well as the ways in which gender informs these experiences. Brigley regularly uses epistolaries to establish dialogues, often addressing or personifying women of myth, literature, and history, such as Leda, Edna Pontellier, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Gender violence and violence against animals are often central concerns, but what makes the collection particularly compelling is its refusal to let tragedy be the only note it sings; many of the poems also embrace the complicated wonders of motherhood, of devotion. Hand & Skull dazzled me with its agility and subtlety, its graceful inquiry into how gender, violence, myth, devotion and the natural world braid through our lives.’ – Amie Whittemore, author of Glass Harvest
'In Hand & Skull the harrowing line between life and death is blade-thin – or rather, the life force and death fact are held together, in this poet’s hands, in the most visceral, affirming and clear-eyed of ways. I admire the dual impulse in these poems to acknowledge systemic violence against women (and other domestic animals) and to uphold the mothering instinct to make, nurture and – perhaps most courageously – witness the mortality of all living things. What a gift to accomplish all this while writing some of the most lyrically lush poems I’ve read in years!.' – Kathy Fagan, author of Sycamore
From the reviews of Conquest:
'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
‘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
‘Conquest is a fascinating study of women’s sexuality’ – Pascale Petit.