Clare Shaw’s fourth collection Towards a General Theory of Love shows that poetry can say as much as about who we are – and especially how we feel – as psychology. They also feed each other.
Harry Harlow’s famous experiments on baby monkeys changed the course of psychology. They proved that we need care, contact and love – and they inflicted profound and lasting suffering on their subjects. Clare Shaw’s poems in Towards a General Theory of Love are driven by the same furious need to understand the experience of love and its absence. Harlow’s findings, attachment theory, mythology and art are set alongside stories of attraction, grief and desire. The book is inhabited by the character of Monkey, who shows by example how early attachments and trauma may shape us, but how ultimately the individual – like the reader – will come to realise her, his or their own general theory and practice of love.
From the reviews of Clare Shaw’s Flood (2018):
‘There is a quiet, cool, authentic voice to the poems of Flood. A flood that destroyed Clare Shaw’s home town, mental illness, self-injury, the end of a relationship, are all experiences recounted with factual detachment… There is a sense that the poet’s most intimate surroundings have betrayed her, but the stillness and control with which Shaw writes reveal quiet layers of intensity drawn from unstable places.’ – Carla-Rosa Manfredino, Times Literary Supplement
‘Caught directly in the deluge’s rising tide, Shaw is a witness who gives incantatory evidence of poetry’s power to define, rather than simply describe, the existential pain of being caught helpless in maelstroms both external and psychological.’ – Steve Whitaker, The Yorkshire Times
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