This chapbook of twenty poems is published by Picaro Press, an imprint of Ginninderra Press. It is notable for its narrow shape, egg-shell-like cover paper and transparent endpaper. The poems are about loss in a number of contexts, including failing relationships, childlessness, hospital admissions and dementia.
Each poem brings a distilled image with an intense focus where the abstract and the unseen often become embodied things. For example, in Sense of an ending – ‘The air between us is tired/wants to lie down/dream of doors being open’ and In What the old house thinks ‘my yellow’ is a living thing that once danced and sang and has now been stolen.
Emotions also become living entities, through the use of visual metaphor, that communicate with, possess, and control the speaker. In Offspring loss has its own will, taking the form of an unwanted companion, and ends up being carried in the speaker’s handbag and releasing itself as a ‘god-awful sound’. And in Instinct, ‘..it stood awkward at her door/ in a uniform it couldn’t breathe in.’
The poems also have the feel of a dreamlike distance as if the speaker is looking back on the past, detached from an earlier self where there was a sense of loss of control; where her body, hands and mouth had their own minds. From Admission – ‘her hands restless spiders make nests in her hair’ and she ‘moves her words to her fingers/ touches her mouth when she wants to speak’. Loss of control also features in Body where ‘many women have choices/mine are made for me.’
The image of the mouth punctuates these poems, recurring like an archetype where sounds and words are involuntarily released and then purposefully held-back. In Release, ‘I peel down/unravel myself./ Start with the flap at my mouth that’s teased for too long.’
Paper and folding also feature as metaphors for fragility and acceptance / closure. In Revelation ‘you thin me to paper’; in What the new wife does ‘she folds into routine’ and in Leaving ‘I place my goodbye on the table/ seven years of tears/ line dried, folded in pairs’.
This collection really resonated with me and its images stayed with me long after reading, a reflection of their strength and symbolism. I highly recommend it.
To end, here’s 17 years in full which I have chosen because of the stunning ‘moths that martyr the windows’.
Our mouths are no longer in love
they forget their place
what they used to be.
After rising I pair lonely hellos
spend the day elsewhere
although you left some time before this.
And still we return
to goodnights like moths that martyr the window
until we fold into ourselves.
Karen Dennison is a poet and artist. Her website is here.
J V Birch is a British poet living in Southern Australia. Her website.
7 thoughts on “Karen Dennison reviews Smashed Glass at Midnight by J V Birch”
Sounds like a great chapbook – one I’d like to look into more closely. Thanks for recommending this – that stunning image of the moths is enough to make anyone want to buy it.
The moth metaphor is so strong and effectively used in “17 years” , And works hauntingly along with the title of that poem. And also with the title of the pamphlet. I am impressed by the physical description of the pamphlet itself. Good review. Thanks!
Thanks so much for a wonderful review 🙂
Thanks for the great review. Sounds brilliant.
Wonderful, a great surprise