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Sarah James reviews Sophie Essex’s Some Pink Star

sophie essex

Some Pink Star
by Sophie Essex
Eibonvale Press
ISBN: 978-1-908125-75-0

That Some Pink Star looks, reads and feels beautiful in the hands is important given the sensual content of this chapbook, as well as the obvious care to layout and look of the words on the page. White space is a powerful creative element in these poems, which resist one-level reading, instead inviting multiple possible interpretations. Particularly between stanzas, the white space is a place where I make and re-make my semantic linkings. But, more than this, the spaces in these poems also allow for my reactions at an instinctive, non-language level.

This instinctive reaction reinforces my active reading of (and participation in) the poems and also my experience of them as ‘(outside definitions)’ (p.10) as they explore a range of what the cover summarises as ‘the correlation between sex and violence, the willingness of either and both’.

The best way of explaining both possible intentions and effects is to share examples, such as:

‘I want scope for desire
…………….visible depth’
(‘IKB’, p 11)

And:

‘keening tigress
………………I come with the snow
………………bloom like spilt milk’
(‘Silent Red Avalanche’ p. 23)

There are many quotes I could have used. My review copy of the chapbook is heavily underlined and margin-noted with striking lines to return to for their texture, sounds and imagery as well as possible new meanings and connotations.

Colour features both in many of the poems and the poem titles, from ‘Periaqueductal Gray’ and ‘Violet Volcanoes’ to ‘Vanilla Sky’ and ‘Yellowthroat’. As with white space, the use of colours creates tone and atmosphere, while also offering/demanding a sense-based (in this case visually-prompted) response. This might seem almost tender, as in ‘an easy creature bathed in lilac light’ (‘This Is The Colour of My Dreams’, p. 20). But colour often feels unsettling, to suggest a surface appearance/assumption that may not match reality, or even to wield violence, as in:

‘at this hour lilac disruption comes with the knee
arousal teases ferocity’
(‘Prickly Pear’, p,25)

Or:

‘this skyline curves a fresh pink brutality
my nose………………bleeds’
(‘Cotton Candy’, p18)

I’ve talked about responding and reacting to these poems instinctively. The best metaphor I can find for my own response is a sense of electricity: the crackle of language and imagery, sparks of desire, hissing arcs of resistance and shock, and also, perhaps, the splitting of the colour spectrum. The latter, of course, isn’t actually how electricity works, and yet this what I feel interacting with the poems as they work language in intriguing ways. Perhaps, the illogic of my colour-splitting analogy is even more appropriate given that the chapbook stretches and tests both its subject matter, language and form to create something unusual, with poems that are beautiful and striking even when they’re sharp. There’s something close to this, for me, in the description of ‘our bodies lit polychromatic’ (‘Pink Grapefruit’, p24).

There are other motifs and themes, including snow, fruit and objectification. Each re-reading I notice new slants and meanings, and experience new reactions and emotions. These poems more than any others that I have read recently defy any notion of being definitively and unexpandably understood. They will always have more, provided, of course, that we want to read for more.

That this should be the case seems particularly important in a chapbook exploring sex and violence as it directly highlights the notion of control – the control that the poet exerts in directing the reader’s understanding, thoughts and emotions and the control that the reader is allowed in interpreting and reacting to the poems. Arguably, the reader here may have a greater level of control than the narrator is allowed in many of the poems’ scenarios.

Finishing this review, I find myself questioning what a review is or should be. If the ideal is to sum up the whole chapbook in a neat and comprehensive way, then I’ve failed. But I also think that even trying to that would be to fail Some Pink Stars because this approach could never do the chapbook justice. However, if you come away from this review feeling something, a reaction or an energy change, then I may partly have succeeded in giving you a taste of these poems. To properly experience Some Pink Stars though is really only possible through reading and experiencing it directly and in full.
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Sarah James/Leavesley is a prize-winning poet, fiction writer, journalist and photographer. Author of seven poetry titles, two novellas and a touring poetry-play, she has poetry featured in the Guardian, Financial Times, Bloodaxe anthologies and The Forward Book of Poetry 2016. She was Overton Poetry Prize winner 2015 and her recent titles How to Grow MatchesHow to Grow Matches (Against the Grain Press, 2018) and plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press, 2015) were both shortlisted in the International Rubery Book Award. Her website is at http://sarah-james.co.uk

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3 thoughts on “Sarah James reviews Sophie Essex’s Some Pink Star”

  1. Pingback: Once more…

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