There’s a quotation in Into Eros that says: “Women’s madness is an intelligible response to unlivable conditions in which other modes of response are blocked off.” I think most of the “madwomen” in history were probably forced to extremes by unlivable conditions, but I hope for my work to be the voice for other women that I never had.
The voice that says: This is not your fault and You can find joy.
Zoë Brigley has three collections of poetry from Bloodaxe: The Secret, Conquest, and Hand & Skull, and all three are Poetry Book Society Recommendations, as well as receiving an Eric Gregory Award, being Forward Prize commended, and listed for the Dylan Thomas Prize. She also has a collection of nonfiction: Notes from a Swing State: Writing from Wales and America (Parthian). She is Assistant Professor in the English department at the Ohio State University. She runs an anti-violence advocacy podcast: Sinister Myth: How Stories We Tell Perpetuate Violence.
The poems in Into Eros consider the dangers for women in risking desire, and they tell a story about nature, trauma, and healing. Here, pumpkin flowers, poison sumac, and apple blossoms are as much persons as women are, and their experience are parallel but different. These poems register the value of love after violence. Not possessing or dominating but dwelling with people, with nature – this at last might lead to freedom, and joy.
The Pumpkin Flowers Take Pleasure Too
At dawn, pumpkin flowers loosen themselves
for the rain. Male buds in bloom for weeks give
way to females flowering. Incandescent,
vivid orange, petals open: submissive
like a wild creature folding back its ears:
the stigma like a nipple. But a teacher
once told me that humans are “the only
species that evolved to make sex a pleasure
for females.” Still the pumpkin flowers stand
engorged without shame or fear & what feeling
when the bee completes its dusty circuit,
brush of fur from its tight, hard body? Now
flowers are shutting slowly, delicately: a woman
crossing her legs: lips closing after a kiss.
HAND & SKULL
Zoë Brigley’s third collection Hand & Skull (Bloodaxe Books, 2019) 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.