My Day 7 read for #thesealeychallenge is Shine, Darling by Ella Frears. The reason I read and write poetry is because of the way it takes small moments or memories and expands them outward to add layers of meaning. This collection does this perfectly. It feels like being in conversation with a friend who is telling you intimate secrets. I love and write confessional poetry, and I would say this collection has some of the elements and techniques that I try to incorporate into my own work.
When I started university back in 2006 (jesus.) I was a creative writing major at the now-extinct College of Santa Fe. I have a vivid memory of turning in a poem about the first time I had to ask a stranger for a tampon after my period unexpectedly started, and how the experience felt like being ushered into a sisterhood. I was the only girl in my poetry workshop, and my classmates, if they even bothered to read it, tore my period poem to shreds. No one was talking about the structure of the poem or how it was written or even if the messages at the heart of the poem were clear. All they could talk about was how disgusting the topic was, how I was only writing in order to shock the reader. Someone told me that no one wants to read my diary entries. Things have come a long way, and I think that now, more confessional styles of writing are more accepted and popularized. I wish I had Shine, Darling back then as an example of how girlhood holds depth and meaning.
Some of my favorite poems in this collection are ones that tell stories of girlhood and young womanhood in all of their awkward and emotional glory. ‘The (Little) Death of the Author,’ ‘You, A Teenager,’ and ‘Magical Thinking (1)’ reflected my experiences as a teenager trying to figure out how to desire and be desired. At the heart of this collection is the lyrical essay ‘Passivity, Electricity, Acclivity’ which tells of Frears’s “near abduction” at the age of 10 while on holiday with her family. She weaves together several storylines that all come together at the closing of the poem. It is a beautifully written commentary on memory and love and desire. It shines a light on how small moments can hold multitudes for others but seem meaningless to us. This poem is probably my favorite in the collection and having it at the heart of the book works so well to join together its first and second parts.
It would be impossible to say that Frears writes in any specific style because the poems vary in style and form throughout the collection. Personally, I love this. I am firmly in the camp that believes a poem should decide its form rather than be forced into a strict form. For those who are new to reading poetry: form is the structure of a poem. The form is how the lines and words of a poem are placed on the page. Some common poetry forms are sonnets, which many of us were subjected to in school. Forms like the sonnet or the quatrain or the sestina have rules about the length, rhythm, and rhyme of the poem.
Most contemporary poetry is written in free verse which is a way of writing without specific rules or by using some rules of a form but not all. Frears uses the sestina form (a personal favorite) in ‘Sestina for Caroline Bergvall’ and then writes ‘Passivity, Electricity, Acclivity’ as a lyric essay. ‘AND SAND AND SAND AND SAND’ is written as a paragraph or block of text using a forward hyphen as indicators of breath or pause. ETA is written in short lines of one or two words without stanza; this would be considered free verse. I think this is an excellent demonstration of how a poet can vary the structure of their poems and still have them work together as a whole.
I also loved the poems that are weird and lean into the surreal. ‘Moon Myth,’ ‘Joan of Arc is Haunting Us,’ and ‘Existential’ are just a few of the poems that deal in magic and strange images. In ‘Phases of the Moon/ Things I Have Done,’ Frears says, “I buried a pork-chop in the garden, walked backwards, howled.” In ‘Everyone Has to Wee,’ Frears tells of various times she has had to wee. It is weird but also touching and holds depth about our relationships with our bodies. Throughout the book, the moon is a companion and a witness whose presence is animated and engaged. It is really fun to read these poems, which balance humor and weirdness with heartbreak and hope. I also highly recommend checking out this video series by Ella Frears if you want a feel for her writing.
Favorites and Best Bits:
The Overwhelming Urge (pg. 5)
The Film (pg. 7)
The (Little) Death of the Author (pg. 9)
Magical Thinking (pg. 11)
Moon Myth (pg. 15)
Fucking in Cornwall (pg. 17)
Visitation (pg. 18)
Phases of the Moon / Things I Have Done (pg. 22)
AND SAND AND SAND AND SAND (pg. 25)
Everybody Has to Wee (pg. 28)
Walking Home One Night (pg. 31)
Passivity, Electricity, Acclivity (pg. 37)
You, A Teenager, (pg. 57)
You, A Poet Researching Naum Gabo, (pg. 62)
Premonition (pg. 65)
ETA (pg. 67)
Elegy for the Cassini Spacecraft (pg. 72)
I fall asleep watching a documentary about Stonehenge, come on my period and bleed through my favourite trousers (pg. 75)
Fleet Services (pg. 78)