New review of Conquest by Peter Deville on Wales Arts Review


Zoe Brigley’s second collection has feminist credentials but not militantly so. In fact the central theme is that of seeking the significance of man in a woman’s world. The collection begins with a series of poems exploring the claustrophobic world of the Brontes. The pervasive note here is heavily melancholic, verging on the neurotic. There are half-grasped opportunities for normal relationships but the agonies of separation are both physical and existential: the tone immediately calls to mind Tennyson’s Mariana. The physical can be that of rape as in Behind the Looking Glass, almost a case-study, with its miserable revelation being ‘How she realised at last that not even love / could justify this, that no affection could, not ever. / Still, in the glass, she sees her own mouth, / opening and closing and silent as a fish.’ This is raw and painful reading and the poet almost certainly draws on her academic work into rape narratives. Of course, male rape also exists but the dominant cast of the collection is on the intrusive male’s lack of female comprehension. For this the female must cultivate inner resilience, acknowledging herself united to a sisterhood. In The Bell Confessing the poet herself, a note confirms, handles the small personal objects in the Bronte Museum and admits her affinity to these women, that sisterhood ‘… you and I, our silent closeness that is for me / a sweet, blank victory.’ – blank because, rightly, although inspirational it is not a living relationship. The speaker tells ‘their stories, my story, and I do.’

Read more on the Wales Arts Review website.