The Midnight Heart

New reviews of Conquest in Poetry London and Poetry Salzburg

Jane Yeh for Poetry London

“It is the writer’s watchful eye that enables her to capture and preserve the details of the past, of loved ones lost. Elsewhere, mourning and loss are depicted in a wholly contemporary context: in a pair of apparently autobiographical poems about infertility and a failed pregnancy. These intimate, carefully controlled pieces are the most moving in the collection, with an urgency that expresses itself through anaphoric repetition and the propulsive force of the phrasing […] The terrible mixture of sorrow and anger in these poems is unspoken, but nonetheless powerfully conveyed.”

Alyson Hallett for Poetry Salzburg

Conquest, by Zoë Brigley, is an accomplished, finely wrought gem of a book. It contains poems that pull you into them gently and quickly, and then as you proceed through the book you keep hearing echoes of what has gone before, and echoes of what is to come. Desire and wrecking are two constant pulses that beat through the book, each one viewed from different angles each time they are approached or mentioned. Love, too, is constant and in “Love and the Orchid” (p.39) it becomes “a percussive knowledge that grew like a mouth”, and then later, “a slow choreography of longing”.

“Brigley works with histories that are known and histories that she takes and reshapes. She uses this material – for example the lives of the Brontës – in a way that makes you believe a poet can reach into the past and make language and life new again, seen through a different prism and given more life, more light. This is not easy, but Brigley does it with a lightness of touch, an assurance that is quite astounding.

“Each poem in this collection is carefully paced and carefully placed. There are three sections; the first considers the Brontë sisters and the expectations of them as women; the second considers American immigration; the third considers desire and longing. Knowing this tells you nothing, however, because it doesn’t convey the subtlety of Brigley’s language or the ways in which her poems are so beautifully in possession of their forms. They occupy the bodies of themselves as well as the page, and this confidence maps a new way for women to be in the world […]

[…]  Conquest does not cower in the face of difficulty and pain: it steps up to the window and takes a good look. It is deeply hopeful, and the grit of Brigley’s Welsh homeland always manages to seep through into the dream of America, as if her life is always and never in two places.”

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