Grumpy & Twitchy


The Secret, Zoe Brigley [8.95, 88pp, Bloodaxe]


It has been said and quoted too often for me to give any credence to the statement that 'Poetry is the new rock 'n' roll'. It seems to me that far from being the new rock 'n' roll many of the of the poetry books that happily rests on my lap are in fact the new ornithology. Birds, Birds, Birds. I am sure that there must be lurking somewhere the new poetry guide for twitchers and their quest (Info to the editor please.) (Just keep it away from me.). In the words of the ancient Bob Segar 'I like that good old rock 'n' roll', and just for the record I am totally absorbed with the new as well.

So here we have the infamous and prestigious Bloodaxe Books with one of their latest offerings. The Secret
is also a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and I opened it with all the anticipation that I greet a new work - which is pretty high. However, not being familiar with Brigley's work, my heart sank with the words taken from a translation of The Mabingdon:

     I will not kill you, but I will do what is worse: I will let you go
     in the form of a bird.

Not again I thought. And as is so often the case in what I read, the need to translate from the Welsh to aid accessibility of the modern or post modern reader. I was feeling grumpy and had not read a poem yet.

And then my heart lifted with the first poem '0 My Own Pleasure'.

Brigley begins the work with a quote from Michel Foucault. And the poem lifted me and carried me to a situation so removed from ornithology and into the world that I think I identify with.

As it says in the preface to The Secret -
and I would agree, the collection emerges from silence and the silence. It is also the poetry of the margins. Some of the poems reflect the poets own background - hence the Welsh introduction. 

But the book can roughly be divided into three parts. The first 'The Lesser Secrets' confronts the secrets and symbols of the Tarot pack and does an excellent job in introducing the reader to a modernised view of what the symbols and secrets may contain.

Part two or 'The Greater Secrets' takes the reader beyond the western approach to secrets and magic to the unknown - to this reviewer - making use of the twenty day cycle of the Aztec calendar. Every day of the month has a corresponding symbol such as a lizard, snake or bird.

The final section, 'The Curse of the Long Legged Bird', combines a mixture of Mexican mythologies and Western fairy stories or almost meta-narratives. Thankfully there is a glossary of terms to help the uninitiated in the mystical ways Brigley so easily moves between.

So ignore my initial sceptical snide comments. Read the book. This is a brave collection that moves between theology to myth, to folklore to modern life and I loved it. Well done Bloodaxe Books. Well done Zoe Brigley.


              Alan West 2008