There’s not a shred of sentiment or self-indulgence here: this is the real thing. Formally it is varied and rich, assured in its handling of music and image, and conclusively powerful in tone, range and subject matter.
Excisions, Waterloo Press, September 2011 (price £10).
Shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Poetry Prize, 2012.
The poems speak of one life, but the book treats universal themes of love and passion, inheritance and physicality, loss and adaptation. The first section, Matryoshka, concerns the interplay between grief and memory, while the third, Airborne, maps the changing landscapes of desire. The central sequence, Self-portrait without Breasts, is pioneer territory: exploring how it feels to experience radical surgery and its aftermath in a society permeated by orthodox ideas of perfection and beauty.
What people have said about Excisions:
Accessible, beautifully crafted, tender and often witty, without a trace of self-pity these poems chart the rational, physical and emotional journeys we make as sentient beings… a love song to life.
An outstanding first collection. Clare Best treads a sure path through intensity, complication and danger, and the resulting poems question the very nature of change. The Self-portrait sequence in particular attains a clear-eyed scrutiny that takes us beyond what we usually mean by grief into something far more unusual and more bracing.
Clare Best explores one of the most difficult decisions a woman could make about her body. But she places the sequence, Self-portrait without Breasts, between two others, starting with grief and ending with love, so that it becomes both a pivot and a measure. Best turns Excisions into a narrative that all of us can engage with – the story of how individuals deal with emotional extremes – unpredictable, erotic and philosophically demanding. She resists sentiment, but this book will still make you cry.
The work is searing, poignant. And funny. She writes like a giant.
Exquisitely honed, sensuous poems. Honest, unsentimental, resonant.
The surgeon’s album
He turns the pages for me:
full and partial reconstruction, implants,
muscle flaps from back and stomach. Creations
to match and balance. But how would I look
flat? No extras. Straightforward scars.
He frowns at a lop-sided photo.
The absence doubled? I’ve not done that before.
Twelve months on, he wants
my picture, conforming to house style:
no head, arms at forty-five degrees to clavicle.
I stand anonymous against a stripped pine door,
knots and fissures dark behind my skin –
a knife-thrower’s object, still
until the last blade hangs from the wood.