Planet 226

Elizabeth Edwards reviews
Crowd Sensations by Judy Brown
Every Little Sound by Ruby Robinson
Slant Light by Sarah Westcott

Crowd Sensations

Seren, £9.99

Both the title and epigraphs of Judy Brown’s Crowd Sensations invoke the unpredictable collective energies of public spaces, glancing encounters and longstanding relationships. The opening poem, ‘After the Discovery of Linear Perspective’, describes ‘new space’ concealed and revealed, objects observed up close, lines followed to their vanishing points. These concepts branch out through the collection via themes of travel, illness, memory, busy urban or quieter domestic scenes, in language filled with movement. Brown’s title also describes these poems’ affinity for experiences at the limits, as in the overwhelming sights and smells of Hong Kong, where unfamiliar things (‘I could make no sense of it’) layer up in uneasy half-rhymes. In other poems a poisoned rat perches, rotting, on a sofa; we glimpse the moon landings from a child’s perspective; hear a dehumidifier working endlessly on tropical air. But drawing out strangeness is a theme throughout this collection regardless of setting. Poems on B&B rooms become inventories of the surreal: the colours and textures of kitsch interiors morph into mouths and tongues, a concrete-filled view becomes ‘like two beasts severed and sewn’. A poem about flat-pack furniture becomes a celebration of slow-grown ‘old wood’, witness to ‘drought, flood, lightning’s crash and burn’. Brown turns that strangeness on the body, too, in poems exploring short-sightedness, or how the heart might stop and start at medical will. Poems on cancer present the body as an unfathomable map of points where ‘knowledge is unloaded; things start to heat’. But these are in the end deeply sociable poems, bound by the importance of connection and community, in vivid, often thrilling imagery.

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