Review Series #9: Small Mothers of Fright

Each month I review a new book for ImageUpdate. Here’s the latest.


Small Mothers of Fright 
by Tara Bray

Beware the omnipresent wings, the iridescent stunner on the cover: they may trick you into thinking that Small Mothers of Fright, Tara Bray’s new collection of poems, is just another lovely book about birds. True, you’ll catch sight of the creatures—thrush and kingfisher and kestrel and wren—in nearly every poem, but they are a foil for strangeness and ache and flashes of rage, all sharply revealed. “Give back your vows old heron,” she writes in “Hold Fast,” “the world’s on fire.” Bray writes like a daughter of Emily Dickinson: Small things are doorways to intense interiors. Bray’s prayers, like Dickinson’s, are ambivalent rather than ecstatic: “Lord, / it’s your brutal earth we make our children for” (“Teaching Lily Dead”). And as in Dickinson, Bray’s language feels not only controlled but curated in the best way, gems of words unexpectedly arranged: “I dream of her spinning like a fairy dervish in my failure.” (“Numbered.”) Failure is a specter throughout the book, particularly the failures between mothers and daughters. The speaker is both, and in the poems that hurt most to read, she is the daughter, returning again and again to the persona of girl. This is a girl who never quite measures up in the presence of her mother and mother figures: “only a philosopher of pine needles,” “only a sorry girl needing work.” The opening poem, “Lacking,” begins, “Forgive the occurrence…” and seems to ask pardon for not just an occurrence but for the speaker’s very being—“me / holding something burned / with something soft.” In the poems where she writes as a mother, however, the tone changes entirely. She contemplates her daughter with a serious-minded fondness, with quiet and observant love. The speaker’s broken mother(s) may have regarded her as coming up short, but she twice describes her own child as “endlessness”: a being infinitely worth watching, respecting, abiding with. The very same words could describe this potent little aviary of a book.
—Reviewed by Jen Hinst-White

Purchase your copy here.

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