While reading Emily Berry’s new poetry collection Unexhausted Time, I am reminded of those moments when a less than lucid mind sparks fresh perspectives on intrusive thoughts. The dark and pungent soil of experience is raked over in this book.
If structure is something you hang words on, then Berry’s pages are earrings – glinting at us, hanging from ears that are listening to a bundle of feelings all at once. In this collection, Berry dangles stories before blurred eyes and lets them catch the first light. This is a scrapbook of those deep-rooted emotions we feel when a person’s perspective speaks directly to our own.
There are few titles in the book and, since the work has a feel of immediacy (and in a strange detachable way not Berry’s words alone), poems are indexed by the first line in brackets. Some are entitled with ellipsis, which feels like they are part of a continuing collective subconscious. This is the place we meet them, areas that are not fully conscious and not one person’s space, not in the ordinary day-to-day. The collection drives through a landscape of symbols and insinuations in an abstract feel and yet is completely relatable in sensual metaphors. Berry is quantifying grief and love in this collection. Consider this bit from (This story is a leaf…)
‘your face striking
me like the time of an appointment I’ve
missed when I notice it after all this time.’
Reader, I invite you to welcome the feel of your palms tingling right now. That’s grief, and love, as well as that moment of realising you hadn’t turned up. There is a real sense of a power set within the relatable and it’s enjoyable, but you must work hard for it too.
‘In a dimly lit room I practised saying
an awful thing. If she could stand it
I would survive.’
Among a collection of morsels (these are titled in the book), not poems but not prose, you can dig deep into the feeling of creative energy transforming from the friction of life. With Holes you get a sense of a city manifesting as a person or a living thing that is unhealthy and has no rejuvenation.
‘…Naturally the human body
ceases to grow after a certain again; what grows
after that are malignancies, like the growths
one saw all over the city…’
The city here is a pointless waste, work for work’s sake.
‘…more holes where something had been
dug up and never filled in (they could never
be filled in, not really, even if they were filled
in the city would still never be anything
other than a collection of filled in holes)’
The collection is easily dipped and flipped through and no matter how different the subjects of the tales may be, they all have a gothic scent about them.
‘The past is parked next to me like a dirty van
with messages fingered in the grime.’
You should read this book, and perhaps interpret the poems to suit your mood and experiences. It will be read and re-read.
Unexhausted Time is published by Faber and available to buy now.