A soul’s journey through the night, a missing woman: time and narrative bend and interlock across a play of poetic forms and voices to make one story of love and loss. In And She Was Corbett combines the fictional spell-making of Haruki Murakami, with the filmic neo-noir of Atom Egoyan (Exotica) and David Lynch (Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive), to push the boundaries of poetic genre, asking us to renegotiate the way we encounter and reconfigure ourselves through trauma, in desire, or as we seek to reassemble ourselves and our past. November, 3am, and two young lovers are about to meet on the Heathrow Express. A side street in an unknown city: Felix Morning wakes with no memory. In his pocket is a membership card for a nightclub, The Bunker. With the help of the beautiful Flick, he must recover what he has lost. Deep into a dangerous love affair, Esther and Iain believe the other can replace what they each have lost – a heart, a gift – but is Esther’s price too high for Iain to pay, and can their love survive? Who is Esther, where has she come from, and what has she got to do with the woman in the labyrinth? Does Flick belong to the past or to the future? What is memory, and what remains of us without it? And She Was demands our attention, its startling and dazzling writing asking us to be carried away as we read, but returning us by its end to a place both resolved and transformed.
Sarah Corbett’s first collection of poetry The Red Wardrobe (Seren, 1998) won her an Eric Gregory Award and was shortlisted for both the T.S Eliot Prize and the Forward Best First Collection Prize. Described as “Poetry as white knuckle ride” (Poetry Wales), The Red Wardrobe established Corbett as one of the most daring poets of her generation, and was made into a short film (‘The Red Wardrobe’, dir. Gabrielle Russell, 1998). This was followed by The Witch Bag (2002) and Other Beasts, (2008), both from Seren. A selection of translations from the Dutch poet Mustafa Stitou can be found in Uit Het Hoofd/By Heart (Five Leaves Press, 2006). Born in 1970, Sarah grew up in North Wales and studied at the universities of Leeds, East Anglia and Manchester, where she gained a PhD in Critical and Creative Writing in 2013. She currently lives in the Calder Valley and is a Lecturer in Creative Writing for Lancaster University. She was a Royal Literary Fund Fellow in 2012.
Reviews of previous work: Allnutt, Gillian, ‘Ingredients of Grace’, Poetry Review, 89.3 (Autumn 1999), 68 (Review of The Red Wardrobe by Sarah Corbett) Beagan, Glenda. Rev. of Cohabitation, by Kate Bingham, and The Red Wardrobe, by Sarah Corbett. Poetry Wales, 34.2 (Autumn 1998), 62–63 Bromley, Carole. Rev. of The Japan Quiz, by Pam Thompson, and Other Beasts, by Sarah Corbett, and Out of the Blue, by Simon Armitage. The North, 45 (2010), 79–80 Crowther, Claire. Rev. of Moonrise, by Meirion Jordan, and Other Beasts, by Sarah Corbett Poetry Wales, 45.1 (Summer 2009), 69–70 Curtis, Tony, ‘Thomas, Thomas & Thomas’, Poetry Review, 93.1 (Spring 2003), 98–99 (Review of The Witch Bag by Sarah Corbett) Draycott, Jane, ‘Transmutation, sons of dust and busted Buddhas’, Poetry London, 47 (Spring 2004), 29–30 (Review of The Witch Bag by Sarah Corbett) Golightly, Victor. Rev. of The Red Wardrobe, by Sarah Corbett and Cohabitation, by Kate Bingham. New Welsh Review, 42 (Autumn 1998), 86–87 Hughes, Suzy Ceulan. Rev. of Other Beasts, by Sarah Corbett, in Gwales (2008), [accessed 11 November 2012] Jarvis, Matthew. Rev. of The Witch Bag, by Sarah Corbett, in Gwales (2002), [accessed 11 November 2012] Lewis, Malcolm, ‘Countries of the Heart’, Poetry London, 34 (Autumn 1999), 27–28 (Review of The Red Wardrobe by Sarah Corbett) Maskill, Sarah, ‘The Beauty of Home’, Poetry Review, 99.2 (Summer 2009), 112–113 (Review of Other Beasts by Sarah Corbett) Nosbaum, Jeff. Rev. of Wowsers, by Paul Groves, and The Witch Bag, by Sarah Corbett. Poetry Wales, 38.3 (Winter 2002/03), 67–68 Over, Marita. Rev. of The Witch Bag, by Sarah Corbett. Ambit, 173 (Summer 2003), 61–62 Poole, Richard. Rev. of The Witch Bag, by Sarah Corbett. New Welsh Review, 58 (Autumn 2002), 95–96 Powell, Claire, ‘Musing on the Other, Women Re-Viewing Poetry’, Planet, 133 (February/March 1999), 69–71 (Review of The Red Wardrobe by Sarah Corbett) Powell, Claire, ‘The Human and the Natural’, Planet, 157 (February/March 2003), 99–100 (Review of The Witch Bag by Sarah Corbett) Pugh, Meryl. Rev. of Other Beasts, by Sarah Corbett, in Eyewear (20 January 2009), [accessed 15 November 2012] Stansfield, Katherine, ‘Katherine Stansfield on loneliness and isolation in two assured poetry collections’, New Welsh Review, 83 (Spring 2009), 75–76 (Review of Other Beasts by Sarah Corbett) Williams, Gee, ‘Me, Myself and I’, Planet, 193 (February/March 2009), 107 (Review of Other Beasts by Sarah Corbett)
Reviews'A romance, a thriller, a myth, Sarah Corbett's new poem will have her readers hurrying through its pages to find out what happens before returning more slowly to the pleasures of her stepped, tilting stanzas and their line-by-line transformations of her characters and their places in the world. "Step in", she writes, "and the space unfolds / one box opening into others".'
‘Can memory be put in a box?’ asks one of the characters in Sarah Corbett’s mysterious, condensed and achingly beautiful narrative tale. This lyrical, unsettling, and arresting poem about passion, memory and loss possesses an hallucinatory quality. Corbett creates an extraordinary urban world where a man reaching for his past finds it ever out of reach. The erotic writing captures the complexity of sexual connection and ‘the inner silk of memory’. Corbett writes fluid and irresistible poetry, to be read, re-read and savoured.'
'In this dazzling tour de force, Sarah Corbett reworks the verse-novel into a contemporary odyssey through a labyrinthine underworld where myth and the unconscious collide. With effortless formal dexterity, her poetry is by turns mysterious, disturbing, startling and intensely sensuous, and if a poetry book can be a page- turner then this is that book. At its heart this is a narrative of loss and redemption as deeply humane as it is ambitious: you will want to read it in a single sitting, then re-read to savour its impeccable craft. An exciting development in contemporary narrative poetry, and a must-read.'
On Sarah Corbett's previous collection, Other Beasts (Seren, 2008):
'This new collection (Other Beasts) has all the hallmarks of a fine poet truly coming into her own, exploring her themes in a distinctive voice that is at once powerful and tender. The images rea striking – the sky unleashing ‘the long whip/of its mountains, its river’s black ribbons’; Hale-Bopp as a ‘fist of flung glitter’; a mountain village at night hanging ‘like a lantern/in some unnamed crevice of the hills’. Light and darkness – natural, artificial and metaphorical – recur. Many times I’d weighed you against other lovers, like handfuls of soil/equally dark and rough.’ Colour and sound speak together, as in ‘the clap of brown shoes ont he green lino’. The rhthms and structures are sometimes gut-wrenchingly perfect (the finest example is in ‘Fox at Midnight’,).
Boundaries, borders and divisions; uniqueness and unity; intimacy and distance – whether she is contemplating our relatioships with each other, with anials and the natural world, with our ancestors, or with space and time, Corbett conveys the acheing sense of being both a part of and aprt from, perhaps most tenderly in these lines from ‘Rainbow’: whne you left me, turning to the wall for sleep,’I smoothed the skin of your small tanned back.’
The themes are deeply personal, but they are also political and universal, and the entire collection is suffused with a sense of the smallness and greatness of all things. A slim volume of short poems spoken in a soft voice. They are, quite simply, shamanic.'
Suzy Ceulan Hughes
On Sarah Corbett's previous collection, Other Beasts (Seren, 2008):
'By this, her third collection, it is clear that Sarah Corbett has gathered around her a compelling set of personal motifs; childhood, animals (horses, in particular), hills, moors and the night. It would be lazy to call her work Gothic, because it doesn't deliberately set out to create unease, but her poems accept the blood-and-guts surrounding life (a single eyeball, a dead hare), and often find solace in the strangeness that night brings.
Corbett is adept at the well-placed, acute image; two girls caught by lightning are 'a puzzle in each others' arms' in 'Lightning', rabbits have unnerving, 'bead-berry eyes' in 'Nocturne', and she uses juxtapositions that are often startling – and startlingly beautiful. For example, a fox tosses a sheep corpse over its back 'like a crown of blossom' in 'Fox at Midnight', and the 'Mountain Pony' settles 'the bird of its fear' on a concrete floor.
There's a density to the diction, caused by strong consonance. Follow the recurrence of f, t and l sounds in these two other examples of beautiful, acute imagery: Hale Bopp is 'a fist of flung glitter' in 'Comet', and in 'Rivers, Roads', '...the city just left' is '...frost on leaf, just that'. The packed repetition of consonants slows the line down, forcing the reader to enunciate clearly and giving the words a deliberated weight, which underscores the evident rhythmic control of the lines. Corbett shares that control with her presiding spirit, Elizabeth Bishop, whose work furnishes several of the poems with epigraphs.
This is how I'd scan the end of 'Birthday', the first poem in the book (the italicised syllables being those with the heaviest stress):
' I bark, bark. Other beasts
complain back under the weight of dark.'
I'm aware there are other scansion possibilities, especially at the start of that last line, but this is how I'd read it. Notice the slip back into iambic rhythm at the end, releasing the narrator into the night through which she runs. Notice also, the dense patterning of those hard consonants, not to mention the use of rhyme. When this occurs, the poem seems a solid, precise thing, shaped by axes and chisels. This is distinctively Corbett; her music.
I wonder what Corbett's imagination might do outside the confines of the modern lyric poem. I'm looking forward to the appearance of the verse novel on which she's currently working.
I don't find the closed, charged chamber of the confessional poem in Other Beasts, nor a meander through the past's titbits. Instead, I find a series of beautiful, unsettling, lyric moments, and several compelling sequences that look outwards to the contemporary and wider world.'
On Sarah Corbett's previous collection, The Red Wardrobe (Seren, 1998): Poetry as white knuckle ride.
'Corbett’s book is proof that whenever there is something difficult to say, there is always another ‘and’ that can be used to force the words out of your self and onto the page.'
Annie Muir, The Manchester Review
'The kaleidoscopic variations in form and the narrative ambiguity, result in a work that’s both compelling and frustrating. Instinctively, we want to locate the heart of the story, but in many of the poems this heart is obscured or withheld. Yet this is the point: rather than a linear narrative, And She Was is cinematic and strange, an exploration of how memory deals - or fails to deal - with passion and hurt.
New Welsh Review
‘And She Was is remarkable. I have never read a book of poetry in one sitting – absolutely gripped – and then read it all over again.'
Nicky Arscott, Poetry Wales
'There is much to admire in this verse novel’s stylistic richness, its condensed incident and drama, and in the audacity of its experiment.'
Linda West, Text Journal