In These Days of Prohibition is Caroline Bird’s fifth Carcanet collection. As always, she is a poet of dark hilarity and telling social comment. Shifting between poetic and vulgar registers, the surreal imagery of her early work is re-deployed to venture into the badlands of the human psyche. Her poems hold their subjects in an unflinching grip, addressing faces behind the veneer, asking what it is that keeps us alive. These days of prohibition are days of intoxication and inebriation, rehab in a desert and adultery for atheists, until finally Bird edges us out of danger, ‘revving on a wish’.
Caroline Bird at first appears to be a traditional story-teller. But the stories she tells are suspended, charged with metaphor, and built upon foundations strangely familiar: fairy tale, fantasy and the sweet-bitter world of romance. The further one reads in her haunted tales, the more remarkable becomes the variety of forms, metres and rhythms she uses, and the clearer their appropriateness. Things are not ever as they seem, and the poems bring us closer to how the world ‘really’ is for this talented teenager. They work metaphorically through our expectations and prejudices, which she rearranges and reanimates (‘with a step/in your dance, a forecast for lightning’), or those that relate to the world of childhood (‘I came to see if you were okay’) where language itself has never quite got a grip. In the poems of Caroline Bird gender politics are starkly redefined, as are the languages with which generations communicate and fail to agree.
The Air Year is a time of flight, transition and suspension: signatures scribbled on the sky. Bird’s speakers exist in a state of unrest, trapped in a liminal place between take-off and landing, undeniably lost. Love is uncontrollable, joy comes and goes at hurricane speed. They walk to the cliff edge, close their eyes and step out into the air.
Caroline Bird has five previous collections published by Carcanet. Her fifth collection, In These Days of Prohibition, was shortlisted for the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize and the Ted Hughes Award.
Playful in earnest, Caroline Bird in her fourth book of poems turns familiar stories on their heads. Adrift in a surreal world of the everyday, Bird’s protagonists declaim Chekhov in supermarkets, purchase mail-order tears, sing love-songs to hat-stands. At the centre of the collection Bird evokes the sinister side of Camelot, haunted by the experiments of its crazed tyrant-king. Bird’s characters and voices are at once savvy and vulnerable; underlying the exuberance is empathy with those who have lost themselves somewhere along the way. The everyday world of The Hat-Stand Union is beautiful, ominous and full of surprise.
Following “Looking Through Letterboxes”, her first collection (2002), Caroline Bird was acclaimed as a vivid and precocious new talent. “Trouble Came to the Turnip” confirms her originality as she strikes out again in new directions, taking nothing for granted. Her poems are ferociously vital, fantastical, sometimes violent, almost always savagely humorous and self-mocking. Caroline Bird’s world is inhabited by failed and (less often) successful relationships, by the dizzying crisis of early adulthood, by leprechauns and spells and Miss Pringle’s seven lovely daughters waiting to spring out of a cardboard cake, and the turnip.