at the time of writing the boundless joy
of a pre-walk dog is suggesting itself in the writer’s chest (“immortelle”)
Beauty/Beauty is Rebecca Perry’s first book-length poetry collection. The London-based poet sculpts a world from snapshots of memories and eulogies, written sensitively from the female perspective. As the title suggests, Beauty/Beauty is a mirror, offering aesthetically pleasing symmetry before breaking it apart and shattering that illusion. Perry is preoccupied with duality and her poetry represents dichotomies: societal expectations of women and the individual agency of a woman’s own mind, the balance of delicacy and harshness; outward beauty and acidity beneath. With its recurring themes of love and loss, innocence and violation, exuberance and heartbreak, and in harmony with Beauty/Beauty’s eye-catching and layered cover art, a keyhole is cut from which we can enter Perry’s own mind. A scattered collection of emotions and fragments of recollections plots a non-linear starting path, “from the nose/out, like a painting”, beginning with the appropriately brazen “Pow”.
“Pow” is written in free-verse and is spatially drawn out, with varying line lengths that represents the cracks and division within the poem’s truth, giving it the appearance of a jumbled jigsaw puzzle. By playing with the whitespace and layout, Perry creates a visual gap between each line, the form itself speaks to the patriarchal hierarchy of men and its displacement of women:
Inner Man – the soul, the mind. The stomach. For inner woman see
Seemingly based on unrelated thoughts spliced together, “Pow” weaves layered emotional experiences and thoughts. The gentle cadence and pauses heightens the feeling of a stream of consciousness. Although her wording is often soft and pretty, there is a sting in each line, as for example in “Wasp”. Elsewhere, memories of a deceased postman are accompanied by kisses, but the superficially romantic imagery of a purple heart is in truth tied to drugs and military warfare. By enchancing her diction in such a decorative manner, Perry is hiding the sinister point which punctuates each thought, almost masking a bad smell with the scent of flowers. Moreover, Perry’s traditionally “feminine” language informs a major theme of the collection – deeper meanings lie beneath the surface. This can be seen in “Pow”’s concluding lines, where Perry refers to dead men’s bones, lion’s mouths and snapdragons,
Though I am listing flowers I am not thinking of flowers.
Perry’s voice is vivid; the strength of her imagination draws the reader into each of her poems’ own complete and tiny world. “The boy” is a very accessible poem on blossoming pubescent desire, the uncomfortable thoughts of a young girl pressed against a boy in line for swimming lessons, its otherwise gentle rhythm is interrupted by unflattering, non-sexual imagery of verrucas, goosebumps and prawns. In other excellent poems, Perry lets us be privy to smaller yet nonetheless touching sentimentalities, from laments, tear-jerker films to a love letter for a Stegosaurus, and also in her use of the elegiac stanza to mourn her dearly departed pets.
Beauty/Beauty is packed with memories, isolated happenstances of sadness, frustration and joy, cut off from the rest of the world, existing as if inside a snowglobe. Perry lays her heart open for inspection and almost surgical exploration, exposing painful epiphanies, raw grief and longing. A tenderness runs through her poetry; and although Perry’s poems show cracks, broken apart to reveal a divided inner self – her inner woman – there is an underlying current of regeneration. Perhaps this is encapsulated best in the poem “Kintsugi”, the Japanese word for the practice of repairing shattered pottery with gold. Perry suggests that while the shards remain, they have the potential to be mended, and indeed – in time – to be bettered by that process.