Beverley Bie Brahic | The Hotel Eden | Carcanet: £9.99

               And I carve out the bruises, the fine-bore
               Tunnels of worms.
               I slice the fruit thinly, until the white flesh
               Is almost translucent,
               I arrange the slices in the new pot from Ikea
                               (I burned the old one),
               Add a trickle of water
               And leave them to simmer.

                                             (‘Winter Pears’)

Brahic’s fourth poetry collection, The Hotel Eden, is a sharp and tender act of assemblage, simmering often over questions of how we see the world and how we decipher our stories and experiences. Moving through the natural world, picking up pots from Ikea, populating the pages with their many people and across the many spaces that they travel, these poems fine-bore through contemplations of life and existence, to the ordinary things that make them tangible.

A book of bewildering turns – each poem forms a slight dissection of the everyday occurrence, producing a separateness that creates the ongoing sense of transition and disorientation that contributes so well to the varied land and thought-scapes that these pages point towards. With the poems as singular slices, the silence in the gaps between each one may be compared to the instantaneous presence and absence of the ‘bruises’ carved out from ‘Winter Pears’, which despite their removal, become the louder images on the page. As our attentions are drawn to the ‘carve[d] out’ spaces, these are not without the knowledge of a former violence incurred, and equally, the silences between the poems, might be considered in this way; as pauses for thought on the unspoken, removed, dissected, and the violence of those acts. This forms a complex and daring characteristic of the work that relies greatly on its whole symbolic presence, as it does in the particulars of each poem. It relies also, on the reader’s willingness to track the trickles of connection between a collection of poems whose eye impulsively shifts from California to Syria to Vietnam, from France to Afghanistan, generating a medium for new horizons. Varied also, are the forms on each page, where this oscillation from the particular object or thing to expansive shifts through time subject and space, is mirrored in moves between shorter lyrical pieces and a looser narrative style.

The title poem is written after Joseph Cornell (Pioneer of the Assemblage Art movement) and forwards some of the fundamental traits of this work, in that Brahic lifts the things noticed in the everyday and composes this collection. ‘The Hotel Eden’ then, stands as both ekphrastic poem and manifesto for the wider work.

               Fragments of a life, protected under glass:
               A parrot on its perch. A crock of corks. Butt-end of an egg.
               The spring from a clock.
               This poster for Eden
               Scorched and brittle as a boy’s treasure map.

The poem traces one of the artist Cornell’s ‘boxes’, where a parrot and various other objects are assembled, ‘protected under’ glass. That opening line forefronts the concept of a whole ‘life’ fragmented, where the world of this book embodies that conceptual approach. If these poems are read through the lens of Assemblage, as symbolic fragments, the book as a box, the alignment of Brahic and Cornell’s aesthetic methodology might bridge some connections between a set of, at times, apparently disjointed poem. It’s easy to experience dissolution in that, where the poems can feel unfamiliar when crossing the page, and it’s certainly a risk to take. But the collection, in its apparent everydayness (which achieves universality and allows easy connections with those things it makes subject matter of) is discreetly combatant, utilising that disjuncture to enact a refutation of habitual continuity, linearity and expectation:

               Against survival. Against feathers. ,em>Against corks-in-bottles. Against
                              the pathos of stuffed birds. Against against.

                        From laughter to slaughter the house of objects is repossessed.
                                                                                                                        (‘The Hotel Eden’)

And like the leap from ‘laughter to slaughter’, the poems jump from place to place, between ‘the hard-shelled crab’ in ‘Landline’ to ‘the overripe pulp’ of grapes in ‘Hornets’, from ‘the old man’ ‘weeding raspberry canes’ in ‘Community Garden’ to ‘Ulysses’ in ‘Happy he who like Ulysses’, and so the reader’s gaze is drawn across a multitude of dimensions, textures, colours. These are complicated further with changing sound patterns, stylistic leaps and formal variations which undulate between shorter poems like ‘Red Berries’, and looser narratives such as ‘Winter Pears’.

But in all its inquisitiveness, its shifting gaze, and in the promulgation of its artistic intention, the collection and its poems at their best, find ways to momentarily slow the pace and demand consideration. Elegant rhyme schemes call back to previous lines, requiring patience from the reader:

               What does the poet ask of Apollo?
               For what does he pray as they pour
               The libation from the clay bowl?
               Not fertile Sardinia’s fields of rich corn,
               From laughter to slaughter the house of objects is repossessed.
                                                                                                   (‘Olives, Endives and Mallow’)

While the images of everyday things are written and rewritten with a grounded clarity, to fasten and develop their multifaceted manifestations in the reader’s imagination, as in ‘Red Berries’:

               This morning I walked
               To the farmer’s market
               Half a mile over
               Half a mile back

               I bought two slabs
               Of the wild salmon
               Sweet butter
               To seize it in


               And a basket
               Of the red berries

                               Under every message
                               Another message

With that said, there are moments where a seeming preoccupation with the overall concept or intention for the collection, perhaps poses as a disadvantage to the finer details of some poems. Sometimes the rhyme scheme feels contrived:

               Gut-freezing din.
               Shocked, I spin
                                                                                           (‘Monday Morning, Croissy-sur-seine’)

And later in that particular poem, ‘desire-red cans’ raise the question as to whether a hyphen does enough to renew such worn undertones of ‘red’. Numerous appearances of the ‘moon’ and ‘love’ across the book feel similarly trite, in this respect, and lines like ‘[a]nd let the sun fondle their flesh’ ‘[i]n the Luxembourg Garden’ don’t quite deliver the image or occasion with relatable accuracy, as they do in many other instances.

There is an interesting and finely managed characteristic attributed to the speaker’s tone in this book – it is not an authoritative voice, in that assemblage and exploration take precedence over definition and naming. These unfinished acts are left squarely on the page, to simmer with other questions of authority, perspective, value, violence and control:

                              On the tip of God’s tongue, the bird wants to be named.


                              There’s a key to it somewhere. Break the glass?
                                                                                                                        (‘The Hotel Eden’)

Here, and as a wider effect of the collection, Brahic denies and questions the reader’s habitual desire for revelation, along with the authority that holds the key to it and indeed, whether the key is even a requirement. Beyond these philosophical provocations, Brahic’s aesthetic works effectively to nurture a sense of instability that dismantles expectation by way of elevating the everyday, played out in this ‘house of objects […] repossessed’, leaving the answers to the questions at the foot of the reader.

The ambiguous, unrevelatory nature of Brahic’s work is one of the many subtleties that render this book both daring and delicate. The endearing nature of these poems lies in the groundedness of their looking to the mundane object for beauty, where questions on the violence of unseeing and complacency towards the everyday object simmer and echo throughout. They are, as a collective, quietly startling when paid due attention.

by Maryam Hessavi

Comments are closed.