Moving from the violent to the erotic, Conquest describes women questing to rediscover their own desire. Split into three sections, the collection begins in the 19th-century England of the Brontë sisters, travels through the vast continent of the USA, and finally finds the answer to women’s longing in a walled garden in the decorous city of Paris. In America and Europe, thMoving from the violent to the erotic, Conquest describes women questing to rediscover their own desire. Split into three sections, the collection begins in the 19th-century England of the Brontë sisters, travels through the vast continent of the USA, and finally finds the answer to women’s longing in a walled garden in the decorous city of Paris. In America and Europe, the heroines struggle against the conquest of bodies and of place, facing issues like miscarriage, lost love and domestic violence. Consolation comes, however, by discovering their own desires and independence.The collection begins with ‘My Last Rochester’, a sequence devoted to the Brontë sisters and their struggle to meet expectations of them as women, lovers and wives. The English Gothic gives way later to a story of American immigration in the title-sequence. ‘Conquest’ pans to the wide open spaces of the USA, where pioneering women still quest to satisfy the sweetness of their own longings. Such satisfaction is only unravelled by retreating to a walled garden in the final sequence, ‘The Lady and the Unicorn’.Original in its use of form, Conquest questions the brutal aspects of Western society, especially violence against women and the colonial mind-set. Inspired by the tapestries at the Musée Cluny in Paris and the artwork of Victoria Brookland, the poems visualise women rediscovering their own pleasures, desires, loves. Bridging the personal and the universal, Conquest offers a compelling vision of healing and consolation.‘Conquest is a fascinating study of women’s sexuality’ – Pascale Petit"In this beautifully formal, excitingly imagistic and thoughtful collection, Brigley connects her story ... to the story of all women across the centuries" - Afric McGlinchey for Orbis"Brigley is adept at the manipulation of form to often spectacular effect" - Peter Finch for Poetry Review...
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In the first 5 poems, there's absolutism at the volta ("at last", line -9 of poem 1; "not even", line -3 of poem 2; "never-told", line -6 of poem 3; "Nothing", line -5 of poem 4; "never", line -5 of poem 5) which may not be statistically significant, but fits the feeling I get.In "Behind the Looking Glass" after hints of domestic violence, "she realised at last that not even love could justify this, that no affection could, not ever. Still, in the glass, she sees her own mouth, opening and closing and silent as a fish", which doesn't sound like a new idea. In "Passage", "the first man she knew/ was a storm that stopped her voyage dead in unknown waters. Later, she was the captain issuing feeble orders/ and going down bravely with the ship" which again uses standard imagery. Towards the end "she sits on the quayside with the basking fishwives;/ they watch the ladies go by with the protection of cloisters,/ those women who are never to sail out of harbour". The next poem, "Diptych for a Pear Tree", follows this up - "On a quest to find you, after journeys by sea,/ sickened by waves and cursed by sailors,/ I find myself a nun in a silent oratory".I don't know quite what to make of poems like "The Fir Tree Prisoner" - pre-Freudian, but beyond that, what? It's headed by a quote from Wuthering Heights in a section where poems hover between past and present. I quite liked "Glyph" which lost me towards the end. "My Spinalonga Passion" kept my interest and became my favourite poem. "Infertility" more directly tackles an issue already alluded to, but adds little to what others have written. "The Guide" is weak. "The Myth of the Unicorn" puzzled me. "The Face in the Mirror" combines some previous imagery - "When I close a door to him, he finds a window/ and what does it matter: one more break-in, another wreck/ of a promise? I have been his mirror all this time/ and he gazes into me as if to find himself out". "Full Moon, Full Bloom" begins with "One slow summer, years ago, the electricity plant/ collapsed to blackness at the wane of day/ and I sat with a battery torch while the sun wrecked/ itself on the far hills and plunged into night-time", whose ornate diction puzzles me.Much of the book is influenced by form, though it's not always obvious. "The Love of a Husband" starts with "Because when she shuts a door, he opens a window", and ends with "Because when she shuts a window, he opens a door". "Because" begins the other (often mundane) lines. "Night-sea Journey" is a villanelle. The notes say that she twice "uses a variation on the double sestina form", and that "Arches" is a cut-up poem. In her blog she wordles the book. She writes that "repeated words like ‘garden,’ ‘window,’ ‘long,’ ‘flower,’ ‘never,’ and ‘dreams’ feature prominently in Conquest. I have always liked repetition in poetry: the sense that in reading an entire book you are circling round and round the same ideas. I think that’s why I chose to use the sestina form twice in this new book." She points out that in her sestina form, "each stanza has fourteen lines like a sonnet, and fourteen repeated words". Some of these stanzas are prose poems, and the repeated words aren't always at the line endings.Within the forms she shows she can do conventional imagery - "my baby died like a whale onland/ in the dull, persistent light of the sonograph" (p.36) or "American dreams are ill-fitting shoes that fatten/ your heel to a blister. They appear as a figure/ that you try to greet from a long way off; to your call,/ lost in the din of the city, he never answers anything" (p.41). But (irrationally) I get the feeling that the forms (and moral obligations of residencies, etc) were triggers without which several of these pieces wouldn't have existed.
I won the book for free through Goodreads First Reads. I'm glad I got the chance to read this book for it gave me so much - a whole new point of view. This is one of the books that prove that poetry deserves to be read and it should be read with passion.