In the Broken Things

‘in the broken things’ Gillian Prew transports the reader into two distinct territories with an uncanny skill to dig a deep truth out with unique strokes of language. ‘Dreams’ brings to life the darkly pulsing shapes of memories in subconscious mind, Prew paints them on the walls of the mind as Goya painted his Black Paintings on the walls of his house. The next territory the reader enters are ‘abstracts’ which examine the trinity of major themes: life-love-death in absolute honesty sharpened to an astounding precision. It’s a psyche-mapping, searching, questioning and ultimately enriching the reader by witnessing her reflections, and in turn finding themselves observing their own inner cores. Prew is a poet of stunning brilliance with a unique voice that stands out in modern poetry and is one that must be heard.

Petra Whiteley is an author of ‘The Nomad’s Trail’ (Ettrick Forest Press, 2008), ‘The Moulding of Seers’ (Shadow Archer Press, 2009), a regular writer for The Glasgow Review, a literary magazine, and a reviewer/interviewer for Reflections of Darkness, a dark music webzine.

‘Dreams’- In this first section, Gillian Prew becomes -whether consciously or not- the seer-poet, unable to close her eyes, even in her dreams-states. Her language is that of surreal introspection, of one who suffers yet seems unabashed, painfully aware of the ‘drowning into shadow’, and the impending onslaught of death. She confronts love and its complexities and infirmities, her voice at once certain, then unsure. Prew herself states that ‘ Love is the death of surety’…She is indeed a haunted soul, yet she forever redeems herself in verse. The beautiful simplicity of her language and imagery almost have a child-like quality to them, snatched from the nothingness/ the Unknown…. ’Abstracts’ – ‘I want to crumble alone. It is the only way to gather the pieces with dignity.’, Prew states…The pieces in this section are seemingly more off-hand/ playful, a lethargic yet acerbic two-fingered salute at death, insignificance, being, and Prew’s geist amalgamates, takes force, almost slashing through all, to end in an angry compassion and the resignation of love… This is a fantastic book, written by a highly gifted and important poet of our times, who will doubt shame manys a one into paralysis at the thought that they had ever lifted a pen…

Michael Mc Aloran, author of Abattoir Whispers

The years are collecting themselves into a lifetime.
How they misbehave. But they have learned
enough, and that is probably love.
(abstract 15, p 41)

These last lines in the book in many ways summarize a large thread in Gillian Prew’s work. She is probably the foremost female poet (or poet tout court) currently active, in the sense of being the best, the most verbally agile, articulate and quietly spectacular. Her work recently – apart from summarizing responses to loss, ageing, the general disgraceful temporal process to which desiring bodies are subjected, the loss of desire and eternally temporary presence of absence – has seemed to point at a reconciliation with all the nasty existentialia that define our vile predicament.

The lines just before these explain her advantage over anybody who does not put poetry first:

Inside, my incoherencies choose poetry over analysis
translating the confused to the written, and each word
sodden with willingness, the need

to make contact with another surface.
(loc. cit.)

Prew uses, she tells us, poetry to do what Derrida tells us that poetry does or should or can do, in the two Istrice articles, to present nostalgia for wholeness and presence and completion in an understandable form, to express our longing for the fragments of our (probably confabulated) memory that fall away into the void of uninteresting history without actually resorting to the drooling idiocies of the lyrically religious. Whether or not I am making Derrida essentialize here, when Gillian Prew makes a reality of a feeling or a moment she makes poetry in the sense that Larkin or Plath do. It is a glorious proof that the lyrical impulse is not dependent upon the bad faith and cowardice that talks of religion or of the slipshod spiritual.

The book concludes with fifteen “abstracts”. These are what one gathers from the name.

The philosophers have answers
but no Answer.

The poets have only poems
and questions

…and sometimes that is enough.
(abstract 10, p 36)

In a sense Prew’s opinion expressed here is defensible, if disingenuous. There is no Answer because life is not posing a question, it is just “given” – the questions of poets are generally the dull maintenance work of the idle stream of Gerede. I think it was Quine, swinging wildly from the continent to Anglo-Saxon intellectual climes, who tells us that asking for the meaning of life implies that you really haven’t understood what life is.

But she knows this better than anyone:

Read books is all I can say: it curtails the anguish
or at least makes it seem familiar.

I will mention love here. It does not make one ounce
of difference in the end, but it exists in the desert, in
the wing, in the written word, in the broken things.
(abstract 3, p 27)

It’s as though she is adopting the coziness of poetry and literature as a relinquishing of stringency, although her voice is not cozy, does not reconcile in any light or easy way. The abstracts carry this sense of a lack of obvious palliative, but even more so the first series that opens the book, the dream poems.

These range from dreams of the natural and a “dream caused by the adjacency of love,” ending

Love is not dead horses. Love is
the moment of waking
and not quite knowing.

Love is the death of surety.
(p 15)

to a more typical collection of dreams built around themes of death, cessation, mortality.

There is a broken story in this land.
It is called History. It is written
that the birds have ragged beaks
because a smooth edge is impossible

that they fly to mock the sorry men
of the plains who pray for wings, who
exist in the shadow of gravity
moored by inherited ideology.
(dream caused by the homogeny of states. p. 7)

Prew is “swollen by the need to speak” because even the most beautiful aesthetics still makes the landscape pretty fucking desolate, because there is this flicker of life a while and the honest conviction in every rational mind that that’s all there is to it. Science and empirical history is a great inductive list of everything with the obvious and surely correct concealed premise “and that’s all there is.” But it needs capturing, it needs loving. And a poetry with its religious roots ripped out is perfect for doing that. Sadly, nowadays, most writers aren’t doing that. But Gillian Prew is, along with a very few others, and she does it so well that she fills the intellectual gap very adequately.

I’m piling on summer in thick layers of heat
a yellow chrysalis on the edge of a cliff

my mother is a clatter in a metal box

& there is no one else. there is no one
to unfurl my wings, colour them
into flight. I feel
they are too thin to accommodate the air
too fragile for movement. too dull
for magic
(dream caused by being a child, p4)

Nobody does it better. This book is absolutely first rate, and I can totally recommend it to anybody who isn’t dead inside yet.

David McLean, author of Laughing at Funerals


In Gillian Prew’s DISCONNECTIONS we find the poet denuding herself in almost otherworldly language, at once brutal, dense and highly imagistic, yet never superfluous. This is the language of wounds, solitude and pain, need, longing and depravation. The poems span process and disintegration, conflict, guilt, and are the antithesis of the illusion of existential/ familial bliss, yet without bitterness; always noble. Yet the poems yield in places towards redemption, albeit uncertain, where death and grief are mildly transfigured, birthing a ‘hollow optimism’. Prew is a poet of ferocious talent, that pierces deeply, leaving behind the reverberating traces of her experience and understanding…

Michael McAloran (author of Attributes, Unto Naught)

Gillian Prew is uncommon. A brilliant premise for creating the writings contained with her Disconnections is a collocation of highlighting italicized recognizable pain with describing that particular pain with a language strongly absent of cliché, and devotion to explanatory faculties outlining the very descriptions making this collection genuine and artistically vigorous. Here, harmony exists, akin to mantras elevating faith to a sacred manifestation; her language is foundational to understanding environment, her environment, which by bequeathing such inventive gifts, the reader becomes acclimated to a tributary tongue, existent within life’s various fulcrums, shifting among deliberate and hidden alterations.

Felino A. Soriano, author of “Differences of the Parallel Devotion”

Disconnections, Gillian Prew’s latest collection of poems, is a collection of pieces I was introduced to by periodic postings on facebook. I became an avid follower of this progression of microscopic meanderings into the life of a poet. Each poem steeped in precision and resonance, Pound’s chorus of what makes the poem. White white, smatterings of white, dresses returned to again and again, white bone, preferred.

These poems ache, one conjectures for solipsism, for greater solitude: yet as Prew says in #29,”Memory slopes to missing /yet I am not done with the world.” For all the brave forays into death, emptiness, Prew finds joy. Yes, although we “manage our suicides,’ with reference to Sexton and Hughes, there is reason to endure. More than endure.

Confronted with death, Prew’s narrator reminds me of Hesse’s Narcissus: seeing death as it is, objectifying, without fear, curious. Yes, although the skin changes folds betrays, in the last poem of the series the narrator declares, “I like my skin…there will be too much to hate.”

These are poems of connection, love amidst discordance, finding reflection in an empty mirror. Perhaps there is nothing beyond death, perhaps there is not even anarchy. There is this, however, there is life, even amidst the ripped cords of severance, the disconnections of failed relations, failed to the world, one’s others, oneself.

To me the most gorgeous piece of Disconnections is #22: pure beauty is engraved by these words, by a poet who is humble before the power of words. “This might be the year of the collective howl: a thin genesis…”, and one goes onward, seeking more from this woman, a poet of connections amidst real disconnections. As she observes the suicide so she observes the laundry drying on the line.

Milosz: what is poetry that does not save / nations or people. Prew’s work is not self-serving poetry. It has a larger law, or anti-law. It has a larger aim.

Carolyn Srygley-Moore, author of Memory Rituals: An Army of Suns

This new chapbook by Gillian Prew is outrageously good. Prew takes the most depressing of subject matter and puts her life in it by writing a new angel into the darkness and mourning. The series is disconnectedness, the lack of connection. The problem of modern man is an ontological sense of missing autochthonousbess and belonging deeper than the trivial Sartrean Lack.

Flat, lungless: all is image,

else it is forgotten

like most memories, and remembrance

mostly a betrayal anyway.

sets the pace for a collection that explores the pointless splashes of existence we drop into the darkness

The lifted moment of the indelible; the mortal tattoo

that visits the eyes and the foul shine of yesterday’s stars.

Meaning rests a fathom below the surface, and I flotsam

on strange days breathing like the leaf on a small flower.

All without point or meaning in the fundamental sense of purpose, meaning just the pointless dance of the arbitrary spread of the seed, dull dissemination that leads nowhere.

The book ends fittingly, with as touch almost of female vanity as the last drop in the bucket of nothingness, and yet a consolation


I like my skin – its mild caramel in winter;

a summer tint that resists a cold mistake.

It speaks with the tongue of the wilderness

and does not hide from the ruins. The alarm

is that there will be too much to hate: a time

when my eyes might collapse like new mourners

at the first realisation of the graveside.

This is the positive message dropped at the end, the body has good bits, and the writer too does not need to hide from the fragments Prew is shoring here against her ruins (being thoroughly modern I am referring to Natalie Merchant here, not any dead poet).

The book is a series of poems that runs through images of the dust and decay waiting us to wind up here, the bone we should not disdain, the depressing affection for decay and death. Life sucks and there’s nothing wrong with it, says Prew. I agree. But the message isn’t much when it comes to poems, the words are what counts. As I have said before, and as I shall say again, even to the point of frankly nagging, Prew is the best living poet.

David McLean, author of Hellbound

The Idea of Wings

Prew’s poetry does not believe in ghosts. When she says we mourn ourselves, we are mourning our psyche, soul, the ghost in the human machine. For in writing a poem we are sometimes caught regretting the terrible decline of philosophical pneumatics, a fart blown away in the Darwinian wind. This is her special forte. Poetry used to fill a pseudo-religious function, the roots of song in prayer, so secularizing verse is not always easy. Prew thinks clearly enough to cut through the crap spread by the soul-seeing self, this is the whimperings of (wo)man becoming nothing. Delighting in the damage.

David McLean, author ‘Puppies and Monks and Medieval Memories’