‘the self you’ve given away, then what’
Closer Baby Closer by Savannah Brown
Review by Florenne Earle Ledger
The above quote from ‘everything is very complicated’ in Savannah Brown’s third poetry collection, Closer Baby Closer, epitomises the running theme of mystery as something desirable, able to protect us from the vulnerability of love. Brown’s exploration of the tenderness of newfound relationships, including the euphoria coupled with the fear of what could happen should said relationship end, is developed throughout the collection. I found the first section to examine the foreignness of pleasure at the start of a relationship, and the final section to show the speaker navigating life as a single woman, with retrospective insight from her previous partner, drawing on experiences in girlhood.
Assuming the speaker is synonymous with Brown (as her work has been known to be personal before), it’s a beautiful and heartbreaking insight into distant and relatable emotions experienced by most of us who have been in love at some point in our lives. Amidst the emphasis on mystery as protection, it’s also presented as an attractive trait in women, as Brown explores the intrinsic link between femininity and ambiguity in modern society, particularly in ‘HOTTEST GIRL IN THE WORLD!!!!!’ and ‘Call and Response’.
Brown writes with wit and sorrowful passion, making her work deeply emotional and simultaneously humorous. One of my favourite poems that exemplifies this is ‘Poet (derogatory)’ from the first section.
The speaker’s dark humour comes through, as the poem has a light-hearted feel with serious undertones revealing their struggle with honesty in a relationship, both with themselves and with their partner. There are many things I found intriguing about this poem, one of which is the way the poem refers to poetry itself as something that’s ‘trying too hard’. Brown goes as far as saying: ‘I hate poems and myself for writing them, / these monologues delivered by a troll who guards the bridge to a place no one even wants / to go, like hell, or an open mic’. The idea of poetry ‘trying too hard’ to be something emotional and deep, guiding a reader to understand the speaker's feelings whether they want to or not, is a brutally honest (and humorous) depiction of poetry.
The comparison of a poet's inner dialogue as a place ‘no one really wants to go’ mocks poets' sense of self-importance, for the fact they need to express their feelings through poetry and have other people understand how they feel. This may be how a relationship feels for the speaker. They feel ridiculous for assuming someone actually cares about them. This is also suggested in ‘Sorry’, when Brown writes, ‘Fearing betrayal makes me seem / important and kingly, like someone worth / assassinating’.
Returning to ‘Poet (derogatory)’, the speaker draws parallels between the way poetry sometimes makes real emotions difficult to distinguish through language and symbols, and their tendency to dance around telling the truth to their partner, intimidated by their own feelings. The question ‘why can’t I just say it straight?’ is given its own line, nestled between the rest of the poem, singular and daunting – hiding in the poem, perhaps mirroring how the speaker leans into hiding from their own emotions.
Towards the end of the poem the voice gets more honest, more pressing – there seems to be a gathering sense of urgency for the speaker to face their emotions: ‘I’m so in love with you it makes me want to die,’ Brown writes. This quote reminds me of what I view to be the overarching theme of the text, mystery as safety: ‘the self you’ve given away, then what’. The feeling of being in love throws the speaker into a vulnerable position: someone else has to understand them and know how they feel, they can’t hide it in poetry and fancy words.
It feels bittersweet. As the guise of humour starts to fade by the end of the poem, I feel the speaker has started to be more honest with themselves and their partner.
Brown’s poetry unpacks feelings of fear and self-doubt intermingled with love in an interesting way. Love is portrayed as a strong force, responsible for happiness as well as destruction. However, I view many of the poems as Brown contemplating what purpose relationships actually serve.
The last poem in section one, ‘Perspective’, questions what love actually brings to our lives other than joy. With only three poems, section 2 two feels like an interval between the two main acts – ‘Perspective’ seems like the final contemplation of how and why love is so brilliant before Brown enters this transitional period and emerges in solitude. It seems like the beauty of loving someone isn’t enough to sustain the speaker… they need to know how and why they were put on this earth – this can’t be the end.
If you’re seeking poetry that deals delicately with feelings we don’t want to admit to ourselves, Closer Baby Closer is an extraordinary collection that gives voice to our deepest and silliest emotions.
Closer Baby Closer by Savannah Brown is published by Doomsday Press on 14 February 2023.