There is a fabulist lurking in Pauline Suett Barbieri's work; it's reputed to pounce on readers who then seek, vainly, for a collection. Despite the volume of her output and winning competition appearances, Barbieri has been reticent in her response, and has only now agreed to the publication of her first collection. It's one of those volumes that changes things.
If a rich surrealism is underscored by an extraordinary sophistication and allusion (from Bukowski, Frost and artists like Agnes Martin and Maggie Hambling) then this poet trumps it as painter and sly buffoon. Her painting with affinities to Leonora Carrington and others invests intensly imagined surfaces and a linguistic virtuosity scored through with her inheritance: an ancestor, George III's favourite Shakespearean clown, Richard 'Dicky' Suett, star at Drury Lane for twenty-five years.
The richest impact is always fluently pared to an argument that advances imagination but never desiccates it. This alone shows an adroitness that can stun. But overwhelmingly the poet's quick-change devastation uncovers tragedies; a Liverpool childhood where laughter saved you and memory brought catharsis; an aesthetic of extraordinary range and sympathy, and a sad sideways brilliance that illumines.
This is a tremendous debut.