Praise and Poems
The first section, Matryoshka, concerns the interplay between grief and memory, while the third, Airborne, maps the changing landscapes of desire.
The central sequence, Self-portrait without Breasts, is inspired by the poet’s own journey through preventive double mastectomy. This is pioneer territory: Clare Best explores how it feels to experience radical surgery and its aftermath in a society permeated by orthodox ideas of perfection and beauty.
Pare the leather, thin the skin
where it must stretch and crease.
Then paste: the tanned flesh darkens,
wet and chill, fingers working
over spine and cords, into joints,
mitreing corners neat and flat.
Bandage the book in paper, let it
settle under weights, day after day
until the leather’s dry and tight.
When the time is right for finishing,
black the room, clamp the book
spine up in the beech-wood press,
the lamp pointing where to begin.
Hot brass letters and a vigilant hand––
an accurate blind impression.
Paint in glair with a fine brush,
lay on gold leaf, with level breath.
Tilt the light, shadows will reveal
the place to press the tool again.
Now, strike the gold––feel the title
word by word, bright in the grain.
Excisions is a tightly crafted book, quirky and brave. Clare Best explores one of the most difficult decisions a woman could make about her body. But she places the sequence, Self-portrait without Breasts, between two others, starting with grief and ending with love, so that it becomes both a pivot and a measure. Best turns Excisions into a narrative that we can all engage with — the story of how individuals deal with emotional extremes — unpredictable, erotic and philosophically demanding. She resists sentiment, but this book will still make you cry.
Clare Best writes of the things of the world, and of the moments in our lives, as if they bear within them secrets of mortality that words will never quite have the power to reveal. She writes with scruple and clarity, listening always for the unsaid and the unsayable, watching for the passage of flame into darkness.
An outstanding first collection. Clare Best treads a sure path through intensity, complication and danger, and the resulting poems question the very nature of change.
These poems made me think again, and deeply, about how I inhabit my body, how I see myself, and how I am seen.
Exquisitely honed, sensuous poems — a triumph.