Every month, we shine the light on a book from our collection – one which is new to the library, which has been particularly enjoyed by a borrower, recommended by a volunteer, or which seems salient to the month’s events or happenings. To see the archive of past books of the month (formerly book of the week), click here.
The current book of the month is…
September: The Air Year by Caroline Bird
‘Do you remember the one about the fighter plane during World War II, riddled with bullets from enemy fire, and the plucky pilot who took five packs of Wrigley’s peppermint gum from his pocket and told his crew to chew’ begins the prose poem ‘Urban Myth’ from Caroline Bird’s sixth collection, The Air Year, currently shortlisted to win this year’s Forward Prize.
Surreal, darkly comic scenes are a hallmark of Bird’s poetry and this book is no different. Readers will find titles like ‘Nancy & the Torpedo’, openers informing you that ‘you thought you could ride a bicycle / but, turns out, those weren’t bikes / they were extremely bony horses’, or speakers conversing with Alcestis in a ‘hotel called Naphthalene Heights’.
Bird’s poetry is undeniably funny. But, like any good surrealist, it’s driven by serious sentiments. In The Air Year, Bird’s speakers grapple with unrest & indecision; feeling like ‘a windmill in a vacuum / packed village’, they find themselves stuck in the liminal, ‘locked in the amber of the and’. (Does this sound familiar?)
The poet riffs her titular theme elegantly. Air is everywhere. Whether it’s fallen through, hovered in, inhaled through kisses, or pursued ‘down a steep flight of throat into a windowless cell of breathing walls.’ But in ‘Traditional Vows’ we learn that The Air Year signifies the transient year prior to marriage. And though the collection is certainly not restricted to romantic relationships, it explores a world where ‘love consists mainly of rope bridges’ and of ‘untrained air where love is born’.
Readers will fall in love with Bird’s writing for her fresh and strange imagery. She’s as capable of conjuring off-kilter scenes (‘The greengrocer started throwing apples at children as a gesture of goodwill’), as she is in capturing everyday moments (‘toothpaste tastes of morning / breath’). Perhaps they’ll love her more for how she plays the poetic line to fuse this (‘Hello single / strand of hair across my forehead / like a crack in the universe’). And who could hesitate to love the poet whose punch line to the joke I started with is to reveal it’s an analogy for a failing relationship, ending ‘with a wad of sweetness freshly printed from the panic of our mouths’?